This advice from the Caravan, RV & Accommodation Industry of Australia may help you make the right decision.
CARAVAN BUYERS TIPS:
If you're considering taking time to explore what Australia has to offer, then buying your own caravan is a great option. But when you look at the size and extent of the range, it's easy to get a bit confused. But fear not! We have put together a comprehensive list of questions and answers to help guide your decision making.
What kind of Suspension?
Whether you choose a van with independent suspension or a basic solid axle and leaf spring, once again there's no reason for anyone to challenge your decision. Smooth riding independent suspension (any of the numerous designs available) is great to have on most Australian roads, kind to your van, and these days problems with it are rare indeed. Those who go for a van with the traditional leaf spring design will probably pay a little less and can enjoy the reassuring thought that there isn't much that can go wrong.
When do you need an off-road caravan?
There are vans designed and built to cope with the varying degrees of rough road to be found in this country. The most rugged of these could perhaps be described as 'off-road'. More common are the models which can appropriately be described as 'out back' caravans. These are fairly conventional in design and are usually beefed up versions of a manufacturers normal range, with added strengthening to the chassis and items such as under van protection for water tanks, bumper bars that extend underneath for protection when emerging from washways, special dust-proofing and perhaps externally mounted jerry cans or other sensible additions.
There are many makes that carry a warranty covering towing with a 4WD vehicle. This may not seem as important as it was a few years ago when 4WD suspension was rough enough to traumatize a van's chassis. Today's 4WDs are greatly improved in this regard, but you can be sure that the caravan with such a warranty can take a moderate amount of punishment if necessary. An entirely stock standard caravan can usually travel on rough corrugated roads for short distances without suffering damage, providing care is exercised.
Outback travel with a caravan is really a matter of using commonsense. Read the condition of the road, watch the van and if things appear to be getting too rough for it, go back. Check weather conditions before you go to ensure that you don't get stranded, and if you want to disappear into the real wilderness for a few days, leave your van on site in the nearest town and take a tent. We'd also like to point out that Australia today is well served with bitumen roads and these are supplemented by many unsealed roads of reasonable standard in most weather conditions. Almost anywhere you are likely to want to visit on your own, the first time around at least, is accessible without the need to risk life, limb or property.
Where layout is concerned the most popular caravan today, as we are constantly told by retailers, is a 15-16ft pop-top with front kitchen, island double bed at the rear and an L-shaped dinette at one side with a small lounge seat opposite. Consequently this is the size and layout that is offered without fail at every caravan retail outlet around the country. Don't be rushed into buying this floor plan though if you think you would prefer a model with a side kitchen and a big club lounge under the front window.
Custom building is the norm these days, and it's usually worth waiting a month or two for the van you've set your heart on if it isn't available 'off the peg'. The question of double or single beds makes many couples smile, but it's really a serious point to consider. Smaller than home sized double beds (often only 4ft wide) may look cosy and appealing in a salesyard, but on site in tropical Cairns they can turn cuddly couples into hostile insomniacs. Unless you are both sound sleepers and accustomed to tropical climates, it may be more practical to opt for a single bed layout.
One consolation is that this will give you more usable living space in your van, including seats for visitors. The standard of a caravan's finish is usually easy to determine by glancing inside cupboards and under seats. Most manufacturers have abandoned the heavy and less durable chipboard and returned to genuine timber for cupboard shelves and doors. Ill-fitting joints and rough splintery surfaces, too, are mostly things of the past, but vigilance is still recommended.
You'll be faced with an alluring array of internal features when you start to shop around the caravan retail outlets. Having decided on the size and style of van that's right for you, the huge variety of choices that remain mean that the final decision is still by no means easy. Space restrictions make it difficult for us to advise you but we can tell you that most modern features have been suggested by real caravaners and are genuinely worthwhile additions.
The Bottom Line
New buyers are sometimes astonished by what they consider to be the high price of today's caravans, but they have always kept in step with inflation. When you look carefully at the improvements in design and the excellent modern materials and accessories used in today's models you'll see that most of them represent real value for money. Prices do vary, of course.There are budget models and makes that traditionally cater for the lower end of the market, and there are also some makes that are rather superior and might be regarded as status symbols in the same way as certain motor vehicles are more desirable than others.
On the whole what you get is what you pay for, but the caravan industry today is competitive enough for a little shopping around to be worthwhile if you have the time and inclination. Serious bargain hunters generally wait for the annual state caravan and camping shows when manufacturers and dealers become very generous, offering impressive discounts and well priced 'show specials'. Whatever you pay, if the caravan brings you a pleasurable lifestyle it's money well spent.
Insurance - Shopping Around
Your recreational vehicle needs to be insured, but choose your policy wisely. When shopping around for an insurer, consider the following:
- Is the policy premium competitive?
- Is the policy an Agreed Value or Market Value policy?
- Does the policy include the annexe and accessories such as air conditioners?
- Does the policy cover personal contents?
- Does the policy cover emergency accommodation and urgent repairs to the vehicle?
- Is flood cover included?
- Are there any charges that may be levied after repairs have been completed?