Words and pictures by Grant Spolander
While there’s no denying the value of a roofrack or drawer system, many of us need more than these packing options when holidaying off-road, particularly when doing long hauls into neighbouring countries. For many overlanders, the obvious solution is to invest in an off-road trailer.
As a result, trailer sales have boomed over the last decade and a number of new manufacturers have entered the market. To better address this burgeoning market, we’re planning to regularly feature trailer tests and trailer-related editorial, and we’re kicking off with a review of the Alu-Star Tracker, a unique offering in this highly competitive sector. Founded in ’97, much of Alu-Star’s production is focused on horse boxes and general purpose trailers; however, the company has also made a name for itself with compact, lightweight and versatile off-road trailers.
We had the opportunity to test Alu-Star’s entry-level Tracker unit.
FORM & FUNCTION
Alu-Star manufactures three off-road trailers: the Tracker, the Ranger and the Camper. As the base model, the Alu-Star Tracker sports little in the way of accessories and features, but thanks to its customisable shell and long list of optional extras, this is an attractive offering for those travellers who want to spec their unit to a specific need or requirement. The Tracker can be ordered in 1.8- or 2.1-metre length specification; both sizes feature an internal load box height of 1 100 mm and width of 490 mm. The Tracker’s load box sports great all-round access thanks to its dropdown tailgate and easily-removable lid – the hinges can be quickly uncoupled, transforming the Tracker into a garden refuse transporter.
The lid is gas strut assisted and once open will hold itself in that position. The down side to these struts is that they only begin to work at about 20° off the horizontal – so if you’ve attached a 25 kg rooftop tent to your lid you may have a tough time lifting it – although once you get past the 20° mark it’s pretty much effortless the rest of the way. Alu-Star offers an optional side entrance hatch close to the front of the trailer, as seen on our test unit. This extra entrance port measures 530 x 450 mm and will cost you an additional R970; in my opinion, it’s worth every cent if you want access to smaller items like a toolbox, air compressor or even a portable power pack.
Of course, you could also stash these items in the lockable nose cone upfront. The Tracker is incredibly light. The 1.8-metre unit weighs just 238 kg and the 2.1-metre model is only 22 kg heavier – so light that your kid could push it around in unladen form. Thanks to these super-low tare weights, the Tracker is rated to haul an impressive payload of 512 kg. Because it’s an unbraked trailer, its Gross Vehicle Mass, its weight when fully laden, may not exceed 750 kg. The tare of the tow vehicle must be twice the GVM of the unbraked trailer. Of course, not having a braked axle does mean you need to remember to chock the wheels before unhitching on a slope. Within the load box you’ll find an slotted eyebolt anchor point at each corner, which vertically adjustable to allow you to install additional eyebolts – very handy. It has to be said that the eyebolts below the lid hinges are difficult to use as the lid and struts obscure your access.
NUTS & BOLTS
Alu-Star trailers are pretty unique. In fact, the only thing they have in common with other good off-road trailers is a sturdy, galvanised steel chassis. But unlike any trailer we’ve ever seen, the Tracker’s frame and body panels are one entity. You see, most trailer manufacturers design their frames separately; typically, it’s a skeletal structure to which the exterior panels are glued, riveted or bolted. Alu-Star trailers use an aluminium hollow-core design where the frame and panels are an integrated unit.
This approach increases the trailer’s rigidity, reduces its overall weight and the number of sealing points, and if you dent the trailer’s interior slightly it won’t necessarily show up on the outside. It’s a great system, the only drawback being that it’s not easily modified or altered. The Tracker’s internal load box height of 490 mm precludes the installation of a typical 40-litre portable fridge / freezer. For this reason Alu-Star offers an optional height increase of 150 or 300 mm, a decision that must be made prior to the trailer’s construction; trying to increase the height once the trailer’s complete isn’t easy. This extra height will set you back R1 824 (per 150 mm). Of course, it goes without saying that such modifications result in more weight which means less payload capacity. Looking at the rest of the range, the Ranger model is 150 mm taller than the Tracker and the Camper is 150 mm taller still, but both these trailers have braked axles and a much higher GVM rating. The other fundamental differences between the Tracker and its siblings is that the Tracker boasts a lighter-duty chassis, and as mentioned before, an incredibly low tare weight. What’s more, the Tracker does not come standard-fit with shock absorbers – these cost an additional R970.
The Tracker’s lightweight construction plays a crucial role when towing; most of the time you’ll forget you have something behind you. With the exception of the Suzuki Jimny I can’t think of a single 4×4 that will have problems pulling this trailer. Plus, because the trailer’s only 1 740 mm wide it’s narrower than most 4x4s.
We used an Isuzu KB300 DC for this review; when looking in the Isuzu’s side mirrors the Tracker wasn’t even visible. That’s a great feature for nervous towers as there’s less worry about the Tracker clipping obstructions when the track gets narrow – if your vehicle clears, the trailer will too. (Ed: Personally, I like to be able to see what I’m towing when sitting behind the wheel.) This brings me to the Tracker’s track width; at 1 550 mm it’s on par with your average 4×4; however, if your vehicle’s track differs by a substantial degree, Alu-Star will adapt the trailer’s track to match. As is the case with most off-road trailers it’s wise to remove the jockey wheel in rough ’n tough terrain. Despite the fact that the Tracker’s jockey wheel is very easily removed,
I forgot to do so, and as a result I busted the securing bolt that clamps the wheel in place; this happened when making a tight turn down a steep descent. Otherwise, the Tracker’s clearances appear to be good, the departure angle ain’t bad and the ground clearance measurement is a commendable 290 mm. Lastly, an off-road trailer review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning dust ingestion. Happily, the Alu-Star Tracker reports a clean bill of health on this front, even after driving on a dusty track at high speed. TOW 2 TOW I know build quality when I see it and from the moment I laid hands on the Alu-Star Tracker I could tell it was designed and manufactured to a high standard.
I particularly like Alu-Star’s method of using hollow-core aluminium panelling; it just makes sense from a weight, strength and sealing point of view. I was also very impressed by the Tracker’s other functional features, like its removable lid and the multiple tie-down points in the load box. But most of all, it’s the build quality which really stands out – the hinges, locks and overall finish appears to be robust, durable and built to last. As far as looks go, I’m not usually turned on by off-road trailers but there’s definitely something about the Tracker that appeals to me. I don’t think it has anything to do with form or function, but rather the Tracker’s outward display of quality and a fine finish.