Choosing a New Van

Posted Posted in Caravaning

This is always an interesting topic. Everyone has their own personal preferences, however “Geezer_David” from CaravanForum has provided his thoughts on choosing a new van.

I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting his comments to make them more readable.

“From 30+ years of caravanning, and having lived full time in caravans for a total period of 10 years at different periods of time, this would be my specification for a caravan for two people.

Full height van no bigger than 20′ and preferably 18′ 6″.  Many buy vans over 20′ and then want to come back to the 18′ 6″.  A well properly designed layout caravan to live in full time can comfortably be 18′ 6″.

Tandem wheels and normal load sharing spring suspension is fine with shock absorbers
15″ wheels as you can get better rated load tyres compared to 14″.  Other advantage 15″ ride better and don’t have to be inflated to high pressures to carry load. Only one spare wheel.

Prefer door at front of van than rear of caravan.

Glass windows a must and NO padded pelmets or ancillary upholstery that creates a nightmare when you want to get new curtains or dinette recovered.

NO carpet all quality vinyl sheet.  Use Walkatex or similar for mats on floor.  Walkatex is well worth chasing down from carpet shop.  Can be cut easily to fit, never curls or lifts at edges, can be scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.  We have some fifteen years old still going strong.

Must have a shower – consider using a porta-potty in the shower in preference to an installed toilet.  Besides been much cheaper, they are easily and cheaply replaced, easily emptied like a cassette toilet, if the plastic scratches or stains on the Thetford or the Thetford needs difficult to expensive repairs, with a porta-potty you just buy a new one.  If you do have a toilet installed, then the Dometic VT2500 vacuum toilet is the go and takes up less space in the shower.  I would never have a separate shower and WC as to much wasted space.  Shower to have extractor fan and window.

Hot water system – Trauma is without a doubt the best all stainless steel, uses substantially less gas proportionately than other brands.  Attwood is also all stainless steel tank, but gas system is agricultural/crude compared to Trauma – hence why Trauma uses so much less gas.  Stay well away from Suburban hot water systems, have expensive anodes that have to be constantly checked and changed, get all the junk from the anode through your hot water system, have to drain the hot water system when not in use to stop electrolysis.

Gas – must have 2 x 9.0kg bottles

Water tanks 2 x 80L with independent fillers. Ball valve tap on front of A frame so this can be converted to use for filling tanks. There are other plumbing modifications you will need to do yourself – being able to suck directly with your 12v pump from a 20 litre container or bucket etc.

Stove must have an oven and a 12v Range hood.

Microwave – No.  If you are dedicated free campers like we are and so many others, they use the microwave as a bread cupboard and for storing other items like the first-aid kit.

Fridge 150L Waeco or Vitrifrigio compressor fridge, or if you go down the path of a Dometic 3 way, then make sure and *insist* it is a Climate Class ‘T’ – Tropical rated.  My preference is a 12v fridge.  Whatever fridge you install, you must insist that the fridge is installed 100% to the manufacturers specifications.  Jayco and many other caravan manufacturers have no idea how to read a Dometic fridge installation manual.  One of the few caravan manufacturers that installs fridges correctly is Evernew.  Once you go over 150L in a fridge compressor type or 3 way, they use significant amounts of fuel, regardless of solar panel, power on 12v or gas.  Large 3 way fridges running off gas use a significant amount of gas and yes, it does get expensive to power them.

Solar system with adequate solar capacity to power everything in winter.

Lighting look for the 22w 12v fluoro lights installed as the main lights and powered from a 240v – 12vDC power supply when connected to mains.  This will give you great lighting when on 240v and 12v and saves having to add extra lights.

Stay well away from any halogen lights anywhere.  They are useless as bed lamps as the heat given off makes them not useable.  A 13w ‘U’ tube CF fluoro over the bed underneath the overhead cupboards is the go.

Dinette where the seats are opposite each other in preference to an ‘L’ shaped dinette.

Don’t waste money on a Wineguard TV aerial as they are not suitable for all the new digital channels, do not do vertical polarisation which is approximately 50% of locations.  Use Digimatch Explorer aerial with 12vDC Kingray MHW34GLV aerial amplifier.

15″ LCD TV with Humax 12v/240v F2-1010T STB (Set Top Box) – don’t buy a STB that does not have a Phillips tuner.

Car radio with CD and remote control – for value for money and especially reception performance Sanyo presently is hard to beat from Strathfield.

Make sure TV and radio etc. can all be viewed and operated from bed.

NextG/CDMA Marine type fold down aerial for mobile phone and mobile Internet.

Where they have the extra seat opposite the dinette which is seldom used get cupboards and large draws installed in its place.

Get the double bed made 100mm higher than standard.  Gives more space for bulky items like doona etc. under the bed, makes the bed easier to make and get into, and if you don’t have a shower a full sized porta-potty will fit under bed in porta-potty  – check height dimensions.

Air-conditioning, don’t put a roof top air conditioner in, fit a domestic inverter air conditioner.  The Air Command and like roof air conditioners just don’t work satisfactorily, noisy, leak and generally poor quality and way over-priced for what they are.

FourSeasons hatches, minimum two – no other hatch substitutes.  FourSeasons hatch doubles as pressure vent/hatch on front of van when on gravel roads.

Must have separate wiring circuit with suitably located 240v outlets for 12vDC to 240vAC pure sine-wave inverter. DC wiring and plugs to suitable locations. Outside 240vAC and 12vDC power points.

We have a Lemair washing machine but don’t have it built in.  We carry it in the back of the vehicle and lift it out and use it.  Big advantage you can take the washing machine to the water in preference to taking the water to the washing machine.

This off-road thing – I have taken standard caravans over hundreds of kilometres of dirt roads.  I let the tyres down on the caravan 5psi, drive to the condition of the road and if it is 30 to 40km/h so what, we are in no hurry.  At the end of the day, I don’t want to do a substantial amount of kilometres over evil corrugations for the caravan, tow vehicle or ourselves – it is far from enjoyable and causes to much damage.  No, I don’t want to tow my caravan or my vehicle or myself along the Gibb River Road, I have seen more than sufficient photographs and video from others, and no, I don’t want to tow my caravan along the Birdsville Track and see more kilometres of sand and scrub.

As for the small space – we prefer it to bricks and mortar and have no issue living in the confines of a caravan.  Fortunately no issues about being in the same space as my good wife.  If you have got to our age and your wife is not your best friend, then you are in trouble.  Fortunately my wife loves caravanning, loves travelling, loves the bush parked next to rivers, creeks, dams etc. and likes a little TV.  Consequently I have a satellite TV system we enjoy.”

Thanks for your comments “Geezer_David”, I’m sure I and many others will keep them in mind when considering a new van.

Tips for Buying a New Caravan

Posted Posted in Caravaning

A recent poster on MSN Caravaners Forum asked for tips on buying a new caravan, and asked what others considered  to be “must haves”.

I’ve pasted some of the comments below for future reference for when we decide to upgrade our caravan.

This will depend on your travel plans and how many people you need to house… for instance the sort of van one might buy for trips of 2 or 3 weeks and weekends here and there will be markedly different to a van you would need for long term touring.

Think about whether you want a shower/toilet or not. There are those who hate them, and those who love them. I’m in the latter group because I like the convenience and comfort, and don’t like traipsing across the park to the toilet block especially on cold, wet, windy days (and nights). But they do take up a lot of room in a medium sized van, which could be useful for additional storage.

Storage is both a boon and a problem. All vans have specific weight limits and too much storage space can cause problems if it’s used enthusiatically. Again, there are those who like minimalist travelling, and those who want to have each and every comfort of home with them. I think I’m somewhere in between, and trying to get more minimalist each trip.

Unless you have storage problems, full height is recommended. If you don’t want to use up too much interior space with shower etc., get a built in slide out toilet, and fit an outside shower on wall of van. Takes up no room. Have a curtain, fitted tent to suit. I like separate ends, with privacy at one end, for sleeping and reading/TV, and living/kitchen at the other end with divider.

Buying a second-hand van, make sure you check for signs of leaks. Look behind the curtains to see if there are any tell-tale stains around the window. Lift the seat cushions, and look under the seats. Also check under the bed. It’s too easy to look around the van and think everything looks very nice and clean and well looked after, but make sure you check the hidden places, too.

Have a good look underneath ANY van, new or old. With second hand you are looking for stone damage, rust in chassis, or rot in floor. Look at the tires for uneven wear that may indicate axle misalignment. Ensure it has relevant gas and electrical certification. If it has a battery ensure it is in a vented enclosure. In my mind the dual axle V single axle is not clear cut. Advantage of dual axle is usually better ride and higher carrying capacity. Disadvantage is hard to manouver by hand and strain on components whilst turning sharply on hard surfaces (I always shudder when I have to do this with tandem trailers). Many people think that tandems are better in blow out situations. Not necessarily so. I have had a blow out on a single axle van whilst passing a slower vehicle, so I had the boot into it (wont say how fast, but it was in N.T.). I only knew something was wrong because I heard the bang and a viabration through the car, no sway or dramas at all. In a dual axle van if a tire on the rear axle blows (and it usually is) it could alter the ball load which could induce instability. I have had this happen on a dual axle trailer (non load sharing) and it did get quite unstable.

Caravan Care & Maintenance

Posted Posted in Caravaning, Driving

Although maintenance procedures for caravans, trailers etc. are mostly common sense and follow the same principals as other vehicles, the following points may assist in covering areas which may otherwise be overlooked.

Starting at the front of the caravan, the following points should be especially considered:

Couplings

Override
  • Check that the coupling is effectively lubricated and that head and shaft rotates freely (apply grease through nipples).
  • Adjusting screw and nut should not be frozen in head and should be adjusted to stop ball from rattling (oil adjusting screw shaft by turning coupling upside down. Lightly grease inside coupling head where it fits over towball).
  • Backing stop should move freely.
Hydraulic
  • Ensure free movement of all parts.
  • Master cylinder cap should be in good condition to prevent moisture entering reservoir.
Fixed
  • Check operation of spindle and screw nut.

NOTE: On all couplings, trigger lock on handle should be moving freely and in good condition (oil regularly).

Hand Brake

  • Check for rust or corrosion where base plate fixes to A frame.
  • Hand brake level should move freely and should travel approx. 15mm when correctly adjusted (adjust with turnbuckle).
  • Check condition of brake cable and pulleys.

Safety Chain

  • Should have no visible signs of rust or cracks at fixing point and should be long enough to reach towbar chain hook and allowing for cornering.

Jockey Wheel

  • Handle and wheel should turn freely (if lubrication is needed, squirt oil under handle to travel down shaft).
  • Wheel should spin on axle freely.
  • Check clamp and clamp bolt for easy operation (apply oil to thread if necessary).
  • Should be checked regularly for rust and stress fractures, particularly outriggers and all cross member fixing points, A frame, springs and spring hangers and stabilizer legs.
  • Check for signs of movement around spring hangers, shackle plates and bushes, U-bolts and fish plates.
  • Check jack legs for ease of movement and ensure handle is in good condition.
  • Check step for cracks, rust and ease of operation.

NOTE: Surface rust should be removed by sanding or with a wire brush and metal surface then painted with an anti-rust paint.

Main Door

  • Lubricate door lock and hinges with light oil (CRC type).
  • Check condition and operation of annex roller and cabin hooks.
  • Door lock tongue and striker plate should be regularly checked for signs of wear.

Wheels, Rims & Tyres

  • Check rims for buckles, cracks or other damage after each trip.
  • Check tyres for signs of excessive wear from under/over inflation or wheel alignment problems.
  • Bearings and oil seals should be inspected and repacked regularly and definitely before any proposed long trip.
  • Brake shoes should be checked for signs of uneven wear and drums for any marks which may indicate early signs of brake deficiency.
  • Hydraulic lines should be checked for signs of leaking.
  • If electric brakes are fitted – drums should be cleared of sand/gravel deposits to prevent excessive wear on magnets.

NOTE: Operation of all braking systems should be regularly checked for signs of wear or fatigue in wires, clamps or connections.

Water Tank

  • Check hoses for leaks, kinks, signs of wear.
  • Check hoses for any mildew growth in hose.
  • Check clamps for tension.
  • Check tank straps for signs of cracking or rust.
  • Stoneguard if fitted should be checked for dints which may rub hole in tank.

Exterior of Van

  • General condition of aluminium check particularly for cracks in sheet or corrosion in roof sheets.
  • Check for movement above door and in lower corners of van. May indicate chassis or frame movement. (Movement is usually indicated by black rubbing marks).

Windows

  • Check glasses for cracks.
  • Internal and external sealing rubbers for signs of being perished or ill fitting.
  • Check easy operation of windows (forcing windows will break glass).

Shades & Protection

  • Pay particular attention to hinges and fixings.
  • Operation of stays and locks should be regularly serviced (apply light oil – CRC etc).

Corner Moulds

  • Sealing and around corner moulds – windows, doors etc. should be checked for cracks or holes which may allow water to enter and rot framing or lining sheets.

NOTE: Corner moulds should be resealed every 5 – 7 years.

Exterior Lighting

  • Important for safety aspect that all 12V brake indicator, tail and running lights should be operative and lenses not faded.
  • Check rubber seals around all exterior light bases to prevent intrusion of water.
  • Check 12V wiring and plug for any signs of breakage or insect nests in 12V plug.

Gas Fittings

  • Check gas connections by turning bottle on and spraying fittings with detergent and look for bubbles.
  • NEVER USE EXPOSED FLAME (MATCHES OR CIGARETTE LIGHTER) TO CHECK FOR LEAKS.
  • Check flexible hose for fraying or kinks.

NOTE: At the time of sale of any caravan fitted with or capable of being fitted with LP gas appliances, (i.e. gas lines fitted) a current certificate of compliance must be supplied by the seller to the buyer. Serious consequences can eventuate if this law is not adhered to.

Interior of Van

  • Hatch mechanisms should be lubricated and free of rust or corrosion.
  • All flyscreens should be intact and still attached to rubber mould or aluminium framing.
  • Check cupboards for movement which may indicate chassis problems (look for black rubbing marks near ceiling, walls and floor where furniture attaches).
  • Cupboard locks should be lubricated to avoid jamming which may strain and break lock.
  • Check light glasses and affixing buttons for cracks.
  • Fridge and stove should be firmly fixed to surrounds – loose bolts could result in appliance jarring loose in travel. (Grasp appliance and attempt to move back and forth).
  • Check mattresses regularly for signs of moisture retention – causes premature wear.
  • Any discolouration of ply lining around hatch windows or any ceiling, floor or wall corners indicates the intrusion of water which may rot framing or lining unless rectified quickly.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Any suspected problems with gas lines or the operation of any gas appliance or electrical fault should be referred to a qualified gas fitter or electrician respectively and should not be tampered with by an unqualified person.

Storage

  • Due to the new compound tyres available to the motor industry, there is no real need to store caravans “on blocks” as in the days of rubber tyres. The only advantage of “blocking” a van is to take the pressure off the bearings, again not totally necessary.

Are Caravanners a Menace?

Posted Posted in Ramblin' On

The following article was published in the “Sunday Mail” on 12 November 2006. I don’t know whether the journalist is writing a serious article or if he is baiting caravanners for a reaction. I’ll let you be the judge!

Caravans are a menace and should be eradicated
AT LEAST SLAP A ROAD CURFEW ON THEM, says Michael McGuire
Reproduced from the Sunday Mail, South Australia

THERE’S barely a corner of modern life that has been left untouched by the formation of some sort of whingeing pressure group. Tree huggers, gays, greens, women, men, dead people, whales, seals, oldies, nimbi’s. You name it and there is a pressure group formed to either complain about something or complain there isn’t something.

Plainly, a large section of society is not happy unless it is moaning about something. Well, if you can’t beat them join them.

Introducing, Menace to Society – Keep Caravans and Campervans Off Our Roads.

The aim of this worthy group is clear. Its members have had enough of being stuck behind dangerous, swaying caravans on single-lane country highways fearing for our precious lives and cars.

You can’t see around them, you can’t see through them, you can’t see over them. You have to drive into oncoming traffic just to see if there is anything coming the other way.

They are generally (badly) driven between 10km/h and 20km/h below the speed limit. And they have a frightening tendency to travel in convoys.  They probably don’t start out that way, but some weird cosmic force brings them together on the nation’s highways so that it’s not uncommon to see three or four caravan-towing morons or Campervans lined up behind each other.  Presumably they like to travel that way because they can annoy even more drivers than they normally do.

Behind them there will be another four or five cars with drivers plainly on the edge of a nervous breakdown, banging steering wheels, shouting at kids and on the verge of risking life and limb just so they can get around these mobile monstrosities.

They are a menace and they should be eradicated from our roads.  Scarily, there are more of them than ever before, presumably because we have a lot more older people than ever before. Most of them appear to be thinking that, with only a few years to go before they snuff it, they may as well see as much of the country as possible – extremely slowly.

There are now about 330,000 of these slow-moving death traps around Australia. According to the most recent ABS statistics released in 2001, there were 273,106 registered caravans in Australia. Of these 30,909 were in South Australia.  But it’s not just caravans that pose this manifest threat to all that is good and decent in society.  Even more worrying is that the numbers of those incredibly ugly, thirsty, immobile species of vehicle known as the campervan are growing remarkably quickly. An ABS report released last year said between 2001 and 2005 the number of campervans in Australia had grown from 33,586 to 40,693 – a jump of 21.2 per cent. But no other class of vehicle grew as quickly over that time frame.  Make no mistake, people, these people are on the march and they are coming to destroy a country drive for you as we speak.  What is even more terrifying is that these wandering death traps are the oldest on our roads. The average age of a campervan in South Australia is 20.8 years of age. The average age of all motor vehicles in South Australia is 12 years.

So most of the campervans clogging up our roads and increasing our blood pressure came from an age before modern safety improvements such as ABS brakes, power steering, decent tyres and airbags became the norm.

Think of that the next time you are stuck behind one of these misadventures in auto engineering.  There are only two real solutions to eradicate this threat to society and perhaps only one of these is viable. Number one is that roads are built solely for caravans and campervans to travel on. This will be entirely a user-pays system.

Taxes on caravans and campervans will increase by somewhere between 500 and 1000 per cent across the country. Let them pay the market rate for what they use and abuse.  Because the roads will need to be privately funded, all roads will need to be toll roads as well.

Now this may seem a little difficult as the cost would run to billions. So maybe we need to accept that we have to share our roads with these fools. In that case a curfew system – just like those imposed on unruly teenagers who need to be hidden away from polite society – should be introduced. It is proposed by our newly-formed pressure group that caravans and campervans should only be allowed on our roads between 11:00pm and 6:00am. It’s the only sensible solution. It will free up the roads for the rest of us, the caravan crowd will have nice empty roads to drive on in their ever-expanding convoys and road rage all across the nation will drop by a scientifically-estimated 87 per cent.

So join today. Remember – all it takes for the caravanners to triumph is that good people do nothing.

Satellite TV

Posted Posted in Ramblin' On

This page is obsolete and retained for the Useful link and Download links only.

I’ve dived in and purchased a system from Hardware and Tare, for $650 (August 2006) which included a tripod for the dish and an Optus Aurora card.

The Homecast 150IR receiver that was part of the system has recently had a software upgrade, so the instructions provided by Vince at Hardware and Tare to setup the receiver were useless. Somehow I happened to stumble through and had the system working in around two hours, an hour or so putting it all together, and a further hour or so locating the satellite and then setting up the receiver.

Having set the system up a few times now, it usually takes less than five minutes to locate the signal from the satellite.

Dish Set Up Gallery

To minimise the number of connection points, we purchased a Mini Compact “Eze Eye” connection, drilled through the caravan wall and we connected directly to the decoder (see below). Click on any image below to view an enlarged image.

Useful Links

Satellite Dish Pointing Calculator for Australia and New Zealand using Google Maps to locate where you are. Double Click the map and all necessary elevation, azimuth and polarisation details are returned to assist in setting up your satellite TV system.