TUFF & RUFF OR 5 STAR??
Toady’s Off-Road Caravanning market is HUGE and there are so many choices that one can easily get lost in the mire. You can buy a touring van that has independent suspension fitted and an off-road sticker stuck on it and it will look, for all intents and purposes, like it will do the job. Just add a 2” raiser, AT tyres and wheels, big checker plate and independent suspension and VOILA!! An instant off roader… BOH BOH.. nope. The majority of touring vans aren’t built to withstand a true off-road situation and will probably, at some stage, suffer badly. Water leaks, loose cabinetry, dust ingression and a cracked chassis just to name a few.
You can spend a motza on a big name off-roader that has been featured on some video where it jumped creeks and bashed boulders but the funny thing is they never show you the van after the bush bashing is done. You might find that a medium priced off-roader is built as well if not even better than the high-end brands but you will need to know what’s what and where to look.
Bling is growing on vans these days like moss on a rock but don’t be confused as a lot of it, even though it looks blingy or gadgety, is there for a reason but some things are just there to look flash. Once again… research, research, research or head into a caravan dealership that has real off-roaders and ask questions. Dealers will obviously push their own brands but if you have done your research and add a few loaded questions, as in you already know the answer, you should be able to ascertain whether they are fair dinkum or not.
So, what are the basics? Let’s see….
- Independent Suspension, preferably coil and shock absorber trailing arm
- A minimum of 300 watts of Solar
- At least 2 x 120w AGM batteries or more (lithium if you can afford it)
- 6” chassis and A-Frame
- 2” chassis raiser to give you clearance
- 600mm Checkerplate sides
- Extended A-Frame and Tool Box
- 235/75×15 AT Off Road Tyres and Wheels (must be 10ply)
- 2 x 95ltr Water Tanks
There are many other options to be had….
- 16-17” Tyres and Wheels
- Airbag Suspension
- 12” Drum Brakes or even Disc Brakes
- Lithium Batteries
- Grey Water Tank
- Extra Water Tanks
- Dedicated Drinking Water Tank
- Cutaway Rear for a bigger departure angle
- 900mm Checkerplate
- Extra Spare Wheel
- Front Stone Guard
- Extra Solar (some people go 1000w or more!!)
- Underbody Armour for stone damage to plumbing etc
- Recovery Points for winching out of bogs etc
- Rock Sliders/Brush Bars in case you get too close to boulders or scrub
- And the list goes on and on and on…………………………
The list is endless and it all depends on what you can afford and where you want to go. The average “Off-Road Caravanner” would probably never need nor use half of the gadgets that are bolted to their vans but there are those that are very intrepid and go extremely deep chasing gems etc. I know of a couple (I sold them their van years ago) and they have to cut tracks with a chainsaw. The wife is out front hacking off branches etc whilst Hubby is steering the van through the scrub. They stay out for weeks to months on end. Great couple and very humble. Their van is a basic off-roader with suspension which is considered by many as being semi off-road these days. They drive to the conditions and get way deeper than most that boast much more gear and higher rated heavy-duty suspension. As I said, it all depends on what you want out of your van.
Earlier on I mentioned tourers masquerading as off-roaders and unfortunately that is a fact. Make sure your van has a true Off-Road Warranty that covers you OFF-ROAD. A lot offer warranties that only cover your van on gazetted roads (on a map) and that’s fine if you are staying on gravel tracks etc but if you want to go seriously deep or up the beach etc you will need the extra cover. Ask for an Unrestricted Off-Road Warranty.
If I was going to end on anything I would end on build and structure. There are three main build methods:
- Meranti Timber Frame
- Composite Construction
- Alloy Frame
There are a myriad of ways to build out of these materials and some are better suited to off-road application than others. I’ll cover those here as best as is possible on paper.
Firstly, we have the traditional timber frame that is mainly constructed out of Meranti Hardwood which is a soft to medium hardwood that is widely used for timber trimwork, joinery and panelling. Meranti frames are mostly stapled together and stud spreads vary but are fairly important if being built as an off-roader. It has been used in the industry since Adam was a boy and it does a fairly good job as long as the van stays water tight.
Composite panelling is pretty new to the game and you’ll see it mainly in European imports and a few local brands. Composite panels come in various degrees of strength and quality and how much you want to spend will generally dictate the quality of the panelling. A lot also depends on how they affix the cabinetry to the walls as this could affect the durability of the overall package. Insulation is fantastic in these vans as they are basically a big esky and composite materials are normally much better insulators than any other materials. There are a few vans being manufactured with composite floors or ceilings or both but that doesn’t change the wall strength which is extremely important.
Alloy frames aren’t just alloy frames, there’s RHS Box Alloy Framing and C-Channel Alloy Framing. You can Rivet, MIG Weld or TIG Weld all of the above but not all are as good as the other. Research and common sense prevail here. MIG welding is not ideal in a frame that needs to flex as the weld joins are more brittle than in TIG welding. Heat dictates the strength of the weld and TIG wins out here as it’s a cooler weld join than MIG and less brittle. A good off-road alloy frame will be durable if using mostly RHS box alloy.
Rivets are a bit of a toss-up as some riveting systems are superior to others and you will need to find out what type of rivet is being used before you can reach a conclusion. Once again, research, research, research. Ask to see frame pics or better still samples of framework. You will soon see what’s going on under there. Many rivetted frames can be C-Channel so you’ll need to ensure they are up to the job.
There’s pro’s and cons to all methods of building so all you can do is work out which is best for you and your application. My advice is to talk to your dealer, see samples and use your noggin before you fork out your hard earned.
Hopefully the above information will assist you in selecting your perfect off-roader and I’ll be sending more out shortly. Have a great week and don’t get too bored. Do what I’m doing… Whilst researching my next trip I’m dreaming of open spaces and hitting the track as soon as I can.