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This is a review of our 2015 Concept Innovation 530M caravan. - Connie the Caravan.

This is what it is all about!

Buying a caravan when you have not owned one for 27 years is a risk. We
made the decision to buy a caravan for a number of reasons, the main one
being we could holiday with our dogs. In early 2015
I spent hours and hours on the internet and found it useless. Most of the
caravan manufacturers sites did not come up in search engines and the ones
that did were pretty basic. Jayco was an exception. There was nowhere I could find reviews other
than caravan magazines and they tended to be a vacuous cut and paste from
the manufacturers blurbs. Some on line forums turned out to be reasonable
and on caravan suspension I was able to convince myself that independent
suspension would be better to tow than anything involving leaf springs.
The van I owned in the late 80’s had a single axle leaf spring axle and
was terrible to tow. However I did manage to tow it around Australia in
1989, but I wanted something a lot better.
My wife had certain ideas that the van must have a decent bathroom and a
window at the front, a rear bumper (she has had had car hit from the rear
more than once) and a drain board for the sink. We also had the limit of a
2500kg maximum all up loaded mass (ATM) due to owning a Toyota Prado, plus
we needed a lot of clearance at the rear due to a very steep drive. We
also did not want a huge van, as we felt the smaller the van the easier to
tow. Pop tops were not considered to be suitable for various reasons.
We, mostly me, looked at all the local van sellers and nothing stood out.
As the Caravan and Camping show was soon to open at the Show grounds in
Flemington, we decided to make a purchase there.
In the end saw and purchased a Concept Innovation 530M with café seating.
It was a new model from Concept. The van was fully optioned, ensuite, rear
camera, underslung battery, leather upholstery, solar panel, independent
suspension (Cruismaster CRS) larger wheels and tyres, high profile
cladding, 12 volt internal fans, 12 volt power points, extension cushions to the seats, china
toilet, wall mounted Washing Machine, premium high gloss cupboard doors.
In fact we ticked just about every option. I actually would have preferred
to look further, but my wife loved the van and as it had everything I also
wanted, so we signed the dotted line. We should have kept looking as there
is a near fatal flaw in the design of the van. See below.
I had one misgiving, the Hot Water Service was only 14 litres which I felt
was just too small but the salesman said it was good for 5 minutes.
Delivery was promised in about 2 ½ months.
On returning home I researched Concept and could not find anything bad.
They are supposed to be the 5th largest caravan manufacturer in Australia.
The van was finished in 2.5 months. We collected it at a time of turmoil
in the dealership. A salesman who I was talking to, had just resigned and
the guy preparing the vans for delivery had only been there a week.
I towed the van home with water tanks ¾ full and full gas cylinders. We
christened her “Connie”. On the first tow I noted a lot of fore aft
pitching. I was told I would need a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) so I
went to a specialist and he set me up with one. He did say that on a Prado
Kakadu you needed to turn off the self-leveling suspension. Off I went on
the first trip, and the tow was terrible, I towed about 400k and the van
and car seemed to be at war. It did not help that it was very windy as
well and the van was constantly buffeted. On the return trip I used the
WDH but backed it right off so it was barely functioning and the tow was
much better. Back home I did two things, I looked up the suspension for the
Kakadu in the manual. The car came with two manuals, an off road one,
which I had not read and the owner’s manual which I had read from cover to
cover. The suspension was in the Off Road Manual, of course, and it stated
that even though you can turn the self-leveling off it automatically turns
on at 40KPH. The rear suspension is an air bag suspension with level
sensors and an air compressor which automatically adjusts the height. It
and the WDH had been fighting each other. I then went on the web and
researched the need for a WDH. In fact you do not need one if your car and
your van are level when loaded and you do not exceed the parameters like
maximum tow ball weight and gross vehicle mass. The other thing I
discovered was that it is best to have weight on the tow ball, as long as
you do not exceed the maximum tow ball mass. The Prado has a maximum of
250kg on the towball. I purchased a towball scale and loaded the van to
220kg. I returned the WDH to the supplier.
The other funny thing is water. The maximum weight you are supposed to
load onto the van is 300kg, which is water, gas and everything else. Connie has 2 linked 85 liter tanks, fore and aft of the axle. They are protected by a metal shield from stone damage. when
filled along with full gas bottles they add 200 kg. That leaves 100kg for
other things before you hit the legal limit. I decided to tow with the
tanks between half and one quarter full as it is nice to be able to use
the water to wash hands etc. when you stop along the way. I believe it
would be very easy to add 100kg, my BBQ is 10 kg alone.
We set off on another trip in June (cold weather), this was to be 3000k
and with the new set up, Connie towed like a dream. The fore aft pitching
and fighting with the car had gone and suddenly towing was pleasant. At
100kph she was rock solid, ah bliss.

 


Bed
The van came with a caravan queen which was sprung and had a one inch
pillow top. It was marginally comfortable. It had a bolster that you could
fold down at the head of the bed and turn it into something like 6 foot 6
inches long. At this length it obstructed the passageway from the door and
you could not get past the cupboards to the opposite side (from the door)
of the bed. I removed the bolster and stored it away in a large plastic
bag. This left a bed something like 6 foot 2inches long. I am 6 foot
1 ½ inches tall. We solved the problem by using a king sized sheet on the
top and a king sized doona. When I stretch my feet remain covered and do not untuck. The bed
was still uncomfortable so I ordered a queen sized, memory foam mattress
overlay or Mattress Topper which was 50 mm thick. I then cut it to shape
to suit the mattress and it made the bed totally perfect.


Television.
The van has a 21inch 12volt LCD Finch TV on a swivel stand, a Jack King
antenna and a radio DVD player with roof mounted speakers. The system
works very well, in our travels, East Gippsland, up the East Coast and the Newell highway to the Sunshimne coast
we have never been without a large choice of TV channels. The person on
door side of the café seating has a very uncomfortable perch, having to
twist the head too much. I prefer watching TV on the bed. The TV is an
arm you can turn to suit the table or the bed.
Fridge.
The fridge is a 175 litre Dometic 2 door absorption refrigerator, which
automatically switches between gas, 12 volts or 240 volts. It has worked
perfectly although the hottest weather has been mid 30's . For some
amazing reason the fridge is only supplied with 2 shelves which left a
huge space in the middle you could not use. It had the slots for a 3rd
shelf, and this shelf was an option. I ordered one which cost $35 and the
supplier said that it was a very popular option. Well duh, of course it is
popular as the fridge has a lot of waste space without it.

HWS the Fatal Flaw
The HWS is a Truma supplied by Dometic.
The 14 litres is barely enough, when my wife and I have a shower after
each other it is not so much fun as we cut our showers short so the other
does not run out. It also works perfectly within that limitation. We had
no issues on our winter trips, except vegetables sprouted in the warm
cupboard next to the HWS after 2 days.
When we took the van to Queensland and started running the Airconditioner
to cool the van in hot humid weather, problems suddenly arose. The HWS is
in an unventilated cupboard under the sink. It and the cupboard next to
it are the two largest cupboards in the van. They get very warm due to
the HWS. When the Airconditioner is running on cool you have very warm
cupboards topped by a sink and drain board then cool air. The
condensation on the underside of the sink was unbelievable. It just dripped
constantly. The first time I experienced it I thought the HWS had sprung
a leak, as water was running across the floor of the van. It turned out I
was right.

Photos are of the condensation


At the next stop the caravan was leveled up with a slight slope in the
opposite direction and water started dripping out of the seams in the
van. There was so much condensation in the cupboards that the knife
drawer which is under the drip tray of the sink collected a considerable
amount of water. The cupboard next door under the sink had all surfaces
and everything in it, damp. I put a container in there and it proceeded
to fill with water. When you wiped the underside of the sink with a
sponge you could wring out an egg cup full of water. 15 minutes later you
could repeat the process. When you opened the cupboards it felt like the
inside of a wet tropical rain forest, very warm and muggy. Some cans of
food stored in the bottom of the cupboard started to rust within days.
The door hinges also started to rust.

Photo: Rusted hinge which was replaced under warranty.


The HWS has an external vent which you must remove when you use the HWS. It is
like a plastic cap you press with your thumb and it is supposed to pop
off. It never worked well, requiring a very strong push to get it off. In
the end it split and could only be prized off with a flat bladed
screwdriver. It is an awful design. I look at other vans which have fixed
vents and wish I had one on Connie.
Had I know of all these issues I would not have purchased this van.
I lagged or insulated the underside of the sink which stopped the
condensation, so long as the cupboard doors were propped open.
The hot water service turned from bad to disaster. After a week of
dripping, suddenly one night, the van flooded. The HWS had sprung a major
leak. There was hot water pouring out of it. Because the HWS has a
cardboard cover I could not see where it was leaking. The cardboard was
soggy and saturated so I pulled it apart. Water was pouring out of a
circumferential seam 2/3 the way up the tank. I disconnected the water to
the van and we used just about every towel to mop up. A drip tray under
the HWS would have helped a lot, in fact it would have confirmed the HWS
was leaking from the start, stopping water from seeping into the frame of
the van and hopefully prevented the flood.

Photo: HWS after I tore off the soggy cover.

Next morning I found the isolation valve, to the HWS, under the van, we
now at least could have running cold water to all outlets. At this point
we were half way through our trip. I contacted the local Concept dealer
who said that Dometic would honor the warranty. I finally, after several
calls got onto the local Dometic service centre and they said to tow the
van there, they would access it then order in the parts and we could
bring the van back and it would be fixed. Oh boy that would be great, I
had to waste a day going there then if they did not get the right
parts!!!!!. I did not consider that to be good service at all. What were
we supposed to do with our 3 dogs as this was going on? Not happy at all
we decided to use the public showers and get it fixed on returning home.
At least the condensation stopped and the cupboards were no longer
rainforest tropical inside.
I cannot recall buying an appliance that has failed so badly so quickly.
In reality the HWS worked for 8 weeks before failing. Without a HWS you
may as well not have an ensuite, and in reality Connie was now no better
than the van I had in 1989 but with a lot less useable interior space. The
issues I have is the small capacity, the dreadful vent cover, lack of a
drip tray and lack of ventilation in the cupboard the HWS is in. The
reliability issue was just icing on the cake. It really spoils the van.
Concept Melbourne (the factory) were very good, they booked me in for
repairs which took a week. They replaced the HWS and Dometic, the supplier
said they wanted it back for testing as it was a fault they wanted to
research.
A vent was fitted to the cupboard and all the blown silicone seals fixed.
A drip tray was not fitted as it actually has one. What a joke, a totally
ineffective drip tray! It is part of the HWS but in my opinion needs a
total redesign so that it actually works.

The split cover for the external vent was also replaced, and it also has to be prized off with a screwdriver! A terrible design!

Supergal Chassis

The 100 mm Chassis is so called supergal which seems to be nothing more than silver paint. I believe the main members of the chassis are galvanized then welded together then sprayed silver. When the HWS episode occurred, the supergal chassis which was starting to rust in the welds. When I took the van back to Concept, They actually did nothing about it as I said I would spray the rust with zinc rich paint which I subsequently did.

Another van was at Concept for a front window replacement (smashed by a rock from a truck) and the supergal was more rusted than our van. We should have got a van with hot dipped gal, or better still aluminum.

Rear Camera.

One of the great things was the hard wired rear camera. You get an excellent view of what is behind you as you drive. It is affected by rain but does retain reasonable vision when wet. At night it is useless, however I doubt too many people want to tow after dark. It is hardwired and always works well. There is a sound system with it which is hugely annoying if turned up as you get the roar of trucks and cars way louder than you would want as they pass.

12 V power points.

We had two12v power points fitted, ( same as a cigarette lighter socket in a car) an expensive $160 each, but when camping in un powered sites they are great for charging phones etc.

Insulation

The van has insulated walls and ceilings and it is very good at stopping outside noise, however it has a door that is no more than a sheet of tin with a big vent at the bottom, and the floor is not insulated. In winter with the Airconditioning going it is generally comfy inside, however I ended blocking the door vent and considered doing the same to the 2 wall vents as a lot of cold air was coming in and if it got really cold I doubt the airconditioner would hold its own.


Washing Machine

It is a wall mounted 2kg Daewoo mini and it works a treat. Mind you the van
gets up quite a shake when it is spinning dry. It will hold one full sized
bath sheet and a bath mat at once, so it is not huge. It is very handy for
smalls and other things. I bought a collapsible clothes line you can peg
to the ground and it works very well with the washing machine. For sheets
my wife still preferred to use the park facilities.

Photo: the 2kg Daewoo washing machine

Ceiling height.


The thing I love about Connie is the ceiling height. This is about 6 foot
5 inches and allows for a full height shower door and a tall outside door.
I have not hit my head like I do on other vans. It also allows for
generous sized overhead cupboards.

Shower door goes to full height of the ceiling. I cannot hit my head!


Lighting.


Like all modern vans the lighting is 12volts white LED’s throughout. They
are generous in quantity and all except the reading lamps have 2
brightness settings. They run off a battery which is either 100 Amp
Hour and the battery is automatically charged by either the 128 watt solar panel or
when plugged into 240 volts. I believe that if camping away from
electricity you would have lighting indefinitely, unless the van was
totally in shade and the solar did not work. The solar keeps the battery
fully charged when the van is not in use which will prolong battery life. I
would also like one front and rear external light, but there is possibly some
regulation against that.

Tunnel Boot.


The boot is a tunnel boot, it is too small to fit a Baby Q Webber BBQ, but
I was given, for my birthday by my wife, a Marine BBQ (all stainless
steel) You can use this in strong wind it will not rust and fits into a
tub in the Tunnel Boot and only takes a minute to set up. On the other
end of the tunnel boot I have 3 more tubs for tools, hoses and power
leads. There is also room for a couple of buckets. Concept said they did
not fit front boots as they leak. The tunnel boot certainly does not leak.


Cupboards.


Cupboards are everywhere, more than enough, except the 2 largest were
almost unusable due to the heat generated by the HWS and the moisture from
the condensation. The major problem has been cupboard latches. They were
not closing properly until l adjusted and lubricated them. One jammed
closed and broke, so you could not open the door. I drilled it out and
unfortunately marked the cupboard but Concept replaced it under warranty.
The handles are a very useful shape. We use them to hold the rubbish bag,
as there is nowhere else in the van for it, and dry the second towel and
bath mat on them as there is only room for one towel on the towel rack in
the bathroom.
In the big cupboard under the sink the drain pipe went straight down
through the middle of the cupboard, making the space difficult to use. I
added a couple of fittings to the plumbing to make the space more useful
by taking the pipe over to the side of the cupboard., and it was very
useful until the heat and condensation caused problems. I bought bottle
holders made of wetsuit material that hold two bottles of wine or 4 cans
and 4 of these fit across the back of the cupboard. A big plastic box
fitted into the bottom of the cupboard and a plastic basket fitted across
the top of the tray in front of the waste pipe for the sink. The massive
condensation soaked the wetsuit material of the bottle holders and the
plastic basket filled with water, during the HWS episode.

Photo is of the interior towards the rear. Upholstery is Taupe coloured leather.


Windows.

The windows are great. They are double insulated and slightly tinted, and
made of plastic. On the inside at the bottom a solid screen disappears
into the frame. At the top a flyscreen disappears into the frame. You join
the screen and the flyscreen and push down to have a fly screen over the
window or lift up to have the blockout screen. To open you have latches
that you release then you gently push out the window out to lock in an
awning position. One problem is the window by the door. We pushed it out
then opened the door, a wind gust caught the door, which hit the window
causing a minor scrape in the door. That window will not be opened again.
The “must have” front window has only been used once and in fact is a
nuisance when you want to sit up in bed and read. I honestly wish it was
not there and we had a taller bed head.


Airconditioning
The Ibis airconditioning is excellent. Almost silent from outside but able to
heat the van in near zero temperatures. It easily copes with a 30 degree
day and the van in full sun. You just dial in a temperature and set to
auto and it does the rest. There is a screen or filter on the inside that
gets clogged surprisingly quickly with dust. It is easy to remove and
clean.


Pre Delivery
I did mention that the guy responsible for pre delivery had only been at
the dealership for a week when we picked up Connie. He was affable and
keen but missed a lot. I had to lubricate everything, the step you pull
out so you can get in, the jack stands, all the locks and all the catches
needed lubrication. Once done everything worked a treat.


Water connection.
You plug your mains pressure hose into a click fitting which is the same
as on a normal garden tap. This worked ok for a couple of weeks then
suddenly the hose started blowing off, often hours after being connected
and causing a flood. The first time it happened was in the middle of the night on a dirt drive through site in Goulburn NSW and it was pretty messy. Lots of mud. I replaced the fitting with a new brass one and not
had any more trouble. I also got a second female fitting and sealed the
end off and click it on when traveling so that dust and debris cannot
enter the water system. It is a pity that a cheep fitting was fitted in the first place for the sake of saving a couple of dollars.

Sullage
There is a sullage outlet under the van, I connected the sullage pipe and
unwittingly put a kink in it. Someone noticed water pouring out from under
the van. In the plumbing where the sink drain connected to the rest of the
drainage system was a very poorly made connection, sealed by a mastic of
some type. The seal was not perfect and leaked badly. I fixed it by
encasing the joint in silicone.


Jack Stands

In each corner of the van you have a jack stand to stabilize the van. You
pull a handle to release them, they drop vertical then you wind them down
to the ground so they support the van and stop it from rocking when you
walk around inside. The winding was tedious as you have to bend down to do
it. I got a battery drill, fitted a 19mm socket via an adaptor bought at
Autobarn and this made the winding down and up quick and easy.


Water Pump
The water from the tanks is pumped by a 12 volt pump. It is switched on in
the control panel. The shower, and general water pressure, is actually
better when the water is pumped from the tanks, or it was until I fixed the faulty valve. For some reason you
cannot leave the 12 volt pump turned on when towing, as it pumps the tanks
dry and once out of water it continues to operate.

I normally travel with the water tanks about 1/4 full. The only problem with this is if you pull up on the side of the road and it has a significant camber you cannot pump water out of the tanks as the pickup must be on the drivers side of the van.


Bathroom

The shower is very good, it is reasonably roomy, the shower head is at a
good height and the water pressure is quite reasonable. There was a
plastic soap holder attached to the shower head but it broke off the first
time it was used. Thankfully there is also a small shelf for soap and
shampoo, molded into the shower wall. The door is tall so there is no need
to duck.It is a good shower.
The toilet is a trap. I have never worked out how to best use it. It has
the normal seat, and in the bowl is an opening that slides so you can
drop the doings into a tank you subsequently have to empty when full. It
is called a cassette. If you leave the slide open when you use it you are
exposed to the contents. If you leave it closed and then slide quickly, to drop
it into the cassette when you are finished it spurts up in a vertical
direction. If sitting on it, your bottom gets hit with the content of
what you have just excreted . If you stand then bend over to flush you
can get splattered in the face. You need to be very careful indeed and
flush slowly and carefully. To keep the cassette sweet you buy a chemical
which goes into the tank. Nappisan is also supposed to work well. I can
tell you the worst thing about caravanning is emptying the cassette. I
use the caravan park toilets wherever possible! Fortunately there is an
indicator light that tells you when the cassette is full. You flush using
mains pressure or tank water. The more you flush the quicker you have to
empty it.
The bathroom is a decent size with a hand basin that is just big enough, a
towel rail with room for only one towel and a sliding door we never close.
Above the toilet and the shower are vents you can open with a 12 volt
extractor fan. A decent sized mirror and plenty of cupboards. The ensuite, particularly the shower is one of the best things in the van.

To dry the second towel, as there is no second towel rail, we hang it overnight on the cupboard door latches. It works.


Control panel.

There is a nifty control panel with indicators for battery
charge, solar charging rate, and load. There is also an indicator to tell
you how full the tanks are, a fuse box and the switches for the HWS and 12
volt water pump. It is logical and easy to use. and well located. The water tank gauge indicates full when quite a considerable amount of water has been used so it is not too accurate. still it is better than nothing.

Layout.
With the available space the thing that suffers is bench space, but you
get used to it. I find the café seating uncomfortable for watching TV and
use the bed instead. The thing that attracted us was the layout, bright,
airy, plenty of head space no internal nib walls, no internal door step
to trip you in the night, lots of cupboard space.
The big ensuite was the main thing we loved. Given the relatively short
length the layout maximizes the available space. The bench is actually a bit longer than in the drawing and almost touched the bed when the 4 inch bolster was used.

Vent Damaged

At Christmas,we took Connie and parked her in a place where we had parked a couple of times before and it rained. The rain wet branches drooped and the vent over the refrigerator was smashed when we left. This is a plastic Dometic vent and it shattered like plastic that had been out in the sun too long. As the next stop was my father in law's farm and a decent workshop we made up a new vent cover in sheet galvanized steel and painted it white. I did not want to replace it with the original fragile part as overhead branches will be a problem again one day. The Jack TV ariel went through the same branch and was undamaged.

I confess I was dismayed how easily the old vent cover broke.

Water troubles

At the Father in Law's farm the water pressure was less than you would expect of mains pressure. It came out of the caravan's taps as a trickle but at the end of the hose the flow was reasonable. The tap flow with town water had never bee as good as with the 12v pump and we had put up with it. In fact I preferred to shower with the 12 v pump rather than town water as the pressure was better. At the farm i had to find a solution, so I disassembled the fitting where the hose clips to Connie, It is a non return valve and the piston was stuck. I freed it up and for the first time since owning the van we had decent water pressure in the van. I said to my wife that, finally, the shower was OK, we had pressure and hot water. Half way through her shower the water dropped to a dribble. On removing the shower head I discovered a plastic disk with little holes that were clogged with scraps of teflon tape. I assume they entered the system when the HWS was replaced. I then removed the perforated disks at the end of the flick mixers in the 2 sinks. Oh bliss for the first time since owning the van we actually had great water pressure.

Handbrake.

On returning home I parked Connie, pulled on the handbrake, hard, then disconnected the tow ball only to see her roll backwards. Normally I would have chocked the wheels but this time I did not. Fortunately she came to rest against a substantial bush, no damage. It gave me a real fright. The adjustment on the handbrake had simply worked loose. I adjusted it up and made sure it was locked tight.

Battery Box.

We ordered an underslung battery box and one day I was giving Connie a once over when I noticed a red wire poking out the top of the box. On removing the cover for closer inspection I found the wire was over the sharp edge of the aluminum box cover and had black marks where it was rubbing, worse still a bunch of wires protected by a white plastic sheath were sitting on the positive terminal of the battery. The battery does not have terminal covers. The white sheath had black marks where it was rubbing. I could see nothing but disaster in the long term. I have owned a car that caught fire due to a wire rubbing through, it is not a fun experience. I taped the wires as best I could and then encased the positive terminal in silicone rubber. When the battery is eventually changed I will have to peel the silicone away.

Conclusion

Would we buy this van again? The answer is we are not sure. We love the van, It tows very well and has everything we want, BUT!! I would, knowing what I now know, continue looking until I found one with a better HWS setup. Something with a permanent outside HWS vent cover and not in a cupboard under the sink. No front window, no extension cushions to the seats, and a bigger load capacity. Mind you I still love this van but I am extremely unhappy about how the HWS failed, the way it failed, the non functioning drip tray,its location and impact on the usability of the cupboard space. The HWS vent cover annoys me considerably as it is one more job when you setup, and pack up, and because of its terrible design, is difficult to remove. Plus the other little failures continue to annoy. As they are generally third party products it is a bit hard to criticize Concept, except to say they need to choose their suppliers a bit more carefully. Without the HWS issues it is a very good, well made, van and in reality has given little trouble, the ergonomics are great for a tall person. It was the second best thing we did in 2015, buying Connie. The best was buying Sir Arthur Vegemite, our Poodle cross pup.

Sir Arthur Vegemite also loves caravanning.

At the time of writing after 10 months ownership, towed 12000 kilometres and I cannot wait to go away again.

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Left is view from Bonny Hills caravan park. NSW on right view from Mallacoota Foreshore holiday park Victoria.

Lake Tyres Vic. taken on my forst trip away in Connie and on Right Pellicans at Hawks Nest NSW.