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Expanda fills a 'Tardis' role for good time travellers

July 05, 2006
Expanda fills a 'Tardis' role for good time travellers

By Fred Jobson

After owning some eight vans personally and working in the Caravan Park industry for 18 years including running a 5 star Caravan Park, you would think that it would be easy to make the decision about which van to buy next - it was far from it.

The reality is that the decision for each van was a product of a number of conditions such as dollars, number of family, how far we would be traveling, and what tow vehicle we had.

Our latest choice was dictated by our requirements as early self funded retirees having the money to buy our choice ( within reason) and the time to enjoy the traveling life we envied so much while we were working and running the Caravan Park. The grey nomad life always looked so much fun and the reality is that it is better than we expected.

We also have concerns about petrol costs, tow vehicle requirements, space at home for parking, and a layout that gives us enough room to live and sleep.

These and dozens of other reasons led us to choose a Jayco Expanda Van and now after a 2000 km trial in three months we can write with some authority regarding how it fulfilled our expectations.

In a word brilliant.

In summary, our Jayco Expanda is well finished, excellently designed, very comfortable, tows very well and economically, and is relatively quick and easy to erect or fold down to get back on the road.

It does have a few small items which we will mention later but the end result is that this was at least as good a finished and defect free van as we have had which is gratifying when it is appreciated that the Jayco Expanda was also very competitively priced.

Our previous four-year-old van cost $47,500 new but as a trade in the best offer at Christmas 2006 was just over $30,000. So it was sold at a better price privately and then the price was bargained down on the new Jayco Expanda making the changeover cost minimal.

As the new Jayco Expanda is an off-road model with air conditioning, toilet and shower, large fridge, Wynguard aerial, annex with shade panels and flooring the price is very competitive.

Expanda at Cania Gorge  Caravan Park in full working order
Expanda at Cania Gorge Caravan Park in full working order

Our last van has a reputation for being one of Australias best quality vans, so the trade in offered was disappointing as it was in unblemished condition. We tried retailers from Queensland to Victoria.

This raises the question of whether the new Jayco Expanda is value for money.

But like every canny buyer I did my research, visited dealers, websites and Jayco owners and asked questions.

Vitriolic comments I read on some web site forums regarding quality control and defects concerned me and I had to satisfy my mind regarding this before ordering the Expanda.

But I have some understanding of the Jayco factory and its standards after visits to the factory during my time as a caravan park manager. That experience and my own research since, leaves me convinced that many of these comments are unwarranted and in some cases downright unfair.

I have the impression that there may be motives behind some of these comments rather than genuine caravaners expressing their own opinions.

The reality is that Jayco makes more than 40 per cent of all caravans sold in Australia. They make the vans on a modern assembly line similar in many ways to automobile manufacturers.

Jayco Expanda interior
Jayco Expanda interior

There are no complaints that cars should be made in small factories by hand rather than on an assembly line yet some critics contend that caravans are different.

My conclusion was that the Jayco economy of scale allows efficient assembly and price savings right down the line. Management ensures that the end product has excellent quality control and attention to possible problems or defects.

One thing that did impress me was that even critics do not dispute that the company warranty system and attention to problems raised with Jayco is first class.

After shopping around on quotes I ordered the Expanda through Page Caravans in Seaford, Victoria on the basis of price and reputation and I was not disappointed.

Communication was good with Page Caravans before delivery and I arrived to find the van registered, ready and waiting. Then came one of the most comprehensive pre-delivery tours I have experienced by Ted Price of Page Bros.

Dirty Expanda not a problem - washed off there were no leaks or dirt  inside
Dirty Expanda not a problem - washed off there were no leaks or dirt inside

Ted made sure we had everything 100 per cent clear. He checked all warrantees and keys for the van. Then showed us how the ends fold and gave us hints. He took time to make sure that my Hayman Reese hitch was properly set up and the Expanda brakes were adjusted correctly.

One thing he missed, however, was that it is wise to use small padlocks to secure the clamps that hold the fold up beds in place while traveling as they can work loose on rough roads and over long distances.

The level of care for the customers safety was much better than I had experienced with other caravans and I left feeling I would buy again from Page Bros.

My initial check on the van on delivery as well as my more thorough checks back at the Big 4 Melbourne Caravan Park base found no quality control issues apart from a couple of minute trim problems.

Now after the 2000km plus travel I still have no warranty claims or defects to go back to Jayco with. Everything works, everything is excellent and I could not be more pleased with the quality and attention to detail and quality control.

Jayco Expanda with two carry tubes on the front - one for poles - one for fishing rods.
Jayco Expanda with two carry tubes on the front - one for poles - one for fishing rods.

Layout and fold-out/up beds

One of the main reasons we choose the Expanda was to get some space into the caravan. Our previous caravan was one of the biggest pop-tops made and twin axle, but in reality the layout design was terrible.

No space to move and a cramped bed made for problems at night and we always put up the annex if staying more than a night so that I had room to get out and sleep with a bit of space.

The concept of the beds folding out in the Expanda solves this problem completely.

Beds that fold out to provide decent sized sleeping space at each end give us the result we wanted as well as enough separation at each end of the van if a partner snores ( come on, admit it we all have this problem).

This also leaves enough room inside the van so the kitchen can be accessed without crowding. The sitting areas are large and there is even room to lie down on either side of the seating couches in the evenings to watch TV, which I for one really appreciate.

As is the case in all vans there is a compromise on bench space, but as far as our requirements are concerned we have adequate for our needs and a roomy feel we would not have in the other designs we considered.

When erected the pop-up section is also very high, which allows much more headroom than we had been used to. In fact my wife Carole can just reach the light switches on the roof when the roof is up.

Another bonus is that the roof was easy to erect and Carole can work the lifting mechanism, - something she could never do with our last van.

When down the beds are under canvas which is relatively quick to erect, spacious and sturdy.

Any concerns we had regarding leaks, and wind instability were put to rest almost immediately as we experienced torrential rain and 30kmh winds for the first week which gave the fold-out beds and the whole van a real trial.

We erected flies over the fold-out beds, but they have also been used without the flies and are leak-free. For stays of more than a night flies are recommended as they keep the fold out canvas clean and allow it to be folded without dampness straight after rain

This brings us to a problem. The fold-up section requires getting the mattress and fold-up canvas right or folding up is difficult.

The mattresses have a small infill along the exterior one side which is just a pain in the butt to fold up as it can stop the whole process if it is not exactly right.

We will try to take it off as the bed is still huge and it is not needed. This will make things easier as well as possibly allowing the mattress to be folded with the bedding on it.

Unfortunately the current design does not allow the bedding to be folded up on the mattresses when the sides are closed. As the beds are rather hard to make and require crawling into the beds to fit the blankets and sheets this needs design attention.

From my wifes perspective this is the biggest fault in the design of the folding ends.

The design of a similar concept van, the Windsor Rapid allows the bedding to be folded up with the mattress and we considered this, but we felt the layout designs available in the Windsor did not meet out personal requirements and the sleeping areas seemed much more confined, so we chose the Jayco Expanda.

Another small problem with the fold-out bed areas is that my wife does not like the idea of the pillows being flush up against the ends of the fold out canvas.

Interior bed rear with headboard made by Fred to give support to the pillows
Interior bed rear with headboard made by Fred to give support to the pillows

The solution is easy. I made a small headboard from laminated panel which slots between the mattress and canvas wall. This solves the perceived problem and does not even need fixing to stay in place. The head board is laid on the mattress when the ends are folded and takes only seconds to put in place.

Personally I do not need a headboard but it does satisfy Caroles concerns.

Another small item is that the rear bed has nowhere to put a cup of tea or book while lying in bed. It took a couple of hours to work it out and I constructed a small corner shelf with legs that slip neatly into the corner of the beds mattress and the wall of the van.

It is instantly removable but can stay there when the beds are folded. This fixes the snag. Cup of tea in bed no problem !

The front bed has the huge table right in front of it which I found great although a little inconvenient when accessing the bed.

The disadvantage of the Expanda design is that the front bed has to be accessed by a climb over the seating area or the table moved to leave a small gap. For an infirm person this may be hard, but for anyone reasonably sprightly its not a problem. The rear bed has completely free access.

The other side of the coin is that the design allows a huge seating area with a great of spacious feel. Six people can sit around the table and have a meal or coffee without crowding.

Toilet Shower

The inclusion of a toilet and shower was essential for us and the Jayco design works well. The only criticisms I could make is that perhaps a little more attention is needed to sealing around the crevices.

My summation is that the shower is designed for occasional rather than everyday use which is exactly what we use it for. We usually use the parks facilities but if these are too grotty (as unfortunately some still are), or it is cold and miserable, we use our own.

The toilet is excellent and has worked faultlessly.

Cupboard space

We had concerns about insufficient storage but this is not the case and we still have unused cupboard space. The cupboards are sturdy and have excellent locking mechanisms. They do not open when traveling and the knobs dont unscrew when traveling as our last vans fittings were prone to do.

Because of the inclusion of the hot water boiler we lost a bit of the wardrobe space but this is a small price to pay for the comfort. Actually it is a help in that we have reduced the amount of clothes we take to a more reasonable limit.

Family role fits  Jayco Expanda
Family role fits Jayco Expanda

Off road

We do only a little of-road travel but I chose an Outback/ off road model because I value the inclusion of a beefed up axle/tyre/suspension and brake combination. I have always preferred double axles and wanted to make sure that the single axle suspension of the Jayco Expanda was up to the job.

I realise that the Jayco engineers have taken this into consideration when designing the normal road van and this is a personal requirement.

The setup seems to tow excellently and the suspension is as good as I could expect so I am satisfied with the result. The increased height is also appreciated when exiting or entering step drives and garages. No more scraping.

I also have averaged an additional 1.6 km a litre better diesel consumption when compared to my last van.

Conclusion

Everything in life is a compromise.

We wanted a 26 ft van but did not want to have the hassle and expense of towing and storing it. The Jayco Expanda is really the best compromise we could get and delivers almost everything we really needed in a van without the negatives of a bigger van.

Construction, finish, design, equipment and usage requirements have all been met or exceeded our expectations at this time.

After another 12 months I may do a review again and see how it has performed when the newness and novelty wears off, but I do believe we are discerning and experienced enough to give a fair evaluation at this time.

As Doctor Who fans we always said we really needed not a caravan but a Tardis, Dr Whos tiny on the outside but huge on the inside time traveling police box.

Expanda outback.
Expanda outback.

The Jayco Expanda is our Tardis for our continuing exploration of Australia.

Isnt retirement grand!

Footnote: Since writing this feature we have just experienced our first warranty claim.

The zip on the side of one of the mattresses was defective. This was not Jaycos fault as the problem lay in the actual zip not the fixing by Jayco.

A simple phone call to the Jayco Warranty Dept produced an instant response with an authorized local repairer who assessed the problem the same day, got authorization over the phone from Jayco and it is getting fixed as I write.

Good warranty responses are the things that I personally look for and reinforce my faith in the product and the company.

Editors Note: This month Fred and Carole gave their Expanda a serious shakedown behind their turbo diesel Jackaroo 4WD with a trip from their home base in Hervey Bay to two of Queensland outstanding National Park attractions, Cania Gorge and Carnarvon Gorge. Their action shots of the experience are part of this feature.

Editor's Note also see:

Jayco Expanda 16.49.3 specifications

Model 16.49.3 (Melbourne prices) $31,000 retail.
(Plus Outback conversion $1600 retail).
Body length 4900mm (16ft. 1 in.)
Interior length 4743mm (15ft.6in).
Travel length 6270mm (20ft.7in).
Extended length 7190mm. (23ft. 7in).
Travel height 2255mm. (7ft 5in).
Interior height 2115mm (6ft. 11in).
Width 2290mm (7ft.6in).
Front bed size 1840mm x 1470mm.
Rear bed size 1830mm x 1370mm.
Approx tow ball weight 110kg.
Approx tare weight 1360kg.

Inclusions:
Outback conversion $1600.
Heron 2.2 reverse cycle aircon. $1650 retail
Carefree awning $1500 retail.
Larger fridge $700 retail
Reinforcing for mounting flat screen LCD screen (A given)
Wynguard aerial $330
Toilet shower included in retail price for Expanda 16.49.3
Total cost as featured: $36,780.

Recommended retail (Melbourne prices):
Standard Expanda 16.49.3 model with toilet and shower - $31,000
Outback Expanda conversion 16.49.3 - $1600.

Expanda and Jackaroo new and shiny.
Expanda and Jackaroo new and shiny.
Carnarvan Gorge Road after rain.  No leaks no problems.
Carnarvan Gorge Road after rain. No leaks no problems.
Plugging on the Jayco Expanda and the Jackaroo had not trouble coping but the rig in front jacknifed soon after this picture was taken.
Plugging on the Jayco Expanda and the Jackaroo had not trouble coping but the rig in front jacknifed soon after this picture was taken.
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