Are you like me and consider yourself a bit of a DIYer? Not afraid to get your hands dirty, scratched or bruised and happy to spend hours in the garage planning, drawing and scratching your head?
A whiteboard is a great way to turn your thoughts into reality because like a digital camera, you can erase rubbish easily. Google is great too — you can even mistype what you’re looking for and it will supply you with the right answers. Then the list of items needed from Bunnings, Jaycar and Supercheap Auto can be grabbed before searching YouTube for ‘how-to’ videos from fellow DIYers on what you need to get done.
The final step is taking the all-important photos at the end of the job and posting them on social media, waiting for the thumbs up, love hearts and looks of wonder emoticons, plus the “why didn’t you do it this way?” from your mates.
THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Having the right tools makes DIY modifications easier. For wiring jobs, decent cable stripper and crimping tools help with getting a safe and solid connection, while heat shrink, and braided wire wrap make the job look professional.
Of course, you’ll need a cordless drill and decent drill bits to make holes for cables to run through, rubber grommets to help prevent the wire rubbing through, and an angle grinder for cutting and grinding metal you may use. Then there’s screwdrivers and socket sets, rivet gun and soldering iron. I’ve recently discovered a couple of drill adapters that make some jobs easier.
A Blind Rivet Drill Adapter and a Nut Rivet Drill Adapter can be bought at Bunnings and turn some mods on their head. Being able to mount something using a bolt and fitted nut makes DIY installs so much easier and more professional. The Blind Rivet Adapter is especially handy when using stainless steel rivets which can be very difficult to use with a hand rivet gun.
You’ll also need the necessary items such as cable ties and cable tie mounts to keep your wiring in its place, silicon for filling anywhere water and dust may penetrate, and sikaflex for gluing any cabling in place. A hole saw and step drill bit are handy for drilling bigger holes. Finally, having a variety of screws, nuts and bolts will make DIY life simpler.
MOD #1 — LET THERE BE MORE LIGHT
Do you have any dark spaces that need to be brightened? Or the current lights just don’t cut it? There are a couple of things you can do to fix this. The first is to swap out current globes with more powerful or brighter white LED globes. The second is to replace the lights altogether, a benefit being the range of colours you can add, including orange or red to deter bugs. Companies like Narva produce a range of RV lights to suit or check out an RV specialist retail store.
If you want to add lights to a space that doesn’t currently have any, it is a fairly simple task and involves running some 12V twin core cable from your fuse panel to the LED light. A good tip is to buy a light that includes an on/off switch as it makes the connection easier, and many of the strip lights have these. The added benefit of installing LED lights is their low current draw, meaning your batteries last longer and cable thickness can be reduced.
MOD #2 — WEAR PROTECTION
If getting off the bitumen is a preference, do you have anything to help protect your camper from flying projectiles kicked up by your 4WD tyres? There are many solutions from bought to built:
D-flector stone guard: Built tough, these stone guards attach to the A-frame of your camper using two galvanised U-bolts. The frame is covered with heavy duty ‘rip stop’ mesh providing two layers of protection, angled to repel stones downwards. Two 6mm thick rubber mud flaps hang below, further protecting your camper.
Stone Stomper: Another product designed specifically for offroad use, these one-piece reinforced trapeze style stone guards offer the ultimate protection as they cover the space from the tow ball hitch to the underside of the A-frame.
Rock Tamers: This removeable mudflap system from Clearview provides protection by preventing stones kicked up by your 4WD from getting past the tow hitch.
Homemade stone guard: There are a plethora of designs for DIY stone guards, from mud guards bolted onto a steel RHS rod then attached to the tow hitch, to a rectangular steel frame covered in shade cloth. If it protects your camper, is repairable and tough enough to survive an outback track, it’s a winner.
MOD #3 — STORAGE IMPROVMENT
When I built my camper trailer, plastic tubs were a cheap storage solution, but they didn’t survive the first trip along the Anne Beadell and Connie Sue highways. Easily replaced in Alice Springs, I still wasn’t happy, as I discovered they provide an opportunity to carry more stuff than needed, adding unnecessary weight, plus decent tie down points had to be added to stop them flying around. The result was unwanted holes being drilled in my floor.
Thankfully drawer systems have become easier to build yourself, or some Aussie companies, like Dunn & Watson, produce quality aluminium systems that won’t break the bank, and this is the route I went. My camper finished with an aluminium slide out ute drawer in the storage section that provides easy access to whatever is stored there, and some aluminium drawers in the upper section, one with a shelf, to store kitchen and cooking gear. This solution provides ample storage for things I need and less space for things I don’t.
MOD #4 — UPGRADING YOUR BMS
Performing this mod is not for the faint-hearted and a bit of knowledge about DIY auto-elec work is a massive bonus. The beauty of upgrading your Battery Monitoring System (BMS) with something like a Projecta Intelli-RV 300 or a Redarc Manager 30 is that they cater for all your charging needs and simplify your entire 12V set up.
Everything is connected to these units — lights, power, MPPT solar input, DCDC input, batteries, water pumps and even your water tanks. Everything is controlled via the head unit or an app on your smartphone. Each of these BMS systems provide a staggering amount of information too, including state of charge of each battery, amps being used, time until your battery runs out of charge, water tank levels, external temperatures and method of input charge.
MOD #5 — JUST ADD HOT WATER
A portable LPG hot water unit is perfect for those who carry LPG and love the thought of hot water on demand. It’s as easy as hooking up the gas bottle, connecting a water source and attaching a shower hose. Turn the dials to adjust water flow and temperature, flick the switch on the shower head and within seconds you’ll have hot water.
An easy to read LCD display allows you to accurately monitor the water temperature, with a safety gauge restricting it to a maximum of 50 degrees. A water pump is required to enable you to pull water from almost anywhere, be it a bucket, jerry can, river or lake, however it must be connected to 12V power. A couple of D-cell batteries are used for the ignition system.
MOD #6 — UPGRADE TO LITHIUM
Upgrading your batteries to LiFeP04 Lithium isn’t a difficult task, but before parting with your hard-earned dollars, there’s a couple of things you need to do first:
What type of system are you using to charge the batteries when driving? An isolator or VMS unit aren’t compatible with lithium, so you’ll need to upgrade to a DCDC charger. DCDC units not only have the smarts to work with traditional and smart alternators, they also provide a comprehensive multi-stage charge that will improve battery performance as well as allow you to recharge the battery via solar panels. They also fit perfectly with a lithium battery and if it doesn’t have a lithium setting, the AGM profile is suitable.
Researching Lithium batteries is also necessary, especially how they are constructed. Many LiFePO4 battery manufacturers use smaller and cheaper cylindrical cells that deliver reduced discharge capacity and short life expectancy. The tabs on these smaller cells are often welded together, which is susceptible to forming micro-cracks that diminish battery performance and lifespan. Prudent manufacturers use high-quality prismatic cell design with high discharge ratings and exceptional life cycle performance. Connecting cells by bolting them together via threaded terminals provide a stronger and vibration resistant battery.
Benefits of upgrading to LiFeP04 batteries are:
- They are considerably lighter, up to 25 per cent — being made up of Lithium ions and carbon — compared to a wet cell battery full of lead alloy or fibreglass plates and sulfuric acid.
- They have an internal BMS that protects and manages the Lithium battery cells.
- Power is delivered steadily for a longer period, with up to 95 per cent use of its capacity.
- Recharging a Lithium battery is much quicker.
- Lithium batteries have a longer life span.
QUICK AND EASY MODS
- Colour of your rims doesn’t match the tow vehicle? Grab a couple of cans of semi-gloss enamel spray paint and give the camper rims a few coats — don’t forget the spare.
- Buy some foam with solid density to fit your drawers then cut out the shapes of your wine glasses, pots, coffee mugs etc to protect them.
- Install a 12V water pump.
- Add a mattress topper to improve the comfort level of your sleep.
- Install a fixed solar panel (if you have a hard-top camper trailer).
- Take meals to another level by installing a Travel Buddy 12V oven.
- Install additional USB ports.
- Stick a spirit level on your drawbar.
- Keep the caffeine levels up by installing a coffee machine.