Where does weight and size of offroad caravan matter?

Submitted: Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 16:45
ThreadID: 21024 Views:3590 Replies:7 FollowUps:5
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Hi guys,

I have a question for anyone who has towed a serious off road caravan in real off-made-road conditions.

We are just working through the "which offroad caravan?" decision process. We've focussed on Supreme Getaway, Kedron, Phoenix and Bushtracker to date. We are leaning towards a Bushtracker. Most folk (esp. competitors) when told this say "Ooohhh but they're heavy."

There's been lots of discussion on that but the bottom line, as far as I can make out, is that ALL serious off-road vans are heavy, some more than others. Maybe the BT is heavier than others by a few hundred kgs, maybe not. Depends on what is included and not included when they get Tare-d, and whose claims you believe.

Our tow vehicle will be a Toyota 100 series TD 2005 5sp auto. We're looking at maybe a 16' to 18' to fit in a family of 4 and a loo.

So my question to you off-road van owners is this: You have, whatever you are towing, a big, heavy van on the back. At what stage of the trip does this stop you? Is it the rocky ascent or descent up or down a scarp? Is it a sand dune or 500m of cut up sandy track on the way down to a beachside camping ground? Is it the one tight twisty patch of desert track twisting through the stand of mulga before the track resumes 20km of arrow-straight?

I realise that we won't get the van to places that our Kimberley Kamper used to go. I also realise that it's a personal choice how far to push it, how much you want to risk scraping or denting your rig, and how much effort you want to put into it recovering yourself after you get stuck, but I'm trying to get a feel from other van owners on where the weight or size has become an issue for them in practical off-road terms.

We live in Perth so do more desert and coastal travel than rainforest or mud.

Supplementary question: Has anyone with a van crossed the Gunbarrel (ie. Warburton to Wiluna)? How did it go? We did it 10 years ago (pre-Kamper) and it was insanely corrugated.


Matt and Lana (Perth WA)
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Reply By: Member - Captain (WA) - Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 19:55

Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 19:55
Hi MattandLana,

I have had my off-road Windsor Rapid in some pretty tight places, to the point where I had both sides of the van reskinned and the rollout awning replaced after one particular track. Also, I have had the van bogged in dry creek crossings (click on rig pic below and scroll down) and sandy tracks. Basically I have taken my van to its limitations (and beyond!).

At 1.6T loaded for the van, plus my Nissan GU loaded with wife and 2 kids, I reckon I weigh in between 4.5 and 5.0 T all up (190 L water alone). With the Dtronic, I have 420 Nm of torque (Cruiser 4.2TD has 424Nm) and I have never been stuck for lack of power. There are really 2 limitations IMHO when towing offroad.

First is sheer size. There are many tight snaking tracks that you simply cannot manover around (reskinning the van was the end result!). It doesn't matter how "tough" the van is, any aluminium sided van (even fiberglass) cannot argue with a tree. I lost my rollout awning, roof clips, indicators, TV antenae and puntured holes in the side trying to "prove" my van could go where a camper trailer went - IT CANNOT !!! The sheer length results in a wheelbase that cannot manouver around obstacles (believe me, I tried). And my van is only 13"6' when folded up, would hate to try it with the 16-17" tandem axle jobs.

Second is traction. Be it mud or sand, there is only so much traction before you are bogged. I have 33" Cooper ST tyre, bigger and more aggresive than you average All Terrain type most tow with. Have soft sand and an uphill track and be prepared to winch. While letting tyres right down (van as well), you still have 1.6T of anchor out the back. Beach travel is just a pipe dream, dune travelling is an absolute fantasy. While some hard packed beaches are OK, anything that requires letting down the tyres without a van is a no-no with a van. Simply too much weight. Power is not the issue - traction is.

As for rough tracks, I have never been stopped because of ruts, ravines etc... but have felt like the van was going to roll a few times! With a 6" chassis and going slow, it has ground out many times, but NEVER had any chassis damage. Except the rear jerry can holders, WAY to low and get collected every so often.

Bottom line is, an off-road van is not even in the same league as a camper trailer. Basically an offroad van will go on any gravel road, but will struggle in tight conditions and need winching/snatching in sandy conditions. But I have found that ruts/ravines etc..., are not too much of an obstacle. Wherever a soft roader can go, I can generally get the van to (rut wise). Best thing to do is use the van to get to a good base camp, then explore from there.

A good off-road van will go on virtually anywhere provided the track is not tight or overgrown and isn't too sandy or muddy. The corrugations is what destroys a normal van and an off-road one should have a significanlty stronger chassis (reduces flex) and much stronger suspension. Also need better built cupboards etc... to stay together.

Anyway, the above is my experience with towing off-road. I too had ambitions that I could get my off-road van to the same places as a camper trailer, but simply not true, I have the repair bills to prove it (over $7,000 to reskin van and replace rollout awning).

The Warburton to Wiluna road depends on how long since the grader went thru. I have been through just after the grader and its a dream run. Cruised between 80-100 km/h (no van) and had a real easy time, just luck of the draw I guess.


AnswerID: 101482

Follow Up By: mattandlana - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 00:19

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 00:19
They're GRADING the Warburton to Wiluna section of the Gunbarrel now??!! When we went through about 10 years ago I got the impression from the people at Carnegie (and from the size of the corrugations) that the stretch from Carnegie to Warburton last got graded by Len's boys. Stunning countryside though.

Thanks for the feedback. You sound like a man after my own heart. As I get older/smarter I break the vehicles a little bit less, although that said our near-new Tojo currently has only about 90% of the flimsy factory alloy side steps, and they don't quite follow the original profile ... . Just waiting for the percentage to drop a bit lower and we'll get some real ones.

We have no illusions that any size land yacht will get to everywhere the KK will go (but it sounds like you had fun trying!). I'm just trying to get a handle on the type of places we won't be able to camp at any more. We agree that the best bet wil be setting up a base and radiating from there, but you want the base to be in a nice place.


Matt and Lana
FollowupID: 359433

Follow Up By: Member - Kevin (NSW/ACT) - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 14:28

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 14:28
Hi Matt and Lana,

I tow a 15' Supreme Getaway with a GU Patrol - 4.2TD and fully endorse everything Captain has stated above.

My van weighs 1700KG (empty on weighbridge) and pretty close to 2000KG loaded for a trip. It's basically a big steel off-road trailer with a caravan body on top.

I will avoid sand like the plague and stay well away from any track that might be a little tight for all the reasons above. Have not had to re-skin the van but have lost one of the pop-top clips to a tree. Only damage due to corrugations to date was a bedside light fitting that came loose. Dust ingress is minimal and heavy rain doesn't bother it - but towing on a muddy track can be interesting.

It's a heavy sucker, fuel consumption suffers badly (but not even close to a petrol anything) - however the comfort and convenience when you arrive is well worth the effort in our opinion.

I've taken it on quite a few outback tracks in the SA deserts and some forestry roads in the Watagans with no hint of a problem.

Recently did a 6 week Gulf Trip with a campertrailer and in hindsight would have had no problem with the Caravan.

Hope this helps the decision proccess.



FollowupID: 359465

Follow Up By: Austravel - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 19:12

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 19:12
Well written. Pity your not the norm now-a-day. You see far to many people with vans dragging them into places they shouldn't. Way to much damage is being done in some areas just because they want to camp in the same places as people who tent it. Yes I'm sure it would be nice to be on the first dune 5 metres from the high tide mark but what damage did it do to get there. Not only to the van, vehicle clutch etc but to the bush. Got to say it bleep es me off. A mate has just returned from around Aus over the last 10 mths. Tells me that the bulk of people are making sure they get to do their thing regardless of the damage etc. Worst areas are northern QLD and northern WA. Big numbers of grey nomads (who should know better) are dragging vans into places they shouldn't and fishing till they drop, staying weeks or months longer than they are allowed. He said shell collection is now a big problem in WA. Not meaning to rant as I've raised it before. Just refreshing to hear someone who doesn't wreck it for the next group of use wanting to tour. Am sick of hearing my caravan/camper doesn't do anymore damage or just as easy to get to..... as a loaded 4x4, across the desert, into the beach etc, etc. Yeh, yeh who they trying to kid.

Good onya Captain.
FollowupID: 359497

Reply By: ianmc - Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 22:21

Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 22:21
You been watching some of those travel commercials or mag adverts with the nuclear family & camp & van set up below the high tide mark & the sun arising or setting with the rods in the water???
Many years ago a friend went to Cape York with a timber chassised van he built himself without drama but so important to realise limitations to avoid stressful and expensive hassles methinks.
AnswerID: 101511

Reply By: RobEG - Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 23:44

Monday, Mar 07, 2005 at 23:44
Mate with a TD 100 has just taken delivery of a BT and is wrapped although it is yet to do a major offroad. Heading out to NT at Easter. Says you know it is on the back but tows like a dream.

Corrugations are the worst drama. Rolled a KK myself headed to the dig tree when it jack knifed just over the top of a crest and the weight just decided to pass me. Over again I would not have the manual override brakes that come as standard. An in car controller like I had on my horse float would have pulled it up - but the BT has that because they are well over 2 T.
AnswerID: 101523

Follow Up By: mattandlana - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 00:22

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 00:22
Yeah. I must admit I never gave a moment's thought about the manual overrides on the KK until we started looking at vans and electric brakes! The delights of blissful ignorance!
FollowupID: 359434

Reply By: flappa - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 09:18

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2005 at 09:18
Its a simple fact the BT's ARE heavier then most of the others. they are built differently.

My parents were looking at the BT's when they bought their offroad van. they wanted a 16ft van , to be towed with a TD Maverick (towing capacity of 2.5 ton I believe). A 16ft BT , is OVER that. The biggest BT they could tow was a 14ft one.

They ended up buying a Phoenix Nomad , that weighs in a tad over 2 ton.

My Parents have travelled a heap around Aus , and spoken to heaps of BT owners. Most that actually use it offroad , have Ford 250's. A Patrol or Cruiser WILL tow them on road easily enough , and into most Nat Park , firetrail type roads , but for fair dinkum offroad , even the Patrols/Cruisers are said to struggle.
AnswerID: 101550

Reply By: Dazmit - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2005 at 08:27

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2005 at 08:27
Flappa is pretty spot on with the fact of the heavier vans really require a F250 etc to help out with stability as well as grunt.
We have a 16'6" int (18' ext) Kedron which weighs approx 2600kg loaded - used to have a TD Prado which apart from not being able to fill the water tanks on the van to keep it below the 2500kg tow limit of a Prado , the van was pushing the Prado around. We now have a TD Cruiser Auto & it is chalk & cheese on how it tows. I don't have a problem with the IFS as the Bushtracker guy did (maybe weight of van is the differance).
I have taken ours onto the beach at Double Is north of Brisbane & the access tracks were quiet soft - the van is just a anchor in sand & a bit of momentum is required - ideal van for sand would be a light on-road van with underslung axles & 16" rims & weighed no more than 1200kg IMO .
IMO by their nature most off-road vans are really only suited to corrogated roads etc ,not tight bush tracks , dune country etc - the size & weight assures that.
If most people with off-road vans were honest then I think you will find that 90% of their travels are on bitumen hence the strongest & heaviest is probably an overkill.
Enjoy your shopping


AnswerID: 101686

Reply By: Crackles - Thursday, Mar 10, 2005 at 23:42

Thursday, Mar 10, 2005 at 23:42
If you are looking for a van to go more places than most the Track All Terrain may be an option. http://www.tracktrailer.com/AllTerrain.html . Not in the grande scale of a BT but no where near as heavey. Cheers Craig........
AnswerID: 102016

Reply By: motherhen - Saturday, Mar 19, 2005 at 15:57

Saturday, Mar 19, 2005 at 15:57
This reluctant sale has got to be the bargain of the year - a near new BT. Link to post on Bushtracker site

AnswerID: 103085

Follow Up By: mattandlana - Saturday, Mar 19, 2005 at 23:46

Saturday, Mar 19, 2005 at 23:46
Thanks for the tip motherhen, we're looking into it.
FollowupID: 360723

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