Recently I was asked about a whole host of camper trailers that had been selected to make a ‘short list’ of possible purchases. The problem was, this short list wasn’t so short. Why? Because the current camper trailer market is flooded with trailers that appear to come from the same factory (that isn’t in Australia) – with only subtle differences to set them apart. Am I being a pessimist about the current choices on offer?
Camper trailers are being imported from overseas in numbers greater than ever before, allowing questionable manufacturing processes and component quality to slip through to the keeper… while the consumer is left to bear the full expense. At the same time, this competition has bred some seriously good value campers, while keeping the Australian manufacturers on their toes. There is certainly some scaremongering going on out there about certain trailer brands, that isn’t always justified. For the thousands of good experiences, it’s only the bad ones we ever hear about.
From that short list I mentioned before, picking the winner ended up being somewhat simple – it wasn’t the cheapest, it wasn’t the most expensive, but it was by far the best option for the purchaser – and that’s what really matters. I took to the paddocks of trailers at a couple of this year’s outdoor adventure shows to confirm what I had found online in my research. Unluckily for me, my head was left spinning even more.
Now the hard work had been done by this prospective buyer. They had tabled their options – including selecting a style, the weights, the price, and the brands of course. But they wanted to know what all of this data actually meant to them. Well, that’s the part that I might be able to help with, so here goes!
How much have you got?
Set a budget. Don’t just look at the purchase price, but consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Don’t think for a second that once you buy the camper the spending stops there – oh no. There are important costs such as insurance and maintenance that will follow; then there are the modifications to make it your own, or adding luxuries like that hot water heater the ‘better half’ demands. It’s not much good buying the latest and greatest if you can’t afford to take it anywhere.
Size and shape
Hard floor, soft floor, forward fold, hybrid… the list goes on. They all have their purpose and they all have features that may suit your situation better than the next. Let’s briefly break it down:
The more affordable option, slower set-up and pack-down; more like a tent on a trailer, with storage under the tent. Generally they don’t have amazing suspension, but certainly able to get you out and about on a budget.
The proven design and easily the most popular on the market. Storage space is a ‘medium’ if I were to quantify it. They come in all different sizes, from small and nimble to big and luxurious.
Generally limited to sleeping two people; great lounge area to get away from the elements. Huge amounts of storage, but the trade-off is weight and usually higher cost. The footprint is also a little smaller. There are limited options available, but more are emerging every day.
Absolutely limited to sleeping two people. More luxurious and quicker to set up (if any). But this all comes at a (large) cost. Storage space can be limited on smaller models. Definitely a growing segment in the market.
“But it’s only 200kg more.” This may not seem important, but it bloody well is! The trailer manufacturers give you a weight of their trailer, but is it the weight and what about the tow-ball downforce? Can your vehicle tow the trailer you’re planning on buying? Do you need a brake controller? What about when you fill the two 80L water tanks, four jerry can holders and two 9kg gas bottles – what does it weigh now? And what has that tow ball weight shot up to? Now you’ll need to be considering if the suspension in your tow vehicle is up to it; or will it need assistance? Before you know it, the trailer weight has blown right out and so has your budget – don’t get me started on what it’s done to your fuel economy. My point is: Consider the trailer in your circumstances, how you’d use it. Do you need two 80L water tanks or two spare tyres bolted to the back? I don’t know many people that would.
Quality and support
Will your manufacturer be there to help you out and can you get replacement parts? Ask those difficult questions upfront before purchase. Make sure your retailer will support you if things go awry.
How and where do you travel?
“I want to take it everywhere.” Unfortunately, that might not be a reality. A leaf-sprung soft floor camper trailer probably isn’t going to (safely) get as far as a Track Tvan. We all have a wish list of where we want to travel, so it’s important to consider what you will be doing with it. If you like to move to a new camping spot each day, then quick and simple set-up will be attractive. But if you like tight bush tracks, the soft floor option might get you more places than a large luxury hybrid.
What about when you’re done?
Something that is often overlooked when buying a camper: Resale value. Buying the right camper may cost you very little when it comes time to selling up if you’ve chosen the right one. A bit of research in the classifieds will show you which ones hold their value best.
It’s the age-old story that can be applied to just about any local manufacturing market out there. Like it or not, technology has bred cheaper ways to import (and export), which has introduced competition to the market. There are no two ways about it, the local manufacturers will have to be competitive or they will sink. It might sound blunt, but it is what it is. This is a win for the consumer, so do your research and you will come out on top in this booming market.