sHE’LL BE rIGHt Qual­ity as­sur­ance

NAV­I­GAT­ING THE ROCKY ROAD OF QUAL­ITY AS­SUR­ANCE IN THE CAMPER TRAILER IN­DUS­TRY.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS KATH HEIMAN

In­vest­ing in a new camper in­volves an el­e­ment of risk, es­pe­cially given how the in­dus­try has changed and grown in the last five to 10 years. From my own ex­pe­ri­ence, I’ve been con­sis­tently happy with our rig with its over­seas pedi­gree. And this ex­tends from the point of sale, through to the af­ter-mar­ket sup­port, in­clud­ing reach-back to the coun­try of man­u­fac­ture. But some of the feed­back that crops up, par­tic­u­larly around the qual­ity of off­shore of­fer­ings, sug­gests not ev­ery­one is en­joy­ing the same ex­pe­ri­ence that I am. So I’ve been won­der­ing what reg­u­la­tory regimes ap­ply in this coun­try to give rep­utable op­er­a­tors the space to pur­sue their le­git­i­mate com­mer­cial in­ter­ests, while pro­tect­ing the buy­ing pub­lic from pro­duc­ers who may be more in­ter­ested in mak­ing a quick buck. Are the qual­ity as­sur­ance regimes ad­e­quate? To find out, I wrote to the Min­is­ter for In­fra­struc­ture and Trans­port. And what I learnt from his de­part­ment was pretty in­ter­est­ing.

There’s a na­tion­wide sys­tem that op­er­ates in this space. This sys­tem is man­aged co­op­er­a­tively be­tween the Com­mon­wealth De­part­ment of In­fra­struc­ture and Re­gional Devel­op­ment with its state and ter­ri­tory coun­ter­parts. Be­tween them, these agen­cies reg­u­late the im­por­ta­tion, man­u­fac­ture and sup­ply to the mar­ket of trail­ers that don’t ex­ceed 4.5 tonnes ag­gre­gate trailer mass (ATM). This sys­tem in­cludes a na­tional code of prac­tice set out in Ve­hi­cle Stan­dards Bul­letin 1 (VSB 1) which es­tab­lishes a set of de­sign and con­struc­tion stan­dards in­clud­ing, for ex­am­ple, con­sid­er­a­tions such as sus­pen­sion, axles, brak­ing and wiring.

VSB 1 tasks man­u­fac­tur­ers and im­porters to self-as­sess their de­sign and pro­duc­tion against the re­quire­ments of the Ve­hi­cle Stan­dards – not­ing that they re­main re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing their trail­ers safe for use. If the trailer doesn’t make the grade, then the sup­plier isn’t al­lowed to of­fer the prod­uct to the mar­ket. And if a trailer with a de­sign-fault is in­ad­ver­tently re­leased to the mar­ket, the man­u­fac­turer or im­porter is re­quired to re­call and rec­tify it (VSB 1.4 and 1.10). They face fines and penal­ties for fail­ing to com­ply with these re­quire­ments.

But there’s noth­ing ‘on the books’ that in­volves a process of qual­ity con­trol by an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor in the ware­houses and fac­to­ries where camper trail­ers are made. So I sup­pose some prod­ucts may ‘slip through the cracks’. And out­side of safety-re­lated is­sues, VSB 1 doesn’t spec­ify ‘dura­bil­ity’ or ‘qual­ity’ as de­sign and pro­duc­tion re­quire­ments in their own right. These as­pects are reg­u­lated in­stead un­der rel­e­vant state or ter­ri­tory laws deal­ing with, for ex­am­ple, reg­is­tra­tion, road­wor­thi­ness and con­sumer pro­tec­tion.

So what do we do if we have a con­cern about the qual­ity of the camper trailer we’ve bought, our first port of call are our lo­cal Con­sumer Affair reg­u­la­tors to work out what op­tions we have to deal with the prob­lem. And there’s some­thing else we can do, too. I’m also told that the De­part­ment of In­fra­struc­ture and Re­gional Devel­op­ment can con­duct tar­geted au­dit­ing and com­pli­ance ac­tiv­i­ties if they reckon there are sys­temic safety is­sues with a par­tic­u­lar sup­plier. But the de­part­ment needs to re­ceive re­ports of faults be­fore it can help – we can’t just talk about it among our­selves (try www.in­fra­struc­ture.gov.au/ ve­hi­cles/re­port­ing/in­dex.aspx).

There’s prob­a­bly no one size fits all fix. When our rig doesn’t per­form as we ex­pect, we may won­der whether to blame the man­u­fac­turer, the dis­trib­u­tor or our­selves for us­ing our rig in a way it wasn’t in­tended. That said, there are prob­a­bly more pro­duc­tive things we can do than vent­ing our spleen on so­cial me­dia – and we may find our­selves in some le­gal hot wa­ter if we do!

ABOVE: When great ex­pec­ta­tions fall short.

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