Make / Model Search

News - General News - Camper

Off-road caravan warranties fail buyers

Misleading advertisements and warranty clauses lead ACCC to recommend action

20 Jun 2023

ASPIRATIONAL caravan and camper trailer brochures and website landing pages are jam-packed with images of caravaners enjoying the Aussie outback, cruising along big-name dirt roads to far-off locations without a care in the world, knowing their appropriately named camper-trailer or caravan is “built for Aussie conditions”.


Models like the Commando, Safari Tamer, Outback, Tanami, Off Limits, Scout, Explorer, Trooper, Frontier, Expedition and Bush Challenger summon an expectation that a vehicle that is fit for purpose and offered with a suitable and solid warranty – one that lives up to the claims that its military-designed frame, bright-coloured dual-shock suspension and meaty all-terrain tyres are backed by those who built it.


But look closely into the fine print of the warranty of some of even the best-known caravan and camper trailer manufacturers – many of which do not make these terms and conditions public – and customers might be taken aback – especially when trying to determine which of the more than 200 caravan and camper trailer manufacturers will stand behind the product they build.


Responding to this GoAuto investigation, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) said caravan and camper trailer manufacturers and suppliers should “exercise caution when making representations” about the suitability of their products for off-road use and explained that “unlike passenger vehicles, there is no standard definition of the term ‘off-road’ in the caravan industry”.


In 2021, there were 22,000 recreational vehicles built in Australia with some 20,000 more imported from overseas. The selling price of “off-road ready” camper-trailers can start from circa $30,000 and escalates quickly, with similarly “capable” caravans asking three, four and even five times that amount.


The booming industry is calculated at being worth more than $23 billion and directly employs over 53,000 people. It is estimated that there are 770,000 recreational vehicles on Australian roads, making 12 million trips and 60 million visitor nights in caravan parks across the country – big numbers by any standard.


But as GoAuto discovered this week, there are exclusions that appear to conflict with how customers might imagine they can use their brand-new off-road home-away-from-home, where they can take it, and even what they tow it with – which is particularly concerning considering just how many of the 200 manufacturers advertise their product as being off-road-capable, adventure ready, or built for Australian conditions.


Australia’s largest caravan, recreational vehicle, motorhome, and camper trailer manufacturer, Jayco, depicts its Outback, CrossTrak and X models as “purpose built for off-road conditions” – with features including independent JTECH 2.0 suspension, Endurance chassis, chequer-plate cladding and nitrogen-filled tyres – but the warranty says otherwise.


Get into the nitty gritty and Jayco says its vehicles are “designed for recreational use only and not for permanent residence or living”, a loophole that may come back to bite anyone looking to spend a year or two on the road.


It further states that its recreational vehicles may “only be towed by standard passenger vehicles, including four-wheel drive passenger vehicles” and may not be “towed by a vehicle with harsh suspension or commercial truck of any type”, meaning popular leaf-sprung utes are out of the question.


But perhaps most importantly – for vehicles Jayco clearly states are designed for off-road use and adventure without compromise – is the point that the vehicle is not warranted for use on “rutted roads or tracks or for use on four-wheel drive only tracks” and that “under no circumstance should any Jayco recreational vehicle be exposed to water crossing at or above body floor level”.


Further, and according to the warranty, Jayco states that its “Outback range of recreational vehicles have been designed and constructed to give added strength and ground clearance for limited use on unsealed roads. An Outback upgrade refers to travel on gravel or graded unsealed roads” and that they are “not suitable for tight undulating tracks”.


There is much of the warranty that is open to interpretation – and much that would suggest “buyer beware” when selecting just where customers plan on heading, the time they will spend there, and just what they plan to tow it there with in the first place.


GoAuto reached out to Jayco who said of its warranty: “Like all products across Australia, warranty clauses are in place as a set of guidelines to ensure longevity and integrity of the product is upheld.


“Jayco provides full disclosure to its customers within its warranty T&Cs which can be easily accessed via the Jayco website,” it continued.


“In Australia, all consumer purchases are protected by Australian Consumer Law, which applies in addition to any express warranty a manufacturer may give, and which Jayco supports.


“Our customer’s enjoyment and safety when adventuring with their RV has been our number one priority for over 45 years and will continue to be for years to come.”


Jayco is not alone in overrepresenting the ruggedness of its off-road-ready range.


With names including the Bush Challenger and the “off-road focused X255”, Pakenham-based manufacturer Golf (owned by parent company A’van) says the models offer “excellent ground clearance” with “independent coil suspension that allows you to get out and explore just that little bit further”.


“Golf has a tradition of building high-quality, versatile recreational vehicles for rugged Australian conditions,” says a statement on the manufacturer’s homepage, but with the caveat that, “extra care must be taken on unsealed roads as damage caused by potholes or corrugations is not covered by warranty”.


Cub Campers – whose models are “designed for luxury and engineered for adventure” and promise to be made for “serious off-roading” – is not as explicit in singling out particular road types or conditions but says taking its product “through any environment or over any surface which the manual indicates the product was not designed” will see the warranty voided.


It was a similar story with Roadstar Caravans, whose off-road range was not warranted if “towed by a vehicle other than a standard passenger vehicle or standard four-wheel drive”, “exposed to water at or above the body floor”, or “used off-road or on a track deemed unsuitable”.


Lifestyle Camper Trailers offered much the same caveats, saying it would not cover its off-road campers if driven on “severely rutted roads and tracks” or performing “creek crossings”.



Mixed messaging


At least Jayco, A’van, Cub Campers, Roadstar Caravans and Lifestyle Camper Trailers were transparent enough to put their warranty before the buying public.


Other manufactures, like Stoney Creek, require submission of an online form to receive a copy of the warranty – and again after promising “over 30 years of off-road experience” and a vehicle which is “designed and built to get you wherever you’re going”.


Ezytrail’s range of camper trailers spruiks the ability to “see the best off-road spots in Australia” while making “easy work of going cross country”, but again asks that interested parties apply online to view the conditions of its warranty. The company has noted past failures of its products when fully loaded and used in “harsh off-road conditions”.


Trackabout, another Queensland-based manufacturer that says its off-road campers are made for “that great outback adventure” and for exploring Australia’s “rugged environmental conditions … over and over again”, also provided no warranty details on its public website.


Off-road-only Patriot Campers was much the same, despite promising “long-lasting durability” and “compliance to all relevant international standards”.


Similarly, Track Trailer, a well-regarded Victorian-based camper trailer and hybrid caravan manufacturer whose military-derived MC2 suspension is largely considered the gold standard among off-road camping enthusiasts, did not offer details of its five-year warranty online, instead asking for ownership details to proceed further.


Alpine Campers, Altitude Campers, Austrack Campers, Boss Adventure, Bushtracker, Conqueror Off-Road, Kokoda, Lotus Caravans, Market Direct, RhinoMax, Titanium Caravans, Trackmaster, and Walkinshaw-owned New Age Caravans all offered no clearly defined online warranty information.


Fortunately, there are a few companies who stand by their claims that off-road-capable caravans and camper-trailers mean just that – and define their warranty clauses clearly on their public websites.


Lumberjack Camper Trailers offers a lifetime structural warranty on the chassis and drawbar of its products, and three years elsewhere, provided the vehicle is used “in accordance with manufacturers recommendations”.


Zone RV was likewise enthusiastic in backing its product, the only stipulation being that its off-road-rated vehicles “may require more frequent maintenance services” if used in “harsh conditions”.


Although not detailing the warranty in full, JB Caravans states that “quality of build we provide to our customers, and this extends to our warranty. We ensure that our warranty is fit for purpose”.


Eagle Caravans, Campers and Customer Trailer explicitly stood by its product online, detailing what is and is not covered in black and white. Stockman Products was likewise thorough in outlining which of its products were warranted in extreme off-road conditions and which were not, while Goldfields Campers from Victoria were much the same.


Speaking to GoAuto News from the company’s Maryborough base this week, Goldfields Campers marketing manager, Stephen Eales, said it was important that customers know and trust the product they purchase.


“Australia is a very big country, and we engineer, sell and cover (warrant) our off-road vehicles for wherever it is our customers want to go,” he said.


“We also work with our customers to ensure the car, SUV, ute or four-wheel drive they are towing with is capable not only for hauling the product they buy legally, but for getting them safely to where it is they’re heading – and that is something we do with every camper trailer or hybrid we sell.


“That isn’t to say our product is bullet-proof – we would never flat-out stipulate something like that – but I can say that we have learned a lot from our 37 years in the industry as to how to continually improve a product.”


Mr Eales urged those seeking an adventure away from the beaten track to do their homework, to read the fine print, and to discuss their intentions for the vehicle with the salesperson – and to always have their off-road camper trailers or caravan properly serviced and insured.


“We have and will always work with our customers, no matter where they are, and we’ll send parts to them if that’s what is needed to get them out of trouble. But it is best to try and be ahead of that occurring,” he said.


“Most manufacturers will be able to carry out preventative maintenance for you before that big trip, but the outback is an unforgiving place. If something does break, you’ve got to have insurance. That’s the biggest piece of advice I can give.


“We know we’ve got a really good product, but we always recommend that a vehicle is properly insured and serviced before you head away – and just remember that there is a lot of variances in what’s being offered in the Australian market right now.”


It is important to note in all this that while Australian Consumer Law guarantees that consumers are entitled to repair, replacement, refund, or cancellation if there is a problem with a particular product or service, manufacturer warranties are viewed by the ACCC as “extra promises”.


According to the ACCC website, a warranty is “a voluntary promise that a person or business makes when selling a product or service” that becomes legally binding once money has changed hands. Businesses must comply with the terms and conditions of any warranty they have provided.


If the wording of a warranty is such that it explicitly forbids a product to be utilised in a specific way, any subsequent use of that product in that manner means the warranty is null and void. In many cases, the buyer beware adage is alive and well.


Speaking to GoAuto this week, an ACCC spokesperson reinstated the legalities of warranty provisions in Australia while recommending manufacturers and suppliers exercise caution in promoting the off-road readiness of such products.


“The Australian Consumer Law prohibits businesses from making statements of representations that are incorrect or likely to create false impressions. Accordingly, suppliers and manufacturers should exercise caution when making representations about their caravans (or camper trailers),” they said.


“The ACCC is aware that many caravans (and camper trailers) are advertised for off-road use. However, unlike passenger vehicles, there is no standard definition of the term ‘off-road’ in the caravan industry.


“This can lead to confusion or mismatched consumer expectations about where a caravan (or camper trailer) can travel and what is normal versus abnormal use.”


The ACCC spokesperson made recommendations to the industry about defining what is meant by the term ‘off-road’ in respect to a model that is advertised as such, while suggesting consumers be mindful that misrepresented products may be reported to the ACCC directly.


“In the absence of an accepted definition, the ACCC recommends manufacturers and suppliers exercise caution when using terms like ‘off-road’ and should clearly explain to customers what surfaces a caravan (or camper trailer) should not travel on. If in doubt, they should avoid the use of the term altogether,” the spokesperson told GoAuto.


“Consumers who consider they have been misled should report this to the ACCC. The ACCC will continue to review consumer contracts for any misleading or deceptive conduct, including false or misleading representations made by businesses and take enforcement action where necessary.


“In addition, under the Australian Consumer Law, products and services that consumers buy come with automatic consumer guarantees. The Consumer Guarantees apply over and above any warranty and may continue to apply even after the warranty expires,” they emphasised.


“These include the guarantee that the product must match the description and will be fit for a disclosed purpose. If a supplier or manufacturer makes the representation that a caravan (or camper trailer) is suitable for off-road use and is not, then they may have failed to comply. This is particularly the case if a consumer disclosed that they intended to use the vehicle for off-road use.


“Where a supplier or manufacturer has failed to comply with the consumer guarantees, a consumer is entitled to remedies,” the ACCC spokesperson concluded.



Do your homework


There are literally dozens more examples from both sides of the argument we could run in this article – and like any, the caravan and camping industry is one that has its own share of the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Speaking on the matter this week, Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) government relations and corporate communications general manager, Luke Chippindale, told GoAuto that the CIAA works hard to ensure its members understand their obligations under consumer law.


“The Caravan Industry Association of Australia is the peak industry body for caravanning in Australia, and as the peak body we are responsible for educating, advocating and bringing awareness both for and to the industry for the betterment of the industry and its customers,” he said.


“As a peak body, we are not charged with regulatory compliance or enforcement, this is an important distinction. We do however work with the regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) on providing regular and up to date information to industry.


“As part of our work with the ACCC and our commitment to industry, specifically with respect to warranties, we provide resources for the education and training of manufacturers so that they understand their obligations at law, and we have material available on best practices which go well beyond strict compliance of product.


“The ACCC can and does take legal action against operators in this and other industries who do the wrong thing.”


Mr Chippindale said it was important that customers were aware of the protection offered by the Australian Consumer Law and said that in most circumstances manufacturers want the best for their customer – and their reputation.


“It is important to note, in Australia, consumer purchases are protected by the Australian Consumer Law, which applies in addition to any express warranty which a manufacturer may give,” he added.


“A manufacturer cannot exclude the Australian Consumer Law in any circumstances and can be liable to penalties if they attempt to do so. We offer resources to our members to understand their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law, and the ways that that law interacts with their own warranties.


“Our experience is that manufacturers are using best efforts to meet their obligations at law and to provide a positive experience to customers.


“If a customer considers that a warranty has been wrongly rejected, then they can obtain more information at no cost from the ACCC or from the consumer affairs regulator for their State or Territory (for example, Consumer Affairs Victoria for Victorians).


“Customers may also seek advice from a lawyer, although this will usually incur fees,” he concluded.

Read more

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

General News articles

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here