I was asked recently what my top tips would be when looking for a pre-loved camper trailer. This got me thinking about what I looked for in the camper trailer I bought a couple of years ago and what I’d look for now if I was to look for that ‘best matched’ camper again.
While this list may not be exhaustive, or perhaps it may have had the romance taken out of it, I think it sows the seeds of things you need to consider when looking for your new camper trailer travelling and camping companion.
1. Is it a Camper Trailer that You Want?
A camper trailer is a somewhat unique beast in that you typically have to unfold the camper, put up the awning roof and walls and put up extra beds in the living space if carting kids.
You also need to pack well and with a strategy in place. For me, that means having my lunch and snack stuff handy. My breakfast and dinner can be packed away in the bowels of the rig awaiting the grand unpacking.
For this same reason, camper trailers are perhaps best suited for longer stays rather than a long series of one-night stopovers.
2. Design and Access
So which form of camper trailer is it to be for you? Is it the:
- Forward Fold – where the roof of the trailer folds forward to make the bed;
- Rear Fold – where the roof of the trailer folds back to make a solid floor on the ground at the rear of the trailer;
- Soft Floor – where the top of the trailer is covered with a waterproof cover and the whole lot folds out with a waterproof floor on the ground;
- Roof Top Tents on Trailers – where the camper trailer is simply a trailer, (possibly with storage and a slide out fridge / kitchen inside), with a rack system that supports the fold-out roof top tent; or any one of the
- various other combinations.
Look at the access and who will use the rig
In terms of Access, consider your age and the number of years you intend hanging on to the camper trailer and how you’ll access that lofty romantic dream-bed later in your life – even if it is just up a couple of steps.
Think too about any kids. If they’re in their mid-teens, then they’ll soon be in swags or perhaps camping by themselves. Perhaps a 6 berth set-up intended for teenage kids would only be for the short term.
There’s heaps of manufacturers to choose from and I have no intention of listing them here – other than to say that there’s probably two main types:
- Factory Built; and
- Home Made
In the factory built market, the country of origin may be important for some. But, I’m pretty sure that you’ll soon find that even those claimed to be ‘made’ in Australia are still made up largely of components from overseas. If you think that this is perhaps a deal breaker consider the manufacturer of your tow rig.
What is important in my mind is the important components of the build starting with bearings, brakes and compliant gas fittings.
Perhaps too look for a galvanised chassis and body if you plan on a long life and the occasional beach holiday.
Home made “Jobbie”
If you come across a Home Made ‘Jobbie’, have someone you trust look at the welds and fabrication. Look for rust or early signs of rust or even repair work like paint-overs or welded patches. A real warning sign would be welds on the top or bottom of the main chassis as heat stress can weaken these members.
On the other hand, Home Made trailers can be over designed and fabricated by overcautious builders. The unfortunate consequence of this is that it can add to the weight of the final project.
Be aware too that, all too often people convert what was a box trailer (best suited for trips to the dump) into their version of a camper trailer. Be careful here, as different design rules may apply and what was a trailer built for a 750 kg maximum load on the tyres is now loaded with much more and un-braked or incorrectly braked. Exceeding 750 kg is one sure requirement for requiring a compliant and effective brake system.
Additionally, under the Australia Government’s Vehicle Standards Bulletin VSB1, a trailer “permanently equipped with a folding and stow-able roof, (such as a camper trailer) is a caravan”. Other provisions within this Bulletin will also determine when a trailer is considered to be a caravan. This may mean that what was a box trailer may need to be re-registered as a caravan.
Look too for a simple 12 volt wiring layout with neat terminations, good size wires and accessible fuses. Best to get a run down on the electrical layout and how it all works – including any chargers, solar panels, solar panel regulators, DCDC units and/or inverters.
4. Compliance Plate
This is almost where the rubber hits the road.
The Compliance Plate, often on a government issued template, will provide you with lots of information, including:
- Manufacturer’s or Importers Name;
- Trailer Model;
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN);
- Date of Manufacture;
- Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) (maximum loaded weight including ball load);
- Tare (empty weight);
- Axle load capacity (maximum load on the trailer’s axle/s); and
- Details on the rims, tyre size and tyre pressures.
State Requirements May Differ
Some states (eg Queensland) require the VIN number be welded or stamped onto the chassis of trailers. Many manufacturers do this anyway, so look for the number and check it matches the Compliance Plate.
Be suspicious of ground off or missing VIN numbers on the chassis.
More information can be found at www.qld.gov.au/transport/buying/caravanning or your state authority or automotive club.
The ATM stated on the Compliance Plate is the maximum load that the camper trailer can be packed to. This includes water, food, clothes, gear, bikes, etc, etc.
At the same time, the camper trailer’s Tare weight is what the trailer was determined to weigh at empty – that is no water, no gas, no gear, no food, etc, etc.
Then, the difference between the stated Tare and the ATM is what you can / could put into the camper trailer – assuming that the Tare is correct and that you want to go to the maximum load of the ATM. Check your car can tow this ATM and that your car’s rear axle can handle the load transferred to it from the Tow Bar (Ball Load). Refer to our calculators.
Don’t assume it will all be ok
For me and my Mazda BT50, the overhang of the car’s towbar forces about 1.4 times the Ball Load on to the car’s rear axle. So, in my case, a 300 kg Ball Load is transferred to the car’s rear axle as 420 kg – and, in turn, taking 120 kg off the car’s front axle.
What’s your car’s Ball Load Multiplier? Find out using Load Table 2 on Camp and Travel’s Load Calculator “LoadGood”. Refer to our calculators.
Check too that the Ball Load of the trailer is around the 10% of the loaded ATM figure of the camper trailer. Camper trailers with their axles positioned more to the rear can have a heavy Ball Load. (Refer to comment above about heavy Ball Loads), but offer better handling than having a Ball Load that is too light.
There is a whole world around compliance and each state can vary.
But enough here to say that you’ll need to make investigations in terms of:
- Registration – appropriate and currency;
- If unregistered, is it capable of being registered – is it compliant?
- Gas certification
- Are any gas bottles less than 10 years old and in good condition? If not, disposal will be an extra cost for you on top of a new bottle;
- If there’s 240 volt power in the camper trailer, is it compliant?
- Is it road worthy / does it have a road worthy certificate?
- Is the seller the registered owner?
If you plan on going to remote locations, a simple leaf sprung suspension can be a lot easier and cheaper to repair.
However, independent suspension on camper trailer wheels can offer a smother ride and better ground clearance when it comes to humps in the middle of the tracks – (just watch your water tanks).
8. Tyres and Wheels
Many people search high and low for camper trailers that have the same stud pattern and rims, (including the rim’s ‘offset’ which is the distance from the face of the hub to the centreline of the rim). The intention of this is to have ‘extra’ spare tyres if you blow or puncture a tyre, or destroy a rim (on the car and/or camper trailer).
This is always a great idea, but my suggestion is don’t walk away from a great camper trailer at a great price because of it. After all… you may just sell the car you’ve got during the life of the camper trailer.
There can often be ways to work around these issues in an emergency. It’s best to plan for this if this the case.
You do however need to look at the wear and tear on the tyres as well as their age. How soon will you need new tyres?
Does the camper trailer have one or more 12 volt batteries?
If more than one battery, then they would best be the same age, condition and Amp Hours. Different batteries will only charge to the level of the ‘weakest’ battery.
You need to consider the battery/ies age and condition. If the battery is a wet cell battery you’ll be looking at a new one after 3-4 years. If the battery is an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery you’ll get a bit longer life provided that they’ve been charged correctly during their service period.
These may not be deal breakers, but you may need to factor a new battery into the price – which can be hundreds of dollars for an AGM or around the thousand if you want to up the game with Lithiums.
10. Drawbar Length
Digging a little more into Design, a longer drawbar can help with reducing the Ball Load of the trailer.
Longer drawbars also offer the ability to make tighter turns (as the car can often turn further without fouling with the trailer and jack-knifing). They can also make reversing a little easier.
Shorter drawbars may be easier to store in the garage and sometimes cheaper on ferries.
11. Storage and Access
Again related to Design, look at the layout of things like storage and the kitchen. Does it work for you and the family?
Can you access the stuff you want and need when on the road – or do you need to open stuff up to simply get to the can opener?
12. Condition of Canvas, Fly Screens, Zips and Poles
Be sure to see the camper trailer opened up and inspect the condition of the canvas, the fly screens, zips and poles.
Is it all there? Does it all work? Is there any damage? Can any damage, wear, tears, mould etc be repaired or cleaned?
Does the roof design cause ponding? Has the canvas stretched over time causing the roof to pond and hold water – remembering that small drips can turn into big ponds of water in an overnight downpour.
13. Check with Your Partner
Finally and perhaps most importantly – and trust me I know from experience – check that your significant other is well and truely on board with this whole camper trailer idea.
Take time to check what’s out there and discuss your mutual travelling and camping ideas and view of the world.
If you get this bit right you’ll be using your camper trailer more and more – and lovin’ it.
This list and discussion is intended as a guide only. You need to make full enquires to suit your own needs and be aware of the legal and legislative requirements in your jurisdiction. If you are in any doubt you need to call on the advice of an expert in that particular field.
Have fun and see you out and about!
Out&About with Dayv