With the lure of the open road calling, you’ve decided to buy yourself a caravan. Aside from layout, style & features, one of the core choices to make is the type of material your caravan will be made from. Your caravan build will not only contribute aesthetically, but also impact functionality and performance over time. Your caravan build selection can impact things like fuel efficiency, maintenance and durability, so it’s important to take the time to research & choose a material that is best suited to your future travel plans.
A caravan is made up of two key components: the running gear and the body. The running gear makes the caravan road-legal and consists of wheels, lights, breaks, axles, suspension and chassis. This is essentially the skeleton and muscle of the caravan. The body of the caravan is the walls, floors, and roof – or the skin of the caravan.
There are two primary construction methods used for caravans. The traditional method of “stick and tin” is a framed caravan construction method that has been around for decades. “Composite,” on the other hand, is a mostly frameless method that has started to be used in some caravan construction.
The stick and tin construction method is the more traditional construction method of caravan building, and still popular to this day. The process is similar to a house build and consists of a base, frame, and cladding on the outside. A wooden (stick) frame is built and secured to the caravan base and then covered with aluminium (tin) or metal cladding.
Pioneering modern caravan construction, here at Paramount, we have combined the traditional stick and tin construction method with the strength and durability of new composite building materials. Rather than using a Meranti timber frame, the “stick” component is replaced with a Celuka Composite frame, this material is also used for the interior ply walls. For the exterior, Aluminium Composite (or Ali-Comp) is used for cladding.
The composite construction method is a more recently adopted method of caravan construction. The method involves creating large body panels that can be interconnected without needing a central frame. Each of these panels spans the entire length of the caravan and is affixed to a base, which is then interconnected to form the caravan shell. This sort of “one-piece” construction results in decreased weight and enhanced strength, however at this sheer scale, it can only really be done with composite materials – which is where it gets its namesake. Additionally, the panels are constructed with multiple layers bonded together to create a more robust building material overall, further adding to its benefit.
The most commonly used caravan-building materials are timber, aluminium & fibreglass. An exciting new caravan material to hit the caravan market is rot-free & flame retardant Celuka Composite, a great option for caravanners planning to spend time in the harsh Australian climate.
Caravan builders have been using Meranti timber for caravan frames for years. Also known as Pacific Maple, it is undoubtedly the best timber for caravans.
Aluminium cladding has been around since the 1960s and is still used today. Simple ribbed cladding is the most popular style of exterior aluminium cladding and is usually about 0.7mm thick. The aluminium is usually clad over a timber frame.
Since the 1970’s aluminium has been an option for caravan frames. High-quality aluminium is welded together to create the frame.
A new and increasingly popular choice in modern caravan construction, Celuka Composite is a rigid PVC sheet with a smooth glossy finish on both sides. Available in different sizes and thicknesses, it can also be made in various densities. This material is now considered one of the best caravan-building materials on the market.
Made by Probond, this aluminium composite uses advanced technology in the core which is constructed from a complete aluminium structure rather than from a combustible material, meaning that it contains little polyethylene. The aluminium composite is a flat panel made up of an aluminium skin, pure LDPE (low-density polyethylene) core material, paint finish and clear protective film. Not only does it look like a traditional aluminium composite panel, but it is also similar to fabricate and install.
Fibreglass is an alternative to aluminium when building panels for a caravan. It uses glass-reinforced plastic for the body of the caravan and has become a popular alternative for caravan manufacturers.
With a comprehensive understanding of caravan construction methods and materials, it is also wise to take into account towing capacity & climate in your caravan material selection process.
It’s important to consider what vehicle you’ll use to tow your caravan when selecting your caravan material. When estimating the towing capacity, be mindful that it includes not only the weight of the caravan but everything in it, from crockery to water tanks. If you have a small to medium vehicle, you may be suited to a lightweight caravan which will require a reduced towing capacity. Suitable caravan types could be the new Celuka PVC, timber, or fibreglass composite panels. The Paramount Micro Caravan is a good example of a lightweight timber option. Alternatively, a four-wheel drive with plenty of power gives you more range of towing capacity, so you may opt for a more robust build to suit outback driving.
For protection against the elements, Celuka or fibreglass composite caravans are superior to aluminium. In rain, there is less likelihood of water seeping through, and in hailstorms, the tough outer layer is unlikely to be damaged. Celuka Composite and fibreglass composite panels also provide better insulation, keeping the van cool in summer and warmer in winter.
Shopping for a caravan is the first step towards an exciting adventure and experiencing the freedom of the open road. Choosing a caravan material that best aligns with your future travel plans will play a key role in ensuring a pleasurable on the road experience & allow you to gain the most longevity of your van. In this article, we have explained the different types of caravan materials, construction methods, and factors to consider when choosing your caravan building materials to ensure you are well-equipped to choose your next caravan. For further information on the best caravan build for you, reach out to your local caravan dealership today.