On the surface, the Australian RV industry is healthy. But underneath there's lots to do.
by Collyn Rivers and Andrew Woodmansey
In Australia, RV registrations are growing at about 5% a year, caravan parks are full in peak season and caravan and camping shows are busy. But all it not as it seems... Let's summarise some of the current issues facing the industry:
- Many consumers are unhappy about the quality of their RVs (see here and here)
- Heavy or overweight Australian caravans are common on our roads (one caravan service company estimates that 90% of the caravans they service are overweight). On the other hand tow vehicles are becoming lighter to meet emissions requirements. This clash is literally an accident waiting to happen
- Towing rules still have some variations between each state and territory
- RV owners are confused about the many weight definitions (ATM, GTM, GVM, GCM for starters), not helped by the multiplicity of available industry definitions that are not easy for consumers to understand
- Sales talk sometimes takes priority over safety in some parts of the caravan world, with ill-defined terms such as 'off road' and 'fully insulated' widely used to sell caravans
- Some parts of the RV media have conflicts of interest between readers and advertisers, making negative RV 'reviews' rare
- There are no statutory minimum payload requirements for caravans and inadequate payload allowances for motorhomes
- Despite clear rules, RV compliance plates vary widely in contents and often contain errors
- There is confusion about RV 'self-containment' - what it is and where it applies
- The debate amongst town councils, caravan parks and 'free campers' about freedom of choice on where to overnight an RV rages on.
More ominously, the number of caravan rollovers each year in Australia is significant - initial data we have received from caravan insurance companies suggest there are about 200 caravan rollovers a year. Each rollover is an avoidable tragedy, often ending the RV dreams of those involved.
The causes of these rollovers is still being analysed, but is likely to involve 'loss of control' in turn caused by a combination of factors including excess speed, improper caravan loading or an overweight caravan and/or tow vehicle. RV Books believes the number of caravan rollovers could be significantly reduced by better driver education and improved co-ordination between trailer engineers, road authorities, manufacturers, industry bodies and caravan clubs, with a strong focus on towing dynamics and road safety.
RV Books is here to play its part in helping to deal with some of these issues. Our books and free articles educate readers about the joys of RV ownership, but also the risks. Towing with an overhung hitch involves some complex physics, and we are here to explain these and other immutable principles of physics as clearly as we can. Weight definitions are clearly explained and illustrated. We have summarised the various state and territory road rules for those travelling interstate and provided a template for discussion of some national towing rules. We will continue to add to this RV knowledge base as best we can.
Here, in our opinion, is what others in the industry can contribute to making the industry safer:
- caravan manufacturers need to continue working on making lighter vans of uniformly high quality, weigh every van made and attach full and accurate compliance plates. Weighbridges or scales should be installed by all manufacturers and dealers to permit regular and transparent weighing of every RV sold and as an educational tool for consumers
- caravan dealers and other RV retailers need to continue their efforts to make buyers aware of their effective payload after all accessories are fitted, include agreed payload allowances in sales contracts and make it clear to consumers what their maximum weight allowances are
- RV owners need to understand and follow their weight, loading and towing equipment obligations as well as any additional 'long vehicle' road rules that apply to them. They should not add extra weight to their RVs in the form of tool boxes etc. unless they are sure they will remain within safe weight allowances and safe loading procedures. They should also not overload tow vehicles
- state and territory road authorities should consider a single set of national towing rules and should explore a mandatory drivers license endorsement to permit towing, which should consist of a computer-based tow theory and RV road rules test
- vehicle engineers should create a dedicated set of construction rules for caravans (not just ‘trailers’), simplify trailer weight and compliance plate requirements and definitions, quantify ill-defined sales terms such as 'off-road' and 'fully insulated', clarify the risks of using weight distribution hitches, make smoke detectors mandatory nationwide and introduce realistic minimum payload requirements for all RV types
- industry organisations should continue to encourage and actively monitor safe, high quality RV manufacturing processes, promote safe towing through free road checks, consumer-friendly educational material and courses and offer online services such as tow vehicle matching
- insurance companies offering RV insurance should encourage driver self-education by offering policy discounts to those who attend a towing course and should also offer free or subsidised weighbridge visits
- the RV media needs to be clear to its readers what is an RV review and what is an advertorial, and offer more impartial RV reviews. Overly heavy caravans should be marked down in reviews and suitable tow vehicles should be proposed for each caravan or camper trailer reviewed.
As a small organisation, RV Books will do what it can to assist with RV driver education through its books and articles.
We look forward to your comments via our contact page.