Article from 4WDing Australia.
There was a time not so long ago where I could give you a basic run down of the different camper trailers sold in Australia. Believe me, those days are long gone; now there are hundreds of different makes and models, with more differences than you can poke a stick at. So, where do you start?
We’ve been through this, and settled on a camper trailer that suits our current requirements to as best as possible (actually, we’ve just upgraded to a Hybrid; a Lifestyle Reconn R2). If you compare camper trailers to 4WD’s and accessories, there are 10 times the amount of manufacturers and so many options that it gets confusing.
This post is designed to narrow your search down to a reasonable level, and point out things you should consider before laying down your hard earned money. In many ways, this is a camper trailer buying guide.
The best way to find suitable camper trailers is to go through what you are going to be using it for, and make sure it ticks those boxes. Don’t worry about what your neighbour or best mate is doing, unless they use it in the same way you will. Much like you add accessories to a 4WD to make it more comfortable, functional or reliable, your camper trailer needs to suit what you want from it, first and foremost.
Working out which camper trailer to buy is all about how you are going to use it. If you are wondering are camper trailers worth it, then you’ll have to think about what requirements you have, and how that will make it easier. For us, we wouldn’t camp without one, and it allows us to do so in extreme comfort.
How do you go about narrowing it down?
The quickest way to narrow down your search is to choose a budget. If you don’t want to spend over 20k, then don’t look at campers beyond that; it just gets confusing! Pick a maximum budget, and continue your search from there.
You can get plenty of good quality second hand Australian made campers for under 20k; you don’t have to spend a fortune. Our’s was $10500, and they go right down to a couple of grand, depending on what you are looking for.
Some camper trailers sell for upwards of 70k; the range is massive and your budget determines what you can get!
What can your vehicle tow?
Before you buy anything, find out what your vehicle can legally tow, and whether its suitable for where you want to go with a camper trailer. Your vehicle will have a number of limitations when it comes to weights. This post explains it all very clearly, and simply: Towing capacity; a simple guide to keep you legal.
Beyond that, something physically big is going to make your vehicle work harder, so consider your vehicle before looking at camper trailers!
Some vehicles have capped speeds set by the manufacturer for trailers that weigh above a certain weight. Don’t get something only to find out later that you can’t even legally tow it with your existing vehicle.
Remember that the tow ball weight of your trailer comes off your vehicles payload, which for touring Australia is usually stretched already!
Visit a Caravan and Camping Show
There are camper trailers located all around Australia. The problem is that its time consuming, frustrating and difficult to see them. Do yourself a favour and go to a Caravan and Camping show, where hundreds of camper trailers are all in one place at one time. This way, you can compare them right next to each other, see them all set up and identify what you like, and don’t like.
Chat to the sales guys, see what they have to say and you are off to a great start. Just do your own independent research, and don’t always believe what they say.
What do you want out of your camper trailer?
As with buying a 4WD, you want your camper trailer to fulfil as many of your requirements as possible. Don’t get something because it looks like it could be fun; buy something because its going to do what you want it to.
If you want to know if camper trailers are worth it, think about how you travel, and how it is going to help you do that.
Room and storage
One of the major reasons people buy a camper trailer is for the additional storage and room. You have substantially more space to pack gear, and when they are set up, camper trailers have a lot of room. Carefully consider how much space you have for packing gear into a camper trailer, along with the physical tent size once set up. If you have a big family, your average hard floor camper trailer is probably not going to cut it.
Where are you towing it?
Don’t buy an on road camper trailer and expect it to survive gravel roads or anything more serious. Your camper trailer needs to match the terrain you are going to tow it on. If you want to drag it all over Australia in some of the roughest tracks around, you need something built for those conditions, like a Camprite, Tvan, Kimberley Camper, Patriot Camper, Conqueror or Australian Off Road Camper trailer (and no doubt many other brands!).
If you just want one for a couple of trips a year to a caravan park a few hours away by bitumen then by all means, save yourself a fortune and buy a road trailer.
Get your sleeping arrangements wrong and its a deal breaker. Think about where you and your partner are going to sleep, along with any kids and pets. If the bed has a ladder to climb up onto, are you going to be ok doing that at night when you need to go to the toilet?
How long does it take to set up beds for the kids? How much room do they have?
There’s nothing more important than functionality; the camper trailer should be a pleasure to take away and use. Unfortunately some things you won’t realise until you buy one, but I’ve made a list of plenty of things below that you should be looking into. Above all though, its got to function well!
What do you need to take with you?
Some camper trailers have enough room to take pretty much everything with you, from multiple gas bottles and jerry cans through to fridges, toilets, generators, a boat and all your food without a drama in the world.
However, many do not have room for much at all, and you need to have a think about what you want to take with you. If you plan on taking fuel with you in jerry cans, make sure it has provision for this. Many camper trailers do not come with the provision to mount a fridge. That’s fine if you have one in your 4WD, but if you don’t, or you want to run two then its a game changer.
Where will these go?
- Water tanks
- Jerry cans
- Gas bottles
- Boat or Kayak
- Generators, toilets, hot water unit
- Clothes, food and fishing gear
Camper trailer weight
The weight of a camper trailer is extremely important. Not only does it affect your vehicles fuel economy and pay load, but it plays a huge role in where you can take it too. If you plan on towing a 2 tonne camper trailer down a soft beach, you’ll have a much harder time than a lighter one.
Within the weight requirements, there are a couple of things you need to look at, very closely! You can find these details on a nameplate (compulsory on all trailers), usually on the drawbar but sometimes on a panel that is easily visible.
Tow ball weight
Getting the correct tow ball weight is pivotal to safe towing. In Australia, 10% is the preferred number; if your camper trailer weighs 1000kg, your tow ball weight should be around 100kg. Generally, the heavier the camper trailer the heavier the tow ball weight.
Pay attention to this, as the tow ball weight comes off your 4WD’s pay load; if you can only carry 500kg in your vehicle and you use 200 of that towing a heavy camper, you haven’t got much left. Some camper trailers tend to be much heavier on the tow ball on others, and this is usually pretty obvious when you look at where the axle is positioned. If there is a lot of camper trailer forward of the axle, chances are the ball weight is going to be high.
The tare weight is the trailers ’empty’ weight. It should include the weight of the tent, toolbox and pretty much anything that is bolted to the camper trailer. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of manufacturers falsely labelling the tare weight, and buyers take them home and weigh them, only to find out they are much heavier than what they were told.
Make sure the Tare weight is believable, and if you are questioning it at all, get it weighed before buying it. The Tare does not include anything you add to the camper trailer; food, water in the tanks, Jerry cans etc.
Aggregate Trailer Mass
Don’t be put off by the terms; ATM refers to the total weight your trailer can weigh, when you’ve loaded it up for a trip away. You can easily weigh the trailer at a weighbridge and see what it comes in at. If you are over the ATM then you need to shed some weight.
How much can it carry?
By taking the tare weight away from the ATM, you get the amount the camper trailer can legally carry. This is really important, and many people don’t know about it. Our camper trailer has a tare of 540kg, and an ATM of 1200, giving it a capacity of 660kg. This is relatively high for a camper trailer or a caravan; some only have capacities of 300kg!
Think very carefully about what you want to take. We were originally looking at an older Trakshak camper trailer, and loved them for a number of reasons. However, upon finding out they could only carry 400kg, we crossed them off the list. When you actually add up the weight of everything you are carrying, it can be much higher than you expect.
We even looked at a Trakshak camper trailer not far from us, and when I explained this to the weights to the owner he was totally unaware, and it was being used to carry substantially more weight than the rating was good for. This can have some pretty nasty consequences if you have an accident (and increases the chance of something breaking!).
Lets do a quick example of weight on a camper trailer:
120L of water – 120kg
60L of diesel = 55kg
Food = 40kg
Fridge full of food and drinks = 50kg
Portable toilet = 25kg
Solar panels = 20kg
Camp chairs = 40kg
Fishing and diving gear = 40kg
Clothes = 20kg
With just that, we are already over 400kg, and many camper trailers come with kayak or boat loaders, second batteries, extra rooms and poles and hot water on demand units.
Hard floor vs soft floor
If you’ve been thinking about a camper trailer for some time, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Hard Floor’ and ‘Soft Floor’ camper trailers. These are two categories are usually quite distinct.
In essence, a hard floor folds out and the hard floor sits on, but above the ground. They tend to be smaller, heavier and faster to set up.
Soft floors on the other hand, are basically tents on a trailer, which fold out in various ways. They tend to be lighter overall, have bigger tents and take longer to set up. However, this is not always the case; some soft floor campers are very fast to set up. Soft floors are much cheaper as well.
Camper trailers have usually been side fold or rear fold, but you can now get forward fold, double side folding and combinations.
Another variation is the pop top, which are almost like half a caravan with a roof that pops up and canvas in between.
Setup time and effort
Camping setup time is important, especially if you are moving often. If you look at reasons for people selling camper trailers, one of the most common is because they want something quicker to setup, or something easier to setup. Think about your style of travelling; some camper trailers take 2 minutes to setup, and others over 1.5 hours when setting the awnings and extra rooms up.
If you are moving regularly, a camper trailer that takes a long time to setup is going to upset you very quickly. On the other hand, if you tend to go to a location for a week or more at a time, maybe the extra time to setup doesn’t really affect you. Make sure the setup time is suitable for how you want to use the camper trailer, or you will quickly join the list of people selling camper trailers for something quicker to set up.
If you are travelling with young kids, the last thing you want to be doing is struggling for half an hour every few days to set up and pack down your camper trailer, whilst trying to stop them running off and getting hurt. This is one of 35 ways to make camping easier with a toddler.
What takes so long?
Going a little deeper, setup time is usually made substantially longer by extra rooms, awnings and annexes. Even if you get a camper trailer that takes 2 minutes to set up, it can still take 10 – 15 minutes to set the awning and annexe up.
If you don’t need the annexe much, then its not an issue, but if you are going to be setting up all the time, your 2 minute camper could be a 12 – 20 minute camper!
Kitchens usually don’t take too much time to setup, but some do require a bit more messing about than others (like connecting gas lines).
In general, camper trailers that have more to install as it folds out take longer. The quickest campers on the market pretty much have nothing to do; you just unlatch them and fold them out, and maybe adjust a couple of poles that are already in place. If you have to find poles and put them in specific places, your setup is going to take longer than one that is inbuilt.
New vs second hand
One of the great things about buying a camper trailer is that they hold their value very well. That said, like anything, they will still depreciate in time, and second hand camper trailers can be a real bargain. At the time of writing, there are around 3000 camper trailers listed on Gumtree, and that’s just one of many websites selling camper trailers.
I’m one for trying to get bang for buck, and as such believe a good second hand camper trailer is usually the way to go, but there are plenty of benefits of buying new.
A new camper trailer can be customised very easily to suit your requirements. If you want a different size water tank, or hubs, rims and tyres that match your 4WD, the manufacturer can do it very easily. Of course, you get a warranty, a nice shiny camper trailer and hopefully years of trouble free camping.
However, you do pay a premium for the service, so you need to weigh it up.
Buying second hand
It seems most second hand camper trailers around 10 years old are about half of their new price. The trick with buying second hand camper trailers is you need to know what the camper trailer is worth, and whether you are getting value for money.
I recommend avoiding camper trailers that have been used extensively. I looked at one that was owned by a gold expedition company where people lived in it full time for over a year, and it was flogged to the bones. Cheap, yes, but not in the long run after you’ve had to repair so many broken and damaged bits.
There are a lot of people that buy a camper trailer and decide its not really what they want, and sell it at a loss. If you can get one that’s been used a couple of times for several grand less than a new one, you’d be mad not to. Unlike a 4WD, most camper trailers are only used a handful of times a year, and this is why there are plenty of older ones still in very good condition.
Leaf spring vs Independent suspension
Going back a few years you’d only see leaf spring suspension on camper trailers. Gone are those days; many new camper trailers come with independent suspension. However, there are still plenty of new camper trailers that use leaf spring suspension and that probably won’t change any time soon.
Independent suspension gives more clearance and a better ride for your trailer. It isn’t cheap though, which is why trailers with well known independent suspension components are more expensive.
Is independent suspension really worth it?
I suppose it really depends on what you are doing with you camper trailer. If you look at clearance, most camper trailers will have more clearance than your tow vehicle in the first place, so the benefit of additional clearance is not huge (except for entry and exit angles).
In terms of handling it is a big improvement over leaf springs, but its not the end of the world. Leaf springs are tried and tested; they work fine, albeit perhaps a little rougher on the trailer and its contents. If you can, get good quality independent suspension, but don’t make it a major determining factor unless you absolutely believe you need it.
The bling factor
I’ve never been one to care too much about how something looks, as long as it performs well. There are a lot of camper trailers that are sold today with plenty of bling, but not much consideration into actually using it. ‘Bling’ is an easy way to sell a camper trailer, but you need to look beyond that; looks mean absolutely nothing when you’ve broken something critical in the middle of Australia.
Alloy rims, fancy electrics, unique paint jobs and big chunky mud tyres might look good, but they aren’t the most important part of a camper trailer. Reliability and functionality are much more important right off the bat; you can have the things that look nice if its not at a compromise of what is most important. Some of the worst camper trailers out there look great, but are just poorly slapped together.
Things to look for on your camper trailer
Quality of steel and welds
Ask the seller where their steel comes from if you are dubious about it. If you’ve been involved in fabrication, its not too hard to spot a poor quality weld. The steel and welds are what holds your trailer together, so make sure they are good quality.
The heavier the trailer, the thicker and better engineered steel should be, especially the chassis and drawbar.
Steel will rust if not treated properly. Ideally the chassis should be hot dip galvanised, and the body powdercoated. The better the metal finish, the less likely you will have issues with rust, chipping and general damage.
Wiring and plumbing
Have a look at where the cables, switches and plumbing has been located. If its tucked away, well supported and protected from damage then you are onto a winner. If you see cable going through metal without rubber grommets, or waterproof areas that don’t have cable glands on them, you know the finish quality is lacking.
Poor quality dust seals are an absolute nightmare. Ensure the camper trailer closes with decent sealing around any gaps, or your new purchase will be covered in dust in no time.
The electrics in camper trailers range from mild to wild today, with some having thousands of dollars invested in electrics. Most camper trailers will come with at least one battery, a few Anderson and cigarette lighter outlets, and a cable to the hitch for charging from your vehicle.
Have a think about whether the battery size is enough to run your electrics. How are you going to charge the battery – solar, from the tow vehicle or both? Is the lighting sufficient for walking around the camper trailer at night, both inside and outside?
You can run pretty much anything when camping these days, as long as you can afford to have it installed. Coffee machines, upright fridges, ovens, heaters, hot water on demand, electric blankets and the list goes on. What do you really need though?
There’s something to be said about good quality canvas. If its heavy, and thick, you are off to a good start. Look for canvas at least 10 oz on the roof and 8 oz on the walls (15 and 12 is even better, just heavier), and properly waterproofed. Some of the cheaper camper trailers come with poor quality canvas that leaks around the sewing. If you get canvas that is no good, your whole camper trailer is going to be a mess after the first rain.
Water tank size
Water is critical for camping, and the more clean water you have available the better. Anything less than 60L is a push, with 100L being a good number and anything over that a bonus. Make sure the water tanks suit your requirements, that they can be filled easily and that they are well built and protected. Moulded plastic tanks that are 6mm thick or more are fantastic.
There are a lot of different hitches on the market today; you won’t find many camper trailers still using the 50mm ball hitch. Treg or Trigg hitches are probably the most common hitches for off road use, with a lot of Chinese copies making their way onto the market. From there, you move to the D035, Mc hitch and a number of others. Whilst this isn’t a major consideration, have a quick think about it.
If I had my choice today, I’d get a D035, with no hesitation.
The kitchen in a camper trailer is one of the most used items, and you want it to be functional. What do you need to do to use the kitchen? Is there hoses that need connecting and disconnecting each time? Is the location of the burners and sink convenient? Is there plenty of bench space for working? Where is the fridge in comparison to the kitchen? Where will you store your food?
I’ve said it plenty of times before; sleeping when camping should be a pleasant experience, especially in a camper trailer. Many camper trailers come with full size queen or king innerspring mattresses, with some still using the foam alternatives. You want a bed that is comfortable, supportive and suitable for you to get in and out of!
Ventilation and zips
If you are camping in warmer climates, good ventilation is going to be hugely important. If your camper trailer only has a couple of windows, you are going to struggle to get enough air flow. Look for camper trailer tents that have plenty of windows, with tough insect mesh to stop the critters coming in.
Zips should feel strong, and have big teeth (number 10 is recommended). They get put under a fair bit of pressure on a heavy canvas tent, and are a real pain when they break.
Tyres, wheels and track width
You want good quality tyres on your camper trailer, and even more so if you are planning on leaving the bitumen. Mud terrain tyres aren’t necessary, but a good set of all terrains are a great start. If its important to you, match the tyre size and wheel to your tow vehicle. This way, if you do get a puncture, you have double the spares.
Another thing to consider for those towing a camper trailer off road is the width of the wheel track. You can easily match the wheel track to your 4WD by selecting the right offset rims and axle width. If the camper trailer sits in the same ruts as your 4WD, it will tow much better.
If you want to pull over for lunch, how easy is it to make use of the camper trailer? If you have to unpack and set a heap of things up just to boil a kettle, is this going to be a problem?
Awnings and extra rooms
Most camper trailers have the option of awnings and extra rooms. These often take a long time to set up, but are a great way to get more usable space. If you are getting one with extras, set them up so you know how it all goes.
Your camper trailer will cop a lot of rocks when being towed, especially off road. You need a decent quality stone guard to protect the camper trailer, or at the very least your paint work will be non existent in some parts after a bit of gravel rash.
Spare part availability
Make sure you can get spares as required for your camper trailer. Some Chinese imports run weird bearings and seals, and getting spares can be a huge nightmare, especially if you are remote. Make sure the spares are easily sourced, and that they are available should you need them in a rush!
If your camper trailer weighs over 750kg, it must have brakes. Generally these are either electric, or mechanical. Electric brakes require your vehicle to have a brake controller installed in order to work. The mechanical versions rely on the hitch compressing when you brake, which manually activates the brakes. These are either cable or hydraulic, but they are extremely important for safe towing.
Will it take extra people?
If there’s a chance you are going to have children in the future, it would pay to make sure they can be housed in your camper trailer. A rooftop tent camper trailer is probably not going to suit you if a baby arrives!
Chinese vs Australian made
This is a bit of a touchy subject, but I’ll be objective. Walk through and caravan and camping show in the country and you’ll see that there is a huge gap in price between the two, and often a big gap in quality too. However, in general there are three types of camper trailers on the market. The Camper trailer brands to avoid are not always from one location!
100% Australian made and assembled
Yep, there are still plenty of camper trailer manufacturers that are entirely Australian owned. They source Australian components, fabricate everything here and assemble it in Australia. In general these are substantially more expensive, but they are built well and have Australian support behind them.
Australian assembled with imported components
This is the way a huge number of camper trailer manufacturers are going; parts built in China (or elsewhere) and sent over, with the camper trailer being assembled in Australia. These are often sold as ‘made in Australia’, which technically is correct, but its done with imported components. Don’t be fooled; ask where your camper trailers components come from!
The amount of imported components vary considerably; some manufacturers still build the structural side in Australia and import the rest, whilst others import almost everything and literally just bolt it together.
90% Chinese assembled with 10% of finishing touches done in Australia
On the cheaper end of the scale, you have camper trailers that are almost completely assembled and shipped to Australia. The final touches are done in Australia, like adjusting brakes, installing rims and tyres and anything else required to get them licensed and on the road. Some of the worst camper trailers made fall in this category, but they have improved considerably and you can get bad trailers made in Australia too, so look for real world owner feedback.
So, imported or not?
I like to support local business. That said, I’m also acutely aware that money doesn’t grow on trees.. What ever you get, make sure you are aware of where it was built and assembled, and the risks of your decision.
Camper trailers imported from China in the first few years were very sketchy, with lots of issues. These days, with so many companies importing them, the quality has gone up ten fold, but there are still plenty of issues around. If top quality is what you are chasing, get an Australian made camper trailer. Something Australian made and second hand is an economical way to get a great quality camper trailer.
What ever you buy, look for honest reviews on them before you put your money down!
Getting a good deal
There’s a lot of competition in the camper trailer market today. This means as a buyer, you are in a great position to get value for money. If you are buying new, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount; if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Buying a second hand camper trailer can save you an absolute fortune, as long as its been well cared for. The ideal camper trailers are those that haven’t been used much, but stored in a clean, dry environment.
Don’t get caught up with the bling; fancy electronics, aluminium rims, shiny panels and mud terrain tyres might look good, but they are the lesser important pieces that make up your camper trailer. Look for a functional camper trailer that is going to do what you want of it.
Hire before you buy
If you aren’t 100% convinced that the camper trailer you are looking at is the right one, see if you can hire it before you buy. Some places will deduct the hiring price from a new camper trailer; so its a win win situation. No matter how much you look at a camper trailer, there are things you won’t realise until you actually use it. Hiring a camper trailer isn’t cheap, but its a great way to save you a bucket load of money by not buying an unsuitable trailer.
Do lots of research and find existing owners!
You can never do too much research. Look online at forums, speak to those in the industry and jump on Facebook; you’ll find a wealth of knowledge searching for various camper trailer manufacturers and models, and joining the relevant groups.
Find someone who owns the same camper trailer that you are looking at, so you can find out exactly what they love and hate. The more research you do now, the less changes you’ll have to make, and the more chance of the camper trailer actually doing what you want from it.
Don’t pay too much attention to the camper trailers pushed by big magazines; they are paid to sponsor them, and their reviews are always going to be biased. They are useful for comparing features and prices though.
How often are you going to use it?
A huge number of people buy camper trailers and they sit in the garage or driveway for months on end. If you are happy to do this, then its not a problem, but have a think about how often you are actually going to head away with the camper trailer. If its only a few weekends a year, or an annual holiday, you may actually be better off hiring a camper trailer.
How much does it cost to own a camper trailer?
Owning a camper trailer is relatively cheap, but it isn’t free. This will vary from state to state, but it pays to consider how much you will have to throw at the camper trailer
Registration – around $150 per year
Insurance – $150 – $1500 per year depending on who you go with, what they cover and how much its covered for
Repairs and maintenance – $100 to $2000. Wheel bearings, canvas repairs, new tyres, electrical repairs and the list goes on.
There are plenty of fantastic resources online if you take the time to find them. Here’s a few:
This forum is a gold mine, and by far and away the best place that I have found to gather information on camper trailers. There are hundreds of sections in the forum covering electrical, mechanical, camper trailer builds, cooking etc. If you are looking for a camper trailer, don’t be a twat and make a thread ‘What should I buy’?. These are one of the most common threads; do some of your own research, narrow it down a bit and join in; they are a friendly bunch.
Kimberley Kampers are one of the premium camper trailer manufacturers in Australia. They have a number of great guides that you can download and read. Of course, they are biased towards the Kimberley Kampers, but they do a good job explaining the general information you want to think about.
Another wealth of knowledge is Campertrailers.org. It might be one of the worst websites I’ve ever been to in 2017 in terms of navigation, but the information is solid, and its worth a look.
There are plenty of videos on youtube covering a huge variety of camper trailers, with setup videos, instructions for how to use parts of the camper, product reviews and guides. Spend some time looking around!
If you search in Facebook for your make and model camper trailer, chances are there will be a heap of people who own one or have used one that have uploaded photos. These are generally fairly reliable in terms of accuracy, and sometimes you can join groups for specific trailer brands to ask questions
Google has always been a great place to get information. Look up your trailer make and model to see what pops up. Like everything online you have to read it with a grain of salt, but its a good place to start.
What have I missed?
I’ve spoken to enough owners and read enough horror stories about poorly purchased camper trailers, and hope this post will help you avoid some of the common mistakes. If I’ve missed anything, let me know!
What camper trailer do you use?
What camper trailer do you have? What do you like about it, and dislike? Would you get another one?
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