Offroad vs Outback vs All Terrain - does it mean anything?

Submitted: Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:11
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Just reading the Tanami Caravan thread below, and it got me wondering about the use of these terms to describe Trailers & Caravans. Given the profligacy of these terms, are they just marketing / sales spin, or do buyers use these descriptions to determine the robustness of the build.

Me, if I was buying one, I'd look at the strength and rigidness of the frame; axle, suspension, and wheel fit out, and overall build quality and sealing. I've seen some set-ups described as 'off-road' that I wouldn't even take on the GRR.

Is this misleading, or does the average punter just take this as sales spin?
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Reply By: GT Campers - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:27

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:27
Yes I have a personal and professional interest in what people think here, too... You can add 'semi off-road' to that list as well



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Follow Up By: Member - Rod N (QLD) - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:40

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:40
And 'off highway', as in my Ecotourer.
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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:41

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:41
GT, my comment is not meant to impugn the reputation of anyone here, least of all Camper builders, but the question is...

where does it jump from sales spin to something that is measurable and quantifiable ?? Does 'All-terrain' mean something different to 'offroad' to 'semi off-road'?

Can these terms be taken as a measure of quality?
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Follow Up By: Bush Wanderer - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 22:38

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 22:38
And the strangest one I have come across is 4x4....

This certainly does not live up to its sticker, as I see no diffs or running gear underneath.

;-)

BW
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:43

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:43
My two bobs worth ,
quote
where does it jump from sales spin to something that is measurable and quantifiable ?? Does 'All-terrain' mean something different to 'offroad' to 'semi off-road'?.....

Is it not just another way of saying the same thing ...
its like comparing a patrol to rodeo when off roading both are 4wd's its just that some will say one is better !!!!!

its also going to come down to how its treated I.E .. speed , weight of load , experience of the driver etc

on road camper low to ground smallish car wheels

off road... jacked up off the ground 4wd wheels heavy axle & springs etc

I cant see how you could drew a line between all the different "off road" campers ...... some are going to be better than other but not ever one has the same needs ...

So the answer is.... SPIN

cheers nick






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Reply By: GT Campers - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:28

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:28
Yes I have a personal and professional interest in what people think here, too... You can add 'semi off-road' to that list as well



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Follow Up By: GT Campers - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:35

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 21:35
oops double-up
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Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 13:47

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 13:47
I have always thought that 'off-road capable' would be a fair description of this sort of thing. It would be hard to set up a stack of standards that would apply in all circumstances, but certainly build quality, road clearance, stronger suspension, hitches etc would all be matters for consideration if such a standard was to be introduced..

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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 22:23

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 22:23
Hi Scott

They all mean different things to different makers - no standard terminology. This can be very misleading for a newcomer.

You are quite correct in saying you make your own assessment of strength and quality, and ignore the name.

As said on the Tanami thread, some badged as off road have disclaimers that contradict them even being a dirt road (middle of the range) product.

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Reply By: Ross M - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:09

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:09
G'day Scott M
I am one of those posters who raised the suitability of various setups particularly suspension.
A large number of the population who might buy a caravan/campervan or camper trailer probably don't have a knowledge of engineering or have an in depth technical understanding and this is something which dubious manufacturers/sellers no matter how high a profile they have, obviously take advantage of, it is business after all.
Some vehicles are over engineered and that total weight is part of the problem which a suspension system has to be able to handle and when the going is really rough it is paramount in importance, hence the number of failures we hear about.
Also some are under engineered and fail because of stresses concentrated in a particular area will crack the frame for example.
Supple compliance which absorbs road shock while carrying the load is something most suspensions don't do very well. Only a few do it well.
Some models of the popular brand mentioned earlier have short/sharp highly curved 9 heavy leaves which can't possibly flex very easily at all and they break axles off the swing arm which is supposed to flex to absorb road shock. Too high a tyre pressure would also compound this problem. It was called OFFROAD, I helped repair it.
Other brands of campervan also break axles because of welds being applied poorly on the swing arm to axle, this caused fracture of the axle and loss on a steep a track through mountains.
Many salesmen don't have any idea about engineering though, in fairness some do.
Build quality of the body work is another issue and relatively unimportant if the chassis and suspension aren't much good.
The average person has great difficulty learning enough about these vehicles to make and informed decision when buying because there are a myriad of concepts to compare/evaluate before purchase.
Unfortunately people today want to take caravans and trailers where they never went before and where folk used to tent it.
Just cos it got wheels doesn't mean it will be able to go there!
Just a point of view and I realize others have far more experience than I do in this field.

Ross M
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Follow Up By: Off-track - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:46

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:46
Then again I recall seeing many a caravan traverse the Nullabor and the Old South Road when they were pretty average dirt highways with plenty of corrugations. Yeah, some didnt make it but overall I would think that a modern day say Jayco Outback is engineered stronger than these old ply jiggers. I think a core difference is the speeds people travel now is much higher which place more stress on running gear over rough surfaces.

Ive had a look at the Jayco Outback leaf suspension on beam axle setups and it looks no different in leaf width and eye to eye length than any of the true offroad camper trailers. I also counted 6 leaves on the Jayco Campers but maybe the larger vans have 9? The layover axle doesnt look great but i believe you can fit a 2t straight axle as an option. The chassis looks surprisingly strong in the Outback versions and I would think most of the problems would come from the relatively weaker stuff attached on top of it, as this would get a fair shake.
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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:47

Monday, Mar 26, 2012 at 23:47
Ross,
You got my point exactly. Most of the experienced 4wdrivers / campers on this forum will recognise build quality fairly quickly. Hell, I'm not an engineer and I can look under or at some set-ups and tell very quickly whether it's built to take heavy conditions or not. I've seen some 'imports' sold as off-road that frankly I wouldn't tow up my fathers driveway.

You see a lot of threads on here from folks who've bought the latest freejaytravcoro 'outback' or 'off-road' and want to know if they can take it down 4wd track 'x'.

Ummmmm ... no .... not if you value your $60k plus investment.

However my real concern is there doesn't appear to be any standard for manufacturers to build to before they can advertise as 'off-road' or 'all-terrain'... things like a minimum and rigid frame box section, axle size or suspension size (if independent), ride height, weld verses rivet, cladding thickness etc. etc. Jeez, I've even seen an 'off-road' camper with pop riveted gas bottle & jerry can holders...
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Follow Up By: ross - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 00:27

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 00:27
A lot of trailers would go much further offroad if they let some air out of the tyres.
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Reply By: The Landy - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:06

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:06
I think such terms are meaningless for the simple reason that there is no industry standard defining the use of the term which means that such can definitions become emotive sales pitches to be used anyway one chooses.

What does ‘Outback’ mean, ‘off-road’ could mean anywhere, and then ‘all-terrain’. These terms could mean different things to different manufacturers, and also to buyers, thus rendering the description almost useless unless they are qualified by the manufacturer as to what they mean specifically.

An industry standard as to how these terms are defined would assist. Until then it is up to buyers to assess suitability, and this is often done in these types of forums.

Cheers
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Reply By: GT Campers - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:29

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 08:29
I thiak I will have to be careful here (!) but n my years obsrving industry, and now as a manufacturer in it I have learnt the thickness, the depth and the smell of BS is astonishing

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Reply By: Kris and Kev - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 09:02

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 09:02
Very good thread. We have just started to look at caravans and want an ‘off road’ one and find the whole exercise very confusing. For example, I am under the impression that independent suspension, tandem not single, is the way to go, but one caravan yard manager told me that he believes standard suspension is not that bad as it is easier to fix if you are out in the bush. He said with the standard leaf spring suspension they are similar to most horse floats as an example, so spare parts are almost everywhere.
There are so many makes now claiming ‘off road’ status. (We cannot afford a Bushtracker or Kedron.) Once they do claim the status the price seems to go right up?
Kevin
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Follow Up By: Ross M - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 11:08

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 11:08
G'day Kris & Kev,
If you are buying an OffRoad van there are a lot of things to consider.
Depending on the size you want every kilogram of trailer is a disadvantage to the tow vehicle but some compromises are made in order to get what you want for your circumstances.
A single axle will go where a dual axle van never can. You can physically turn a smaller van around in circumstances where a dual axle can only go forward. Sometimes unhitched you can drag it around on a narow road if need be but not with a big van, no room to do it.
If you have to reverse somewhere the smaller van is better too. If in cities you may be able to park a smaller setup where a big van you must catch a train in from the outer suburbs so to speak.
With a lot of modern vehicles and vans people are getting around the same economy as years ago despite technology but fuel costs are much greater, so travel is a great deal more expensive.
You mentioned standard suspension advice from a yard manager, Yes it may be easier to repair but you shouldn't be buying a van on the basis that you will be repairing it road side.Thats like buying a commodore and accepting the breakdowns as normal while everyone else motors on.
Speaking of Kedron/Bushtracker, these vans are big and unmanageable, heavy and fuel sucking monsters. They might have engineered a suspension which survives, but all that so people can have aircon and a shower/toilet? Madness.

If the van weighs near the same as or more than the tow vehicle then the term OFFROAD`becomes less and less applicable cos it isn't/can't be true.
Many people are forced to buy an $80,000 vehicle, maybe s/hand one, just to be able to legally tow these things on road. Again madness.
If the vehicle used normally 4wding has trouble negotiating some terrain how can it also tow more than its own weight in these conditions?

I believe in lighter vehicles, supple suspension, not too much weight, definitely not a Hilton on wheels.

Ross M
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Follow Up By: wendys - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 12:18

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 12:18
Hi Kris and Kev,
in regard to genuine off road caravans, if you have not already come across them, Google Trakmaster and have a look at their specs. I think it is true to say that in the industry, they are regarded as proper offroad vans. Of course, it is as Ross says, above - if you are going to get something huge and heavy, with heaps of bells and whistles that can go wrong when exposed to heat and dust and corrugations, then you are really limiting yourself as to where you can go.
An expert on the subject once told me that he regarded 16' as the limit of versatility.
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 22:01

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 22:01
"Speaking of Kedron/Bushtracker, these vans are big and unmanageable, heavy and fuel sucking monsters. They might have engineered a suspension which survives, but all that so people can have aircon and a shower/toilet? Madness. "

Sounds like a severe case of envy, Ross.


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Follow Up By: Ross M - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 10:07

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 10:07
G'day Gone Bush

Not in the slightest bit eviable of a Kedron or Bushtracker.
Never even bothered to look at one or any similar relocatable homes.
I think while the majority continue to support the same delusions then they will not ever see any problems associated with a situation.
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 10:15

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 10:15
Good to see your emphatic opinion was based on such exhaustive research.

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Reply By: Rangiephil - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 10:07

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 10:07
I think the point is being missed here.

IMHO all these terms are "weasel words" so that caravan manufacturers can deny warranty when anything happens away from a bitumin road!

They deliberately make the terms obscure so that if say you are driving on a corrugated dirt road and the fridge falls apart, they can say
" oh no Outback means you can drive from the bitumin road across the road verge to a free camp spot "
Having said that, I have seen Jayco Outback campers going much too fast on the GRR and spoke to a bloke in Boulia who had done the Plenty with one with only a broken shock mount and lots of dust inside to show for it.
I cannot see how many of the so called offroaders could be ,given their size and weight.
IMHO the only REAL offroaders are light camper trailers such as Kimberley(even that is heavy) , Camp o matic ( I have towed mine up the Northern OTT) and a few others.
All the others should maybe be called "suitable for bad outback roads"
I have also seen some of the best have internal issues eg at Loralla Springs in NT, where even a Bushtracker had dropped out its microvawe on the track in.
My theory is KISS.
Regards Philip A
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Reply By: JimDi - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 10:43

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 10:43
Its an interesting discussion. In 2006 I spent a year of my life chasing a caravan dealer in Brisbane through the legal system trying to get my deposit of $6500.00 back.
I had ordered an "off road" van to be built based on the sales reps description. This is after we had viewed their "on road" version. The on road version was to be bulked up with the interior to be made tougher to withstand corrugations etc. Add an off road "independant suspension" and we were away. This was at the Brisbane caravan show.
After a few follow up discussions that caused me some concern I rang the interstate manufacturer. After speaking to the "national sales staff" which included the technical director I was really worried. Their attitude to their customers was astounding. The national sales director described the bulk of his buyers as "stupid".
I eventually rang the parent company and spoke to the CEO who was sympathetic but straight away admitted they did not make off road vans and that I should go and see either Bushtracker or Kedron, his words not mine.
To cut this story short I ended up in court,at one stage heading for the supreme court. At the end of the day I got a lot of my money back but was a little over $2500 out of pocket.
This manufacturing mob now sells "dirt road" vans I notice.
Happy travelling
Jim
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Follow Up By: Ross M - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 13:01

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 13:01
G'day JimDi
I would say yours is a good assessment and I was polite in a previous post using"dubious" as a descriptive word to cover the attitude of caravan manufacturers toward their customers.
This is a market where people want something, so the caravan manufacturers give them something. Most caravans have technology in some of the appliances and third party fittings but caravans are basic and the theory behind their production aint rocket science but the prices do skyrocket though. Greed and profit are the main issues in caravan production.

Many vans classed for rough work only last because they are built like battle tanks and heavy, thought and understanding of soft riding compliant suspensions seems way beyond most. Bushtracker and Kedron, I class them as above, offroad Hilton and similar weight.
Many much lighter vehicles could carry the same loadweight on rough roads if the suspension was up to the task, most aren't.

You spoke of beefed up interiors for rough stuff. If the suspension is compliant and acts as it should then no interior strength upgrade would be required because the destructive shocks and suddeness isn't transferred to the frame and fittings. Modern automotive suspension design principles are not followed by caravan/offroad van makers. They are still unhitching their horse.
Although while unhitching they saw a Sugarglider. The name given to a suspension is far more important than the actual performance of that suspension.

I better stop now..
Ps the powered vehicle motor trade refers to its customers as black ducks.

Ross M
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Follow Up By: JimDi - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 15:35

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 15:35
Hi Ross,
I am hoping the term "black ducks" means we (the car buyer) have some protection. If thats even partially correct I feel better.

I can assure all caravan buyers that you have only the goodwill of either the caravan builder or seller as protection. In my case as mentioned above the so called Govt departments set up to look after the consumer were not just useless but refused point blank to help. They admitted verbally that they were aware of "huge problems" in the industry but just would not act.

Eventually I forced what was termed as an investigation into my matter but the report came back with this..."The sales operator is a nice bloke."
Anyway all ended up reasonably, I had my day in court. They did not turn up at all. The beak was not impressed and awarded everything possible my way. But I was still short a few grand.
Regards
Jim
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Reply By: Steve M1 (NSW) - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 21:24

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 at 21:24
As with anything else Scoddy - look beneath the bu!!$hit at the nuts and bolts
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Follow Up By: GT Campers - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 14:04

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 14:04
TOP ADVICE

But the problem is, many people - often beginners, with little or no camping/4WD/off-road exprience but with the ambition to 'Go See Australia' rather than buy a holiday home like my grandparents did - simply don't know what is underneath a trailer, or what to look for

Outside of forums such as this, understanding of engineering and product knowledge is very poor
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Reply By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 15:13

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012 at 15:13
Therein lies the rub GT. Not tarring all camper builders with this brush, however as some of the replies above indicate, the need to make a sale quite often overrides sound advice.

These forums are a great source of information, however in a lot cases the new buyer would rely on the advice of the sales folks, and even some of them wouldn't have off road experience.

"She'll be alright on a bit of gravel" doesn't convey the impact of the Tanami Rd or parts of the GRR. The problem is that the new punter sees 'off-road' on the side of the van/trailer and off they go.
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