Self certification under a cloud

Caravan Council outlines pitfalls of buying and using new RVs

Caravans on highway Have your say

GOVERNMENT regulatory control systems are a major reason for problems facing many caravan owners and potential buyers, it is claimed.

And the Caravan Council of Australia believes that manufacturers and dealers are not entirely to blame for industry issues.

"There are too many new, under-resourced manufacturers and importers competing in a very limited and highly-competitive market," founder and general manager Colin Young said.

With self-certification permitted combined with the lack of acceptable regulatory auditing of businesses and audits of vehicles it was not possible for prospective buyers to have sufficient confidence in the design, manufacturing, compliance, safety and quality of all new caravans.

"It is vital that potential-buyers do their homework thoroughly before deciding on a particular make and model, rather than being persuaded by a salesperson to buy a better (higher priced) caravan which may or may not live up to the promises made," he said..

"They must decide beforehand precisely what type of caravan they really need that will suit their intended travel plans, and what they can afford.

"This will be a major investment and as such the purchase must be made on a practical basis ... not on an emotional basis."

Mr Young said sales personnel were professionally trained to sell.

"Caravan buyers are not trained to buy and as a result will very often suffer severe buyer remorse when realising that what they have purchased is not up to their expectations," he explained.

RV manufacturers were allowed to self-certify their vehicles, meaning that caravan buyers were not afforded anywhere near the same degree of assurance enjoyed by the buyers of cars and other vehicles.

Obviously, caravan buyers not expected to be experts

"Obviously, caravan buyers are certainly not expected to be experts on all applicable regulatory requirements, hence a very high level of confidence in the manufacturer and dealer is required," Mr Young said.

It was "reasonable" to expect that all dealers should provide adequate professional written information on the vital aspects of ratings and masses to all caravan buyers, he said.

"However, it is also reasonable to expect that all caravanners will have the initiative to take the time to study the owner manuals supplied with both the tow-vehicle and the caravan, along with the definitions of the relevant ratings and masses in Vehicle Standards Bulletin No 1 (VSB1) so they clearly understand the importance of ensuring compliance with the regulations."

It was essential that all drivers and relief-drivers towing caravans take the initiative to ensure they adequately understand the laws and technical issues involved so that they were not "an accident waiting to happen" and a hazard on the roads.

"All drivers need to undertake driver training so they know what to do in the real world when all hell suddenly breaks loose on the road and lives are on the line.

"Having a cavalier attitude of 'I am a great driver' or 'it will never happen to me' is a recipe for disaster. There is a very real possibility that you are not as good as Lewis Hamilton!"

Mr Young said it was strongly recommended that all drivers take part in a professional driver-training course conducted by a highly-respected and experienced caravan-towing instructor.

"There is a strong push to require drivers to have an endorsed licence for towing caravans, obtained after they satisfactorily complete a recognised training evaluation.

"However, there is opposition to this proposal, seemingly from parties that have a strong vested interest in increasing and not decreasing the number of caravans sold and used on our roads.

"An alternative, more practical and much faster proposal to achieve an equivalent result, is to require drivers to pass an on-line theory test encompassing at least the major aspects of the legal and technical issues involved with driving a combination on the road.

"It is proposed that driver licensing authorities and caravan insurance companies manage this system."

Mr Young thought there had been too many serious and tragic accidents and many more frightening incidents involving caravans on our roads.

"Obviously driver, road and atmospheric issues frequently contribute to the cause of these events, along with mechanical failures of the tow vehicle or caravan.

"However, in numerous instances the prime cause has been the tow-vehicle not being suitable for towing the particular caravan."

The mass of a tow-vehicle must be appreciably more than the caravan's mass ... at least 30 percent more.

"This figure is for a mature experienced driver with sharp faculties (especially reflexes), on good roads, in good weather and with both vehicles in good mechanical condition," Mr Young said.

"It is paramount that the tail never wags the dog," he added.

The tow-vehicle must have sufficient power (torque) to enable the combination to accelerate at an acceptable rate and to enable a acceptable speed to be maintained when climbing a hill so as not to frustrate following drivers.

Sufficient power has to be "on hand" to enable overtaking manoeuvres to be made safely.

The distance from the coupling to the rear-axle of the tow-vehicle was critical and the shorter the better, Mr Young said.

"One would certainly reasonably believe that suppliers have a vital duty-of-care obligation to ensure a consumer purchasing a caravan from them thoroughly evaluates the suitability of the intended tow vehicle to safely and legally tow the caravan.


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Copyright 2005 Dennis Amor
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