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Caravan Buyers Guide - Body Construction

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 1:28:27 PM EST by

Over the next few blog posts, we will take you back to our Caravan Buyers Guide and take a look at the important aspects of buying a caravan or fifth wheeler.

This is the starting point in this series of valuable tips because the body is the first thing you notice when looking at a van.  The body is the ‘shell’ of the van – the walls, ceiling, doors and windows.

But did you know that most caravans built today are constructed using the same techniques from 30 years ago?


Most caravans made today have these characteristics:

  • Timber or aluminum frame with cladding riveted to the exterior
  • Thin ply sheeting on the interior, with insulation shoved in between
  •  This is a cheap method to build a caravan.  The problem is that this results in:
  • No tensile strength - all joins have movement and are a potential weak spot.  This could cause breakage between panels.
  • External and internal panels are only fixed to the frame, not the whole panel surface.
  • Joins in cladding and rivets mean the caravan doesn’t have a smooth, flush exterior to mount hatches and windows.  Not having these flush fittings causes leaks which can damage the internals of your caravan meaning you spend more money.
  • External cladding that is easily damaged or dinted, leaving you with an expensive bill to get everything repaired.
  • Framework that can warp, rot or crack, usually drilled into for wiring to pass through, creating weak spots.
  • Insulation that can move and work its way down the bottom of the walls leaving cavities.  These cavities make for ineffective insulation costing you more to make yourself comfortable.
  • Interior wall panels that can be easily damaged or scratched.  These panels can also rot, peel, stain and warp.

You may have already seen some caravans that have these exact issues.

Some years ago, an innovative solution was becoming popular in motor home construction and truck fit-outs.

This innovation was utilising full size, pre-insulated, fiberglass panels in the construction process.  After trialing this new material extensively, and testing products from various suppliers, we were convinced that this was indeed a much better solution for caravan construction than the standard methods still in wide use today.


The benefits of using insulated fiberglass panels are:

  • Superior, quality tested materials, so you know it will last.
  • Excellent year-round temperature control.
  • Water and fire resistant Dow Styrofoam core.
  • Absolute maximum tensile strength.
  • Light weight, requiring less weight needed in the chassis.
  • Fully insulated roof, walls, and floor.
  • Great soundproofing qualities.
  • Durable, glossy and easy to clean in and out.
  • High impact resistance and easily repairable.
  • Joins on edges only - ideal resistance to leaks.
  • Aesthetically pleasing, clean look.
  • Longevity with fewer problems.
  • Better long term quality and therefore, better resale value.

As you can see, there are many reasons why fiberglass panels should be your preferred method for construction.

So when you are buying a caravan, ask the manufacturer for a caravan that is built from fiberglass.  For a quick solution have a tour around the Southern Cross Caravans factory and see how we put together our fiberglass caravans and fifth wheelers.


About the Author : John Beattie Google Plus

John is the Manager at Southern Cross Caravans. Australia's Premier Manufacturer of 5th Wheelers. He and his father Barry have travelled the length and breadth of Australia including some of Australia's most ruggered 4WD off-road tracks. All the time towing one of their ruggered Southern Cross Caravans. This field testing has led to Southern Cross Caravans being one of the sturdiest yet most comfortable 5th Wheeler Caravans in the world... Nice Work if you can get it.


Comment by: Colleen Jamieson
Mar 22, 2015 at 8:39 PM
We have a Van, purchased at Sydney Caravan show 4/2103 and taken delivery of in 11/13. My concern is that we have a crackle sound in the floor next to the bed. When I mentioned it to the manufacturers they said that as the Van has a timber floor it will develop noises and that this is normal.It seems to have spread and I am concerned that it is delamination of the floor. The Van is under warranty until 11/15. Where can we take the Van to get an honest opinion. We have had to have lots of repairs done already under Warranty. We are quite disillusioned.
Comment by: Southern
Oct 7, 2013 at 8:17 AM
Sorry Ray, but we dont use that method of fabrication, you would need to keep asking around. Re; the lounge, that will be something you will have to try out for yourself...Sorry we couldn't help.
Comment by: Southern
Jul 14, 2013 at 8:33 PM
There is only one manufacturer i know of in Victoria useing composate panels similar to ours, Tru-Lux.
Comment by: Geoff Lawrey (Victoria)
Jul 14, 2013 at 1:23 PM
I am building a fifth wheeler as my wife and I intend to start travelling in about 4 years. Am looking for a manufacturer in Victoria who sells 40mm fibreglass styro sandwich panel. Hoping you can help me. Best Regards Geoff Lawrey 14 July 2013
Comment by: javier quirque
Dec 10, 2012 at 11:29 AM
hi, what are your thoughts on cool room panels for construction of a full size van, all the extrusions and joiners are readily available
Comment by: Southern
Oct 13, 2012 at 4:10 PM
Fibreglass is a great product and has been used in various applications for many decades. Some reasons being that it's very strong, lightweight, easy to clean, durable and of course repairable. The only situation that i can think of for crazing, would be a poor quality product. In the past, i have only seen one brand of 'painted' fibreglass craze. As with any product, the way it is looked after also plays a big part in it's long gevity.
Comment by: laurie
Oct 12, 2012 at 3:15 PM
Our last caravan which was only 3 years old and fibreglass sandwich construction started to craze on the rear panel. We sold the van on. We are now looking for a new van but are worried about the durability of fibreglass panels. Prior to the last van we had a Jayco freedom, aluminium panels which showed no signs of fatigue after 5 years of extensive use. We are looking for a full van around 20 ft ( not pop top) Can you please advise. We don't want a surface that crazes after about 5 years, so have there been any advances in fibreglass to combat our Australian summer sun.
Comment by: Southern
Jun 28, 2012 at 8:44 PM
If there is any delamination, it is normaly picked up during the manufacturing or asembly process. It is normally caused from an air pocket where the glue has not taken. Even so, it is quite rare and easy to spot. The worst case senario is if there is an air pocket, eg; on the floor that when constantly walked on starts to spread. If this happens, it bubbles up bigger and is easier to see. All that is needed to fix this is a small hole drilled to releive the air, then for glue to be squirted back in its place and pressure applied. The small drill hole/s can then be patched easily.
Comment by: john
Jun 28, 2012 at 8:22 PM
what happens if delamination occurs, does the whole panel need replacing?
Comment by: Southern
Apr 25, 2012 at 10:32 AM
We will do our best to help you decide on what type of van you need. Signing up for a factory tour or comeing to see us at a show event would be the next step. If we cant help you, then we will try and point you in the right direction. Making a decision with all the choices out there can be quite daunting, ultimately it is all about being as practicle as possible and not just jumping into a van that you won't be happy with later on.
Comment by: window cleaning
Apr 24, 2012 at 8:04 PM
I really need a caravan please help me.....
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