Being stuck on the side of the road with a broken 4WD or camper trailer is the last thing any traveller wants in the middle of nowhere. Plus, there’s always that real element of worry when you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do next, not to mention knowing your pride and joy has just let you down.
The truth is, mechanical failures are just as much a part of exploring the bush as golden sunsets and toasty warm campfires, so it makes sense to arm yourself with a bit of knowledge to help get you back on track. In most cases, if you can work out a way to limp your set-up to the closest town, you can arrange for more permanent repairs to be carried out.
But, the question is, how do you get a busted camper trailer back on the tracks with limited tools and even less recourses? To help improve the odds of getting your set-up moving again, here’s a few of the proven trackside fixer-uppers, ideas and techniques that could save your camper from becoming a permanent ornament in the middle of no-man’s land.
If your wheel bearing has seized and you don’t have a spare, one dead-set last-resort way to keep the wheels turning (slowly) is the old oily rag trick. The main purpose of a wheel bearing is to allow the hub assembly to rotate around the stub axle freely without it actually touching, causing friction and damaging the components.
With that in mind, soaking a few rags in some old engine oil and jamming them between the hub and stub axle can create a bit of a buffered area for the components to stop them rubbing on one another, while allowing them to freely spin. Obviously, you’ll be limited to crawling speeds, and the wheel will still have a fair bit of a wobble but, sometimes, you’ve got to do what you’ve to do.
THE BUSTED BEARING SLED
If the entire rotating assembly is immobilised (seized wheel bearing or massive brake assembly failure), your only option may be to build a sled. The idea is to eliminate the need for the wheel to spin by building a sled and skull dragging it without damaging the camper any further. V-shaped logs and old car panels make the perfect sled, and a drag chain attached to the front of the camper will stop the sled from sliding behind the wheel. Remember to tie the actual wheel to the sled to stop it sliding out the sides, too.
MAKESHIFT BEARING CAP
It’s pretty common for the bearings’ dust cap to fall off. The problem is, it doesn’t take long for dust and water to destroy the bearings once it enters the hub assembly. A quick and easy technique to make a dust cap is to cut an old plastic drink bottle in half and secure it with a hose clamp. Cutting a small slit up the side allows you to adjust the size to suit the hub. The same can be done with aluminium cans and a few cable ties if push comes to shove.
BENT AXLE REPAIRS
You’ll find too much weight and a bumpy track can cause a slight bend in the axle, which tends to invert the wheels — often the first things that gets noticed visually. In more extreme cases, the axle can crack and the entire weight of the camper basically buckles the wheels rendering the camper un-towable. Although this is quite a serious breakage, the fix is relatively simple.
The key is to strengthen the axle by adding some support. A fencing star picket or two, or an old sleeper is the perfect tool for the job. Simply jack the axle up so it’s sitting as straight as possible, wire it up tight with some fencing wire and Bob’s your uncle.
Worn shock absorber bushes
All of those corrugations and wash-outs can play absolute havoc on your shock absorbers’ bushes.
Admittedly, if you completely wear out a shock absorber bush on your leaf-sprung trailer, in most cases, you could simply remove the shock to avoid further damage.
However, for coil-sprung suspension, especially on your 4WD, the spring relies on the shock absorber to control and limit its bounce (up or down travel). So, if you removed the shock absorber, you would also have to install some type of limiting strap in its place.
The other option is to shim up the free-play between the shock and mount using some leftover rubber. Those tired old rubber floor mounts are perfect; simply cut them up and punch a hole through the middle. The aim is to take up the slack to minimise free-play.
DAMAGED AUXILIARY PLUG
A smashed up auxiliary plug is a fairly common occurrence on a camper these days. If you’ve still got a few kays of on-road driving to go, you can simply bypass the plugs altogether. Start by releasing the wires from the terminals from both the trailer’s plug and the vehicle’s plug. Strip the wires back and re-attach them to the corresponding coloured wires by either using crimp terminals, scotch locks or by simply twisting the wires together. Remember to tape each individual wire to avoid short circuits.
SEALING UP HOLES
A leaking fuel or water tank is bad news in anybody’s book, but there are some simple and easy ways to patch up a hole. For larger punctures, it’s best to plug the hole first by cramming it with something flexible yet solid, so there’s less gap to fill and seal.
One of the best materials to use is leather — an old dog collar or lead does the trick nicely as the leather swells and helps to fill any gaps. If you’ve got a bit of silicon sealant, you can smear it over the plug to help seal up any small leaks.
Check out the full feature in issue #89 June 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.