Warning on caravan 'death traps'

CARAVANNERS could be heading off on a death trip rather than a relaxing holiday because of alarming design problems in the industry and buyer ignorance, a veteran automotive engineer has warned.

Poorly designed vans, overloading and unsuitable tow vehicles are some of the key issues worrying Colin Young, Warrnambool-born honorary manager of the Caravan Council of Australia.

He’s also keen to see  training  for inexperienced drivers before they embark on caravan trips.

“There are so many problems out there with manufacturers producing bigger and heavier vans,” he said.

“It can make stability a real nightmare with vans jackknifing and snaking.

“A lot of people don’t understand what’s involved.”

Mr Young, of Melbourne, works with Warrnambool-based Dynex International and has been in the automotive industry 47 years since learning engineering basics at the former Warrnambool Technical School.

He also assists the caravan council in providing free information to the recreational vehicle industry which also includes camper trailers, motorhomes, slip-ons and fifth-wheelers.

“The council’s number-one aim is to ensure all recreational vehicles offered for sale in Australia are 100 per cent compliant and safe so buyers can have confidence in the vehicles they purchase,” he said.

“Many vans are poorly designed and also badly loaded, often overloaded, by their owners such that they have bad handling and stability problems on the road.

“Having the correct ball loading is vital — too little or too much can cause severe snaking or swaying, often leading to an out-of-control situation.

“Van owners should use a certified weighbridge to measure the tare (unladen) mass and ball-loading.

“It is essential the “tail never wags the dog”, that is, the tow-vehicle has the ability and mass to control the caravan/trailer, rather than the other way round.”

The 67-year-old, regarded as one of Australia’s best automotive engineers, said there were too many small manufacturers competing for a share of the caravan market.

“Many are under-resourced and with insufficient business, engineering and legal expertise,” he said.

“The main problem with caravans is that the so-called self-certification of compliance with Australian design rules is permitted.

“In so many cases information on the trailer compliance plate is grossly incorrect and/or incomplete whereas motor vehicles and large trailers require federal approval to fit compliance plates after being thoroughly examined.”

The council offers a range of information including technical advice and checklists for vans and tow vehicles.

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