When it comes to buying an off road caravan there are 9 caravan parts that make it different to a family caravan or luxury caravan. Caravan parts are built to endure the rigours of 4WD travel on unsealed and corrugated sections of road, over long distances and in harsher environments.
Caravans built by Australian manufacturers, in particular, are designed with the tough Australian conditions in mind, and this will be reflected in the quality of their suspension and other key caravan parts. So when you’re out caravan hunting, look out for the following features:
Strong frame, raised higher off ground
Look for caravans that are reinforced and raised higher off the ground. This will ensure that your caravan can withstand the vibrations that come from travelling on tough dirt conditions and on unsealed roads. This will make a huge difference to your level of comfort and safety when towing a caravan over a long distance. You’ll be able to navigate through harsher terrain and still feel smooth and in control. A higher frame also means you have greater ground clearance for things like crossing rivers and bumps and divets in the road.
Solid chassis, designed for off-road conditions
A chassis is the base frame of your caravan and foundation to its entire construction. Given this, it’s vital that it's made from strong, solid galvanised steel or equivalent, reinforced, and built for off road conditions. Having good bones and the right architecture underpinning your caravan means all caravan components, which hang from this, will have a better foundation and last longer.
Chassis components that can withstand corrosion
A chassis’ components, such as axles, springs, wheels and suspension, are critical to the longevity of your caravan’s life and the types of roads you can travel on.
When looking at chassis types, standard on road caravans will include single or tandem beam axles paired with rocker leaf suspension, while off-road caravans will include independent suspension, ground clearance and rear cutaways for river crossings.
When you’re driving in the wet, through the mud and over unsealed surfaces, this will wear your chassis components down at a faster rate than normal driving conditions. Given this, look to see that all key components are solid steel and galvanised, with a good protective coating to protect them from corrosion and rusting. This will ensure you get more life out of your components and keep you safer for longer when driving off road.
Tyres that are heavy duty
For off road travel you want durable tyres that can withstand sharp rocks, corrugated sections and continual exposure to hot, wet and/or dusty conditions. Look for 15 inch wheels and tyres with a heavy duty tread. Tyres come with a tread-wear rating set by the manufacturer. For off-road travel, you want to look for a high tread pile count, with a 10+ ply rating being well suited to 4WD conditions. Make sure that the size and stud pattern on your off road caravan tyres match that of your tow vehicle. Also ensure that all the tyres on your caravan and vehicle have mudflaps fitted, the correct inflation pressure before using, and that all spare tyres are the same type, tread and size as the caravan’s other wheels.
Independent suspension & other safety features
For on road caravan travel, traditional basic solid axles and leaf springs are a good and cheaper option to independent suspension. However, if you are travelling off-road over long distances independent suspension is recommended for smoother driving and durability of your caravan. Independent suspension will absorbs all the knocks and bumps that come from 4WD driving, giving you a smooth and safer experience as you tour the great outdoors.
Tandem suspension is also favoured in off-road conditions, working with your independent suspension to help your caravan track directly behind when towing and prevent it from getting bogged into soft ground.
Caravans should also be fitted with electronic stability control for emergency braking situations. Other essential safety features that will make your drive smoother and safer, include:
- shock absorbers on each wheel
- heavy duty leaf springs, load sharing rocker
- drop down stabilisers at each corner
- jacking points at rear of wheelbase
- caravan breakaway unit.
Bumper bars that extend underneath
Look for bumper bars that extend underneath to give you extra protection when you're crossing rivers, driving over ditches and emerging from lower sections of a road. They help protect the frame and nose of your caravan and also protect it’s undercarriage including the chassis and components. With an extended bumper bar in place you will notice the difference, navigating undulating terrain and lower river crossings with a newfound confidence.
Checker plates and full dust proofing
Checker plates are made from steel, stainless steel or aluminium sheet, and can be put on the sides and front of your caravan to protect from stone damage that comes when driving on unsealed roads. With it's raised diamonds or line patterns, it also make a nice aesthetic feature to the outside of your caravan.
For full dust proofing, you want to ensure that all the seals, from doors to windows, are shut tight to create a fully-sealed interior space. This creates a positive internal pressure that won't let dust in. Keeping dust out can also be assisted by roof-mounted pressure vents.
Using stone guards with heavy duty mud flaps reduces the the ammount of damage done from rocks hitting exposed areas under your van, including water tanks, electrical fittings and gas. Designed to repel rocks to the ground, they are a simple addition to your caravan and significantly reduce costly damage done to your caravan.
To tow safely off road, off road caravans need a tow hitch with a broad-range articulation angle far greater than the standard 15 degrees. Make sure you look out for this. Greater articulation will give your caravan a wider range of movement, making it easier and safer to tow, particularly on corrugated roads.
Also ensure that the vehicle that’s towing it is also suitable. The tow ball/tongue weight of your tow vehicle needs to be at least 10% more than the weight of a fully-laden caravan. The tow vehicle itself also has to be at least 30% the weight of a fully laden caravan. Anything wider than 2.3m, may also require a commercial license to tow.
As well as these caravan parts, there are other add-ons that are essential for safe off road caravanning, these include things like off-grid power sources such as solar, batteries and diesel, and extra gas bottles & water so you can stay outback for longer. Taking extra food, fuel, a gps, emergency kit, map, satellite phone and clothing for changeable weather are also essential items to pack when travelling to remote and isolated areas. The main thing is to be prepared, plan for the unexpected, and have all the back-up and extra supplies you need to help you feel safe and in control.
Want to find out more about what makes up a great caravan? Download our guide to buying the ultimate caravan in 2016.