How to choose a car for camping trailer free

Your choice of car might not seem the obvious place to start for a camping website, but it is really the key to comfortable car camping and the safe transporting of you, your family and your gear - trailer free. Choose your vehicle wisely and you can avoid the potentially costly mistake of buying an unsuitable vehicle - one that is either bigger than you really need, or worse still, not big enough.

Suitable cars for transporting a family of four don’t necessarily need to be in the large size category if they aren’t otherwise your preference. You may find your ideal vehicle listed in our best mid-size car for camping trailer free review. If you don't actually own a car, or the right car for camping, then you can also check out our article: Hiring a car? Which car, and how to pack it.

 

Which car for camping

When choosing your vehicle, as well as the usual considerations (such as driving performance, accessories, off-road capabilities, fuel efficiency, running costs, comfort, number of seats or even if it will fit into your driveway or car space at home) consider the following when choosing a vehicle to comfortably and safely transport everyone and everything to and from the campsite:

Car style

Cars suitable for camping vary from your typical wagon, SUV and 4WD through to the dual cab utes with a canopy and the larger people mover vehicles. Not every model of vehicle will suit but fortunately we still have a wide choice.

For more on the pros and cons of these types of vehicles, go to our car styles for camping article.

Payload

An important factor when choosing a car for camping trailer free is the extent to which it is built to carry the weight of your load. That includes you, your passengers, your camping gear, luggage, bikes, any emergency fuel and water, and other "toys" as well as any accessories added to your car, such as tow bars and roof racks. You will be surprised at how quickly the weight all adds up.

All vehicles will (or should) have a rated payload, or load carrying capacity, and car manufacturers should, but don’t always, make this information available to its customers, at least in our experience. It sometimes involves a bit of digging around, but the first places to look are in the printed vehicle specifications or on the vehicle compliance plate.

To learn more about payload, you can check out our payload article and if you are a member you can estimate the weight of your particular carload using our calculator.

Rear cargo capacity

As camping gear is much more easily placed inside the car rather than strapped to the roof racks or hitched to the tow / hitch bar, your camping car of choice will need to have a generous rear cargo area.

While the bigger the better, by comparison to other vehicles it doesn’t need to be enormously large. It still, however, needs to meet our minimum requirements as we outline in our rear cargo capacity article.

If transporting gear on the car roof is not an option, such as if you are hiring a vehicle, 8-seater people movers and dual cab utes with a canopy may have adequate rear cargo capacity to hold all of your camping gear as we have demonstrated in our Hiring a car? Which car and how to pack it.

Car roof and accessories

Unless your vehicle has a particularly large rear cargo area, or you can utilise the internal passenger cabin, one popular option is to transport some of your camping gear on the roof of your car, either strapped directly to the roof racks or enclosed in a roof box or bag. As with the overall car payload, your car roof and roof racks will have specified load limits. 

Transporting gear on the roof of your vehicle requires fitted roof rails, which are likely to be more cost effective if factory fitted rather than fitted after market. In fact, fitting of aftermarket roof rails might not be possible for some vehicle models. You will also need roof racks, which generally take the form of cross bars or a roof tray or basket fitted to the rails.

For more information, check out our car roof considerations article.

Other accessories

Accessories of all sorts are sold by car manufacturers to enhance their vehicles and increase their potential. Those particularly useful for camping trailer free include tinted windows, tow bars, side steps and cargo barriers.

For more on this, check out our accessories and other considerations article.

Our car buying checklist will guide you through the information covered in the following articles to help you choose the right car for you.