Which one is right for you?
Advantages of Off-Road Caravans
There are many reasons why Off-Road Caravans are a great choice, but the main one is FREEDOM!!
Freedom to escape the crowds and get to the harder to access places (which are often the best!!). This allows you to experience the rewards that come with putting in the extra effort to explore that dirt road or outback track.
Versatility: Ability to stay in a town or move out to the bush if that town is too crowded and gaining a caravan park spot means booking weeks or months in advance. Having to plan ahead to get accommodation can be very restrictive and stifling, but Off-Road Caravans liberate you from this.
Ground clearance Higher ground clearance means that the van is far less likely to scrape on driveway crests, awkward caravan sites, dips in roads etc.
Cheaper to camp: Aside from the dearer setup costs, Off-Road Caravans can save a lot of money when camping due to the fact that you can stay in a wider range of free camps, cheap bush stays and National Parks for extended periods. This can save a lot of money compared to corporate caravan parks.
What makes a caravan "Off-Road"?
Off-Road Caravans come in various forms, but essentially they are similar to a standard on road caravan but with design and build modifications that allow it to handle the rigours of unsealed roads, bush and desert tracks. The corrugations, ruts, potholes etc. place tremendous stresses on the van so it important that any Off-Road Caravan you choose has the modifications to suit your intended use. These generally include elements such as a stronger chassis, galvanising the chassis, off road suspension/tyres and increased ground clearance.
TIP: Most off road caravans have warranty limitations in regard to off-road use. Check with the respective manufacturer.
Full height Off Road Caravans
Full height Off-Road Caravans are very similar to their on road cousins in terms of possible interior features, size and general "livability". The differences with Off-Road Caravans are a direct result of their intended use, which is to allow you to "get off the beaten track". The resulting stresses placed on the van and the potential for damage mean that many aspects of the van are modified for off-road use and remote area stays. These may include the following:
- Additional and larger water tanks.
- Larger section size of chassis members.
- Galvanising the chassis.
- Off-road suspension - varying types available.
- Stronger cabinet construction.
- Articulated coupling to tow vehicle.
- Wheel size and stud pattern to suit tow vehicle.
- Increased ground clearance.
- Swept up rear for greater departure angle.
- Stone guard to protect van and tow vehicle from rocks.
- Guards around water tanks, plumbing etc.
- Checker plate or similar to protect bottom portion of van.
- Heavy duty bumper bars which may include jerry can holders.
- 12 volt electrical system throughout.
- Battery capacity including charger.
- Method of recharging Eg. Generator,Solar, or other.
- Twin 9kg LP Gas bottles.
- Energy efficient lighting - LED, flouro etc.
- Improved door / window seals.
- Pressure hatch in roof to pressurise van to prevent dust ingress.
- Inverters to convert 12 volt to 240 for some appliances.
- Tandem axles.
- Increased frame strength - Timber, aluminium, or sandwich wall.
Some of the high end manufacturers have these items as standard inclusions, whilst others include basic off-road features and have the rest as optional extras.
The main advantage of full height Off-Road Caravans is that you still have the freedom to get away from the crowds and explore most of those magic, out of the way spots, whilst still living in relative luxury. You simply do not have to rough it! There is also virtually no set up time and a huge amount of storage space.
Main disadvantages are that these vans are large and heavy, which means they are expensive to tow and are limited in where they can be taken due to their weight and height. They are also at the more expensive end of the spectrum.
The weight of these vans will also have a large bearing on what vehicle you can use to safely and efficiently tow them. Many of the larger vans in this category need the size and power of a vehicle such as a large V8 Landcruiser or F250. It is also desirable to have a diesel 4WD for the low down torque they provide.
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Pop Top Off-Road Caravans
Pop-Top Off-Road Caravans are the same as their bigger full height brothers in almost every aspect except in travelling/storage mode the roof height is around 400mm lower.
Part of the set up process involves "popping the top" up, which is usually a very simple and quick task. The roof is a hard top as with any other caravan, but the sides of the 'popped' top are most often vinyl or canvas with large, zippered and fly screened windows on all sides. This gives the van a great airy and open feeling and very good ventilation.
The Pop Top's lower overall height (when travelling and packed up) gives it some big advantages over the standard full height van. Reduced wind drag when towing means a large fuel saving and therefore dollar savings. The van has a lower centre of gravity and is also more likely to fit into your shed or garage when stored at home. It is also easier to access difficult bush tracks that have overhanging trees.
Pop Tops are also considerably lighter than a full height van, which again saves fuel and money. It is worth remembering that any fuel saving has an added bonus of allowing further travel on a given tank of fuel, which can come in very handy in remote situations. Providing easier
than the full heights, the pop top is also generally cheaper to purchase.
The nature of the pop top roof does limit the maximum length of the van as they are more difficult for the manufacturer to brace and there can be a small loss of storage space compared to a full height van.
The off road features available for pop tops are the same as the list above in "full height/standard caravan".
Some important areas to consider are:
Where do you intend to travel? This will determine how "off-road" your van needs to be.
What is your budget? With Off-Road Caravans costing anything up to and beyond $100,000, is important to know what you can afford - and then stick to it ;-)
What vehicle do you intend to tow with? Be aware that your choice of Off-Road Caravan may require a different tow vehicle to cope with the extra weight. Pop Top Off-Road Caravans are around 1.5 tonnes unloaded whereas full-heights can be around 2.5 tonnes, depending on variables such as length etc.
How long will your trip be? A one month trip with only a few setups can allow you to save money by choosing a cheaper van that may have a longer set up time. This increased set up time would however, be a huge issue if your trip involved 12 months of making and breaking camp every few days. The length of the trip determines so much.
How long will you stay off-road in a single stint? Answering this question will allow you to determine many of the features you will require on your Off-Road Caravan. These may include items like the size of the water tanks, battery number and size, recharge method, lighting etc.
In choosing the correct Off-Road-Caravan for your needs, there is much research to be done as you negotiate the myriad of products, manufacturers, features and accessories available. A clear starting point for this research is YOU!
The largest factor in securing your perfect off-road van is for you to determine what your needs are. The aim then should be to match your purchase with your needs. Anything less and you are selling yourself short, anything more and you are spending more than you need to.
There are plenty of $30,000 off-road caravans completing tracks like the Gibb River Road, Mitchell Falls, Cape Leveque etc. And what's more, they are doing it just as well as the $100,000 Bushtrackers. We were constantly surprised by the looks we recieved from owners of these more expensive off-road vans when they realised where we had been, and where they hadn't.
It is easy to overspend when a salesperson brings an element of fear into the equation, but it isn't necessary to overspend with rational research.
Use sales staff to gather additional information as needed, but it is important to keep a clear head and only purchase what you have calmly and rationally decided fits your needs. Spend wisely and you will save, and the more money you can save the longer you can stay away enjoying this amazing country!!
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