CAMPING - BUYING ADVICE
Most camper trailers are designed around best practice, with an appropriate braking system, but thousands – thousands – are not, according to the Australian Manufactured Camper Trailer Guild.
The Guild asserts that around four thousand camper trailers in Australia have been illegally registered and constitute a serious ongoing safety threat to their owners and to other road users. The Guild has evidence that at least one make of imported trailer has been sold here with a compliance plate that has an obviously false tare weight claim and an unrealistic gross mass claim.
The alarm bells went off when Guild members checked out an imported camper that looked solidly-made from checker-plate steel, had a large-section RHS drawbar, three steel spoked wheels with off-road tyres, a large drawbar toolbox, 85-litre water tank, steel-framed stone deflector, holders for gas bottles and jerry cans, a heavy-duty off-road coupling and a roomy tent.
The alarm was sounded by a tare weight claim of only 450kg and a GVM rating of 750kg. Experience in building such trailers told Guild members that the tare weight claim was obviously incorrect. This plate allows the trailer to be sold without any braking system – doubtless a significant cost saving.
The Australian Manufactured Camper Trailer Guild acquired one of these trailers and weighed it, in its standard
configuration and unladen: it tipped the scales at a claimed 720kg! To operate legally, without any form of trailer braking, this trailer could accept a load of only 30kg, which is totally unrealistic.
With a modest camping load – full water tank, drawbar box loaded with only lightweight chairs and table, small camping stove, food boxes for only a two-night stay, one 4.5kg gas bottle and one 20-litre jerry can of fuel – we calculate it couldn’t have a gross mass less than 880kg – well into the scale of trailer brake necessity. A more realistic GVM, for a family camping trip, would be at least one tonne and this trailer’s rear axle, tyres and suspension were one-tonne rated.
What makes a dangerous situation worse is that this price-leading trailer is targeted at the people most likely to be ignorant of towing legalities and responsibilities: camper trailer novices. These people are also likely to tow this unbraked trailer behind a low-cost vehicle that may have marginal braking power as a solo machine – let alone with a heavy, unbraked trailer behind it.
There is an obvious case for vehicle registration authorities around Australia to verify the tare weight claims made by all trailer manufacturers. Any unbraked trailer should have to be accompanied by a current, certified-weighbridge certificate.
Another grey area is the two-tonnes GVM zone, above which two braked axles are required. This tempts trailer and caravan makers into building units with
tandem axle weights just below two tonnes – saving one set of brakes – and designing in heavy trailer nose weight, to shift what should be axle weight onto the towing vehicle’s towbar.
The LPG shortcut
Australia’s rules on LPG fitment to trailers are clear-cut: you need a licenced gas fitter to connect any fixed appliance. The Guild came across a maker including a bolted-in stove with a camper, but without any gas connection. Apparently, the buyer has the responsibility of doing the fitting after purchase.
There have been several explosions in camper trailers, caused by incorrect gas plumbing and best practice is for automatic gas cutoff when a roll-out kitchen stove is pushed back under the camper bed. How many camper trailer purchasers would know of this necessity and be able to do it? Even if they did, the installation would be illegal.
When the Guild pointed this out to the NSW Minister for Fair Trading he replied that as the appliance had not been connected there was no breach of the relevant Act. It’s well known that Dickens’ character, Mr Bumble, reckoned that, “The law is an ass – an idiot!” and in the case of camper trailer weight and LPG regulations his assertion is well borne out.