Hello everybody,(I'm very sorry to write this in English, but my German is just not good enough to tell this story. So please forgive me for that, but I think that what I have to say is too important not to be posted here.)
This is a strong warning for everyone out there doubting what 4WD camper to rent. My wife and I had decided to rent an Apollo Adventure Camper for our second Australia trip because of the bigger bed, and because the off road stretches on our Adelaide – Perth trip weren’t going to be so tough as the ones during our first trip. The first time (Darwin – Perth via the Gibb River Road & François Peron NP) we rented a KEA 4WD camper. It performed great, but it was pretty uncomfortable. With hindsight, we should have forgotten the comfort – reliability is much more important, as we found out the very hard way.
On January 2, 2010, at the rather dirty and messy Apollo branch in Adelaide we were shown our 4wd Adventure Camper. From the outside it looked okay, but inside we noticed straight away it was dirty. Also, it already had 95.000 km on the clock and it showed. As we knew in advance about the weaknesses of this campervan (found on various Australia forums), we performed a thorough check. As is often the case with this campervan, the doorstep was hanging very loose, which can cause dangerous situations on the road when the step slides out (hitting objects, other cars, cyclists or even pedestrians). Apollo has known about this problem for years, but still they do nothing about it. Also, the two kitchen doors were hanging loose, one supported only by one hinge. This should have been noticed by the person or persons that serviced our campervan. We asked that all these things be fixed before we accepted it. One kitchen cupboard door could not be fixed properly (photo 1) and often fell open during driving, spilling the contents all around the campervan. Repairing this caused a one hour delay. We asked if there was another Adventure Camper available, but there wasn’t. The girl who showed us the van had no 4wd experience and could not explain the 4wd gears to us. She just switched on the fridge and that was it. We asked for the advertised survival guide, but no one knew anything about it. After we departed, we stocked up on food at a supermarket. When we arrived at our first destination two hours later, Rapid Bay, we noticed that the fridge had not cooled down much; it was still around 10 degrees Celsius. We then drove a little more (to a restaurant) to load the battery some more as the gauge was indicating it was low. Also, we found the campervan to be even filthier than we thought, and we had to spend over two hours to clean it. Apparently somebody had just swept the dust out of the van and nothing else was done to clean it – certainly no water was used! Another problem was that one of the door locks wasn’t working properly and the other one not at all. Furthermore the table and chairs we were given were broken. Why was none of this noticed when the car was serviced?
The next morning we noticed that the fridge wasn’t working anymore and the service battery gauge indicated it was empty. Over $50 of food was spoiled - and so was our first day, because when we called Apollo’s 24 Hour Service Helpline from a phone booth on the campsite, we were told to call back later. After waiting an hour, we called back and were told very impolitely that we should go to a powered campsite and load the battery there, and if that didn’t do the trick we’d just have to stay at normal campsites instead of going bush. Now, we chose this vehicle for the sole reason Apollo advertises it as a great way to camp in the bush, that’s what it’s made for, and now we were being told we couldn’t do that because of a bad battery? After making our point the Apollo representative even threatened to hang up on us after only a few minutes of talking. So there we were, our first day of our big Australia adventure, in the middle of nowhere with a bad fridge. Our only option was to drive back to the Apollo Adelaide branch and have the battery looked at there. This meant driving through the sprawled suburbs of Adelaide again for hours and shopping again – all our fridge food had spoiled. It also robbed us of our only chance in a lifetime to dive with leafy sea dragons (the weather was perfect for it), our sole reason to come to Rapid Bay, as the day after we had already booked our crossing to Kangaroo Island.
In Adelaide the battery was changed, and after trying to fix the lock, a new lock had to be fitted on the door. Al these items were taken from a newer vehicle that had come in that day. We met the people who rented this camper later on Kangaroo island, and they told us they had problems with their fridge… This took quite some time. The Apollo representative said he would write down our complaint about the Service Helpline, and he would advise head office to give us at least one day of compensation and also something for the spoiled food. When we drove back to Rapid Bay that afternoon, the doorstep came loose again (nice repair!) and we almost hit someone when parking near a supermarket. We decided not to go back to Adelaide again and certainly to avoid another run in with the guy of the Apollo Helpline, as we were determined not to let Apollo spoil our holiday anymore. This meant tying up the step with rope every time we went for a drive, and untying it when we settled for the night (photo 2). When we tried to use the stabilising arm for more comfort, we noticed it had broken off (photo 3) (unnoticed by Apollo?) - something that wasn’t easily repairable, so there was no point in calling Apollo for at. After all, we were on holiday and wanted to enjoy it.
Two days passed, and then we woke up extremely cold in the middle of the night to find that half of our bed was soaked in ice-cold water. We found that the bolts in the mechanism to extend the roof had not been sealed, and in cold or rainy nights a puddle of water formed right around those bolts, after which the water dripped down on our bed. To avoid this meant that from now we hat to park the car in such a way that our heads would be below our feat – not very comfortable. Luckily I was able to buy duct tape several days later to temporarily block the water. This did not prevent condensation water occurring every night from wetting our feet, though (photo 4).
We had three (!) cookers, but only one of them worked as it should. The one working on gas canisters was too dirty to pick up and was very unsafe – it had several leaks. We couldn’t use the one inside, for which we had had to buy methylated spirits (not supplied), because every time we lighted it, the smoke alarm went off. Somebody had already moved it from its original place, but to no avail. Seeing that Apollo had already moved the smoke alarm once (we original fitting was still glued to the roof) to the back of the campervan ceiling, they must have known about this problem. So all that remained was the gas stove in the outside kitchen, which worked fine. The only trouble with that was that the whole kitchen fell open a few times during driving, even though it was locked! This caused several scary moments – imagine taking a corner on a tight road with an oncoming large vehicle!
Now on to a more serious incident. We had noticed that one of the lampshades in the living compartment had an internal burn mark on it, but thought nothing of it. But on the evening of 10 February my wife was asleep in the car and I was still reading outside, when I noticed a burning smell. I looked around, but couldn’t identify the source of the problem. The smell became worse, and when I went into the campervan I noticed smoke was coming from the bed next to my wife. The interior light had burned a hole in the lampshade (photo 5) and ignited the bed sheet. Of course this time the smoke alarm didn’t go off! Why didn’t Apollo check this light when it already showed signs of overheating? Luckily I went to bed late that evening, if we both had went to bed early the consequences might have been far worse. We unscrewed the light and used only the other light for the rest of the holiday.
Another life-threatening episode took place on 16 February: I was almost electrocuted when he used the water cooker supplied by Apollo for the first time. I got a very strong electroshock when the water cooker proved to be leaking through the bottom onto the electrical system (photo 6 )! Apparently Apollo had not checked this item either. Shocking - in both senses of the word.
A few days later, in the middle of the night of 21 February, our car starts moving slowly downhill, bit by bit. Luckily the incline wasn’t too steep and the car stops eventually, otherwise we could have ended up in the ocean. We managed to secure the car by pulling on the handbrake extremely hard. Later on at a garage in Norseman, we asked to adjust the handbrake. The guy who helped us looked at it, and said he hardly dared to touch it for fear of breaking it, because it was so corroded. He also told us it looked like nobody had serviced that car for a while, apart from checking the fluids, probably not since the car went on the road for the first time.
The clincher came on 25 February. We started the day with a flat tyre. That can happen, but of course we didn’t succeed in taking the wheel off, as the bolts were screwed on too tight. Luckily someone with good tools came along and helped us change it. When we got the spare wheel from its difficult hiding place, we directly saw it’s very worn. The man who helped us also noticed that there are complete chunks of rubber missing and that it had been repaired illegally (photo 7). “You can’t drive on that” he said, and advised to have the old one repaired and the spare declared illegal at the next service station. Unluckily we were in the middle of the Nullarbor and the next service station that did tyre repairs and had the correct spares was in Norseman, some 450 km driving. As we had no other option than to drive on the bad tyre, we had to drive very carefully and very slowly all the way. Just before closing time we reached the garage in Norseman, and the people there were very helpful. They said they’d been getting a lot of these Apollo campervans lately (!).They immediately declared the spare tyre illegal, with a lot of headshaking and cursing, and, after notifying Apollo, proceeded to repair the other one. It soon becomes obvious that the tyre was not to blame for the leak, but that the rim of the wheel was the cause. After inspection we found that both wheel rims are severely damaged. We had already noticed the corrosion on the rims, but not the deep dents on both wheels, damage caused by a previous renter (photos 8 & 9) and not repaired by Apollo. Criminal negligence – this can get you killed, stuck in the desert etc. After an hour we got the okay and we left the garage.
It was getting dark and we found ourselves in a place we didn’t choose to be in. We had planned on reaching either Cape Le Grand National Park or Lake Ballard that day, but Apollo’s carelessness forced us to stay in Norseman, on the terrible local campsite. A little later that night, when we walked back to our campervan after dinner, when trying to make a phone call at the service station next to the campsite, my wife and I are brutally assaulted: a masked man rushed to her and hit her in the face with a large, sharp pole, knocking her glasses off. He grabbed her by the neck from behind and tried to use her as a hostage to get the service station attendant to open the locked door. I sprinted to help her but was immediately knocked unconscious with the pole and fell down. My wife then wanted to help me but was also knocked down with a blow to her head with the pole. The assailant then crashed through the service station door and robbed the place. We were taken to hospital by ambulance. I got 8 stitches to close the deep wound in my head and a severe concussion. My wife needed stitches to the inside of her lip, also had a concussion and lost a molar. We both sustained concussions. Of course our clothes were ruined, our glasses were broken, and we were hurt, sick and scared. In the middle of the night we were discharged. 5 minutes later was my birthday (photo 10).
The rest of the holiday, planned to be the “relaxing” part of the trip, was obviously ruined by our injuries and shock. We were forced to travel another route, which of course we hadn’t prepared, and we didn’t like it. It was very hard to enjoy anything after what we’d been through as we were very sad, hurt, and tired and we felt unsafe. Travelling in an expensive 4wd was now completely unnecessary, as we couldn’t go bush anymore. It was even a nuisance as such a campervan is much more uncomfortable than a normal one, plus we had to endure all of the shortcomings of this particular car.
When we returned the campervan to Apollo’s (cramped and dirty) tiny, understaffed and extremely dirty Perth branch on 11 March, we told our story and asked the Apollo representative what our lives were worth to Apollo. We asked for our money back, plus compensation for material and immaterial damages. We handed her a list of the things that went wrong and a list of costs, then showed her all the problems with the car. After hearing our story, she left the room and called head office, which was strange as there was a phone right there on her desk. Maybe we weren’t supposed to hear certain things? After about 10 minutes she came back and said she hadn’t been able to reach head office in Brisbane as it was closed. She told us she did confer with the assistance phone line, and shamefully she told us that she was only allowed to give us back two days rent as compensation: one for the loss of one day due to the fridge in Adelaide (which was already promised) and one for the day we had a flat tyre. So there we had our answer: to Apollo our lives were worth Au$ 124 each. For more compensation we would have to wait until head office opened again, the next day. With great difficulty we were promised that we would be called back by customer service to discuss this during the next few days in Australia, or otherwise shortly after our return to Holland. Needless to say, we were not called back. Apparently after the rent was over and cashing our money Apollo wasn’t interested in us anymore – not even to simply ask how we were doing.
After waiting a few weeks Apollo still hadn’t reacted. Only after sending them our demands via e-mail, they reacted by adding insult to injury and denied all responsibility for everything – not even the spoiled food was refunded. To make things even worse, Apollo’s head office customer service wrote us that we were only given the two days compensation as “goodwill”. But then the customer service made a mistake: she told by accident that she was the one that authorized the two day refund in the first place, revealing that the whole story of head office being closed was just a big lie! It was just to get us out of the Perth office, a dirty trick from Apollo that is very low and hurtful after all we had been through by Apollo’s fault. Our attempts and those of our rental agency have gone without any concession by Apollo
At the time of writing this, we are both still suffering from our wounds. I have told my story here to warn people what they might be getting into when they rent with Apollo. You can find other horror stories about them elsewhere on the web. Your life is not safe, and they don’t care.
(The photos can be found on http://picasaweb.google.nl/xelinad/Apollo?feat=directlink