The draw of the outback is a strong one — the red dirt gets under your fingernails and never really goes away. It seems that before one trip is over, the next is already being planned and, after a while in the real world, the feeling of just wanting to drive can sometimes be strong enough to make you drop everything. But that’s enough daydreaming. It’s back to reality for now.
For whatever reason you like to travel, making sure the equipment you’re travelling with doesn’t have any problems is a matter of preparation. If your camper trailer is in top shape before you leave, then you are a lot less likely to have any issues along the way. Every component on your camper trailer should be thoroughly checked and tested before any long distance touring. And if this isn’t something you are confident in doing, then taking it to a specialised trailer/4WD workshop is a good option.
As well as pre-trip checking, some of the same checks should be done during the trip to catch any issues before they happen, so you can have a hassle-free outback journey.
Whether your camper trailer’s braking system is mechanical, hydraulic or electric, all the components will need to be inspected. The brake shoes and drums should be inspected for wear and replaced if needed, any hydraulic lines or electrical cables should be checked for breaks or cracking — check anything that might be a problem at any time through your trip.
The brakes will also need to be adjusted correctly to get the best possible braking performance so as to not put extra strain on the vehicle’s brakes. This can be done by jacking up one wheel at a time and spinning the wheel — you should hear a slight dragging noise.
If you can’t hear anything then the brakes need adjusting. This is done with a screwdriver through a hole in the backing plate.
If you have electric brakes this is also a good time to check they are working. All you have to do is spin the wheel and apply the brakes in the vehicle and you’ll know pretty quickly if anything is wrong.
The wheel bearings in your camper trailer are important because they take the whole load of the trailer — and they need to be in the best condition possible.
Wheel bearings can be checked for play by holding the tyre at 12 and six o’clock and pushing and pulling on the wheel. If there is any play then your bearing will either have to be replaced, or cleaned and repacked with grease, depending on the condition of the bearing.
It is also good practice to carry a spare set of bearings and grease, and also to know how to repack and tension correctly. If you’re not sure how to do it, a 4WD club could be a good place to find someone to show you.
Your camper trailer’s suspension gets a hammering, so the bushes need to be checked for excessive play and cracking, as do any suspension arms and shockers. If there seems to be any sign of metal fatigue, then get it checked before you go.
Springs shouldn’t be sagging because it will only get worse with the weight and harsh conditions. Shocks need to be checked for leaks and excessive rebound. To do this you need to bounce one side of the vehicle to see how long it takes for the shock to stop the bounce. If it takes any more than two bounces, then you will need to get the shocks looked at.
Once again, if you are doing a longer trip have a look at the suspension components every now and again during the trip.
WHEELS AND TYRES
Tyres should be checked for cracks in the sidewalls, screws and nails etc., that might cause a puncture and, of course, the tread. This should be done before and daily while you’re out on a trip.
Rims shouldn’t be too much of an issue but it pays to have a quick look for any signs of cracks starting to form. And make sure the wheel nuts are in good nick because the last thing you want is a cross-threaded nut that won’t come off.
The main thing to watch out for in the electrical system is the health of the batteries in your camper trailer. Because camper trailers sit idle a lot of the time, it is a good idea to get the batteries tested before a long trip.
Corrosion is another thing to look for as corrosion can cause issues that can be hard to find, as well as checking that all connections and cables are secure.
Last but not least, the charging system should be checked for correct operation. This includes testing the charge voltage from the tow vehicle as well as a solar panel if one is being used.
CHASSIS AND BODY
Like with the suspension, we are looking for any sign of cracking and metal fatigue in the chassis and drawbar, paying close attention to the welded joins as this is where it happens most of the time. If the camper trailer has had a hard life, then these sorts of things are more likely to happen.
Under-body water tanks should be checked for leaks and the protective guards checked for any damage. Any canvas should be inspected for tears and loose stitching, anything that could cause a water leak. It’s also a great idea to lube up any zips that are a bit hard to use.
The gas bottle and lines for cookers and hot water units should be checked for leaks. This can be done with soapy water — just look for the bubbles — and gas lines should also be out of harm’s way.
TO BE SURE…
I hear horror stories from time to time about outback travel gone wrong. There is one common factor in a lot of those stories and that is lack of preparation. Somewhere along the line something didn’t get checked and, ultimately, that little something turned into a nightmare.
But by opening your eyes and having a look around your camper trailer before and during any outback trip, then you will either see nothing or you will see something. And that little something might save you a lot of headaches.
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Check out the full feature in issue #82 November 2014 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.