Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Driving a campervan

People visiting Australia and NZ are presented with the opportunity to take advantage of the the availability of rental campervan there. Indeed it is a great to see the country there while having your own mobile accommodation. However for most Malaysia or Singaporeans who have never had any driving experience with  vehicle like campervan, there are certain risks. If your are planning for self drive holiday with a campervan, it is important to know how to do it properly with the lowest possible risk. Some people asked me, "how is it like to drive a campervan ?".

The short answer is, "it is just like driving a family car, just bigger and heavier".

As for the long answer, it can broken down in the following points:
  1. A campervan is heavier. As you can imagine, a campervan is practically a small house on wheels. Before you even load it with your luggage and passengers, it is already weighed down with the body structure designed to provide all the amenities for living. The water tank, sanitary system, fridge, site aircon, cooking equipment and generator adds a lot of mass to the chassis. As such, the braking distance will be longer, the steering response will be more sluggish. Basically, your can't accelerate in a hurry, your can't stop in a hurry and you can't turn in a hurry. Many first time campervan drivers come to grief because they found themselves caught out by the unfamiliar mass and weight of their rental vehicle. Mentally, you will have to plan ahead for all the emergency maneuvers, anticipating bad drivings and mistakes from other road users is a must as well.
  2. Take some time to understand the weight distribution of the campervan. Take note of where the water tanks is located. Water is heavy, a full tank or an empty tank may affect the handling of the vehicle. If possible, test drive it with a full water tank and again with an empty tank. If the camper is equipped with waste water tanks, transfer the water from clean water tank to waste tank to get yourself familiar with the effect of the weight shift.
  3. Effect of cross wind. Campervans are usually taller and longer compared to family cars and they are more susceptible to the effect of cross wind. You may find yourself having to steer to counter the effect of cross wind even when you are on a straight road. When a heavy vehicle like a bus or lorry is overtaking from behind, your will feel the advanced air wave from them pushing your camper to the side even before passing you. Stay vigilant and stay alert, leave the sight seeing to your passengers, you must be totally switched on at all time.
  4. Be aware of the height of the vehicle at all time! Places where you can get into with a family car may not apply to a campervan! Always ask yourself, "is there enough height clearance for me?"
  5. We like to pick the best spot to park the campervan at the campsite. The ground surface may be soft or slippery, campervans are heavy and their tyres are designed for load carrying, not traction on soft ground. I have seen first time campervan drivers getting themselves stuck in sand or soft ground which would otherwise give no trouble to a 4WD of even a family car. Check the surface before driving on it, if you are uncertain about it, choose other spot.
  6. Check the condition of the tyres, ensure that they are correctly inflated. Rental campervans in Australia and NZ are usually in excellent condition, but it won't hurt if you pay some extra attention. 
That is probably all that you need to observe for a safe campervan trip!

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