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Slide-on campervans or truck campers

Category: Types of homes-on-wheels. Published: 26 Jun 2009 (first published 23 Jun 2009)

What is a "slide-on" campervan? It's a detachable or demountable van, or motorhome body, that sits in the bed of a ute or on the back of a flat-tray truck (or a pick-up in America). It has legs, or jacks, that lift the van so the truck can reverse under it. "Slide-on" appears to be an Australian name for these types of vans -- in North America these are referred to as truck campers, or TCs, whereas in Europe they're more often called a demountable.

I much prefer the Australian term, although it may be a touch misleading -- the van doesn't actually "slide" onto the truck. To get the van onto the truck you need to raise the van, then reverse the truck under it and lower the van onto the truck. Not sure where the "sliding" comes into it. The van is then usually secured with chains and turnbuckles.

Jacks (or legs) can be wind-up, hydraulic or electrically-operated. My first van had wind-up legs when I bought it, but these were designed for a ute and they wouldn't lift the van high enough for the 4WD so I replaced them with hydraulic jacks. My second van has remote-controlled electric jacks -- these are much better and significantly reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to put the van on or take it off the truck. The jacks can be controlled individually so that the van can be levelled while off the truck, providing more stable living conditions.

This is my preferred type of home-on-wheels as they are more versatile than other types, offering more freedom while still having a high level of comfort. I can get to places that can't be reached in a motorhome or caravan, and having a high-clearance 4WD certainly helps, even though I don't use the 4WD a great deal it still enables me to get into rugged terrain that can't be reached by some travellers. They're also suitable for those wanting to tow a boat or even a horse float.

When I started looking for my first van it was difficult to find any second-hand slide-ons, and the ones I found were all very old. It appears that these types of vans were popular in the 1970s, but then, for whatever reason, their appeal dropped off. Looking around now there are many used slide-ons available that are only a few years old and there are quite a few manufacturers in Australia, including some who import the van shell from North America and finish off the van here.

Slide-ons also appear to be more expensive than other types of vans with similar facilities. This could be due to the fact that there are less of them around, or it could be that it's more difficult to put the same facilities into a smaller van, and one that has to be able to handle rougher treatment. As with other types of homes-on-wheels, slide-ons can come with the bare basic necessities or the full range of available options for comfortable living conditions. See the article on facilities in homes-on-wheels.

It's also possible to get slide-ons with slide-outs, you could even have a slide-show. Slide-outs are movable wall sections that increase the usable space inside the van.

Canada appears to be the home of slide-ons (or truck campers) in North America, while in Australia that title appears to belong to Tasmania. It seems that anywhere I drive in Tasmania I pass a variety of slide-ons on the road, as well as see lots of them parked in back yards or paddocks awaiting their next release into the wilderness. Tasmania's rugged wilderness is the perfect environment for the weekend trip for the farmer or tradesman who can quickly load the van onto the back of their work truck and just take off for a spot of fishing or camping.

In the few years that I've been travelling, the biggest problem appears to be the height of the van when it's on the truck, creating a feeling of being top-heavy. This can cause greater full consumption and loss of power in strong head or cross winds, as well as a feeling of instability on rough or sloping ground. There are pop-top versions available which would reduce this problem, but I didn't find one that was suitable. These generally have canvas or a similar fabric to fill the gap between the solid wall and the roof, which I'm not overly keen on.

There are many different sized vans and a wide variety of trucks or utes available to carry them. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the truck is suitable for the van. It is very important that the centre of gravity of the van is in front of the rear axle. Inflatable airbags on the rear suspension assist in drive-comfort. I'd also strongly recommend the installation of a rear-vision camera.

A list of slide-on manufacturers in Australia can be found at: http://www.cmca.net.au/pages/marketplace/marketplace/SlideOn.php

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