That caravan you’re towing may have been designed on the back of an envelope.

Don’t laugh it could well be true warns the Caravan Council of Australia (CCA).

How much genuine professional “engineering design” went into your caravan? asks the CCA’s Col Young.

“Was it developed using a professional CAD (Computer-Assisted Design) and a high-level CAE (Computer-Aided Engineering) program?

“Or was it just simply copied from a competitor’s van that was quite possibly merely copied from another van that was made many years before, and was possibly sketched-up on the back of an envelope?”

The Council is on a mission to lift standards across the industry by drawing attention to out-dated practices and making buyers aware of their legal rights.

While a potential buyer does not need to be a “walking encyclopaedia” on caravan engineering, Mr Young said it was still a good idea to be reasonably informed regarding the “why’s and wherefores” of fundamental technical issues.

“If a salesperson cannot credibly explain why a particular caravan has, or does not have, certain features, you may want to question their understanding of what they are actually selling,” he said.

“Are the chassis and body designed to be extremely rigid, very flexible — or a predetermined compromise?

“Are all-too-common and annoying problems such as water and dust leaks, caused by the deterioration of the effectiveness of adhesives and sealants.

“And the cracking and loosening of body panels and cabinetry due to continual impacts and vibrations from the roadway surface, that inevitably lead to distortion and areas of high stress-concentrations, properly considered and measures taken to minimise the potential for damage?”

By far the most-important design consideration for any caravan, Young said, is that it must be safe and stable on the road – when towed legally by a suitable tow-vehicle.

So that its handling and stability remain steady and predictable, regardless of whether the van is empty, partly-loaded, or fully-loaded (up to its ATM Rating).

In addition, he said the caravan must be designed to have a high “critical speed”, so that it is unlikely to jack-knife and roll-over, in the event of the driver of the tow-vehicle having to make a sudden “animal-avoidance” manoeuvre.

Along with ensuring that the Ball-Loading is correct, the tyre inflation pressure, plays a critical role in a van’s handling and stability.

“Remember, if the basic design of a caravan is fundamentally flawed, one cannot have high expectations that the rest of the caravan will somehow be fine.

“Did a professional engineer actually calculate the stresses involved in the various components, especially the critical running-gear elements — and then incorporate reasonable safety factors in order to provide acceptable safety, reliability and durability?”

To find out more about caravan design, the Caravan Council Of Australia website is a mine of information.

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Some caravans designed on back of envelope


Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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