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Tale of caravan tyre woe a pre-holiday warning

Wheel alignment toe in Jayco caravan

By Wade O’Leary

An NRMA Member is in dispute with one of Australia’s biggest caravan companies over what he claims is dodgy wheel alignment that caused his tyres to wear prematurely.

His campaign also highlights the potential dangers of improperly prepared vehicles as Australians get ready for their traditional long-distance road trips.

Ian Robinson is a former mechanic and police officer who has taken up caravanning in retirement and purchased a Jayco four-wheeler with independent suspension in August last year.

He drove it mainly along the Pacific Highway during its first 1000km of use and the vehicle passed its first service without incident.

But during his first long journey up to north-west Queensland in July, he noticed his tyres ‘feathering’ on their outside edges and got in touch with Jayco, only to be told the wear didn't appear to be excessive or uneven in photos provided and it was most likely due to low air pressures.

Not satisfied with the explanation, Mr Robinson took his caravan to Murphy’s Trailer Repairs in Mount Isa where the tyres were found to be excessively ‘toed-in’ (where the front of the wheel is pointing towards the centerline of the vehicle) by up to 16.5mm.

“It’s like dragging a tyre sideways along the road – and the difference between driving on the M1 and on outback roads in Queensland is like the difference between glass and sandpaper,” he said.

The quoted toe-in is a measurement described by NRMA Motoring Advice expert Matthew Bromfield as the equivalent of “a country mile”.

The whole re-alignment process took two days out of Mr Robinson’s travel schedule and cost $250, which he has been attempting to claim back from Jayco.

“They basically said ‘get lost’ in closing and that was disappointing,” he said.

“It’d be different if it was just one tyre but it was all four of them.

“Their service rep had a look at them and I suggested they speak to him or the people at the service centre on the Central Coast.

“But they hung their hat on the fact that the tyres didn’t show much wear in the photos.”

But the company insists Mr Robinson’s caravan left the factory with the correct wheel alignment and stands by its conclusion that the tyre wear was caused by insufficient tyre pressure.

“All suspension settings are recorded at time of manufacture on the original production paperwork: as tyre wear was not evident at time of first service, we can only assume any movement to the toe-in setting has occurred following this being carried out,” Jayco customer relations manager Phillip Rigby told the NRMA.

“Some measurements recorded on the report by Murphy’s Trailer Repairs are not consistent with the adjustments possible on the JTECH suspension unless some damage or similar has occurred such as bent arm/stub axle.

“The current tyre condition also does not indicate the recorded measurements to be correct as … the tyres would be in a far worse condition.

“The pictures of the tyres as supplied by Mr Robinson have been viewed by the manufacturer and supplier of these tyres and in their opinion, no abnormal tyre wear is evident.

“However, they have confirmed some minor wear is evident on both shoulders indicating possible low tyre pressure or overloading of the caravan may have occurred at some point since Mr Robinsons purchase.

“Any small movement following manufacture can normally be attributed to the road conditions the vehicle has travelled on or pot holes/kerb strikes etc. and as such, as per most motor vehicle warranty policies, would be considered a maintenance related issue following the first service being carried out.”

Jayco warrants any necessary suspension adjustments only up to and including the three month / 1000km service but have promised to contact Mr Robinson to arrange an inspection of the caravan by an approved main dealer.

The company’s dismissal of the extreme results recorded on the report by Murphy’s Trailer Repairs drew an angry response from proprietor Mark Murphy.

“I’ve got all the laser gear here and that’s what it was,” he said.

“The customer put me on the phone to Jayco and I told them what I found, but the bloke said to me: ‘put my client back on, you don’t know what you’re talking about’.”

NRMA Motoring Advice expert Matt Bromfield said questions remained unanswered around the issue.

“If there was damage to the van's suspension in any way, this would have been highlighted as part of the wheel alignment ‘pre-inspection’ from the repairer in Mount Isa,” he said.

“Furthermore, damaged suspension components – just like on a motor vehicle – would also prevent the repairer from going ahead with the alignment.”

Matt also explained the multiple hazards of having wheels out of alignment.

“An increased wheel alignment increases the rolling resistance of the tyres, which will affect fuel economy,” he said.

“Depending upon how bad the alignment is, the vehicle can skid when going over bumps and also in wet weather conditions.

“This is because the wheels/tyres are all pointed in different directions while being are being dragged in a forward direction.”

While the true nature of Mr Robinson's plight remains to be determined, it highlights the need to ensure that all vehicles are roadworthy – especially before commencing a major journey.

A good mechanic can attend to your car's essentials and also advise on whether specialist work such as wheel alignment is required: NRMA Car Servicing is currently offering a pre-Christmas $50 discount on work.

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