Best vehicle for camper conversion around Aus?

Submitted: Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 04:46
ThreadID: 135964 Views:6322 Replies:11 FollowUps:14
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Hi all, I'm new to 4wds and looking for some advice on which vehicle to buy. Looking to start off with a dual cab ute, and build a camper on to the back of it, something quite similar to this:

The eventual goal would be to do a long trip around/through Australia, to see everything our country has to offer, including all the stuff off the beaten path. I'm thinking the following things are probably most important:
- Off road ability
- Reliable and serviceable in remote areas
- Stable offroad with a camper on the back
- Not too horrendous on fuel
I have a budget of around $15k for the base vehicle. I really like defenders and I know they have great load carrying capacity and fuel economy. I could get a pretty decent TD5 defender within my budget. However, is that a poor choice for rural Aus? Otherwise, a 79 series cruiser would also come within budget, and would score highly on serviceability but less so on fuel economy and load capacity. Should I be considering other vehicles, eg a Hilux or something?
Would very much appreciate peoples' thoughts and experience!
Many thanks.
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Reply By: Michael H9 - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:39

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:39
Beware of loading up any dual cab with a heavy weight and bouncing it up and down continuously over rough country. You will break the chassis. A single cab ute would be better suited as the load is better balanced on the rear axle. Is $15k enough to buy a reliable vehicle for remote travel?
AnswerID: 615426

Follow Up By: Mischaseb - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:45

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:45
I haven't worked it out exactly, but maybe I overstated the load carrying aspect. I don't imagine the camper will be more than three or four hundred kilos.

15k seems like a reasonable budget I would think, for a 15 year old well maintained vehicle?
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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 07:01

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 07:01
Do a search on broken or bent chassis and you find a lot of pictures of rigs similar to the one you posted where the chassis has bent very badly. It is something to be aware of. How many people will be travelling? Extra fuel, water, spares, tools, 2 spare tyres will all add up and you need all of that for full time travel off the beaten track. The weight does start to add up, everyone ends up heavier than they anticipated.
There's a guy at that has a Defender and a wealth of information plus videos of his experience doing it solo. He even has a spreadsheet of expenses plus a dedicated section on Defender break downs and repairs. :-)
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Reply By: Baz - The Landy - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:55

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 06:55

I'm sure there are various vehicle alternatives that "might" work and you've named a couple.

I've owned three Defenders and currently have a 79 Series dual cab. The Defender 130 and 79 Series had/have canopies built on the back, although not as living quarters.

A critical thing for you to do before purchasing the vehicle is to work out what you want to put on the back of it; this way you can assess the weight the vehicle will be required to carry and whether it can be done safely and legally.

Choosing a vehicle without that information will be a difficult task and may result in a wrong choice of vehicle.

It might also pay to consult an engineer who has knowledge of GVM upgrades for some guidance regarding weight and its distribution.

To build something like the one you have pictured will almost certainly require you to upgrade the GVM of the vehicle and even then you may still be close to maximum (if not over) depending on construction and what you "fill it with".

That is something you may want to factor into your price consideration as it could add anywhere from $2,500>$4,000 minimum.

A canopy/camper unit like the one pictured will also limit your choice of vehicle to some extent on a "fit for purpose" basis, especially if you intend to do off-the-beaten track travel.

Noting, the one pictured is a European based vehicle (Netherlands).

And for guidance, the canopy on the back of my vehicle, which is of high quality, set me back in the region of $10K, only has shelves inside and is not designed to live in, but rather to live out of. A set-up like the one you pictured could run to multiples of that cost if produced to a standard suitable for outback travel.

Good luck with the project and your travels.

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
AnswerID: 615427

Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 09:20

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 09:20
I suggest that almost all the vehicles like you mention are overloaded when equipped with a body like your pic and full of fuel and water. That overload condition impacts seriously on reliability, running cost, safety and the law.
You may have some chance with a Mercedes G class Commercial with a GVM of 4.5T, but that will be a tad outside your budget.
Bite the bullet and start with something like a Canter 4WD and expect it to be closer to 6 tons on the road.

EDIT: I would seriously suspect that the vehicle in your pic is not legal in Australia. The maximum rear overhang behind the rear axle is 60% of the wheel base and I would guess that that has been exceeded.

OKA196 motorhome
AnswerID: 615428

Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:46

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:46
Hi Peter

It is a European based vehicle. The person that had it built has a Facebook page...

Defender 130

Cheers, Baz - The landy
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:23

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:23
Yes Baz,

I took a look at that Facebook page.

The bed is of course over the cab, the table & seats immediately behind the cab, and all the rest, kitchen, toilet and storage is at the very rear.... well behind the axle!! It would go well on some of our outback tracks. No?

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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:34

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:34
Welcome the the forum, and have fun planning your adventures here.

So how long is you trip for ?
That is a lot of cost and preparation building such a combination, so I imagine it must be for a year at least.

Yes, it's not so much the camper (tray back) weight itself, though this certainly is a big factor . . . more the weight distribution and design of the whole thing on a vehicle.

If a camper back setup is your wish, then consider the cost of suitable vehicle will be high, not sure you would find something fairly good for $15k that is suitable for the camper back.
The cost of setting the back camper up will be high too.

You could buy a re-existing setup more economically, but you don't know what the previous owner used it for really (on road mostly, gentle outback) and you might take it places that will cause issues with structural failure.

$15k for base vehicle ?
What budget for the camper ?
That would likely run a similar amount at least.

Have you considered a good towing 3.0lt TD single/ extra cab / dual cab, and towing a small camper trailer ?
This would give you a wide range of options, just need to buy a good brand off road camper and drive to conditions.
This setup can be left if base camping for a few days, a week etc, and let you go out exploring more easily.

Or fitting a good size roof top tent ?
MANY backpackers (and Aussies) use these, a great option as you can keep weights and load even better, and not have to tow.

Camping / swagging could be possible too, but seems you want a bit more of a 'home' for your trip.

Maybe think about it some more and consider all options for living on the road here.
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Follow Up By: eaglefree - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:47

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 10:47
I second the roof top tent concept. But the camper trailer system is also good. That way vehicle purchase isnt so limited.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:16

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:16
Definite pros and cons with RTTs (roof top tents) and campers.
If overnighting mostly, the RTT might be the go, if basing through the journey mostly, the camper would be my choice.

The camper would be great to base anything more than a day and explore without needing to pack up a RTT / camp every time you wanted to go somewhere.
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Follow Up By: Member - Rustygq - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 13:24

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 13:24
I agree, most set ups like you propose will end up well over weight and cost more than you anticipate. By the time you load, say a rooftop tent and all your camping gear and spares and chairs etc you'll probably be at your weight limit without adding the weight of an actual camper body. For my money, either the RTT or a camper trailer. A camper trailer is ideal on outback roads / tracks and can be left in camp while you go an do day trips into less accessible places.
Cheers rusty

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Reply By: splits - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:17

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 11:17
My wife and I have been doing exactly what you have in mind for the last twenty years with two different single cabs and three different home made campers. We have driven everywhere from Victorian High Country tracks to remote desert tracks where we have not seen another car for up to three days. One ute was a Mitsubishi while the current one is a Hilux. Our trips have taken us to all States and Territories. We have a HF radio and always carry an emergency locating beacon but are determined to avoid situations where we may have to use it.

As the others have said, weight is critical. The Outback is littered with broken cars. About 99% of them are owned by tourists who have installed things like upgraded suspensions plus every other conceivable accessory. They are usually loaded to the max or beyond. In just about all cases, their after market suspension still looks brand new. It is just the rest of the car that broke because the rest of it is still standard and was working beyond its design limits.

Our current car has standard suspension and tyres and has never been higher than 200 kg under GVM. None have had bull bars, tow bars or anything heavy down the back behind the rear axle.

One of our campers was a slide on but it only weighed 180 kg empty. The current one weighs 220 kg empty and bolts directly to the chassis. All were plywood with a thin outer layer of 225 fibreglass mat. None have ever broken.
We only carry one spare wheel in its original location under the chassis. We have used split rims for years but now have one piece wheels. We carry some new tubes on remote trips and enough puncture repair equipment to fix anything from a nail hole in the tread up to big holes in the side walls. Read through all of the links on this page and ring Mick and see if you can get to one of his day long tyre repair demonstrations . TYRES

We carry very little recovery gear because when you are on your own, you make sure you don't get stuck. Always get local advice before going anywhere. If anything looks dodgy then don't just drive in hoping for the best, get out and have a look first. Enrolling in a good 4wd training course like this one can save you a hell of a lot of trouble in the bush.TRAINING

This link covers the bent chassis problem that has already been mentioned.
This comes from having too much heavy material too far back behind the rear axle. The far end of the chassis has to constantly lift it suddenly or bring it to a sudden stop when the chassis falls. You can not fix the problem with heavier springs or air bags.

Imagine an empty ute for example with twenty bags of cement on the rear end of the tray. That will be 400 kgs which is well under the car's carrying capacity. The rear of the car will most likely be sagging. Lift it up with springs or air bags until the chassis is level and look down the back again. The cement will still be there. All you have done is make the car look better from side on. The rear end of the chassis it is still under excessive stress

If you really must take half your house with you then tow a small trailer. There are some little ones on the market today that are just a tubular steel skeleton with mud guards. They contain mounting points for jerry cars and things like the big aluminium tool boxes that you see in places like Metaland. You will then have the car well under its maximum carrying capacity and a very long way under its towing capacity. That adds up to maximum reliability.

Fuel consumption depends a lot on the driver, the load the car is carrying and the speed it is travelling at. Our Hilux will use a little over 10 lites per 100 ks at around 100 kph on freeways. Around town at slow speeds it will be around 9.3. At anything from near stopped to a maximum of around 60 kph on good unsealed roads like the Oodnadatta Track, it will also be about 9.3. The best ever was just under 8 at low speeds along the Tanami and Gary Junction Road between Alice Springs and Kintore near Sandy Blight Junction. The highest has been 16 during day after day crawling around Victorian High Country tracks.

Most 4wds have the aerodynamics of a brick so keep the load and the speed down if you want to get the best possible fuel consumption.

Any of the popular utes will do what you want to do in standard form without breaking. It is the drivers, not the roads, that break them.
AnswerID: 615431

Follow Up By: GREG T11 - Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 22:44

Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 22:44
These home made campers you build, how frigging high are they ?

You would have to be the first person ever having said they get better fuel economy around town V hwy, lol.
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Follow Up By: Batt's - Saturday, Dec 16, 2017 at 14:42

Saturday, Dec 16, 2017 at 14:42
Lots of vehicles can get better econ around town without driving it like a nanny but it all depends on how fast you think you need to get to the next set of traffic lights so you can spend more time waiting for them to change only to do it again. A turbo diesel would be a good example once you learn how drive it correctly by letting the turbo do most of the work and not the go pedal.
FollowupID: 886598

Reply By: William P - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 13:16

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 13:16
One vehicle that would suit is a Perentie 6x6 (ex army) but you will need more than your $15k. You will need to put some sound deadening in and put in some creature comforts but this will be minimal compared to the cost of the camper.
AnswerID: 615433

Reply By: Mischaseb - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 20:44

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 20:44
Wow, thanks for the responses, great to hear from people with real experience out there. Also some very helpful resources to read through. Lots of things for me to consider, but the main thing I'm hearing is that weight distribution is key. Sounds like a dual-cab is probably not feasible. It also seems that most of you don't like the camper back design, so I'll have a re-think about that too.

In terms of heavy things that need to be taken along, would the following be a reasonable estimate?
Tools+spares 100kg, water 120kg, diesel 100kg, second battery 60kg, gas bottle 30kg, spare tyres 50kg. That's a total of approx 500kg, so plus the weight of the camper and other items I can see that being dangerous in terms of weight on a 79series with a payload of 1 tonne or so.

However on a single cab defender, there's a payload of 1600kg. So assuming all the heavy liquids are behind the cab, and with sensible overhang, that should be doable? It's worth noting that I won't be taking more than necessary, and I won't have a shower or toilet in there. I'm not disregarding the advice given here, just trying to figure out what is reasonable.

If the camper-back idea is completely daft on a standard ute, then I would rather go for the rooftop tent or trailer setup than consider bigger vehicles. The main reason I like the idea of having a camper back is that I will also be using the vehicle for shorter trips in more populated areas too. The eventual goal is to spend a year around Aus, but in the meantime I would mainly be using it for weekends and week long trips.

In light of your comments, I will reconsider more conventional touring setups.
AnswerID: 615445

Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 07:45

Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 07:45
"It also seems that most of you don't like the camper back design, so I'll have a re-think about that too. "

Don't give up on your idea too soon if that is what your preference is. Anything is doable, in your case you just need to find the right vehicle.

Have you considered Iveco?

Cheers, Baz - The landy
FollowupID: 886437

Follow Up By: rumpig - Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 09:06

Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 09:06
You probably need to state how many of you will be travelling in the vehicle to get better responses. Your original post pictures a dual cab ute which is why people have mentioned the rear overhang / weight behind axle issues of a camper back. Your latest post has you mention a single cab ute, if this is an option i reckon you'll get some different responses to your question now.
FollowupID: 886439

Follow Up By: splits - Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 17:15

Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 17:15
"In terms of heavy things that need to be taken along, would the following be a reasonable estimate?
Tools+spares 100kg, water 120kg, diesel 100kg, second battery 60kg, gas bottle 30kg, spare tyres 50kg. That's a total of approx 500kg, so plus the weight of the camper and other items I can see that being dangerous in terms of weight on a 79series with a payload of 1 tonne or so.

Where do you intend going? We used to take less than that on Army trips. You can never carry enough to cover every possible thing that can happen in the bush. Your biggest risk is getting to the bush. Your chances of having a major road accident are far higher than a major mechanical breakdown in the middle of the desert.

There is always a risk involved in remote Outback tracks. Major roads like the Gibb River Rd., Birdsville Track etc get a fair bit of maintenance and a lot of traffic. If you took it easy in a 2wd car you would get there easily enough.

Long remote tracks like the Canning and the Anne Beadell can be rough, corrugated, sandy or washed out in places but they are not going to break any 4wd built since the early Land Rovers in the 1950s if you don't overload them or pound them along fast trying to keep to a tight time schedule. You have to hit holes or whatever hard to damage any type of car.

Taking too much gear to avoid problems can cause problems.

'However on a single cab defender, there's a payload of 1600kg."

Not necessarily. I have an email from Land Rover saying the towing capacity for their Defender comes down from 3500 kg to 1500 kg in off road conditions. I would not be surprised if the carrying capacity also came down by about the same ratio. The editorial in the magazine that contained the bent chassis story in the link I gave you said the carrying capacity of all cars should be reduced by around 40% in off road conditions. I was taught the same thing in the Armed Forces. The maximums are usually for sealed roads only.

This is why so many cars have major mechanical failures in the bush each tourist season. If it is not chassis it is axle housings or wheel studs or wheels or clutches or overheating etc etc..

Remember the car leaves the assemble line with about ten litres of fuel in it. Anything added after that comes off its carrying capacity.. That includes fuel, driver/passengers, accessories and any body like a tray or whatever.

Our little ute at 200 kg under GVM is still high for off road conditions but geez do we nurse it along slowly. Around hundred ks a day is about our limit on roads like the Gunbarrell Hwy west of Warburton and we rarely reach 70 on good unsealed roads. You must be able to stop in the distance you can see on those roads. Washouts and holes can suddenly appear anywhere..

"I won't have a shower or toilet in there. "

We have a portable toilet that slides out from under shelves in our tiny camper. We also have an internal shower that can be set up in seconds. You can fit both into just about anything.

Have a look at these DVDs. They contain no advertising or technical information but will give you a good idea of what conditions are like once you get off the main tourists routes. The ones on the Victorian High Country and the Desert Highways will give you a good idea of what is involved in mountain and remote desert driving.DVDs
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Follow Up By: Dean K3 - Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 11:22

Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 11:22
Footnote on the shower & toilets

many places now mandate portaloo or a inbuilt WC for environmental reasons

a 10litre capacity is sufficient,if its too low to sit on make a plinth is can sit in for transport and then invert bottom up giving another 10cms in height

grey water is another "local bylaws apply" and level of "compliance" all depends on the local government body.

Many of them require the tank to be "sealed from environment" so using a open top plastic bucket isn't acceptable in many cases
FollowupID: 886464

Reply By: Shmang - Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 13:12

Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 13:12
Have you considered a troopy?

If you are after a dedicated vehicle it may be a good option. You"ll find a few high tops that a ready have the conversion done, although they generally have high km's.
If I could justify a dedicated vehicle I would have one in a heart beat.

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AnswerID: 615458

Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 20:51

Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 at 20:51
This is our camper that we bought about 5 years ago. Has a double bed on drivers side, and a slide out kitchen on near side. A small front compartment stores 2 batteries, and 1 or 2 fridges about 40L size.

It has plenty of storage space, in fact too much as it's easy to overload it. Haven't confirmed exactly how heavy it is, but would suggest it's a lot heavier than the 400kg "guesstimate" I was given when we picked it up. I put 500kg constant leaf springs in the rear and it rode the best of any Landcruiser ute I've driven since 1965.

Since sold that ute and bought a new one with 3900kg GVM upgrade.

Something like this, with lighter interior materials would be ideal, and would help to address weight issues


Seen it all, Done it all.
Can't remember most of it.

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Reply By: 76lifted - Monday, Dec 11, 2017 at 01:32

Monday, Dec 11, 2017 at 01:32
i wouldnt like to be negative however you will be very challenged to find a 79 single or dual cab that will not be flogged to the craphouse for 15 k and a finding a dual cab under 45k is a proverbial crapshoot.

good luck with ya search mate hope it goes well.

cheers jed
AnswerID: 615462

Reply By: Dean K3 - Monday, Dec 11, 2017 at 19:34

Monday, Dec 11, 2017 at 19:34
As stupid as this may sound running along lines of a Land rover and slightly out of square

ADF are currently auctioning off their 20 year plus fleet of Land rovers

Majority of them are standard 2 door well body some FFR (Fitted For Radio) just e,mans has a storage cabinet on passneger side allowing 1 or 2 auxillary batteries and 24 v operating system.

But they also have a few dual cab 6x6 and also 6x6 ambulance variants - these going for around the 35K mark you also need a higher LR possibly HR truck licence to drive the 6x6 on road due to weight involved most of them have around a 2000 kg payload rating

WA states for multiple axles ie more than 2 requires a HR whilst rest of country go by the weight involved, yet to get a proper determination on this aspect

the DOWNSIDE they are wider in body and axle width to standard as such you don't want to bent a axle or body work spare not that common !

AnswerID: 615471

Follow Up By: mynance - Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 14:01

Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 at 14:01
Defender is the only Ute that I haven’t seen photos of with a bend in the chassis, so I guess they maybe stronger than the rest.

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