With the ever-growing popularity of ‘camper and off-road’ trailers a very common question asked is “Can I take my camper”, the question is usually answered, 'NO'.
Well I say ‘YES’. But like most things there is a certain set of criteria to be adhered to. If you are going to take a trailer 'Bush' here is a list that has helped me do it. First some questions:
· how much ‘stuff’ is going to put in the trailer - meaning how heavy is it going to be?
· what are you going to tow it with?
· how much extra fuel is required for the trailer?
· consider the weight distributed between the car and trailer, better than having all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, with all the weight in the car.
I have successfully towed a camper trailer through the desert on numerous occasions including mud, large and small sand hills, and even cross-country.
Here are some tips which will make it possible for you to be able to do it, as well:
- Make sure your trailer is an off-road trailer or off-road camper, not the Box Garden trailer with big wheels and slipper springs.
- The draw bar (A frame) and chassis should be very strong and made out of box section or RHS not angle iron.
- If it has leaf springs they should be with rear shackles not slippers and if you are really smart you’ll use the Heavy Duty off road trailer springs from Industrials Springs in Adelaide, called the ‘Outback Trailer Suspension System’
These use nylon bushes; this will cushion the ride better and absorb vibration. These can be bought as weld on kits for your present trailer.
- The bearings should be the larger type and the axle at least 50mm, (they will try to sell you 45mmaxles) the parallel axles are better than the tapered type (all Bearings are the same size)
- If you wish to get any other type of suspension get it from a reputable maker and be sure it is the heavy-duty type, capable of carrying at least 1200kg.
- Most trailers don't have brakes. This is because they are rated to gross a maximum of 750kg. Even at this weight brakes make a lot of sense. I prefer brakes; even the ‘Over Ride’ types are OK. An unladen heavy duty trailer with camper weighs in at around 500kg bare, and by the time you put your water and fuel food sundries etc.(STUFF) it's going to be up around 800kg to 1000kg. Without brakes, in an emergency you just don't stop in time.
- You could argue about shock absorbers on a trailer until the cows come home. Have you ever driven a car without shock absorbers? It's not pleasant. I use shock absorbers on my camper trailer with the AL-KO suspension but not on the 7 x 4 with the Outback Springs.
- Tyres and wheels should be the same. The tyres should be at least the same size, the stud pattern of the rims should be the same as the tow vehicle and the offset of the rims should be the same as the tow vehicle, making them interchangeable. The rims do not have to be a fancy alloy rims the same as a vehicle but the offset has to match.
- The track of the trailer should be the same as the tow vehicle; this will help when towing in sand as the wheels follow correctly in the footprints of the tow vehicle.
- LED lights are the way to go, so much better than globe type.
One trade off of towing a trailer is extra fuel consumption. Be conservative and assume that off highway and particulalry off road, if you are on one of Jol’s famous off-road trips (bush bashing), your vehicle may use up to 50% more fuel when towing a camper or trailer.
TRAILER TYRE PRESSURE
Tyre pressures play a VERY IMPORTANT part in your ability to tow a trailer “off road”. As the load varies with your trailer, so should your tyre pressures. A four-wheel-drive vehicle weighs anything between 1100kg & 1800kg per Axle most are between 1100kg & 1300kg over the front axle and recommended tyre pressures are between 30 and 40 PSI. A fully loaded camper should be around 900 kilograms. I run my trailer at 26 PSI fully loaded and when on slow dirt, 20 PSI, in the desert and sand hills, down as low as 10 PSI. I also turn the brakes off when in sand hills. Let's face it, all the wheels on a trailer do is hold a trailer up, they don’t steer, drive or brake. (You can't back a trailer down a sand hill with the brakes on.) A good rule is to use the same amount of tread length as the tow vehicle.
As an example we had a Land Cruiser in the desert a while ago with a camper, he was having trouble getting through the sand asked me “what tyre pressure should I use”? My comment was “300mm should get you through” looking at me with a blank look on his face, to say “what the hell does that mean”?
I gave him a plastic ruler and a stick, away we went and set up the vehicle. To get 300mm tyre length in this case the front were set at 14 psi, the back 22 psi, with the trailer tyres at 9 psi and no more trouble.
In the sand the lower the tyre pressures the less rolling resistance, because of the larger footprint on the ground and the weight of the trailers is spread over a greater area. This stops the tyre from pushing into the sand therefore causing resistance. I have seen a tyre on a trailer actually stop turning when in soft sand when towed at normal pressure. The trailer tyres should be the first to be let down when in sand. Every trailer that I have seen in the desert still has its tyres at normal road pressure, they do not have shock absorbers. They have to go so fast to get over anything. The trailer spent most of the time in the air. No wonder they fall to bits. If the trailer is bouncing you are going too fast and the tyre pressures are too tight.
TOW BALLS ARE OUT
Tow balls can cause more problems than they are worth.
The movement allowed by the ball and coupling is not sufficient for off road travel. Lateral movement is not too bad, but the up and down movement is limited, which can cause the ball to bottom out on the coupling and break the tow bar, tow ball, or coupling. What do you do? A 'Treg' coupling or 'Orac' are good. This will allow a trailer to do a full turn with out any resistance, and the movement up and down is ample. These couplings are better because they have either urethane or rubber bushes that help to eliminate the shock between the vehicle and trailer.
Check the weight of the coupling or ball weight. On most good tow bars there is a maximum weight for the coupling, try not to exceed this.
SELECTING A TRAILER
First of all gather all the equipment together that you intend to put in your potential trailer. Weigh it, and work out exactly how much room it takes up.
You will need some provision for fuel and water either in or outside the trailer. Think about fitting a water tank to your trailer. . A caravan water tank with a tap is a good idea - they hold around 60L. Fuel and water are the big consumables on a long off road trip.
Another good idea in selecting a trailer is to have a kitchen of some sort that either comes as standard or you can bolt on the ladies having a kitchen is very useful and makes a longer trip so much more pleasant. I have a camper trailer from 'Outback Canvas' in Melbourne with a Treg coupling, hydraulic over rider brakes as options, two Jerry can holders on the front and pull out kitchen. All up cost was approx. $9,000 new.
LIST OF SUGGESTED SPARES FOR YOUR TRAILER
Wheel Bearings  Coupling pins for Tow bar  Wheel Studs and nuts [5 of them]
 Coupling pins for trailer,  Spare Wheel, preferably same as the car
 Canvas patches  Main leaf [if leaf springs]  Assorted steel for welding
 Two sets of Ú'bolts  Spare Shock [Coils Spring Type]
 High Temp Wheel bearing grease  An extra nut on the U bolts
 Tow hitch nut spare