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Caravan Council of Australia advises how to buy a technically good, legal caravan or camper-trailer 

April 22, 2013
Caravan Council of Australia advises how to buy a  technically good, legal caravan or camper-trailer

Editors Note: This article has been supplied by the independent Caravan Council of Australia to assist caravan and camper trailer buyers and owners. Pictures used are as brand neutral as possible. The images chosen show some of GoSee must-have requirements in a caravan.

Getting away in your caravan or camper-trailer is a great way to relax and see this great country.

The nice and easy part of buying a caravan - whether new or used - is picking out the one with thethings you want and like the size, the number of sleeping berths, the styling, the colour, the internallay-out, appliances and accessories fitted, and of course, the price to suit your budget.

There is an often over-looked, but very important and hard part, and that is ensuring that everythingis legal and compliant - and safe - with the caravan.

When you buy a motor vehicle, it will have a Compliance Plate, issued by the Federal Vehicle SafetyStandards, fitted to it. This means that complete proof-of-compliance with all applicable ADRs(Australian Design Rules) has been submitted to VSS for their engineering inspection andsubsequent approval.

For caravans and trailers (under 4.5 tonne ATM Rating), this is not the case. Self-certification ispermitted, whereby the manufacturer - or importer - provides a declaration on the Trailer(Compliance) Plate, that the vehicle complies fully with all applicable regulations.

Each caravan and camper-trailer is now required to have a valid Trailer Plate securely affixed to it.

As is the case with motor vehicles, buyers and owners rightfully expect that all information on thePlate is true and correct but it is still worth checking.

The Trailer Plate is legally required to show the following information:

Manufacturer's or Importers Name.

Trailer Model.

Vehicle Identification Number (17-digit).

Date of Manufacture: (Month/Year).

Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) Rating.

The Certification Statement: This trailer was manufactured to comply with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989

Often the mandatory Tyre Placard items are also included, and possibly other information regardingthe vehicle. Three of the items required on the Tyre Placard are:

the manufacturer's recommended tyre size: (Without mentioning brand names).

tyre load rating.

speed rating.

Big fridge
Big fridge

VSB-1 (Vehicle Standards Bulletin No: 1) is the legal instrument that prescribes the requirements for caravans and trailers (under 4.5 tonne ATM Rating).

This can be down-loaded from the VehicleSafety Standards web-site:

Surprisingly, the Tare Mass and the Gross Trailer Mass Rating are not legally required to be stated,but they would be expected to be advised to the potential buyer (in writing), so that the driver wouldbe aware of the legal aspects of loading the caravan. Some braking requirements depend on whetherthe GTM Rating is above or below 2,000 kg.

The biggest issue that leads to complaints and litigation is Ratings and Masses. This especiallyrelates to the load-carrying capacity (maximum legal pay-load) of the vehicle.

Legal Load-carrying Capacity = ATM Rating - Tare Mass.

Many complaints relate to the actual Tare Mass being significantly more than the stated Tare Mass.

The Tare Mass is the measured (not estimated) mass of the vehicle as it leaves the factory, withempty water tanks and empty gas cylinders, but fitted with all equipment and accessories that werestated on the Purchase Contract.

It is prudent for buyers to weigh a newly-purchased caravan or camper-trailer - both new andsecond-hand - to confirm the actual Tare Mass, at a certified weigh-bridge. The (empty)Ball-loading should also be accurately measured.

Roomy caravan with ensuite across the back.
Roomy caravan with ensuite across the back.

The driver is responsible for ensuring that none of the load ratings of the caravan - or the tow-vehicle -are ever exceeded. If any rating is exceeded, there may be be prosecutions, any warranty becomingvoid, any insurance policy becoming void, and possibly civil actions if there is any damage caused.

One of the most important items affecting the stability and handling of the tow-vehicle/caravancombination, is the Ball-loading the down-ward force exerted by the caravancoupling onto the tow-bar.

A long-standing industry figure is that it should be between 8 and 15 percentof the caravan mass, with an average figure of around 10 percent.

But this may not be suitable at all for some caravan designs depending on the length, mass and theposition of heavy components and accessories.

It is expected that the manufacturer would haveprofessionally designed and tested each model caravan, and determined the optimum ball-loadingfor both when the caravan is empty, and when it is fully loaded.

Likewise, it is to be expected that that the manufacturer would also advise - in writing - what therecommended tyre pressures should be for these two loading conditions.

The most critical - and potentially lethal, if not correct - internal safety items are the electrical andgas appliances and installations. These must be in strict accordance with the appropriate AustralianStandards.

Some States/Territories may have different interpretations and requirements, but theonly way to best-ensure safety is to obtain Compliance Certificates from licensed electricians andgas-fitters.

Solar electrics for self-contained living.
Solar electrics for self-contained living.

In summary, it is important not to make hasty, uninformed and emotional decisions when buying acaravan or camper-trailer.

Make sure that the legal and compliance aspects of the vehicle are fullycompatible with your intended tow-vehicle, and that you have, in writing, all of the technicalinformation that you may reasonably be expected to know.

The Caravan Council of Australia - - is an independent, non-profit,non-commercial, non-political body that provides free no-obligation compliance and technicaladvice to all manufacturers, importers, dealers, owners and potential buyers of recreationalvehicles.

The CCA web-site has free, no-obligation down-loads, available under the various headings.

A Compliance Audit Check-list is available under COMPLIANCE.

A Quality Assessment Check-list is available under QUALITY.

A most valuable Buyer Assist 4-Part Evaluation - Comparison - Contract - Inspection document

is available under RV BUYERS. This detailed check-list enables potential buyers to:

1: Write down exactly what they want in a new - or used - caravan or camper-trailer;

2: List the details of each make and model of vehicle that they inspect, so as to make the bestchoice;

3: Ensure that everything they want is clearly documented on the sales contract; and

4: Conduct - with the dealer - a thorough inspection of the vehicle before accepting it.

Editors Note: Please go to the 17th option button on the Home Page, Technical Tips. Click it and open caravan Tare mass-GTM rating-ATM rating-Ball loading. The words and drawings give a lucid insight into caravan weight reality.

Clever folding table
Clever folding table

Secure auxiliary battery
Secure auxiliary battery

Heavy duty towbar fitted
Heavy duty towbar fitted

Anderson Plug over 12 pin connection
Anderson Plug over 12 pin connection

Break-away braking
Break-away braking

Electronic Stability Control on green for go
Electronic Stability Control on green for go

Reliable WDH  AS safety chains  Rated 2 tonne shackles
Reliable WDH AS safety chains Rated 2 tonne shackles

Protactive anti-sway cams
Protactive anti-sway cams

Roomy well organised boot
Roomy well organised boot

Well placed exterior tap
Well placed exterior tap

Zip-tie marks correct correct WDH lift  link
Zip-tie marks correct correct WDH lift link