Buying an off-road caravan? Consider these 10 things.

Article by RV Daily

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.

1. Adequate warranty

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.

2. Off Road Vs Semi

2. Off-road vs ‘semi off-road’

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.

3. Weight vs strength

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.

4. Weight vs comfort

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.4. Weigh Vs Comfort

Well-designed compact off-roaders can still be plenty comfortable.

5. ATM weight and your tow vehicle

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.

5. Atm Weight Tow Vehicle

6. Stronger chassis and drawbar

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.

6. Strong Chassis And Drawbar

7. Off-road suspension

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.

7. Off Road Suspension

8. All terrain tyres

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.

8. All Terrain Tyres

9. Off-road coupling

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.

9. Off Road Coupling

10. External dimensions and departure angles

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’.

10. Dimensions

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Comments 3

  1. Define a caravan that is “off -road” capable – very few meet the necessary criteria – except perhaps the Kimberley “Karavan” (which we now own) and a handful of others (such as the Bush Tracker) that are truly suitable for off-road use!

    Most self labelled “off-road” caravans really should be classed only as “off-bitumen” capable – a heavy duty chassis with independent suspension, an off-road hitch, a bit of checker plate around the bottom all coupled with a black and grey colour scheme and a suitable “Outback” macho name does not make a van suitable for “off-road” use.

    The Gibb River Road, Savannah Way, Oodnadatta & Birdsville Tracks and the like are great levelers for these wanna bee vans – with fridges and microwaves falling out, filling up with dust, chassis & suspension failing, doors falling off, etc. etc. – all things we have witnessed with fellow travelers’ vans during 40,000km over the last two years – all of which have born witness to the false advertising by many companies.

    Try dragging one of these vans into Palm Valley, to Mitchell Falls or Honeymoon Bay or up to Cook off the Eyre Highway (let alone along the Canning which we did with our T-Van last year) and you will truly test its “off road” credentials……….

    Serious manufacturers like Track Trailer, Kimberley, AOR, Ultimate etc. build outfits that are truly off-road capable, don’t call them caravans – and all work really well off the bitumen!

    My wife over the last two years started making a note of the impressive names chosen for these wanna-bee vans – all evocative and promising things they could never deliver if truly used “off-road”!!

    If I were able to attach photos to this correspondence I could even add some interesting shots………

  2. why do you say “yank tanks”?
    are they not more capable than the opposition towing larger vans as they are designed for
    maybe should show an opposition vehicle struggling to tow an van that it is not designed for as well
    just a thought

  3. An off road caravan can be made as strong and tuff as you like., the question is where are you really going to tow this monster and with what, sure you will get to places that no van has been before and where no one will come to help in the middle of know where when it’s stuck or broken . Most internal components are designed for off road bashing ie fridge, gas oven, gas water heater microwave, etc will not stand the vibration and bashing gas leaks is a common problem.

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