It takes more than just a lick of checkerplate to make a caravan an off-roader. Here’s what to look for when buying an off-road caravan.
When trying to assess if a caravan is a capable off-roader, there are clues in the warranty paperwork. Does the van have warranty exemptions for off-road use? If the manufacturer isn’t confident in the caravan’s off-road capability, neither should you be.
The first thing to do is screen the salesperson to assess if the caravan is really designed for off-road use, or if it the term has been applied loosely as a marketing strategy. Ask what type of terrain it can handle. If they answer something like, graded gravel tracks, chances are the van isn’t up for much more than easy dirt roads. If realistically that’s all you plan to do, fine. But if you want to drag it across more challenging terrain, this should be a red flag.
Buying an off-road caravan is all about striking a balance between strength and weight. It needs to be well-constructed for off-road conditions, which means heavy duty componentry. But when it comes to towing off-road, lighter is better. Look for manufacturers that strive to get this balance right by using heavy duty material where it counts (chassis and drawbar) and weight saving materiel wherever possible (walls, floor and cabinetry). Clever design can also shave off the kilograms, so look for manufacturers who strive to reduce weight wherever possible without sacrificing strength.
Further to the previous point, the more luxurious extras on a caravan, the bigger and heavier it will be and the more poorly it will handle off-road. Sure, it’s nice to have a bathroom bigger than some home ensuites with a full-sized washing machine and storage for half of Myer’s makeup department, but you’ll pay for that in weight and therefore off-road performance. Buying an off-road caravan is all about deciding what your non-negotiables are when it comes to comfort off-road, and what you can live without.
This discussion of weight naturally leads to the next point: your tow vehicle. If your vehicle has a 3000kg towing limit and your caravan is hitting that limit once you’ve filled up your water tanks and loaded your gear in, I’m sorry to say it probably won’t tow your van very well in the rough and tumble where ample power is vital. However, if you drive something like the increasingly popular ‘Yank tanks’ with a four or five-tonne towing capacity, that same van could be perfectly fine off-road. Be realistic; don’t buy a caravan that’s heavier than your towing vehicle can handle off-road. Always look for a caravan with plenty of payload (ATM weight minus the Tare weight), as a true off-roader will allow you to carry plenty of water, gear and spares for self-sufficient off-road touring. For more on caravan weights, click here.
An off-road caravan should have a visibly larger and stronger chassis and drawbar than its on-road counterparts, with A-frame members running the length of the van. It should be constructed from high quality steel and hot dip galvanised for strength. The chassis and drawbar should be protected under warranty for off-road use.
It stands to reason an off-road caravan should have an off-road suspension system to enable the van to easily traverse rough, uneven tracks. Independent suspension with coil springs and shock absorbers will make for a more comfortable off-road touring experience.
An off-road caravan will have larger tyres than its on-road counterpart – light truck tyres at a minimum. All terrain tyres are ideal, while mud terrain tyres might be overkill and adding to the van’s overall weight.
An off-road caravan needs more than just a standard 50mm ball coupling, which will not allow for articulation off-road. Quality off-road couplings should have 360-degree rotation and are engineered to endure greater stress.
Click here to see more on the McHitch system pictured below.
A caravan is only as off-road as its dimensions will allow. Caravans that are very tall, wide and/or long will have trouble on tighter bush tracks with trees close to the track’s edge and branches hanging overhead. Compact caravans are the better choice for off-road touring. Additionally, an off-road caravan should taper at an obtuse angle at the rear to prevent it from ‘bottoming out’ as easily on rough tracks. This is known as the ‘departure angle’.
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