You’ve just purchased your dream RV but you’d really love to personalise it to your own specifications. Where do you start? What types of modifications do you really need for Australian caravanning?
There is a labyrinth of information out there for those new to caravanning and camping sometimes making it difficult to determine where to spend your hard-earned cash.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the more popular caravan modifications available on the market to help you transform your new house-on-wheels into a home that can handle anything the Australian outdoors throws at it.
Some mods are so simple you can make them yourself. And, as in the case of towing mirrors, are not always attached directly to your caravan or camper trailer.
Most cars come with good side mirrors for everyday use, but few are built with towing caravans and camper trailers in mind. As they are not usually designed for towing, the limited field of vision makes it hard to keep an eye on anything behind. Hence, it is a good idea to upgrade your side mirrors to towing-based mirrors.
The first type is a clip-on side mirror extender which attaches to the car’s mirrors. They are priced competitively, though and there are many different brands on the market. Reich branded mirrors are very popular and are available in a range of sizes and shapes to suit different vehicle models.
Caravan, motorhome, and camper trailer awnings
We have an awning attached to our car roof racks for those occasions where we stop for lunch (or overnight) and need some shade or shelter from the elements.
An awning will be designed specifically for the vehicle it is attached to; they are not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Awnings are made from a variety of materials ranging from very light shade cloths to heavier canvas designed to keep rain out.
Fiamma is a very popular brand of awning producing a variety of sizes and shapes for your RV and vehicle. These are usually lightweight and easy to set up.
For the more sturdy and permanent type of awning – if your RV does not already come with one – it might be wise to ask the manufacturer of the RV what they recommend.
Of course, you don’t have to buy their own model of awning, but they should be able to give you a good indication as to what would work on your model RV. There are side awnings, awnings for bed ends, awnings to cover windows….the list goes on.
Have a think about your van, and then picture it in the blazing sun of a summer’s day. Where is the sun likely to get in? Where is the heat going to enter? Where will you need shade? Will you be using it in winter? Will you need a full awning (including sides) to keep the wind and rain out?
Answering these questions will help you determine what shape and how big you need your awning to be.
Weight distribution hitches
Weight distribution hitches are important if you have a heavy van and your car isn’t heavy enough to tow it safely.
By evenly distributing weight, they help the car and van sit level while towing. WDH’s are easy to use, but it’s probably a good idea to get yours professionally installed.
Ideally, 10% of your van’s weight should be supported by the tow ball. If this causes the rear of the tow vehicle to sag, you may need a weight distribution hitch to spread the weight evenly across the chassis of your tow vehicle (or upgrade your suspension, which is a much more costly endeavour).
Different WDH brands feature different specs, so the model you choose may depend on the weight of your van and type of tow vehicle.
Electronic braking systems
It is a legal requirement in Australia for all vans over 750kg to be towed by a vehicle with an electronic braking system installed, and so very well could be one the first caravan modifications you will make.
There are two types of brake controllers available – proportional and non-proportional brake controllers. Proportional brake controllers are generally seen to be far superior as they are more intuitive to the braking needs of the tow vehicle. These need to be installed by an auto electrician, as they involve tapping into the wiring of the car.
Caravan bike racks
There are many different types of bike racks available on the market, from those that attach to your rear tow ball to those that are designed for use on your roof racks. There are even some that are specifically designed to attach directly onto your caravan! So, what is the best to use?
Firstly, you need to decide how many bikes you are going to carry. Are they adult sized, or are they kids bikes?
Next, decide where you are likely to carry them. Have you got roof bars? If so, a specialist bike store should be able to help you decide which brand is best for your car and needs.
If you have a large RV, many of them will have the option to attach a bike carrier such as the Fiamma Carry-Bike Pro to the actual van. They are strong, lightweight and can carry up to 4 bikes at a time (depending on the model you choose).
For smaller vans, you may wish to attach a bike carrier to either the front or the rear of the van, whilst towing. We have a great bike carrier, however, we cannot extend the bed ends on the trailer with the bikes still attached, so if this is going to be a problem, maybe think about where else you can store them before buying one!
RV solar panels
Solar panels come in many shapes and sizes, weights and uses. Before choosing which panel system you are planning to buy, you need to think about why you are purchasing one and how large the panels are you want to accommodate within your caravan. They are either free-standing (useful for when you want to chase the sun all day) or attached permanently to the van’s roof. Some are flexible, which are lightweight and easy to store, but have less power output than the bigger, heavier versions.
It’s important to note that solar panels are for smaller electrical needs, such as lighting and the Waeco / Engel style fridges. If you are hoping to power a microwave, a heater, or an air conditioner, solar electricity may not be sufficient enough. You will need to calculate how much power you may need to consume per day before buying a solar system and then purchase accordingly. Solar panels recharge batteries rather than run the appliances directly.
With children around, I am always worried when we have to back into the garage or into a caravan site. And, whilst most of the time we keep the kids in the car until we are stationary, not all children are ours and we can't always see everything that is going on around us.
Enter the age of the reversing camera! These little gems have come down significantly in price over the years, and for as little as a couple of hundred dollars, you can have one in your car, regardless of the vehicle’s age.
You can also put them on the back of your RV so that you can easily see what is behind you, such as trees and power poles. I personally think this is one RV modification that should be installed by a professional, to ensure it is working properly before you head off.
How many litres of water are you capable of carrying with the standard tanks your RV came with? How far away from a water source are you likely to be? Are you, like me, happy to drink local water, or would you be happier with your own supply? Are you using the water for drinking only, or for washing, showering and toileting too? Are you able to carry more water? Where could you attach a water bladder or tank to your RV?
These questions should be looked at before you leave for any trip. There are a range of water bladders and tanks available to purchase, just make sure you also purchase some tank cleaning products too – not all water is as clean as the water you drink back home and bad water can contaminate a whole tank if you are not careful.
Hot water systems
Many RV’s will come with their own hot water systems, but if yours doesn’t and you want one in your own pride and joy, think about what you need it for. Will it be just for doing the dishes, or will you be having a shower with it too? How much room do you have for the system? Ours takes up one whole cupboard, in a very small RV to begin with, but it was a non-negotiable item for me. So while I would have loved extra room in the cupboards, I was happy to sacrifice one for the hot water system.
They are available in gas and electric models, so it’s important to know whether you will always have electricity available for use.
Don’t you just love the sound of the bush – animals scurrying, birds chirping, and the unmistakable sounds of a generator in the background...
Not all generators are noisy, but it is worth mentioning that generators shouldn’t be used all the time in peaceful settings – for others enjoyment of the environment as well as your own.
They are, however, very useful for generating electricity when you are in the bush, away from modern conveniences. There are many different types of generators on the market, and a good one will set you back a bit over a thousand dollars. But they are worth their weight in gold when running an air conditioner on a 40ºC day! Generators generally run on unleaded petrol, with petrol tanks ranging in size.
Feeling inspired to personalise your camper? Shop the full range of caravan and motorhome parts & accessories available online at Outdoria today!