Published: 16 June 2020
The cheapest freestanding 270 degree awning vs the most expensive”
I fitted both the Bushwakka free standing 270 degree awning and the Alu-CAb 270 degree awning to the 200 series. Here what I think about both of them.
|BUSHWAKKA||ALU-CAB||Cheap - Half the price of Alu-Cab||Available locally rather than online only|
|Covers a slightly larger area||Much stronger construction all over|
|Better stowage with clip/buckles rather than velcro||Proven reputation over many years|
|Better tensioning system when setting up||Canvas is more reflective for hot weather|
|Easier installation||Easier to setup for rainy weather|
|Everything included||Extremely Expensive|
|Concerns over strength and reliability of alloy construction||Brackets not include and expensive|
|Brackets were not built or engineered up to the task||Very difficult to install|
|Zip on bag broke||Velcro tabs for storing are annoying|
|Have to use ropes and pegs to drain water in rain||Tensioning system is not suitable to Pioneer roof rack|
|Poles secured with velcro rather than secured by plastic feet when stowed||Smaller area covered|
That brings me to the Bushwakka. Advertised as free standing with a single built in pole for up to 20-30kmph winds, just the same as the Alu-Cab but at less than half the price. So obviously there must be some compromises with such a huge difference in price. Well yes, there are, but there are some surprising benefits too that you might not realise until you've owned both.
The Bushwakka purchase was relatively smooth. It took a while for it to come in, actually a long while as they were still coming from China when I ordered mine. It was delayed several times but once it arrived in Australia the courier go it from one site of the country to the other in a surprisingly quick time. Bushwakaa were kind enough to throw in some extra accessories for me too, giving me two extra poles and some tie down for free which was really good. Now before I start talking about the Bushwakka and some of the problems that I had with it, I'd like to point at that this is a relatively new product to market and therefore some teething problems are to be expected and many of the problems I had may not be applicable anymore as they may have already resolved these issues. I'd also like to say that Bushwakka were very accommodating to my issues by always willing to send replacement parts, sometimes improved or even an entire new unit They even offered to repair some slight damage to my vehicle (which I declined) and in the end they gave me a full refund without hassle and paid for the courier to collect the old unit and take it back from WA to QLD at their expense. When I told him I purchased an Alu-Cab he was very humble and said that they were a good unit with many years of R&D over most other companies and that I should enjoy my Alu-Cab product hassle free. You just can't beat that kind of service. So a big tick to Bushwakka before we even get into the nitty gritty of this comparison.
The initial impressions when I unboxed the awning were very positive. It came with everything you could need to mount it up and get out on the road, it even came with a couple of open ended spanners. The PVC cover looked great and felt really good too. The awning was really easy to install with a nice slotted mounting system, similar to many cheaper side mount awnings. This allowed me to mount the awning to the vehicle, then adjust the position and simply tighten the nuts when I was happy with it. The brackets needed some extensions made up out of flat bar so that I could secure it to the Rhino Pioneer rack with two bolts on each point, but it was a very simple modification. Fitting the two additional poles that I had supplied was really easy too and the velcro straps needed to secure them inside the awning when packed up or if they were simply not required were already fitted meaning it was just 1 bolt per leg and the job was done. The quality of the canvas material seemed good and the little securing rope that was supplied with it was really neat and worked really well. I also liked the fact that when you packed the Buswakka away you had clips rather than velcro on the straps that hold it altogether when packed up.
It was about at this time that the problems started. The first small issue was that the legs were just too short. Even on a stock height 200 series LandCruiser with a low profile Pioneer roof rack they didn't touch the ground and swung around in the breeze without having something underneath them to chock them up. The second time I used it the zipper on the bag broke right at the point that it flipped over backwards when you set it up. Bushwakka were good about this offering to replace the entire unit or just the bag. I used the awning probably a dozen times or more over the next couple of weeks before the next issues cropped up.
It was at this point that one of the brackets broke. As you can see from the photos, there was rust inside the welds from only a couple of weeks of use. From my observations I could only form the personal opinion that the brackets were not only manufactured poorly with what looked like little penetration in the welds, but also of a totally inadequate engineering level to support the loads placed upon them from the awning, especially in wind. Sadly this also caused some slight damage to the side of the Cruiser. Again Bushwakker were good to deal with, saying that he had sourced new Australian made brackets and would supply 3 new ones instead of only using 2.
While I was waiting for the new brackets, I decided to weld up and brace the old ones myself so that I could continue to use the awning without having to wait several more weeks. I had finished removing the awning, welding and painting the brackets and the re-fitting it on to find on my first test opening, the last arm of the awning snapped! The aluminum weld completely cracked through causing a catastrophic failure. It was at this point that I decided that I could no longer trust the product and decided that I wanted a refund. Bushwakker thought that the poor quality of the original brackets may have put strain on the arm and that it may have been part of the reason for the second failure. I guess we will never know.
I'm going to address the elephant in the room here straight away. The Alu-Cab awning is bloody expensive. Like a seriously pricey bit of gear, especially when compared to the competitors in the market. And that's before you start to include all of the extras. For example, the brackets for the Pioneer roof rack, as awesome as they are in 4 or 5mm stainless steel, they are over $300 extra! On top of the RRP of $2100 for the awning. The two extra poles that came for free with the Bushwakka were another $100.
Unlike the Bushwakker which already had velcro straps ready for additional legs if you chose to fit them, I had to rivet in the stays for the legs on the Alu-Cab and the rivets they gave me were too big for the some of the holes that were pre-drilled. This meant I had to drill out the holes bigger, then rivet in the stays, then bolt on the legs. I had to pry the tube open to get the legs to fit in because the bolt holes used for the extra legs were empty meaning that the single bolt for the strap had squashed the side in. All in all, adding the extra legs to the Alu-Cab was quite involved when compared to the Bushwakker.
But the difficulties installing the legs were nothing compared to trying to fit this thing up to the LandCruiser. So for a start, as mentioned above there are no brackets supplied and my local Ironman dealer (who sells the Alu-Cab products in Australia) did not have any stock of the brackets for the Pioneer roof racks... You would think that would be a common thing... I ended up making my own, which after seeing the brutal strength of the Alu-Cab ones afterwards still don't trust that much. I am still considering buying the Alu-Cab brackets at some stage, but the idea of re-installing this awning gives me PTSD. So in order to install it, you need to work out exactly where you want it to go, in line with the roof rack, the brackets and ensure it is located perfectly correctly. This is quite challenging as it's massive and heavy so it's not a one person job. 3 people would actually be better, two to hold it and 1 to measure. Once you THINK you have it right, you then need to drill through the cover. Yes, that's right, drill through the cover and try and line up to the per-existing holes in back of the awning.You'd better hope you've got the position right, because if not you'll now have holes in the cover. Now because you have just drilled holes in the cover, it will inevitable leak (like mine does) and so silicone would be a good option when you put the bolts through, which of course are not supplied either. Then comes the tie off system to tension the awning when opened. It's horrible. It's a tiny bit of sail track cut down with a short strap attached to it. You are then expected to rivet one end to the awning including drilling your own holes. It's about at this point that you will realise that if you don't have a Alu-Cab roof top tent that this system is going to be pretty much useless anyway. I ended up stealing the idea from the Bushwakker and used the end strap off a winch tie down with a hook at the end and have found this system to be way, way, way better than Alu-Cab's poxy solution. The Alu-Cab also has Velcro straps to secure it altogether when packed and to be quite frank, they are awkward and like all velcro will become ineffective once enough dirt and grime get stuck into the velcro hooks and loops.
Overall, the installation of the Alu-Cab was a major pain in the ass, and to be honest, in my opinion, for the price and the length of time they have been selling these you would really expect them to have sorted some of these issues out and made things a little bit nicer for the installer. Perhaps Alu-Cab expect that people paying this sort of money for an awning won't install it themselves, I don't know, but it certainly made me think hard about whether this product was worth all of the extra money and hassle.
One of the biggest disappointments for me with the Alu-Cab was that even thought the overall length of the awning when packed away is pretty much the same as the Bushwakka, the Alu-Cab opened up substantially smaller than the Bushwakka meaning that it didn't cover my extendable table from the Black Label Solutions drawer system if I also had the fridge extended. This is a real shame and has meant that if I want to leave the table and fridge out in inclement weather, I have to attach a wall. And with the walls being around $2500 for the Alu-Cab and it pretty much negating the whole reason of having it, that is, the quick setup and pack-down times, it's a massive shame. I'd also like to note that on all of the pictures that I saw previous to purchasing my Alu-Cab awning, they all had a patch sewn in above where the leg sticks up for wet weather. Mine has no such patch and I worry about wear and tear through this section.
When looking at the two of these awnings they both offer different advantages and disadvantages. The Alu-Cab has a reputation for strength and reliability, whereas the Bushwakka is an unknown, or even worse with my experience being somewhat disappointing in regards to strength and reliability. Features wise, the Bushwakka has a few things that nudge it over the Alu-Cab. The clips instead of Velcro when packing it away, the inclusion of brackets (albeit sub par), the fact that it's adjustable on the mounts and there is no drilling required to fit it up.
The method for tensioning the awning once open is also far better and more universal on the Bushwakka. Mind you, Bushwakka seem to spruke this as their amazing exclusive system, but you can just buy this strap from Bunnings for about $12 bucks. Which I would have gone and done for my Alu-Cab but the strap system works with the included Alu-Cab buckle and I already had straps at home that would work with that style of setup.
The extra size of the Bushwakka was actually is actually a big advantage over the Alu-Cab and I still get water pooling on the Alu-Cab even with the extra leg up that is supposed to prevent pooling. The Bushwakka's design of attaching ropes is not as sleek and would require extra work, but I feel that it would also prevent pooling much more effectively in heavy rain. The Velcro straps when packing away the Alu-Cab are a pain, and the clips on the Bushwakka were way easier to use. The Alu-Cab is far and away a more solidly built product, the backing, even though a pain to mount is much stronger and doesn't twist under load like the Bushwakka does, but with better bracket and more than only having one at each end, which Bushwakka said they were going to do, I don't think that would be as big of a problem.
Do I regret buying the Alu-Cab awning? I guess not, I know I should be able to trust it and that's very important. I'm extremely disappointed that it doesn't cover my table fully when it's extended and the pooling from the rain is also very disappointing. The velcro mounts are annoying, always getting stuck under the packed up awning or slipping out of the groves while trying to pack the awning away and the strap mounting idea was next to useless without modification. After seeing what you get for $900 I really was expecting more from Alu-Cab but I can make it work so I guess I'm kind of happy.
Would I reccomend the Bushwakka? Well that's a curly question. I wouldn't recommend it, but I would certainly suggest you have a look at them, and see if they have resolved the issues that I have experienced. If they are progressive and responsive enough to have sorted these things out, then I would absolutely have no issues with them.
What about the other brands? Well that's the million dollar question isn't it? Are they just going to be more expensive versions of the Bushwakka with similar issues? Or are they going to be as robust as the Alu-Cab. That I can't tell you. What I can tell you is that there are only a few that are claimed to be truly free standing without poles and that allow you to pack awning away with the poles still attached, and for me, that' was the requirement. I don't want to be carrying around pole bags, and I don't want to be having to peg things down constantly. So Maybe something like the Bush Company would be a good mid range product, but then who is to say it's any better than the Bushwakka in design? Without seeing one I couldn't comment much more on that.