Camper Trailers Tech Tips

buying the right camper trailer




how we chose the right camper for us.....

an analytical approach

by Tracey Lyons


the way it used to be

    My style of camping has been the old fashioned way for years. Cart it all in a car and either sleep in a tent or clear the vehicle and sleep in there. My second car was a old delivery van for sleeping in and I bought a used box trailer to cart my wares. Worked great until the van got written off in an accident (mental note: vans tend to crumple around your legs in a head on collision).

    What next? A ute of course. Needs a canopy to keep out the weather, so Dad made me one so I could take my puppies everywhere. Downfall was that I needed a tarp for privacy and sideways rain and you have to pack things up to drive anywhere, but it worked well.

stepping up

    Iíd been bringing home brochures for camper trailers from 4x4 & camping shows for ages. I knew I wanted one, but with so many choices and so many more options, the brain explodes before any decisions can be made, and once again it would go on the backburner. Just wanted something I could pull with my little 4 cylinder ute.

    Then my partner started to seriously look at the camper brochures as well and before you know it we are making decisions and choosing OUR camper.

    So how did we choose ours? Well, it was hard and a lengthy process.

    Looking at our particular style of camping was critical. Tents, fridge, comfy seats, good food, overnighters and the odd week here and there. Nothing lengthy to date. No two weeks stays, no one month stays, what a pity. Lights a must. Some way to run the laptop for camera downloads and the odd movie. Have to charge that laptop, the camera and phones. When The Kid was younger, we had to charge his game as well, but heís not as active with us camping these days, but that could change.

what type

    We decided to go with a hard floor camper. Much less canvas which means itís lighter to put up and down, easier to set up and somewhere to get out of the river of rainfall going through the camp. It also meant we could set up without having to be too critical of the surface under a soft floor. There is a smidge less storage, but we have a 4wd ute tray to fill if required. Another consideration was me being able to pack it up by myself in the ďworst case scenarioĒ and tow it when needed. Iím probably the youngest back surgery case my doctor has ever seen and I definitely donít wish to have more surgery again anytime soon, so it had to be easy for ME to open and close on my own. I have to be able to hook it up to the tow vehicle with the minimum of back straining effort too, so a good jockey wheel and hitch height were also a must, as Iíd never be able to push one around on my own.

    Out of all the hard floor campers, we ruled out anything that did not have a rear access door. If we are storing clothes inside the camper whilst touring, and decide to have a swim, there would be nothing more inconvenient than not being able to get them, so that also means an under bed storage draw of some sort . Letís rule out any camper that doesnít have one of those or isnít easily set up to put one in. It must be 4wd to suit the tow vehicle and the type of camping Iíd like to do in the future (Bungle Bungles here we come!!). Weíll have to view the campers and be able to poke, prod and drill the salesman, which rules out any that donít have a showroom with in a few hours from Brisbane. That didnít mean we wouldnít consider one further afield, just that weíd have to catch them at a camping show or do a one off recon to visit them. So far we are narrowing the field considerably. We may or may not buy new, but in the showroom is a great way to see whatís new in the camper trader trade and get a feel for brand names. Also gives us a great chance to sum up the friendly salesman and any after sales service we might require. The camping & 4x4 shows are a great opportunity to see many campers side by side, so you can go from one to the other comparing them with things still fresh in your mind.

which one

    Leaving the Boy Stuff to my partner, we also ruled out anything that wasnít up to running a few things on 12volt and carried its own battery system so that it could be independent of the tow vehicle when required and didnít want to wire things up ourselves. We wanted good quality wiring, possibly solar in the future, something easy to understand and change if required. The suspension needed to be heavy duty. The tyres dependable and spaced well enough to follow the wheel track of his ute. The body durable and either rust proof or extremely resistant as we live near the coast and plan on a few beach adventures and something that would withstand the rigours of a gravel road or in fact no road.

    The Girl Stuff was a matter of a good mattress to sleep on at night, a useable kitchen and good lighting for those after journey meals. A pantry large enough to carry all those items required for a well stocked functional kitchen. Easy access to an esky (fridge/freezer one day in the future) and enough room to manage either a small one or a large one depending on our camping needs.

    Some come with all the perks, but we donít really need all the bling that comes with a ďfully equipped camperĒ right now, as we plan to utilise what we already have for as long as we can. We purchased an AquaCube for hot water showers and have been pleased with it so far, as well as a shower cubicle for those times when we are in company, but will still utilise the campfire heated water where possible. Itís looking more and more like a base model for us. Something we can add to when we want and what we want and when financial commitments allow.

narrowing it down

    We then had our list of potential campers down to about six in all. We checked the second hand listings constantly looking for the ďbargain of the centuryĒ, but we found they all came with things we really didnít require, boat racks, boats, outboard fastenings, bike racks, extra rooms for kids, old fridges and solar panels, one even came complete with all their camping equipment (guess they didnít like it much). We found pricing was getting more expensive for the age of camper we wanted too (up to 10 years of age) especially with all the extras that the owners had added as they required them. Time to consider upping the budget amount somewhat I think. Speaking with people who had just sold their camper trailers is an enlightening experience. One gent tells us that he was extremely disappointed with his last camper trailer (a Chinese manufactured Australian assembled model) compared to when he first bought the brand (Australian all round) as it was breaking along the seams, was no longer dust proof and after a few years of good travelling though all terrains, it was in his words ďfalling apartĒ. We crossed them off the list too as he was very honest with us. We crossed off another as they are over 2,000 kmís away and are very scarce in the sales section for a valuation comparison. One camper trailer on the list we donít really have a good look at and it somehow disappears from the list on itís own. Which leaves us with three.

    We cross #3 off the list as we check them out with an agent and they arenít all what we were expecting. A much cheaper manufactured version of #1 & #2 which unfortunately shows in the camper trailer itself. And of course they are about to rise by $4,000 if we donít make up our minds this weekend. The salesman will give us till Monday afternoon before the current price is gone. Given that they arenít as nice as we were thinking, we do seriously consider the ďrush offerĒ, but decline it.

    And then there were two.

    Both these beasts are tough, come with many options and are roughly the same costs for the same age camper trailer, but even though they are similar, they are vastly different. We were still scanning the sales ads each night, calling sellers and getting their feel for the camper trailers we are looking at.

    We are almost at brand new pricing but picking they all come with some sort of accessory. We can sell things: boat and loader, extra canvas, old fridge etc, but are we really saving money in doing so? Going second hand? We will be getting older canvas. Have they looked after it correctly? Can we live with those small tears, animal munches, the interesting stains, and incorrect attempts at waterproofing? Replacing ropes, the odd pole and re-straightened pegs? Dings, bashes, gravel damage to paint, replacing mudflaps, fixing that dodgy repair?

    Yep sounds like we are upping that budget again ÖYe Gods!

the spreadsheet

    So we still have the 'Big Two'. And itís a hard decision to make. They are both worthy of The Spend. But which way do we go and how do we decide? Back to the showrooms and give them the complete poke and prod. Iíve decide to compare them using a excel spreadsheet listing all the standards, extraís and itís pricing, whatís missing on one that you get on another, what modifications are required (if any) and at what cost to be hitched up and following the ute? Took me awhile to do it, but it was well worth it for us. It showed us that in some cases, things arenít always what they seem. It also proved that some companies are easier to deal with and are much more up front with their pricing and assistance. It proved that not all websites are easy to use. But in both cases the sales people were really great and genuinely helpful. They tackled all our tricky questions without hesitation and there were a lot of answers that were missing from the spreadsheet which they answered to the best of their knowledge. If I phoned them with a question, they didnít sound like ďoh god itís that woman againĒ instead they were only too happy to help.

    So now we are just left with the decision itself. We knew it will be one of the 'Big Two', but which one. Both admitted to price rises in the not too distant future but allowed us a few weeks to make our decision. I guess they knew it would be a tough one. Comparing both sides of the spreadsheet made our choice much easier, seeing both campers compared item for item, dollar for dollar, standard for standard, extra for extra. Of course, we had to like each camper for what it was and be happy with the choice we made. Itís an awful lot of money to make a mistake on Ö










 thanks to Tracey for sharing her thoughts 

october 2010