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How to choose a caravan or camper trailer

There’s so many camper trailers and caravans on the market it can be hard to work out which one’s best for you. Read our guide on how to choose a caravan or camper trailer.

TOWING A TRAILER for your accommodation needs make a lot of sense. You can easily set it up and then leave it behind while you go exploring, or it can be permanently set up, and they offer lots of space. But which to choose? A tiny, light camper trailer or a giant caravan, virtually an apartment on wheels.

Here’s your basic trade-off; small/light is cheap to buy and run, and manoeuvrable with potential off-road capability if you have a 4WD, but takes effort to set up and won’t be particularly warm or comfortable. A big caravan is the opposite; expensive to buy, needing a large towcar, not something you can easily manoeuvre, but comfortable and luxurious – there’s no flapping canvas or tent pegs, but there is interior cooking, toilet, shower and even a washing machine in some cases.

Between the two extremes are a simply incredible amount of variations and choice, so your first task should be to figure out where on that spectrum you want to be, and then research manufacturer and options.

A good way to do that is to rent several different types of camper or caravan, and just see what suits. Generally, people don’t miss what they never knew, but once you’re used to something it can be hard to go back. You can also mix and match, for example, buying a caravan, then towing it with a 4WD which has a roof-top tent installed. Talking to owners, being active on the many web and Facebook camping related forums is a good idea, and attend as many camping and caravan shows as you can. Do ensure you don’t spend all your budget on the ‘van, as the worst thing you can do when travelling is to have no money left for emergencies or to splash out on enjoying yourself while travelling.

You will see some caravans marketed as ‘off-road’ versions. Basically, anything twin-axle or weighing more than about 1500kg isn’t going to be towed seriously off-road anywhere, despite the claims and mud tyres. Dirt roads are the best you’ll want to do – and look for off-road towing tips later in this series.

Once you’ve selected the sort of trailer you want, then you’re into choosing a manufacturer and model. This is where you need to be careful, as competition is fierce and many products are built to a price. There isn’t the regulation and rigour in the caravan/camping market you find when buying a new car, yet your trailer may well cost a lot more than the car. There’s a lot of very nasty stories out there of disaffected owners, and with good reason. So – how to ensure you don’t add to the misery?

Look for a manufacturer with a strong track record over many years, and lots of satisfied customers, preferably with a user group. Do you own research on towing weights, trailer Australian Design Rules, and bring that knowledge to the discussion. Ask them if they’re happy for their trailer to be weighed before you hand over the money, and what their warranty is with any exclusions. Ask to see their pre-delivery checklist.  Look up second-hand values, and see if their units are sought after. Ask if any statements and claims can be explained or have facts behind them. Look at the component list; are the brakes, towing mount, kitchen and so on from reputable manufacturers with a strong Australian presence? You may think you can read reviews of caravans (most makers won’t let you take them to far from the factory or dealership), but most of them don’t really fully test the caravan. That said, with camper trailers you’re more likely to get a proper review.

A good manufacturer will take all of your questions and requests in their stride, but the dodgy ones will have excuses and try and change the topic. Remember too that quality plus testing and refinement counts for more than features; for example it’s easy to make shiny, twin-shock independent suspension. But a properly designed and weight-distributed leaf-sprung, live-axle trailer will tow a lot better (read: safer) than a poorly designed independent system, no matter how big the shocks.

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Zachary Tomlinson
3 years ago

Thanks for this guide on how to select a camper trailer. My uncle was watching a couple of outback movies the other day and it got him interested in owning one. I like how you mentioned that he should consider the amenities of the camper he likes, such as a toilet or a shower. I’ll share this with him and suggest that he use this as a guide when purchasing a camper.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper