Are electric jockey wheels for caravans worth the expense? Let’s delve into it a bit more, shall we?
There are no two ways about it. Caravans are getting heavier and heavier. Sure, a few manufacturers are using some pretty clever techniques to cut the weight down. However, it’s quickly piled back on again with an endless list of high-tech gear that’s an absolute must-have. Innerspring mattresses, air-conditioning units, internal fridges. All of it adds weight.
While our even fancier tow-tugs might easily pull our home on wheels up and over the range, things aren’t so simple back on the home front. Whether you’re trying to back your van into the shed, pull it out to work on, or you just want to park it in an awkward spot, all that weight can make it difficult to move.
Is an electric jockey wheel for your caravan the solution to all life’s problems? Here’s what we think.
Why would you want an electric jockey wheel for your caravan?
We’re big believers that for every accessory available, there’s at least one person out there it’d suit perfectly. Sure, that doesn’t always hold true. After all, an inflatable couch might just be a little ridiculous. But the electric jockey wheel is one of those bits of kit that for some owners, just might be the difference between years on the road exploring Australia or calling it quits and settling in for a decade on the lounge watching Matlock.
At first, an electric jockey wheel for your caravan may sound like a gimmick. But if you think about it, they’re actually an amazingly handy piece of kit. If you’ve ever looked at your van and wished you could magically manoeuvre it into place without needing to be behind the wheel of your rig you’d be starting to pick up what we’re putting down. The ability to not only have your van move independently of a tow vehicle but to be able to do it by yourself is an absolute game changer.
Option up a wireless version and it’ll mean without any assistance you can bump your van back to within centimetres of your shed’s back wall. The same goes for swinging them around corners you simply wouldn’t be able to reverse around as well. That’s huge for people keeping their caravan in storage facilities or at the end of a curving driveway.
Some owners have even figured out that by using an electric jockey wheel they’re able to ‘drive’ their caravan into a spot a-frame first. You can use this trick at home or in a storage facility to make it effectively impossible for a thief to take your pride and joy. Heck, you could even use it at a campground to orientate your van to maximise the views.
The best part?
All without a crowd of onlookers judging your reversing skills with a glass of rosé in hand!
What’s the catch?
How do we put this politely? If electric jockey wheels did everything they promised, they’d just be called jockey wheels. You simply wouldn’t buy anything else. So, where exactly do they come unstuck? We’re glad you asked dear reader.
The major issue they have is simply physics. Imagine hooking your van up to the back of a postie bike and trying to tow it. It’s not hard to imagine that skinny back tyre lacking the grip to move it safely. Electric jockey wheels are a little better with their fat tyres but the principle still stands. It’s a lot of weight to control with a little tyre. The result is you may end up finding yourself trying to move the van while the tyre spins helplessly. This is more of an issue in loose terrains like gravel, dirt, or grass.
Traction to move doesn’t just mean forwards either. That small contact patch pushing you forward is also the contact patch stopping you from sliding backwards. If you’re using it to push your van around semi-flat concrete you’re likely to find success. However, if you’re planning on using it to push your van up a steep gravel driveway, there are better options.
It’s not just traction either. Sure, there are obvious issues like an extra thing to lug around. A typical electric jockey wheel can weigh up to around 20kg and needs to be muscled into place every time you need it. You’ll need to power it too. In some situations, you’ll be able to plug it into your van’s house batteries. But if you want to then use it to push your boat around too, you’ll need to get creative.
Let’s talk cost
Finally, cost. Cheap electric jockey wheels for your caravan will run you a few hundred dollars. They’ll also give you cheap results, warranties that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, specs that don’t line up with performance and poor designs. If you want a decent offering you’ll need to spend up near the $2000 mark and in that range, there are a lot of alternatives.
So what are the alternatives to an electric jockey wheel for your caravan?
This part all depends on what your needs are and what your budget is. If you’ve been eyeing electric jockey wheels for your caravan just to try and help with reversing the first port of call is normally the driver. Would a few hundred dollars in a towing course give you the skills and confidence to get the job done? Those skills will transfer over to any trailer a lot easier than a jockey wheel will.
The next option is technology. A wireless camera and a few markers on the ground may be all that’s required to help you guide your van back into its spot.
If your van absolutely needs to be self-propelled, then an intermediate option to consider is a ratcheting jockey wheel. These are going to cost around half of a cheap electric jockey wheel. They’ll have many of the same issues with traction and you’ll have to be at the a-frame to move it, but they are an option for budget-conscious vanners.
Finally, caravan movers may be the solution you’re looking for. A more permanent alternative to the electric jockey wheel, these will stay mounted on your caravan and provide drive directly through the van’s wheels. That means you’ll have ample traction on any surface, can negotiate inclines and declines safer, and won’t require that you fit an 18kg jockey wheel just to move your caravan.
So are electric jockey wheels worth the money then?
Like most things in life, there’s no clear-cut answer here. It’ll all come down to your situation. If you’re on a budget you’re almost always better off buying a ratcheting jockey wheel over a cheap electric jockey wheel. Sure, it might only be a little more to pay for less work, but can you take a $500 gamble it won’t fail on you?
If you’re happy to spend the money and are umming and ahhing between a top-tier electric jockey wheel and a caravan mover there are considerations there too. A permanently mounted caravan mover that you only need at home will eat into your ground clearance and potentially cause grief when you’re rolling through the undulating country at the back of Bourke.
The electric jockey wheel, for all its faults, is one of the most versatile bits of kit you can get if it suits your needs. They’re perfect for pushing vans around on stable ground, into tricky locations and swapping between multiple trailers. Now, if only our driveway didn’t look like the back track up Mt Everest we’d jump straight on fitting one to our van.