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Motor-home versus Caravan??....the research continues!!

It's now several weeks since I last wrote on this subject - a fresh look at our possibly joining the "grey nomad" fraternity to explore this vast and diverse country of ours. You'll recall that quite out of the blue, She suggested "a motor-home could be a really fun thing to do!" and since then we have been avidly researching the internet for all things "motor-homes"

But the project has quickly gained momentum - we have already spent half a day (with our beloved "H" in tow) at a regional motor-home dealer not too far from home here in the Southern Highlands and I must say it confirmed my preference for the "tactile" rather than the "virtual" experience. This particular dealer represents one of the big, if not, the largest local manufacturer of motor-homes with product to suit most budgets. Their new vehicle price range starts at just under $100,000 and extends to extremely large and luxurious vehicles at more than $600,000! Short of a lottery win, the buck would have to stop for us somewhere around $150,000, but even at that level there is plenty to choose from. All that to say that this will be a significant lifestyle investment, should we succumb, but we are by no means there yet!

And my accounting conservatism naggingly plays "devil's advocate" with my emotion - is this simply investing too much money into just one asset and would we be better placed splitting it between a 4WD tow vehicle - anything from a Toyota to a Range Rover, a Nissan to a Merc ML - coupled with a luxury caravan? So we've since spent a sunny Sunday afternoon at a local caravan dealer looking at various caravan alternatives. Now I did mention in my earlier article about some of the nuances of towing a van - the relativities of gross vehicle mass (GVM) and ball weight of the caravan and the need to ensure you have a tow vehicle with capacity to meet them. And one thing I learned from research some years ago, was that Australian caravan manufacturers have long built sturdy (read heavy) vans to endure the harsh conditions of Australia's secondary and often times dirt roads cris-crossing our vast Outback. I also learned that not many of the luxury European 4WDs now in our space were essentially incompatible - they proudly boasted 3500kg (3.5 tonne) towing capacity but sheepishly admitted to very low (maximum) ball weight capacity - some as low as 120kg. Now this is a point often missed, but the ratio of one to the other is about 10:1 so for a caravan weighing 2500kg with a ball weight of say 240kg you must have a tow vehicle to match AND it is a driving offence in Australia if found to be non-compliant. Here, the authorities rely on the manufacturer's handbook of your tow vehicle to enforce the law, so you will have little comfort if caught out. The other salient aspect to consider with towing such heavy vans is the very significant impact it has on fuel consumption. These big 4WDs "chew juice" anyway - the big 6s and V8s - and their already poor consumption record goes out the window once under tow, rising to as much as 20litres/100kilometres and sometimes even more!! But both the weight and fuel issues have relief in the form of the new lightweight European vans now readily available here. Their lighter construction means less GVM and tow ball weights, as little as 100kg, allowing them to be towed effortlessly by medium sized sedans much more fuel efficiently than their heavy local counterparts.

But these technical aspects aside, our visit to the caravan dealer was both strategic and a lot of fun. Firstly, he happened to stock a range of European vans as well as a luxury range of the heavier locally produced vans - we immediately could draw comparisons and conclusions about both. Pricewise, both ranged from low $50,000s to mid $60,000s and even at the top end of the range, the level of fitment compared favourably with the motorhomes priced at $100,000 more! When I say level of fitment, one particular van at about $64,000 came with a full bathroom across the back end complete with a beautiful porcelain feature sink on the vanity, separate shower, porcelain toilet and even a small top loading washing machine nicely hidden under the bench space. Then there was a full leather diner, full oven, grill and cooktop and a queen-sized bed up front! But the real benefit of the local van is that you can option your layout, appliances, fabrics and colours etc., whereas you take the lighter imported van as it comes - no opportunity to alter it in any way. Against this difference in choice must be weighed the difference in fuel economy - who wins, aesthetics or hip pocket?

The differences between caravan and motorhome are evident - sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle:

- The caravan and tow vehicle combination allows your investment to be spread over two distinct assets - the split allows you sell the van if you don't like it but still retain the tow vehicle. The combined investment is not dissimilar from the equivalent motorhome, depending on your ultimate choices in both.

- The caravan/tow vehicle combination can be very heavy on fuel - assuming you opt for the heavier local product - whereas the motorhome is relatively very fuel (and therefore cost) efficient.

- The caravan requires more optioning to make it self-sufficient - it's equipment level is usually intended for caravan park usage - whereas the motorhome is essentially ready to go anywhere. The sorts of extras contemplated for both would a petrol generator, solar panels etc but these would cost under $5000 while other add-ons like CB radio and reversing camera would possibly be more complex in the 4WD/caravan combo than in the motorhome situation.

- The caravan requires a lot more skill and time to set up and de-camp, whereas the motor-home is a far simpler proposition.

But we both agree that the greatest difference is the seamless living in a motorhome, where you simply have to

swivel the front seats to "arrive" in your accommodation whereas in a 4WD/caravan rig, you physically have to leave your vehicle to go into the van. Not really a hardship, but in the dark of night in the middle of nowhere, or in a huge storm this could be not so "user friendly" - especially for us with "H" to consider as well! So we've come full circle back to motorhomes as perhaps the more aesthetically appealing and functional for us! And we are now aware of the major brands, the various configurations and options, the different chassis' on which they are built and especially the relative pricing confronting us. So far, we've only seen the Australian Winnebago and have most recently made contact with Suncamper, another local brand. Saw one here in the street last week and it looked really great! Between these two brands there really are more than enough models to choose from and both appear to be of similar quality and fitment. But we still want to look at the famous and ever-reliable Jayco product, to be sure we've done our homework thoroughly!

Here's the thing - price is the key consideration and since we will sensibly cap our spend within our means, it is important to ensure we get the very best available within that level. And as part of our continuing research and

deliberation we are simultaneously researching short-term rental vans to try before we buy to be certain it's definitely for us - I'd hate to invest all that money only to find we really don't like it!!

If anyone out there has a motorhome, or a caravan for that matter, I'd really love to get your feedback and recommendation - come on guys, give me a hand here!!

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