Camper trailer suspension

Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 16:01

John

Hi Everyone,
Thinking of buying a Campatrek heavy duty camper trailer and need some feedback re suspension. I "push a pen" for a living and am no way mecanically inclined. I've been back through the archives and noted previous comments regarding the need for shock absorbers particularly in heavy going.

The trailer has an ALKO independent suspension system which consists of trailing arms and torsion bars incorporating rubber stoppers. Is this a poor mans shock absorber?. There are no shock absorbers in the setup. Is anyone familiar with this setup?. If so, how does it compare with a system incorporating shock absorbers?.

The trailer will need to handle rough roads particlarly corrugations etc. Hope to eventually travel extensively through WA & NT but will not take the trailer on tracks like Gibb River Road or up to Cape York.

I need someone other than a salesman to give me the good oil re this suspension system and am having difficulty in this regard. Anyone care to offer an opinion?

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AnswerID: 11190   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 17:08

Tony James replied:

Hi John,

I looked at ALKO when I bought my off-road trailer but decided against it. ALKO has to have the rubber replaced periodically - suggested to me was every 10 years or if the suspension was subjected to salt water often, every 5 years. Not a job that can be done at home either. Also was told (all this by the dealer) that it ( the 'axles') should be flush with clean water after going through river crossing etc. Another downside is that if something breaks - very difficult to effect a bush repair. I would have prefered independant coil suspension but that wasn't an option so I went to a heavy solid axle with off-road leaf suspension.

All types have their draw backs though. With the off-road leaf - the leaves are very rigid and I had to remove a leaf form each side as the trailer (even loaded) was to light for the springs and the hangers and bushes were totally buggered after 10k through the desert regions.

I would suggest you have shocks no matter what suspension you end up with - makes a big difference.

Of course others may dissagree with me (as is their right), but that is my thoughts on the matter.
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FollowupID: 6165   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:18

John posted:

Tony,
Very interesting. Thank you for the feedback. My gut feeling is that a system with shocks is the way to go although Tim raises a good point. Thanks again.
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AnswerID: 11192   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 17:19

OziExplorer replied:

John, overall, not at all impressed with Alko suspension. I have been around too long and seen how many Alko failures. I honestly have no idea if they have improved their suspension over the last couple of years, but have not heard or read anything about improvements. Alko going back a few years, had a real push into small caravans - well it was a disaster for all involved.

John on the Jayco website they have ALKO off-road SPRING suspension.
http://www.jayco.com.au/outback.html
Now, Jayco are known for quality and not building troublesome products and think you have to ask why they are not using the ALKO rubber suspension. I would think they would have had enough experience with it in the past.
Just noticed further down that Jayco page there is a picture of the suspension, and the springs look a quite reasonable length and are standard fitted with shock absorbers.

In my humble opinion, that Alko rubber suspension is good for British and European roads where it originates from. The method of this rubber suspension has been around for probably 35 years and is used in industry quite extensively in things like conveyer belts, concrete batching plants and does a good job. However these applications are far less severe than road work and in particular off-road work.

I cannot find a website or any information on this Campatrek which is interesting. I go to the Melbourne and other Camping and Caravan Shows in Victoria and N.S.W. and cannot remember this brand. Of course you cannot remember all the brands you look at. Have you managed to contact any other people who own this brand and have taken it off-road?
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FollowupID: 6166   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:27

John posted:

Ozi,
Thanks for your input. I'm confident I've now got the picture re ALKO rubber suspension.

Had a look at the Jayco website and take your point about the spring setup.

Campatrek are based in Seven Hills, Sydney and, in my humble view, produce a very good trailer considering the standard features you get for your money. 4WD Monthly did a comparo with it and another trailer in their November 2002 issue.

Will keep looking. Thanks again.
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FollowupID: 6169   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:47

Oziexplorer posted:

John I have absolutely zero confidence in anything that is in 4WD Monthly. What they call articles, I would call ADVERTORIALS for the products. I have posted this numours times before, on this, and other forums and many others agree with me. 4WD Monthly is bottom of the list on credibility and actually fallen off the bottom. You see, I also worry about a manufacturer that would fit that Alko rubber suspension and call it an "off-road" camper.
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AnswerID: 11198   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 17:53

Member - Nigel replied:

We had a camper with ALKO suspension and found that it bounced too much, damaging anything in the trailer. We kept trying lower tyre pressures to compensate but still not much luck.

We upgraded to a Campomatic (coil springs & shocks) and have no problems with rough roads now.

Personally I wouldn't recommend using ALKO suspension. ALKO electric brakes on the other hand seem to work quite well.
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FollowupID: 6167   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:34

John posted:

Nigel,
Thanks for your comments. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Campomatic comes "off the back" instead of "off the side" and has a hard floor which we didn't think would suit us. However, a good suspension is on my "must have" list and in view of your comments my wife thinks we should have another look at it so that's what we will do.
Thanks again.
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FollowupID: 6172   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 21:09

Oziexplorer posted:

John the hard floor can be a real benifit if you go away in winter like we do. Even in summer, you never know when it is going to rain or just be wet/damp under foot. I know a couple of people who have switched from other brands to the Campomatic. I like the design of the Campomatic and always have done. Those screen tents are that cheap now and that quick and easy to erect, I would be looking at one of those to cook and relax in. Maybe mosquitoes and flies bother me more than others, but hell, nothing worse than trying to cook, eat and relax and be bothered by bugs. I can put up with the mongrels during the day, but first thing in the morning and in the evening - NO.
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FollowupID: 6179   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 21:51

Member - Nigel posted:

Yep the campomatic is a hard floor rear opening type. It suits us as the kids can sleep on the floor and are off the ground. Especially good when camping in the wet season.

But no matter which style suits you, a coil spring/shock combo is definately the best option for the suspension. The campomatic is our third trailer, first one was leaf and second was ALKO, and I'd definately never go back.
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AnswerID: 11215   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:06

Tim replied:

john - i was in the same position as you when i wanted a trailer and ended up having a custom unit built to my specs - my trailer builder said to me "if you're in the bush which system do you think you could fix by yourself, even just to limp to help!" which i replied "leaf springs" - personal choice - regards tim
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FollowupID: 6168   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 20:41

John posted:

Tim,
Appreciate your thoughts. Unfortunately mate, I'd be the first to admit that when it comes to bush repairs I'd be absolutely useless no matter what suspension i had. However, i understand the point you are making and your certainly not the first person I've run accross who has opted for a leaf system.
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FollowupID: 6181   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 22:02

Member - Nigel posted:

Good point, but also worth considering that a good set of heavy duty shocks may stop your springs from breaking in the first place.
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AnswerID: 11227   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 21:07

fatboy replied:

Hi John , have used campers with and without Alko and have found that in comparrison the Alko performs as well as indipendant coils , especially in heavy corragations and without skock absorbers to , as the shock is only there to prevent undue oscillation of the axle I doubt whether there would be too much difference in the performance of the Alko . Having worked in a general engineering workshop in NW Qld for many years I Have seen many failures of all types of camper suspension so it reall boils down to personal preference .
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AnswerID: 11238   Submitted: Monday, Jan 13, 2003 at 22:29

Member - Melissa replied:

Hi John,

At the risk of being the odd one out...

We had a heavy duty leaf sprung off road campertrailer for nearly 4 years and travelled in all conditions. Set-up incorporated solid square axle and 9 leaf springs. No shockies. Never had a problem even on extreme corregations. Trailer weighed about 730kg without a load. Loaded probably 1100-1200kg's.

Nothing wrong with leaf springs. It's a question of matching springs with load. As said above, short, stiff springs and a light load aren't a good combination. Our trailer carried a decent load and had long shockies which have a better cushioning effect so the trailer travels well without "skipping".

Also suggest that you ask at:
http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/campertrailers/

:o) Melissa
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AnswerID: 11303   Submitted: Tuesday, Jan 14, 2003 at 21:05

Rob replied:

We bought a 10 year old campomatic with ALKO suspension about 5 months ago now and after doing a lot of investigation, I am confident ours won't be the one stranded by the roadside.

It's done 2 trips to Cape and one through the Kimberley including Mitchell Falls etc and is all still original. Speaking to Campomatic, they had no problems with alco but changed due to market forces, coloured springs and shockies etc were what the people with the money wanted to see underneath their trailer so that's what they now get.

The advantage as I see it is it is a simple system, as few moving parts as possible equals less to go wrong. It is also a fair bit overated for what it carries which helps. Downside as mentioned earlier, VERY bouncy, on a recent Vic High Country trip we broke our gas stove of many years first time we stored it at the back. Also smashed a couple of storage boxes and speared our tent poles out the side of the holder mounted underneath.

Was a good learning experience and pretty rough as you can imagine, but no problems with the suspension.
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AnswerID: 11329   Submitted: Wednesday, Jan 15, 2003 at 14:14

lizard replied:

We have a Cavalier Off Rd Deluxe - 7 leafs either side , no shockies , have never had a problem on our trips across Gt Central Rd , Gibb River ,Mitchell Plateau , Bungles , Kakadont .... Done three trips - approx 40K . Springs seem well matched to load of trailer - no bounce & sits behind nicely .... recommend that setup ... I suppose independent trailing arms & coils & shockies would be better - but cost more $$$
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FollowupID: 6291   Submitted: Thursday, Jan 16, 2003 at 11:58

Oziexplorer posted:

Lizard shock absorbers if you are handy do not cost a lot to fit to a trailer. They do provide a better margin of safety in that they keep the tyres on the ground and in contact with the road surface.
Shock absorbers also help prevent a substantial amount of bounce, hence friticion burns on goods inside the campervan, and unecessary vibration. If you are handy a not to expensive pair of double eye end schocks are reasonably easy to fit.
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AnswerID: 11392   Submitted: Thursday, Jan 16, 2003 at 17:00

duncan replied:

Hi John
suspension comes down to what load your going to carry and were your going to take the camper.
If your camper is heavy unloaded then you can either go heavy duty coils that are a bigger wire size than standard or leaf springs both have advantages over each other coils are cheaper to replace and easier but will probable only come on an independent set up were leaves will take a lot more load and come on a solid axle you can also go sprung over that is place the axle under the springs thus gaining more height for larger tyres and more ground clearence for offroad travel.Leaves have disadvantages in that they are heavier by the nature that there is more metal in then they are not as easy to tailer to your requirements and can brake the main leaf or the centre pin both will leave you stranded.
With coils if you are not always loaded to the hilt you could by progressive rate coils these have 2to 3 softer wound top coils that are compliant when unloaded so as to give you a comfy ride but when loaded up the lower thicker part of the coil comes into play to cope with the heavier load still giving you a nicer ride than leaves both set ups run best with shock absorbers.
Just incase some people dont understand the shock absorber carries no load all it dose is to help contol the coil or leaf from osolating to much and to fast after driving over long distances on corogations you will get shock fade which is that the oil inside your shocks has got hot and thind out the valving inside the shock then lets the fluid pace to quickly and looses control of the suspension
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AnswerID: 11601   Submitted: Monday, Jan 20, 2003 at 22:11

Jol Fleming replied:

The AL-KO Suspension is very good, the rubber actually prevents an awfull lot of 'Harmonics" from entering the trailer causing the thing to crack. I have shocks on mine but dont beleive they are necessary. The amount of travel is not that much compared to some but the RUBBER is a really good thing. I hsve been draging one around since '97, havent replaces it yet.

cheers Jol
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