Caravan industry on notice over misleading prices and weights

Australians unable to head overseas during the height of the pandemic sought ‘refuge’ at home and, when permitted, took to the roads in huge numbers. Caravan and camper trailer sales surged, the roads were busier than ever and caravan park bookings were in hot demand.

Even before COVID, in the five years to 2021, there had been a 26 per cent increase in registered vehicles, with almost 700,000 on the roads, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC has now released a report into the caravan industry after complaints about misleading advertising on prices and misleading details on caravan weights. The former problem potentially costly; the latter downright dangerous.

When my family bought a camper trailer in 2017, we checked the specifications for our Kia Sorrento, checked the advertised trailer weight and were assured by the seller that the Kia would tow it easily. It didn’t. We upgraded the suspension but eventually had to buy a new car.

The ACCC has been investigating allegedly false or misleading representations regarding caravan weights and pricing promises.

“Businesses must … ensure they do not mislead consumers about important features of a product, such as the weight, or tonnage, of a caravan,” said ACCC commissioner Liza Carver.

“We are concerned that several small and mid-sized caravan retailers may be failing to comply with their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law, and we will continue to investigate complaints and engage with retailers and caravan manufacturers to ensure compliance.”

Price certainty promises

Another area of concern involved ‘price certainty’ promises in which a retailer tells customers the price of the caravan they have ordered is fixed. It then seeks to increase the price due to manufacturers’ price rises or allow the customer to cancel the contract.

“Businesses must not mislead consumers about prices or contractual terms relating to pricing,” Ms Carver said.

“It’s important that businesses of all sizes appreciate they have the same obligations to consumers under the Australian Consumer Law as large retailers.

“Caravans are significant purchases for consumers and when things go wrong the harm can be significant.”

The ACCC released two surveys relating to the caravan retailing market in 2021 and received 2270 consumer responses and 67 supplier responses. It also spoke directly with consumers, suppliers, industry associations and received feedback through industry forums.

Ms Carver said the ACCC raised concerns with a smaller caravan retailer about price certainty representations and had been assured it would not increase prices for relevant consumers.

The retailer had also removed those representations from its website and marketing materials, and committed to train staff to improve compliance.

The ACCC also spoke with another caravan retailer that had advertised caravan weights as precise weights, when they were only estimates.

Such misrepresentations can cause additional costs for consumers who may have to buy a more powerful towing vehicle, says the ACCC, and may pose a safety risk if they unknowingly exceed safe towing limits.

That retailer committed to updating its website, improving caravan weight information and providing options where actual caravan weights differ from caravan weight estimates.

Warranty problems

Warranties were also an issue, with a survey indicating that four in five purchasers of a new caravan had “experienced failures” that could entitle them to remedies, the ACCC said.

“Suppliers must not suggest to consumers that their consumer guarantees are limited to any warranty period or by any warranty terms and conditions,” it said.

The ACCC advocates financial penalties or “other enforcement mechanisms” against suppliers that fail to provide remedies for consumer guarantee failures.

Posting on, a comment from Troy Payne was typical of many elsewhere. He wrote: “Well they are wrong about the manufactures being small, I’ve found just about every brand has got the tare wrong from the start!!”

Others considered the ACCC action as merely a “smack on the wrist”.

John told YourLifeChoices: “The fact is that it is just not caravans it is motor homes as well… This is a very corrupt industry. Because of the long wait times for caravans and motor homes people will just put up with the issues.”

‘Thousands of unsafe caravans’

Colin Young, an engineer and the founder of the Caravan Council of Australia (CCA), says he has seen “literally thousands of unsafe caravans” in his work conducting quality and compliance audits for manufacturers and importers and checking caravans for prospective buyers and owners.

He told consumer advocate CHOICE: “There are a lot of shonks in the industry.

“Self-certification of caravans is completely unsatisfactory. There has been a pathetic lack of regulatory audits of manufacturers and importers, as well as the lack of inspections of caravans being offered for sale.”

How to be sure your car will safely tow your van or trailer?

Obviously, first port of call is your vehicle specifications, but Caravan Industry Victoria has a comprehensive guide here.

Have you been caught out by misleading weight details or pricing promises? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Also read: Lessons learnt by two grey nomads who are taking off the L-plates

Janelle Ward
Janelle Ward
Energetic and skilled editor and writer with expert knowledge of retirement, retirement income, superannuation and retirement planning.
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