Because of safety issues and the law, it’s important to watch the weight of your caravan when it’s loaded. John Ford reports on getting his own van in order.
Not long after we purchased our second-hand off road caravan I realised that we were going to have a problem with it being overweight when it was loaded with all our gear. In addition to all our clothes, camping gear and food there were water tanks that added to the load that had to be shared in the 300kg of carrying capacity. To measure the actual weight, I emptied the water tanks and unloaded the pantry and storage and headed to a weighbridge.
When the scales steadied at 1830kg, I knew there was a problem, because our ATM is only 1990kg, meaning we had an actual legal carrying capacity of only 160kg. While manufacturers were less accurate with their weight proclamations when the van was built, I couldn’t entirely blame the original build.
The addition of a heavy bar for two spares on the back, three solar panels, two batteries and a couple of extra water tanks were all valuable touring features, but they had blown out the tare weight and meant we had only 159kg of payload. So, with the water tanks full and nothing else in the van we would be well overweight. Because if this, we were careful to share the load in the tow vehicle and only top up the water at the latest opportunity before heading into the bush, but it wasn’t an ideal situation and I realised we had to do something about it.
After wading through the options and investigating the various upgrades, I spoke to Andrew Goddard at Cruisemaster in Brisbane about their independent XT suspension and decided it was our best long-term solution. Rated to 2600kg, it gave us the capacity to fill the tanks and load the fridges without worrying about getting booked or putting the van under stress.
Having made the decision we booked a slot in their schedule, headed to Brisbane and found a nearby motel for the three-day changeover. You might think that three days seems a long time and it surprised me until Andrew pointed out that every component is a bespoke item because there are hundreds of variations to suit the many vans and campers available and the various weight requirements of their owners.
Cruisemaster started making suspension and trailer couplings under the name of Vehicle Components in 1977 when Andrew’s father and grandfather, Arthur and Chris Goddard turned their engineering skills to the recreational vehicle market. Their first leaf sprung independent system was an instant success in a market hungry for better off road performance and through continual development and commitment to quality they have become a leader in suspension technology worldwide.
Cruisemaster’s XT trailing arm system has the benefit of separate independent mounting points for the wheels, either in a single or twin axle arrangement. The robust trailing arms have forward pivot points attached to the chassis and leading back to axles to which the wheels are attached. Rising rate coil springs sit between the arms and the chassis rails to soak up the variations in road conditions, while twin shock absorbers each side dampen the movement of the arm even further.
The advantage of the independently mounted springs means that shock from bumps isn’t transferred to each side of the van as it would with a beam axle. And because the wheels are allowed to move vertically, they maintain precise contact with the ground. Combined with the more efficient coil spring, the design gives a smoother ride and an easier life for the caravan and its fixtures. Less shock means less damage through impact and wear and tear.
The change over to the safer system started with removing the beam axle, leaf springs and hangers. My van has a very heavy chassis, which ensures a rigid frame for the new suspension, but I’m told there can be body flex issues with some poptops with lighter construction.
With the old system relegated to the recycling bin, it was time to measure up for the new cross members and mounting points for the trailing arms and twin shock absorbers. Components are cut on a CNC machine and robot welded for precise tolerances before being finished in epoxy paint, which can be colour matched to suit. All structural elements are manufactured in house to close tolerances and with engineering verified on the company’s annual Remote Area Testing Programme. And while installation requires precise location of the arms and mounting points, there is adjustment in the system to keep the wheels tracking correctly over time.
On top of the extra carrying capacity, the new system rides higher for better ground clearance, particularly in the centre of the van and we picked up a bonus weight saving when the completed job went back on the scales. To my surprise the independent XT weighed about 30kg less that the old solid beam axle and leaf springs.
Twin 35mm shock absorbers and the King Coil springs rated at 2.6t give us a much better carrying capacity and while this setup suits the sort of travel we anticipate, you can opt for heavier 41mm shock absorbers and air suspension for an even more robust installation.
On the road we found our old van had been injected with a new lease of life. It tracked more smoothly and had less roll in corners. Over speed humps it was quieter and transferred less shock through to the Landcruiser. Off road it was equally impressive. A quick run down a rutted dirt track proved the new system had taken all the harsh banging and softened the ride over the deeper holes.
Cruisemaster offer a three-year warranty that can be extended to five years. Cost of the system varies depending on the van, but a similar setup to ours would be around $4500. We considered this good value for our long-term plans as we now have a van that is safe, legal and without the worry of loading up with all our gear for extended trips.