OFF ROAD CARAVANS

Hi all, I am looking to purchase an offroad caravan, by that I mean a full road version not just a semi offroad. I would like peoples views on whci one I should consider and which one to stay away from. I have narrowed it down to Kedron, Bushtracker, Sunland Blue Heeler, Regal Pathfinder, Royal flair Discovery, Lotus Trooper and Traveller Gladiator, if you can call that list narrowed down. The other point is whether to go for a timber frame or metal which is better. Anyones advice would be appreciated.
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Reply By: GypsyOne - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 15:59

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 15:59
I would say the only possible choices in real off road vans are Kedron, Bushtracker and maybe Phoenix. These are all Qld made vans.

I have just returned from a 5 week trip though the SA & Qld outback and the vans I saw most of were Kedron and Bushtracker. Must admit I did not see a Phoenix.



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Follow Up By:- Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 16:03

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 16:03
Thanks for that, they are high on the list. Cheers
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Follow Up By: RovingOz (QLD) - Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 00:01

Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 00:01
"maybe Phoenix" ?!
I thought they were the original off road vans. A Davidson Phoenix is one of the _Affordable_Storage_Drawers.aspx capable vans out there.

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Reply By: Member - JohnR (Vic) - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 16:12

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 16:12
If I took those heavy vans to where I was a couple of weeks ago, they would possibly still be bogged unless you called in help.

There are some real Kimberley Karavan devotees, but you have obviously looked to catch the wind.
Cheers,
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Reply By:- Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:16

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:16
I certainly would be including Trakmaster in that list too

WBS
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Reply By: GUJim - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:28

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:28
Ditto for the Trackmaster. My son has one and it's very well built.
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Reply By: Graham & Ann - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:50

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 17:50
Certainly put Trackmaster on the list, but keep in mind except for the Kimberly Karavan and some of the smaller Pheonix, Supreme etc vans under 15ft. most so called 'off road' caravans are just really 'dirt road' caravans. Most are too big & heavy to seriously take "off road" into the bush/hills etc. there are many other well built vans that will go 'dirt roads' for far less money that may suit your proposed use. Our Evernew goes most places, has been most main 'dirt road' treks ie GiBB River, Tanami, Great Central, Plenty, Birdsville, etc...and currently on it's way toCape York via this trip plan cost $35k in 2002 and has done well over 100,000km so far. it has coil/shocker suspension that was rebuilt (rebushed/new shockers/brakes etc) at 90,000km....

cya
Graham
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Follow Up By: Graham & Ann - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 20:14

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 20:14
forgot to address the wood v alloy/steel frame issue....

Generally...Wooden frames can 'flex' much more than steel/alloy frames ... so in a situation where the frame is stressed severely the steel/alloy frame may end up with a 'kink' whereas the wooden frame may just 'flex' and return pretty close to it's original shape.

cya
Graham
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Reply By: Member - Mark E (VIC) - Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 19:19

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 19:19
To assist with your request, you may need to tell us what you havbe to tow it with and roughly what types of tracks you intend to take it on. do you want to live in it full time or just have sitting around home for the single 4 week trip per year? All this will have a bearing on what type of van to reccommend. Also you own personal 'tolerancd' of roughing it vs luxury accommodation etc... Will you also travel with a tent to visit those areas where caravans either cant go or are prohibited (Bungles etc.)

Your approximate budget would also be useful and there are a great many of these vans priced from around the $35k mark to well over $100k.

I have begun researching a van for a proposed 6 month trip with kids in a few years and from my readings and research the Bushtracker is way ahead of the others, however this comes at a significant cost, which needs to be weighed up. Bushtracker have also just released the "Hybrid Light" that is lighter than their standard range and designed to be towed with the lighter vehichles like the Prado, Pajero etc... They have a great website and forum with absolutely tons of information on their vans. I have never met a dissatisfied Bushtracker owner.

There will be many on here with opinions and experiences, so I will read with interest.

Cheers,

Mark
Any further information on what you intend to do with the van would be useful.
AnswerID: 372003

Reply By: MEMBER - Darian (SA) - Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 10:11

Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 10:11
Agreed re Trakmaster - if you can, go and see them too. Recommended.
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Reply By: Member - Wayne David (NSW) - Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 10:33

Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 10:33
If you're serious about off road, then I'd consider the Kimberley Karavan.

Great to tow and offer comfort, toughness & quality in a compact real Off Road package.

AnswerID: 372065

Follow Up By: Gronk - Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:32

Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:32
I would 2nd that....probably one of the few true offroad vans ( whether you like them or not )
You need to clarify where you really want to take the van ??

The bushtrackers etc are really nice vans, but you wouldn't be taking one into the Vic high country !!
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Follow Up By: RovingOz (QLD) - Sunday, Jun 28, 2009 at 23:33

Sunday, Jun 28, 2009 at 23:33
They KK is not a van, they're a wind up, he says he wants a caravan. Big difference.

I'd think hard before I took a 2t camper into the high country. Better have some crawler gears and a good winch.
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Reply By: Member - Norm C (QLD) - Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:48

Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:48
We went through this process recently when we decided to move from an off road CT to a van as we ha decided to rent our home out and travel full time or a few years.

We ultimately decided to go for a 'full off road' van. The basis of our decision was that we would spend a lot of time on rough dirt roads and tracks. With the amount of time we are likely to spend on these roads, we figured the extra strength of the heavier van was worth the investment.

The downside of such a van is the purchase price and the weight. Life is full of compromises, but on balance, we accepted this. We wanted a full sized van as it would be our home.

We now have an 18 ft 6 inch (internal) Kedron Top Ender. TARE is 2,640 KG. ATM is 3,500 KG. We tow it with a Land Cruiser ute (4.5 V8 TD). Ute has suspension upgrade and certified GVM or 3,700 KG. Have also fitted a 3 inch exhaust and DP Chip. We also carry a large roof topper, outboard, folding trailer and all the trimmings for fishing.

The van is very comfortable, well finished and, so far seems to be as tough as nails. We are so comfortable in it, we don't miss the comforts of home one bit. We have them with us.

The vehicle handles the weight surprisingly well. We recently towed from Gold Coast to NT, via Rockhampton, Longreach etc. Towing in 4th gear at about 85 KPH, we averaged a bit under 20 litres per 100 KM. We went to third gear about 4 or 5 times on hills. Did not need to go down to second even once.

In our lengthy consideration of vans, we came down to a short list of two - Bushtracker and Kedron. I think we would have been happy with either. Trackmaster was on our longer list. One of the reasons it was dropped off was location. I wanted to be able to visit the factory before ordering, then during construction, and after (if necessary). We lived in SEQ. Kedron, Bushtracker (and Phoenix) are all built within a couple of hours.

The big issues are all around your likely travels (location, duration etc) and what compromises you are prepared to make - you have to make some - you have to choose which ones.

Despite our set up, we still carry a tent and basic camping equipment. The Kedron company owners (Gall Brothers) have taken their vans to Cape York via OTT (and made a DVD of it), but we would not. For that sort of trip, we will need to tent it for part of the time. They have also take their vans to Fraser Island. We would not. Apart from these sorts of places, our only real limitation is very tight tracks between trees. Our overall length and hight means we have to consider this a bit more, but it has not stopped us going anywhere we want yet.

As for timber v aluminium frame, I wouldn't get too hung up. Most of the heavy duty van builders use ali - I'm prepared to back their expertise. There are pics around on the web of well made ali framed vans that have been rolled, then put back on their wheels and towed off for repairs to the skin. Timber is also well proven for van frames over many years.

Good luck with your research and decisions.

Norm C
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Follow Up By:- Sunday, Jun 28, 2009 at 11:20

Sunday, Jun 28, 2009 at 11:20
Thanks Norm and all others. It is good to hear from those who doing it or have done it. I do intend to retire in the next year or two and will be trvelling for extended times and will not be sticking to the bitumen. Once again dollars govern a lot of things. Coming from a metal worker background I just find it hard to accept a timber frame being as good as metal, but I may be wrong. Great setup Norm and it is similar to what I would like. Cheers
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Reply By: Kiwi100 - Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 15:18

Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 at 15:18
The question of framing materials is best answered by those who are involved in stripping/repairing vans. The rest of us only ever see the cladding and are not really equipped to judge.

Barry Davidson runs what I understand to be Australia's biggest caravan repair operation in Caboolture and had this to say on the topic, in answer to a claim that timber frames were old-fashioned and prone to rot:

Quote:

I acknowledge that there is a place in the market for both types of vans but some clarification is needed.

Many might have the impression that wooden framed vans are old fashioned and not relevant in this day and age. Nothing could be further from the truth.

PROVIDING the manufacturer is prepared to properly manufacture the frame, use acceptable materials, adhesives and fixings and, most importantly, properly seal the unit, a wooden frame can have many advantages over an aluminium frame for the following reasons.

Timber will flex with the dynamic motion of the van. Aluminium won't.
Timber will also lend itself to far easier repair after an impact.
Timber framing is far more suitable for serious off road caravans because of its ability to absorb road vibrations and torsional distortion.

Many Aluminium frames suffer seriously from stress fracturing after a given period of operation, particularly welded alloy frames and particularly when used in a heavy duty environment. It is rare for us to strip a welded alloy frame van and not see significant cracks around many of the welds.

The skin can be glued to the frame of a wooden framed van with some degree of certainty that it will remain stuck. Alloy frames have to be riveted in place, they move at the joints, and it is far more difficult, without the correct preparation, to have the skin remain adhered correctly.

The main problems with timber framed vans become evident when the van is incorrectly sealed and the unit leaks. Wood rot then becomes rampant and expensive repairs become necessary. I got over that problem with my Phoenix vans by using cca treated timber for the frames and I have never seen one of my vans with frame rot.

(...end of quote)


As to the choice of off-road vans and their abilities/weights, the acknowledged main players are Phoenix, Trakmaster and Bushtracker, all of whom have been in the offroad van business for a number of years. More recently, Kedron has joined them and there are many other alternatives with varying strengths and weaknesses. The first two build with timber frames and the latter two with aluminium.

Weight comes down to personal choice, given that all are built to order. If you want a serious off-road van and are prepared for some compromises, all can build a basic van with single axle and whatever suspension you choose. The extra strength will mean they will all be a bit heavier than the average road-going van, but they need not be monsters.

But most owners opt for tandem axles and all the extras, including entertainment systems, full solar systems, generators, built-in bbqs, big compressor fridges, air conditioners, even washing machines and automated roof-top satellite dishes. Prices almost double along the way, weight heads well north of 3 tonne and LandCruisers/Patrols struggle. A cutaway tail on a 24-foot van is of marginal benefit. But such vans are the personal choice of owners who are looking for comfortable self-sufficiency in remote locations.

In return, owners get a pretty comfortable independent lifestyle and reliable (but not bulletproof) travel on unmade roads and tracks. Of course they cost more, but they generally return more on resale. The real cost is only the difference.

Take what you read (including this, LOL) with a pinch of salt. I believe that the highly-informative website mentioned earlier in this thread was begun by the manufacturer after running foul of its own owners' group. If everything written was to be believed, there would be no competitors. Indeed, its originator has happily rumoured the demise of his rivals from time to time and contrary views get short shrift on the site.

Take with a pinch of salt, also, manufacturer-sponsored tales of derring-do. The experience of expeditions by factory-supported teams with vans built for a specific journey do not necessarily reflect the reality for a private adventurer. All vans can be broken and, particularly, few accessories and add-on equipment are built to withstand rough travel.

Good luck with your choices.

Michael


AnswerID: 372089

Follow Up By: Member - Norm C (QLD) - Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:13

Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:13
Michael, you have made a good and helpful post on this subject, but is worth pointing a couple of things out for the benefit of readers:

Barry Davidson is indeed a respected person in the caravan industry. I think you will find though, that he is the previous owner of Phoenix caravans. Phoenix uses timber frames in their vans. I am not challenging Barry's judgement or knowledge (far from it), but it could be claimed that he is simply continuing to justify a decision he made many years ago when building processes were somewhat different and aluminium frames in vans was very uncommon.

Yes, he has (in his view), good and long held beliefs on this. Similar experts with extensive experience in building good vans with aluminium frames hold just as strong a view and will give equally good reasons why aluminium is better.

As I mentioned in an above post, if the van is well built with quality materials, in my view, the framing material is not as big a deal as some will claim. After all, the top end of the market is split 50/50 in terms of manufacturers preference and you don't hear stories on any of them falling apart due to poor frames. I suspect that in numbers of vans sold, over 50% of vans by the top 4 builders are in fact aluminium.

Point 2 I would raise is your statement 'the acknowledged main players are Phoenix, Trakmaster and Bushtracker, all of whom have been in the offroad van business for a number of years. More recently, Kedron has joined them'

Kedron has been building caravans for about 10 years. The factory was established in 1998, but it might have been 1999 before the first van hit the road, I'm not sure of that. Perhaps Kedron started 'more recently', than the others, but 10 years is still a lot of experience. The Kedron caravans business started in 1962 selling vans built by other companies, so there is a long history (I suspect much longer than the others you mention) in the caravan industry. By the way, Trakmaster started building vans in 1995, not a long time before Kedron, but I think you will find Kedron has built a lot more vans than Trakmaster, judging by the van number attached to each van coming out of the factory. I point this matter of timing out only because some could interpret your wording to suggest that Kedron is a 'Johnny come lately' to the industry.

All of the companies named build top quality vans. I have met many owners of all of them, and I'm yet to find one who regrets the choice they made.

Norm C
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Follow Up By: Kiwi100 - Wednesday, Jul 01, 2009 at 00:48

Wednesday, Jul 01, 2009 at 00:48
Hi Norm,

It's no secret that Barry owned Phoenix - it's included in his quote in my post, above.

The thread topic is off-road caravans, so my comments on company experience was related to their experience in that particular field.

I was also looking to provide a bit of balance to the common theme from off-road manufacturers that use aluminium, that timber frames are old-fashioned and rot. This, despite the fact that their vans usually feature fairly extensive use of timber.

While all manufacturers might claim good reasons for their choice of materials, Barry's business gets to pull them apart and the comment that he rarely strips a welded alloy frame without finding significant cracks around welds is telling.

Nonetheless, as you say, there are few owners of any vans in this end of the market who are unhappy with their choice.

Michael
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Reply By: GypsyOne - Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:22

Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:22
Whilst we are on the subject of quality vans....can someone tell me about Future Systems vans.

I have heard it mentioned that they are one of the better quality vans but have no idea if this is just one person's opinion or not.

And.....is FS an off road van??

I have looked at their website but the info contained therein is very limited.
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:56

Monday, Jun 29, 2009 at 15:56
From comments I've seen on caravan forums, Future Systems vans are pretty good and are more dirt road than OFF road. However, I get the impression that they may only build, these days, on request.

If that's true, I guess economies of scale would apply and you would need a fat wallet.

But, if there's a contact number on their site give them a ring and get the real lowdown.

All my comments could be worthless gossip, you never know.....

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