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Can "Off Road" Trailers and Camper Trailers be Towed Through the Desert?

With the ever-growing popularity of "camper and off-road" trailers, a very common question asked by most owners 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 I have prepared that has helped me in doing so.

Firstly, how much "stuff" is going to be put in the trailer - meaning how heavy is it going to be???

Secondly, what are you going to tow it with?

Thirdly, I 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.

Well I have successfully towed a camper trailer through the desert on several occasions including mud, large and small sand hills, and even cross country.

Here is an example of some simple rules to adhere to 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 A frame 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're really smart, you'll use Holden or Falcon Ute springs because they have rubber bushes and not brass ones (this will cushion the ride better and absorb vibration).
  • The bearings should be the large type and the axle at least 50mm, 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 make 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 add your water and fuel, food sundries etc. 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 trailer.
  • 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 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.

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 4WD vehicle weighs anything between 1100kg and 1800kg per axle. Most are between 1100kg and 1300kg over the front axle and recommended tyre pressures are between 30 and 40 PSI. A fully loaded camper should be around 900 kg. I run my trailer at 26 PSI fully loaded, 20 PSI when on slow dirt and 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).

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 trailer is spread over a greater area. This stops the tyre from pushing into the sand therefore causing resistance. The trailer tyres should be the first to be let down when in sand. Every trailer I have seen in the desert still have their tyres at normal road pressure, they do not have shock absorbers. They have to go so fast to get over anything the trailer spends 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're 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 without 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 provisions for fuel and water either in or outside the trailer. Remember a vehicle uses approximately 50% more fuel when towing a camper or trailer. A good idea in selecting a trailer is to have a kitchen of some sort that either comes as standard or you can bolt on. A caravan water tank is a good idea with a tap - they hold around 60L. For 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 of this approx. $7K.

Reproduced courtesy of Jol Fleming, Direct 4WD Awareness

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