In the good old days, when campers were little more than a box trailer with a tent bolted on top, there was little that could potentially fail. Campers were light, so wheel bearings and studs weren’t overly strained, and life was simple. But, as in all things, the more we want by way of comforts the more complicated it has all become and the more things there are to go wrong.
That means that when we drive out of the front yard to head off on our next journey there will be, or should be, a modest inventory of spare parts stashed away in our campers or tow vehicles. Little of this is absolutely necessary, but you’re going to feel pretty cranky if you’re sitting on the side of a track somewhere knowing that little piece to fix a problem is securely tucked away in a box in your garage. It’s no good there.
Most of the required spares will occupy little space, so you can have a small plastic box where most of these will travel in one place. We won’t bother talking about spare wheels, but here’s a starter list to get you going.
FOR YOUR CAMPER
Anderson plugs are only plastic so can be easily damaged. They are often lost when a plug falls out of its mate at the drawbar while towing. It doesn’t take long for it to be ground to a pulp while being dragged along the road. Buy genuine Anderson brand, not cheap clones which often come with poorly coated contacts which will corrode and diminish their electrical conductance.
Bearings and seals
Of all the possible spares you might need on a camper, wheel bearings and seals are the most likely to be required. They cop a hiding on rough roads, even when you service them regularly (which you should). Don’t buy cheap items, only good German or Japanese brands, and make sure you carry quality bearing grease and spare split pins to ensure you have all that’s needed if you have to do a track-side bearing swap.
Brake inspection plugs
On the backing plate of your brake drums are one or two (depending on drum size) inspection ports, with rubber plugs, which permit you to adjust the brakes. The plugs are levered off with a screwdriver and then need to be reinserted when you’re done. The problem is that they’re black and small and even when you’re trying to be careful it’s easy to lose them. Take a few spares of these in your little tub to cover you in the event of clumsiness.
Have you ever thought about how dependent your kitchen is on that gas regulator which controls the flow from the bottle to the cooktop? Have a spare regulator and hose made up by a qualified gas fitter, put some plastic caps over the ends to keep the dirt out and travel with assurance that your next meal is only a little while away on your gas stove.
Fuel filters (heater and car)
If you have a diesel-fuelled heater in your camper it will have a fuel line with a filter somewhere near the pump. If you want to ensure your heater is always working well, this is one of the few easy replacement parts in that system. If the heater seems to be flagging try a filter swap. If you’re travelling in rough outback conditions you should be carrying a spare fuel filter for your car as well, most especially if it’s a diesel. It’s vital for the modern common rail diesels that you keep the fuel supply clean.
Electrical fuses come in several different types and several different sizes, as well as being rated for differing electrical loads. These days they will mostly be blade fuses, but can include cartridge fuses (in, for example, cigarette plugs) and others. Do a survey through your camper and determine what yours uses and the current ratings. Don’t buy the cheapest; buy good brands which will fuse at the stated rating.
If you have steel awning poles carry a couple of the small butterfly clamps that lock them in their extended position. These are easily lost and will leave you with troubles if you lose even one.
You don’t want to be carrying more than you need of anything, but awning pegs can be seen as sacrificial in some ways. Being driven into hard ground, or spots where large tree roots or rocks are common, there will be some that will eventually give up the ghost. Carry 10 per cent more than the maximum you will need, plus some sand pegs.
Water pumps work by the flexing of a rubber diaphragm, and this can on occasion split. It pays to carry a spare (pack it between two stiff cardboard protective pieces).
Front reflectors are a regular sacrifice to design rules which take no note of the realities of towing on stone-covered tracks. No police officer in the bush would punish you if your camper’s reflectors were a shattered mess but it might be wise to carry spares for any major cities along the road.
Rope slides do break, so carry one or two spares in the bag along with the ropes and pegs.
Shock absorber bushes
Of course you’ll do the occasional check of shock absorber mounts on long trips over rough tracks, and you want to be able to put things right if you discover the nylon or rubber bushes at the top or bottom of your shock absorbers have chewed out. Make sure you buy the appropriate bushes to suit your shocks. Either rubber or nylon bushes will be fine.
Seven-pin plugs can be easily damaged, especially if they’re plastic. They can be trodden on or fall out and be dragged along the ground. Carry a spare of both male and female plugs to sustain your electrical connections between car and camper.
Water gauge battery
Most campers have a water tank gauge these days, and they are all battery powered. Carry a spare battery (alkaline) to suit so that if yours dies you aren’t left trying to guess how much water you have left in the tank.
We all stay in caravan parks on occasion and it’s unsurprising to find that there is no plug in the camp sink. And even if you lose the plug from your own sink in the camper you’re going to need a back-up. Carry a small and large version of the plastic or silicone universal multi-fit style and you’re covered.
Wheel nuts (plus socket)
If you ever sheer your wheel studs, or are a bit clumsy while changing a flat tyre, you can easily lose a wheel nut or two. Carry a spare set just in case, along with a socket suitable to the size.
If you have an exterior tap to drain a water tank and if it is plastic (usually the case) then a spare tap will cost little, weigh nothing and take up little space but can be a life saver if the original is clobbered by a rock or caught by a tree branch. You will probably have lost all your water by the time you find the problem, but you will be able to fix the situation.
Wheel studs should not break, as long as they haven’t been over-torqued. Buy a torque wrench and check them occasionally. There has been a little rash of these breaks on some imported campers due to cheap wheels that are too thin and that prevent the closed dome nuts tightening down properly on the wheel flanges. Carry a spare set of the right size to suit your camper and its wheel nuts, and use a good brand that will be unlikely to break.
FOR YOUR CAR
Simply purchase a new air filter for your car’s intake and carry it with you. Check the old one daily in dusty conditions, and give it a good banging against a wheel to get the dust out or blast it out with a portable blower. Double check that you correctly reseat the seal on the air box and check the clips to make sure it stays that way.
Battery jump starter (leads)
In the event of a flat battery a lithium battery jump starter — that’s been kept fully charged — is a really handy tool. In a worst case scenario you can push start the vehicle if it’s a manual and you’re not on soft ground and you have enough helpful onlookers around but, better still, a set of quality heavy-duty high amperage jumper leads can do the job if there’s another vehicle handy.
Next time you’re having your car serviced, especially before a major trip to the outback, have your mechanic put in new fan belts and retain the old ones he removes as spares. Some can be extremely difficult to change on modern 4WDs, even if you have the tools and know what you’re doing, so acquire a workshop manual to go with them.
Fuel hose is cheap and easy to carry, so make sure you have some in case you split a hose somewhere remote. Proper fuel hose is resistant to the effects of fuel and oil, so don’t just grab any old rubber hose.
Your car sustains you through the worst of terrible tracks thanks to the wonders of the right lubricants and coolant. Make sure you carry diff oil (and have a means of inserting it into the differential), transmission fluid (if you are able to top up your transmission; many modern electronic automatic transmissions are sealed and said — very incorrectly — to not require maintenance), a loaded grease gun, brake fluid and enough of the correct weight engine oil to do a complete oil change. Also carry a bottle of coolant. If you do happen to blow a radiator hose and lose your coolant you can get away with water for a while but you will need to replace it with proper coolant at the earliest opportunity.
As with your fan belts, have a new set fitted before the next major trip and retain the old ones as spares. Your car isn’t going anywhere with a blown radiator hose so this one is a must.
FOR GENERAL USE
In a world that’s increasingly run on rechargeable lithium batteries, portable batteries are becoming less and less necessary, but if you have a torch, head torch or other small devices then carrying some spare AA and/or AAA batteries is a smart idea. Use only alkaline or lithium batteries, which have a much longer shelf life and are much less likely to leak.
Cable ties (plastic and stainless)
Carry a selection of lengths and gauges of plastic cable ties. These are a godsend for holding items such as cables or similar, are quick to use and light weight. Also acquire a few stainless steel cable ties, which can be handy for holding items underneath the camper or car where they are exposed to the constant bombardment of rocks.
If you take a mobile phone or other digital device that requires regular charging, it’s smart to take along a spare charging cable. These cables can break, and if so you’re lost until you can make it to somewhere where you can replace the original. There are aftermarket cables that have a number of different outlet plugs on a single USB input plug which would assist if you have a variety of different brands or types of devices.
If, like me, you need glasses, purchase yourself a spare pair. If all you need is readers, the cheapies that you can pick up at most outlets these days will be fine as they are optically essentially the same as your prescription pair.
If you carry one of those single burner small gas stoves, or a small blow lamp, then you will need to carry a few spare butane gas cartridges. These are easily purchased, cheap and light.
Glue (epoxy, contact, super)
Carry some different sorts of glues. Epoxy glue (such as Araldite) can give you a rock-hard bond in a matter of minutes with the quicker drying versions. Contact cement comes in handy for gluing flexible surfaces, such as rubber door seals or soles on shoes. Super glue is really handy for small items that need a quick bond.
Mosquito coils are a simple answer to deterring mosquitoes, especially in more northern areas where Ross River virus, dengue fever and Australian encephalitis can typically be carried by these insects. Avoid sitting directly in the smoke as it can have health implications.
An old towel (or two) comes in handy to wipe water off canvas, clean your hands after work, remove dust or leaves from under a rubber seal, and generally do the dirty work around camp. Always carry a couple.
A can of silicone spray is a very handy item around a camper trailer. You can use it to lubricate zippers without it doing harm to adjacent canvas, can lubricate your hitch before each use without it attracting and holding every bit of dust and dirt that floats by, and lubricate just about anything else.
Most camper cooktops will have a piezo lighter that is activated by simply pressing a button, but they can fail, and certainly won’t work to light a campfire. At $2 to $3 apiece they’re cheap enough to carry a couple. Also carry a can of butane gas to refill them as and when necessary.
Tape (gaffer, duct, gas, insulation)
You can’t have enough tape around a camper trip into the bush. Duct tape will hold remarkably heavy loads, and can be used to hold together a smashed windscreen or rear window on your tow vehicle. Gaffer tape is a heavy duty version of duct tape and is also valuable. It’s cheap so carry several full rolls. Gas or plumber’s tape is again light and cheap and will come in handy for any work on water fittings or emergency repairs to the gas lines (gas tape is different to plumber’s tape so replace it at the earliest opportunity). So-called “magic tape”, as sold at 4WD shows, when first stretched welds itself into one solid piece and can be handy for repairing all manner of problems, including making a new fan belt in an emergency or repairing a radiator hose.
A small tarp, big enough for you to lay on, is a handy option in case you have to get underneath your camper or car on dirt, sand or ground strewn with spiky bits of plant matter. They’re also handy for placing on the ground where you’re working on a repair to keep dirt out of things and provide a clean flooring in case you drop a component, or to cover things outside if it looks like rain.
Small rolls of several gauges of wire can be handy for tying up things underneath a camper that are exposed to stones, or heavy-duty items that are under a lot of strain.