An Aliner for All Seasons

Hello ......... we’re Brian and Yvonne.

Join us on our quest to customise our Avan Aliner to provide the best possible setup for comfort, convenience and functionality; follow us as we build ‘An Aliner for All Seasons’.

Here is a photo taken from our first trip in the new Aliner – only basic changes had been made at this time.

The Avan Family of Camper Trailers

Mobile Communications on the Road

Rated Capacities – Weight Reporting Standards

Pre-trip and Post-trip provisioning

Customising Our Aliner

Preventive Maintenance

Storage within the Aliner

Finding Resources to Enhance Your Camping

Awning and Annexe

Helpful Contractors

Life Support Systems – Making Your Camping Life Better

Camping Trip Log

Security Considerations – Protecting Your Investment

My Camping Background before the Aliner

 

NOTE: ................................ THIS IS NOT A BUSINESS WEBSITE and DOES NOT SELL caravans.

Contact us at – campers@eftel.net.au

Please Note: When I’m touring I DO NOT have the facility to reply to your emails – if not responded to within say 3 weeks, please send the email again.

 

WHAT’S NEW – 25/9/14 Website updated

Extra photos added

Trip Log section now split out into a separate page

Minor updates throughout – lots of them !

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DISCLAIMER

Throughout this document, I have referred to many different product brand names and model numbers and many different supplier names. This is in no way intended to be endorsements of those brands and suppliers – it is simply the names of the products and suppliers that I elected to use in enhancing my Aliner. The selection and usage of any of these brands for my own use is as described in these notes, and accordingly I have proved that they work with my Aliner. You are free to use any alternative product that you wish, and may elect to use similar, but different, products to those that I’ve used. Please note that the discussions on selection, installation and use of the products that I use may not be suitable for the alternative products that you elect to use.

The Avan Family of Camper Trailers

But first, here’s a bit of background about the Avan family of Camper Trailers.

The Aliner is one of a family of five camper trailers made by A’van Campers in Melbourne. The Aliner is the middle of the range. It all started when an Australian was visiting the USA and saw the first A-frame campers – he negotiated and bought the license to manufacture them in Australia. Initially it was the Aliner only, but quickly expanded to the Sportliner, Cruiser and Cruiseliner, and latterly the Weekender. A similar series of different size Aliner models are also made in the USA by Columbia North-West.

The Avan camping trailers take the concept of ‘camping trailer’ to the extreme as they do not use canvas in the main part of the camper. The whole of the camper is enclosed inside the outer shell of the camper; there are no canvas foldout sections. The roof and the triangular side walls are hinged, so the roof lifts up into an A shaped peak, and the side walls (above the belt line) swing up and lock into the roof sections to form the side walls, making a fully enclosed camper. The camper has a permanently fitted kitchen (with stove, sink and fridge all built-in) a lounge or double bed at one end and a dinette at the other. There are several different floor plans available, but the general scheme is that the lounge area converts to a double bed, and the dinette converts to a single bed. The high ATM means only the more powerful 4-cylinder cars can tow them, and the starting price of the middle range Aliner, without options, is around $25,000.

Taking the Australian models from the smallest to the largest:

The Weekender - this is the most recent design – it is not an A-frame design, but a type commonly referred to as ‘teardrop’ campers. It is only 3.7m long and has a Tare weight of 625kg, an ATM weight of 925kg and a towball weight of 70kg in “Adventure Pack’ format. The base Weekender model is rather Spartan in features, and is not much more than a mobile bed – the ‘Adventure Pack’ option adds a slide-out kitchen with water, LPG gas, electrical systems, upgraded chassis and suspension with alloy wheels, and a front stone deflector and storage box. The rear tailgate hinges up and an optional annexe tent encloses the rear of the camper.

 

The Sportliner – this is the smallest A-frame camper – It is 4.0m long, and has a Tare weight of 680kg, an ATM weight of 980kg and a towball weight of 60kg. Most of the standard external and internal features as listed below apply to this camper, with some minor variation.

 

The Aliner – this is the middle of the range – it is 4.85m long, and has a Tare weight of 800kg, an ATM weight of 1100kg and a towball weight of 65kg. The standard external and internal features as listed below apply to this camper.

 

The Cruiser – this is one step up from the Aliner – it is 5.18m long, and has a Tare weight of 865kg, an ATM weight of 1165kg and a towball weight of 70kg. Essentially it is a slightly longer and slightly heavier version of the Aliner, with an additional 235mm of internal length, but otherwise in all other respects equal to the Aliner.

 

The Cruiseliner – this is the top of the range – it is 5.77m long, and has a Tare weight of 910kg, an ATM weight of 1210kg and a towball weight of 100kg. It is essentially a Cruiser body with an extended drawbar and a large storage boot at the front.

 

 

Photos scanned from the Avan Australia brochures

 

The four A-frame designs come in several different floor plans, with both double and single bed variations and convertible lounges / sofas / dinette – refer to the Avan brochures for the specific floor plans.

The standard Aliner that comes from the factory floor is very well equipped, and for many people will be just ideal. Listed below are the standard features (as at 2012) that come with every Aliner. Most of these listed features will also apply to the Sportliner, Cruiser and Cruiseliner models.

Standard External Features

Hot-dipped galvanized Centurion Chassis
Super-Strength Smooth Panel Construction
Effortless spring-assisted setup in 30 seconds
Low profile for easy towing
Two-piece arched entry door
Lifetime anodized aluminium extrusions
One-piece timber flooring (no butt joins)
2 x 4 kg gas bottles and regulator
White steel Sports wheels (we upgraded to Factory fitted alloy wheels)
Mounted spare wheel & lockable hard shell cover
Lockable side wall mains water connection
63 litre underfloor water storage tank
100mm rear storage bumper (for the awning poles)
Swing-up jockey wheel
10” Al-Ko Electric brakes
Independent suspension & gas-assisted shocks
240volt external power point near door
External baggage access door at left rear
12v Step light and pull-out step

 

Standard Internal Features

Fully insulated for all season comfort
Tinted windows & curtains
Auxiliary 12v battery pack with 240v charger (70w)
Full 12v power supply and lighting system
90 Lt 3-way Fridge – LPG/12v(via Anderson Plug from car only)/240v (180w)

Two-burner LPG Cooktop with glass lid

Stainless steel sink and mixer tap with glass lid

240v hot water system (1000w) plumbed to sink
12v water pump from tank to sink

2-seat dinette at front (convertible to single bed)

Double bed at rear – gas lift hinged base with storage under
Large fixed dome at rear only (upgraded to 2 x small wind-outs at rear and 1 x large wind-out at the front)
Twin Roof vent domes
Deluxe floor coverings – sealed timber parquetry flooring
240v Residual Current Device safety protection
Fire extinguisher and smoke detector alarm

 

 

Summarising the weights of the 2012 models of the Avan camper trailer family

Model

Tare weight

ATM weight

Towball weight

Weekender

625kg

925kg

70kg

Sportliner

680kg

980kg

60kg

Aliner

800kg

1100kg

65kg

Cruiser

865kg

1165kg

70kg

Cruiseliner

910kg

1210kg

100kg

 

One point that should be specifically noted – the actual weights of the Avan campers has changed over the model life. For example some of the earlier Aliners have a Tare weight as low as 650kg, with a corresponding ATM of 950kg (tare + 300), compared with the 2012 model at 800kg Tare and 1100kg ATM.

Dependant on the age of your Aliner use the Tare and ATM weights engraved on your camper’s VIN plate.

We decided specifically on an Aliner, as we already had a relatively new well-equipped car that we did not want to change, so the Aliner was the biggest we could tow with our existing car.

Having settled on an Aliner, the next consideration was – should we buy used, or buy new? We evaluated all the second-hand Aliners for about 250km radius around Brisbane, and inspected the three that we considered to be the best value regarding combination of price, condition and age. After inspecting these, we made the decision that spending the extra for a brand new Aliner was our best outcome.

However, we wanted much more from our Aliner, and so set out on a journey of discovery as we customised our camper to provide the best setup for comfort, convenience and functionality.

Unknown to us, there was a mysterious disease, not listed in any medical journal. It is called ‘Alineritis’ – we both caught it, and it is incurable. Once you own an Aliner you suddenly get insatiable urges to constantly make changes to it to improve your life ‘on the road’. It is widely acclaimed that the Avan Aliner and its partners are the most highly customised family of camper trailers anywhere on the road.

 

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Rated Capacities – Weight Reporting Standards

The following are the National standards for rating of towable trailers in Australia:

TARE MASS – is the total unladen weight directly bearing down onto the trailer tyres, plus the tow ball mass.

TOW BALL MASS – is the total weight directly bearing down on the towball from the coupling of the trailer.

PAYLOAD – is the total laden weight of all separate items that you put in or on the trailer, such as personal belongings, camping equipment, and includes the total weight of water, gas or other consumable supplies you carry in the trailer, and the weight of any non factory-fitted accessories.

GROSS TRAILER MASS (GTM) – this is the total weight directly bearing down onto the trailer tyres, plus the Payload – NOTE: does not include tow ball mass.

AGGREGATE TRAILER MASS (ATM) – this is the total weight of the Tare Mass (including Tow Ball Mass) + the Payload. This is the maximum permitted rating that the trailer can carry, and is stamped on the VIN Plate – it MUST NOT be exceeded

GROSS COMBINATION MASS (GCM) – this is the total weight of the fully laden tow car (GVM), complete with all passengers, fuel, luggage, etc.  + The full ATM weight of the trailer. This figure is set by the vehicle manufacturer and is stamped on the vehicle VIN Plate – it MUST NOT be exceeded

These figures can be supplied by your vehicle and camper manufacturer, or can be certified by weighing at a Public Weighbridge, including any Payload that you intend carrying.

CAUTION – if you are involved in an accident and your camper trailer and vehicle are weighed post-accident by Transport Inspectors, and found to be exceeding the rated GCM or ATM, your insurance company will declare your insurance policy null and void. This is certainly something to think about BEFORE your jack-knifed camper rips the side out of a $250,000 Mercedes !

Additional weight reporting standards – a trailer can have an ATM up to 750kg and is NOT required to be fitted with brakes; however once you exceed that figure, the trailer MUST be fitted with brakes. As all Avan camper trailers exceed the 750kg ATM limit, they are all fitted with Al-Ko electric brakes as standard.

In Queensland, there are two levels of trailer registration, one fee which covers Light Vehicles (that includes trailers) up to a total of 1020kg, and another higher fee for Light Vehicles exceeding 1020kg up to a maximum of 4500kg. As the Weekender and Sportliner are under the 1020kg ATM limit, they can be registered under the lower fee, however the Aliner, Cruiser and Cruiseliner exceed the 1020kg ATM and so attract the higher registration fee. My general utility braked box trailer is 900kg ATM, and so I pay the lower fees for that, but, my Aliner is 1100kg ATM, so I pay the higher fee for that.

The Importance of brakes

The following is a sample list of common 1500cc to 2000cc cars and their rated braking capacities (compiled with 2011 vehicle data)

MAKE

MODEL

ENGINE

KW

GVM

UNBRAKED

BRAKED

TOWBALL

Citroen

C3 Vti

1.6lit

88

?

570

1150

?

Citroen

C4 Vti

1.6lit

88

1794

645

1270

?

Dodge

Caliber SXT

2.0lit

115

1930

450

1200

80

Ford

Fiesta

1.6lit

89

1500

590

900

?

Ford

Focus

1.6lit

92

1825

?

?

?

Ford

Focus

2.0lit

125

1875

?

?

?

Holden

Barina

1.6lit

76

?

?

?

?

Holden

Cruze

1.8lit

104

?

695

1200

?

Honda

City

1.5lit

88

?

450

800

?

Honda

Jazz

1.5lit

88

?

450

800

70

Honda

Civic

1.8lit

103

?

500

1200

?

Hyundai

Accent

1.6lit

91

1560

450

1000

?

Hyundai

Elantra

1.8lit

110

1740

500

1300

?

Hyundai

i30

2.0lit

105

1860

500

1200

75

Hyundai

i45

2.0lit

121

2000

650

1300

?

Kia

Rio

1.6lit

103

1600

450

1150

?

Kia

Cerato

2.0lit

115

1760

450

1200

75

Mazda

2 hatch

1.5lit

76

?

500

700

?

Mazda

3 hatch

2.0lit

108

?

500

900

?

Mitsubishi

Lancer

2.0lit

113

1850

550

1000

?

Nissan

Tiida

1.8lit

93

?

600

1000

?

Nissan

X-Trail

2.0lit

102

2000

750

1300

?

Peugeot

207

1.6lit

88

1695

600

1150

?

Peugeot

308

1.6lit

88

?

?

?

?

Proton

Jumbuck

1.5lit

64

1680

500

1000

?

Proton

S16

1.6lit

82

1445

?

?

?

Proton

Satria

1.6lt

82

1169

?

?

?

Proton

Persona

1.6lit

82

1635

500

1000

?

Proton

Gen-2

1.6lit

82

1210

500

1000

?

Renault

Megane

2.0lit

102

1762

640

1300

?

Renault

Fluence

2.0lit

102

1793

?

?

?

Skoda

Fabia

1.2litT

77

1585

500

1200

?

Skoda

Octavia

1.4litT

90

?

600

1200

75

Skoda

Yeti

1.2litT

77

?

600

1200

?

Subaru

Impreza

2.0lit

110

1890

650

1200

75

Subaru

Forester

2.5lit

126

1490

750

1400

140

Suzuki

SX4

2.0lit

112

1710

400

1200

?

Toyota

Yaris

1.5lit

80

1500

?

?

?

Toyota

Corolla

1.8lit

100

?

450

1300

?

Volkswagon

Golf

1.4litT

90

?

640

1200

?

 

Even though you may find that your new camper is under the maximum braked ATM for your car, you might still exceed the towball downforce – for example, I recently looked at a small pop-top braked caravan as an alternative to a camper trailer – the full ATM was 1100kg, and well within the 1200kg ATM rating for my car, but the towball downforce was 105kg, greatly exceeding the 75kg towball rating for my car.

My tow car is a Kia Cerato – note that whilst it has the fourth highest kw rating, it has the second-lowest unbraked rating, so having a powerful car does not necessarily equate to great towing capacity – however, add brakes to the trailer and I can now tow up to 1200kg.

SPECIAL NOTICE

Some camper owners fit a Weight Distribution Hitch between the tow car and the camper. A number of other campers have suggested to me that it may be advisable to fit a WDH to my tow car / camper setup. Accordingly, I contacted KIA Australia to confirm if this was approved – here is their reply :

“Thank you for contacting Kia Motors Australia.

Kia does not recommend the use of load leveling devices on any Kia vehicle fitted with a genuine Kia accessory tow bar, any damage caused to the vehicle or tow bar with the use of load leveling devices will not be covered under the vehicles warranty. Kia Motors Australia does not sell load leveling devices as an approved genuine accessory.

Under no circumstances should load leveling devices be used on any vehicle equipped with electronic stability control (ESP).”

Now that is a far reaching statement !!!

Notice that although the Kia Sportage and Sorento are popular small RV tow vehicles, KIA does not even approve of using WDH’s with those vehicles.

If there are any existing Kia owners out there towing their Aliners (or other camper trailers or caravans) with WDH’s, they should cease using the WDH immediately.

More important, is the statement about using WDH’s with ANY vehicles fitted with ESC. As most recent and current vehicles are fitted with ESC, and as the ADR’s change, tending towards making ESC standard on all future vehicles sold in Australia, it will sound the ‘death knell’ for WDH’s.

If you have any tow vehicle, of any brand, fitted with ESC and using a WDH, you should cease using the WDH immediately. If in any doubt, ask your vehicle manufacturer if a WDH is approved for your vehicle, and if not, to cease using it immediately.

If you are involved in an accident with WDH’s attached, and they have not been approved by your vehicle manufacturer, the insurance company will void your insurance immediately, as the system is not in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations – possibly leaving you open to substantial financial penalties and associated stress.

Food for thought - what do you reckon !!!

 

To find the maximum amount of camping gear that you can carry in the camper, take the Rated ATM and then subtract the Rated Tare Mass, what is left over is what you can carry in the camper, so be selective in the camping accessories that you take on your holidays, you don’t want to overload your camping rig.

Having listed a range of common 2-litre cars, if you have an older car and are considering buying a new vehicle, here are a couple of common small SUV’s to compare tow ratings.

MAKE

MODEL

ENGINE

KW

GVM

 

UNBRAKED

BRAKED

TOWBALL

Kia

Sportage

2.0lit

122

1982

 

750

1600

200

Hyundai

ix35

2.0lit

122

1995

 

750

1600

?

Mitsubishi

ASX

2.0lit

110

1970

 

750

1050

100

Nissan

Dualis

2.0lit

102

1960

 

685

1200

?

Sang Yong

Korando

2.0litD

129

2180

 

750

2000

80

 

Note the low braked rating of the ASX and Dualis, which in essence is no better than a normal small car. Whilst the Korando can tow a massive 2 tonnes, the low towball weight is a serious handicap (I’ve heard rumours that Korando now has an up-rated towball capacity, but no confirmation – so, check before you buy). So, if you are considering a small SUV to tow a high-end camper, the Kia Sportage (or its sister Hyundai ix35) has the best combination of braked capacity and towball weight.

To tow an 1100kg Aliner, I recommend an absolute minimum vehicle ATM of 1200 to allow some margin (a higher ATM is better if you can manage it) – if your tow car is less than 1200 ATM you may be restricted to only being able to tow a Sportliner or Weekender. For towing a Cruiseliner or Cruiser, I’d not use anything with less than a 1300kg ATM, but again a higher rating is better. When you look at the tow car ratings shown above you can see why the Subaru Forester, with an ATM of 1400kg and a ball weight of 140kg, is one of the most popular vehicles for towing Avan camping trailers.

Types of Brakes

As the Avan camper trailers are fitted with electric brakes as standard, we will only discuss them. Electric brakes operate by receiving a signal from the car’s brake circuit, through the trailer wiring connector plug, and operate an electro-magnetic system to press the brake shoes against the brake drum on the trailers hub to retard the trailer. An electric brake controller must be fitted to enable the braking force to be adjusted to suit the weight and required braking performance of the loaded trailer. National regulations state that the electric brake controller must be fitted in the car so as to be able to be operated from the driver seat.

For our purposes, we found a Tekonsha Primus IQ was the most suitable – it is mounted at the bottom of the dashboard between the steering column and the centre console. Once you get used to it, it is easy to tow with – I first set the voltage to around 6.0 on the LED readout, and drove at about 30kph on a quiet straight road, without touching the cars brakes, I gently squeezed the brake controller fully to the left to apply the trailer brakes – I found the Aliner brakes tended to lock-up slightly, I backed off the setting and after several attempts got the Aliner to pull up smoothly and quickly without any brake lockup. This is the preferred setting; the Primus IQ is a proportional controller with an inertia sensor, and at whatever speed you may be travelling at when you apply the car brakes, the Primus detects the rate of deceleration and sets the Aliner brakes in proportion. When properly matched, the car and camper brake evenly in unison.

Aliner Load Balancing

The standard maximum allowable payload for a single axle trailer / caravan is 300kg (the 300kg allowance also includes all water and gas carried in the van), and this is reflected in the actual Tare and ATM weights recorded on the VIN plate. The Aliner is remarkably well balanced even when empty; one major advantage is that as the Aliner doesn’t have high level permanent cupboards like a normal caravan; all the weight carried is down low, and considerably lowers the vehicle’s centre of gravity; this improves its tow-ability substantially.

Having said that, it is also very important to distribute your payload as evenly as possible, both front to rear and side to side.

In our case every item that goes into the van is weighed and recorded, and this is used to place the items for best load balance. To do this we place the digital bathroom scales on the kitchen bench, then put each item on and record the weight – for many items packed in plastic tubs and boxes we put the whole box on and weigh the combined items – for other loose items we put them in one of the dirty linen bags then weigh the filled bag.

To assist us in getting a well balanced load, I created an Excel spreadsheet, plugged in the weights according to where they are loaded into the van and each area is summed at the bottom of the sheet – front, over-axle and rear sections are sub-totalled, then the full payload is totalled. I also have a smaller spreadsheet, which shows the side to side balancing – as the fridge, hot water service and battery are on the driver’s side, I distribute more payload weight to the left hand side to compensate for the dead weight of these main items. A sample of each load sheet is shown below – we carry a printout with us as proof of the camper loading if any transport authorities question our towing weights.

Note that I have allowed approximately 22 kg for the dead weight of the empty fridge, HWS and battery.

In the figures above, any liquids, i.e. water, gas is shown at the rate of 1 litre of liquid = 1kg. The Porta-potti weight is shown as being ‘charged’ ready for use, that is, the weight of the full flush tank and the pre-charge chemicals in the waste tank. To reduce weight slightly, you could carry the Porta-potti empty (about 4kg) and add the ‘charge’ fluids when you setup camp.

For our case, you can see I’ve kept the total load around 50kg below the maximum allowed ATM of the van and around 150kg below the maximum ATM of the tow car. This results in a camper that tows well. In the fully loaded condition as balanced above, I’ve measured the actual ball weight at 71kg with digital bathroom scales.

UPDATE: I have re-evaluated the loading of our Aliner – as we always camp at fully serviced sites, I made the decision to remove and store the 2 gas bottles (bottle weight including gas is 21kg for the pair), so the 8kg gas weight shown above is now removed along with the 13kg dead weight of the empty bottles. During the time we have had our Aliner, we have never turned the gas on – we have never used the gas cooker in the van, preferring to cook with 240v appliances in the annexe area, and we never run the van fridge on gas, only 240v.

Also we always use sites with mains pressure town water, so I now travel with the underfloor water tank empty, so that has removed another 60kg of weight. In the rare event that we camp at a site where mains water is known to be poor quality (i.e. like the bore water at the Glasshouse Mountains Camp Ground), we can refill the tank with fresh Brisbane City water just for that trip only.

Further weight reductions have been made by now no longer carrying the un-used Porta-Potti  and chemicals (we now generally use sites with private ensuite facilities), and we have changed our camp chairs to a lighter model, along with a few other minor weight reductions.

All up, our Actual ATM is now at 935kg – quite a substantial weight reduction – 165kg below the van maximum ATM, and 265kg below the maximum ATM of the tow car. This results in less stress on the tow car, especially when towing uphill, and expect it to give a better return on fuel consumption.

A note on weight reduction and fuel economy – a trip to Ballina with the van loaded to 1050kg as shown resulted in about 11.3 lit/100kms, and more recently a trip to the Sunshine Coast with the van reduced to 950kg as described, resulted in about 10.7 lit/100kms. So, reducing un-necessary weight does definitely improve fuel economy.

 

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The First Stages of Customising Our Aliner

Considering we wanted more than the standard factory specification of the Aliner, our first considerations to be visited were the available list of factory fitted or dealer fitted optional extras. When selecting a dealer to buy from, we examined several new campers with various options that were available for purchase straight off the dealer lot.  From the range of floor plans available, we decided that the 1D option with the permanently fitted double bed at the back was most suitable to our needs. These are the options that were fitted to the camper that we purchased.

Factory / Dealer Fitted Options

Alternative 1 large wind-out dome at front

Alternative 2 small wind-out domes at rear

Awning with poles, pegs and ropes
2 x 12v LED reading lights

Inner-spring double bed mattress

Avan Alloy wheels (including spare)

Pre-wiring provision for future solar panel fitting

 

My comments regarding these fitted options – most dealer optioned Aliners come with small wind-outs at the front and a large one at the back – for our needs, we preferred a large wind-out at the front, for better ventilation and natural light at the dinette – by having twin small wind-outs over the bed area, we could elect to cool either our heads or feet (or both) to suit the prevailing weather conditions. The awning was an essential feature to take advantage of extra living space outside the confines of the camper – however, we weren’t agreeable to the significant extra cost for the dealer supplied annexe walls, and so decided to make our own annexes to suit our needs.

 

The LED reading lights and inner spring mattress were essential in our minds; the alloy wheels were included free if we bought that specific in-stock camper, and the dealer always adds solar panel pre-wiring to every Aliner they sell, as they reckoned that 90% of buyers came back for a solar system after purchase.

 

The Second Stages of Customising Our Aliner

 

Now comes the hard work!!! – The selection, manufacture and fitting of specific options to suit our desired results. This is broken down into Major options, Minor options and other Miscellaneous items.

 

Owner Fitted – Major Options

Extra 240v double GPO under dinette tablesee under ‘mains 240v power connection’

 

Extra 12v sockets – 2 on front internal lockers, 1 on exterior near door – see under ‘onboard 12v power system’

 

Fiamma folding lockable security handle over access doorsee under ‘security provisions’

 

Owner manufactured Custom shadecloth annexe (separate walls can be mixed in any combination) – see under ‘awning and annexe’

 

Owner manufactured Custom privacy annexe (separate walls can be mixed in any combination) – see under ’awning and annexe’

 

HD digital TV aerial cabled into van near front lockers – see under ‘mobile communications’

 

Anti-theft trailer alarmsee under ‘security provisions’

 

CD/Radio sound systemsee under ‘life support systems’

 

Caravan Reverse/Rearview Camera Systemssee under ‘onboard 12v power system’

 

Owner Fitted – Minor Options

Locker partitions for storage of Thetford Qube 345 Porta-potti and chemicals and paper – see under ‘storage within the Aliner’ and under ‘awning and annexe’

 

Custom red identification striping around Aliner top framing

Although the Aliner is an attractive unit, somehow we thought the plain aluminium mouldings around the camper roof were just a bit too plain. The new 2012 graphics now have bright red as part of the colour scheme and we have a bright red tow car, so, I thought I’d fit a bright red contrast strip around the camper top mouldings – this gives a very nice effect either when the camper is folded for towing, or when the A-frame roof is opened. I found a 50mm wide heavy duty vinyl industrial lanemarking tape (Tesa 4169) in bright red and fitted it all around the camper top framing. This has the advantage that our Aliner now really stands out amongst a ‘sea of Avans’ when camping at club events. A secondary factor is if the camper is stolen, I can tell the police (along with a description and photos) to look out for the ‘one with the bright red stripe around the top’. See main photo at the beginning of this article. The Tesa lanemarking tape is also available in Black, White, Yellow, Blue and Green if you fancy an alternative colour.

 

Custom interior mirror strip beside entry door

One small item that is missing from the Aliner is some sort of small mirror. I measured the space between the entry door and the main window on the sidewall – Modular Plastics at Underwood cut a 75 x 650 x 3 piece of silver mirror acrylic and supplied two strips of 3M double-sided tape to fix it with – we mounted this so the top and bottom edges were equally spaced around the height of the main window. The acrylic is far lighter than a glass mirror and resistant to cracking and breaking.

 

 

Custom interior Perspex / suction cup holders over kitchen

As well as the strip of mirror acrylic, we got Modular Plastics to cut a 100 x 1100 x 3 piece of gloss white acrylic with two strips of double-sided tape. We fixed this, centred over the kitchen window, above the curtain tracks, but below the smoke detector. When we camp, we fit eight large suction cup-hooks evenly spaced along the acrylic – this is very convenient to hang most of our small kitchen utensils, like oven mitt, spatula, mixing spoon, tongs, etc. – it’s nice to have these easy to hand when preparing meals – when packing up to go home (or to a new camp site) the utensils go back in the utensils cupboard under the sink, and the suction cups go back into the multi-compartment storage bin in the side cupboard above the fruit and vegetable bin. Utensils are temporarily removed when closing the kitchen curtains for privacy at night.

 

 

Strip carpet on van floor and new dinette upholstery

Although the Aliner is fitted with professionally laid smooth timber flooring, we found the floor just a bit too hard and too cold under bare feet, especially in winter. One day as we were browsing for something entirely different at Bunning’s, we came across a couple of rolls of strip carpet (meant for hallway runners), sold by the metre length. A quick check proved that it was wide enough to fit the main longitudinal aisle in the Aliner, with a few centimetres clear each side. We bought 2 metres, and cut it to the precise length to suit the Aliner, then cut a circular opening to fit around the dinette table support ring. Bunnings sell the carpet strip under the name ‘Cheops’ and it comes in greyish tones, greenish tones or bluish tones – we chose the bluish tones as it blends nicely with our blue tone Aliner upholstery. We found a suitable blue tone carpeted door mat that fits nicely between the edge of the new carpet strip and the entry door of the camper, to cover the remainder of the exposed timber flooring. Update: recently I was in Bunnings for something else, and noted they had a roll of the Cheops carpet strip in a new redish tone; so I bought 2 metres and now we can rotate the blue and the red carpet to suit our mood for different trips as we tour around.

 

      

 

We have found that the standard dinette seating is a bit too soft – after some relatively short time you tend to ‘bottom out’ and find that you’re sitting virtually on the hard timber base of the seating with minimum cushioning. We decided to get a new set of custom cushions made with higher density foam to improve the comfort level – these have around double the foam density and are now much nicer to sit on – we splashed out and got a luxurious velveteen type material in dark blue – see photos above right. Cushions were custom made by Peter Brandes Upholstery at Coopers Plains in Brisbane.

 

Front locker lid restraint strapssee under ‘storage within the Aliner’

 

Lift-off timber cover to protect stove glass lid

The kitchenette in the Aliner is nicely finished with black glass lids over the gas stove and the sink. As we currently spend all of our time at powered sites, we have not yet used the gas stove. I consider the glass cover over the stove to be lost space, especially when bench-top space is at a premium. So, I made up a lift-off timber cover which sits above the glass top and removes the danger of cracking the glass cover when items are placed on it. I made the cover from a piece of 16mm white laminated MDF board (550W x 450D), and fitted edging strips. I then screwed 6 small rubber feet under the cover to space it so no downward pressure is applied to the glass. We now have a greater usable area when preparing meals. I was going to make a similar cover to go over the sink, but as we use the sink frequently during the day, I decided that taking the cover off and putting it back on all day would be counterproductive.

 

 

Owner manufactured kitchen window awningsee under ‘awning and annexe’

 

Owner manufactured gas bottle cover and spatter curtain

This is just a minor cosmetic feature – the twin gas bottles on the drawbar are exposed, and don’t exactly provide a neat appearance. We’ve seen other caravans and Aliners with covers to neaten up the drawbar, so, we decided to make one out of black vinyl. A piece of thick high-density rubber foam is fitted inside to provide a semi-rigid top, to stop the cover from sagging, and we made a pair of webbing straps that pass under the bottle rack and secure with Velcro to stop the cover blowing off on the road. The photo also shows where we positioned the CUDA alarm fitted to the drawbar (the yellow / light grey box). We can slightly stretch the gas bottle cover to hide the alarm box, and it also protects it from rain and adverse weather.

 

 

 

Apart from the microwave used inside on top of the cupboard beside the door, we prefer to cook outside under the annexe. Over a period of time I found a fair amount of small ‘grease’ spatters along the side of the van from when we cook in the electric frypan on the folding table beside the door. It took a while to clean all of the spatters off, and then found the same problem on the next trip. I came up with the solution of a ‘spatter curtain’ that was Velcro-ed to the side of the van – My wife found a remnant of black vinyl and sewed a couple of Velcro strips to the top – I fixed the matching Velcro strips just above the van hinge line – dimensions are not critical, ours was about 950 wide and about 750 deep, just enough to slip down the back of the table – black was the only colour we had without specifically buying new vinyl – being vinyl the grease spatters wipe off easily – the curtain is fitted only when we are about to cook; wiped clean, rolled up and stored after cooking has finished.

 

Miscellaneous Items

Full PVC camper cover when in stored condition

Our Aliner is normally stored in a closed condition in the back of the carport behind the car. Unfortunately we get a lot of prevailing winds through the carport which drops heaps of airborne dust. So when stored here, we fully cover the Aliner with a fitted, lined PVC storage cover (from Camec). The cover is removed and stored inside the house when we initiate our pre-trip provisioning, and put back on the Aliner when the camper is washed after a trip and returned to carport storage.

 

Full PVC mesh annexe floor (12ft x 6ft) – see under ‘awning and annexe’

 

Interlocking EVA floor mats for annexe floor (12ft x 6ft) – see under ‘awning and annexe’

 

Thetford Qube 345 Porta-potti, chemicals and paper – see under ‘storage within the Aliner’ and ‘awning and annexe’

 

Folding aluminium step unit for entry door or under Porta-potti

My wife has advancing osteoarthritis and found it difficult to pull herself up into the Aliner, hence us getting the Fiamma folding handle fitted beside the entry door. Even so, the pull-out Aliner step was still a bit too high, so we bought a folding heavy duty aluminium step (rated to 250kg) from SuperCheapAuto. As we already had the SCA step, we decided to also try it under our Thetford Porta-potti to raise it up to a more comfortable level – my wife reckoned that the step was just a bit too small in width and depth and did not fully support the base of the Porta-potti – she had disturbing visions of the Porta-potti sliding off the side of the too narrow SCA step and depositing her unceremoniously on the ground!  So, after a little more research we found that Outdoor Connection made another larger folding aluminium step (rated to 400kg) – this was about 40mm higher and the main base was wide enough and long enough to fully support the Porta-potti with no danger of sliding off the step – she is much happier now! So, we now have two steps, a small one for the door, and a bigger one for under the Porta-potti. When not using the Porta-potti, we use this larger step under the Waeco fridge to lift it off the ground for better access.

 

Portable furniture used under our annexe

As we made a full annexe to expand our living space beyond the Aliner itself, we bought several items of camp furniture – an Oz-trail Classic small folding aluminium camp table, 2 x Wanderer steel framed (150kg capacity) directors chairs with side-fold table, and a Companion Double Quick-fold cupboard (for use in the annexe ensuite area). When not being used these items are stored compactly in the large locker beneath the double bed. In practice, the double quick-fold cupboard is only used on sites with concrete slabs – it has proved to be unstable on grass sites, especially those with a slight slope on the ground.

 

Update : we have changed the steel framed 150kg directors chairs to aluminium framed directors 136kg chairs, saving a total of 15kg out of our payload.

 

TV aerial direction finder see under ‘mobile communications’

 

10m mains water hose with inline water filter and hose bag – see under ‘fresh water connection’

 

10m grey water sullage hose and hose bag – see under ‘sullage water connection’

 

Wheel chocks and levellers

Unfortunately some campsites are not level, so it is advisable to carry a couple of wheel chocks and levellers. Raising or lowering the jockey wheel should get you level from end to end, but to correct a side to side tilt, you need one or more levelling blocks. As the Aliner is narrower than a normal caravan, it is essential to use the blocks that have a continuous slope so you can get an exact level – if you use the ‘stepped’ blocks the increments are too large, you’ll never get a perfect level, one step will be too far one way, then when you move to the next step, it will go too far the other way i.e. if the first step gives 2 degrees cross-slope, the next will give -2 degrees cross-slope. Once you’ve achieved a good level in both directions, ensure the handbrake is pulled fully on and chock the wheel opposite the leveller ramp with wheel chocks both sides of the tyre. Then, and only then, you can wind-down the four corner stabiliser jacks to consolidate the levelling. I store these items in the left rear locker with the access door, as they are one of the first things that have to be placed when setting up camp. See main photo at the beginning of this article for how the wheel chocks are placed around one tyre.

 

While we’re talking about levelling, one minor problem I’ve found is positioning the van on site where a ‘spoon drain’ exists between the road and the site. We’ve frequently found that the rear wheels of the car dip into the spoon drain and lower the van drawbar to the point that there is not enough clearance to swing the jockey wheel up or down. For at least half of the sites we’ve stayed on, I’ve had to ask adjacent friendly campers to loan me a small jack to lift the drawbar to swing the jockey wheel. After a thorough inspection, I found that the existing Avan jockey wheel mounting bracket was mounted in its ‘lower position’ – I unbolted and remounted the jockey wheel in its ‘higher position’ – this now gives me an extra 40mm or so of vertical clearance – this will lessen or eliminate the need to use a jack to swing the jockey wheel. One associated problem; I find the small 150mm jockey wheel has a tendency to dig into grass or soft ground when manually pushing the van into the correct position. I’m looking into the ways of modifying the jockey into a ‘twin wheel’ or ‘triple wheel’ version to spread the weight over a larger footprint on the ground and lessen the tendency to dig in – alternately, I may be able to fit a 200mm jockey wheel, which has a larger ground footprint.

 

ARK coupling locksee under ‘security provisions’

 

Mains 240v power appliances

To supplement the 240v items that are fitted as standard in the Aliner, we have the following items - 240v microwave oven (1150w), 240v toaster (850w), 240v frypan (1800w), 240v jug (2200w) and 240v 12” box fan (50w) – we’ve now added a small ceramic fan heater (900/1800w) for use during the coldest winter months. Additionally, we have a Waeco 35 litre compressor fridge/freezer (run only on 240v power) which supplements the capacity of the van’s 3-way fridge. These are carried in the boot of the car (except for the box fan / fan heater which travels flat on the bed under a few pillows) and are brought into the camper/annexe as required. – see under ‘mains 240v power connection’

 

Fridge Thermometers

Very early in our camping trips we found that it was very hard to set a correct temperature in both the internal 3-way fridge and in our external Waeco fridge – initially we over-set both fridges and found that food would freeze, be spoiled, and had to be thrown out – then we over-corrected and found it was not cold enough. Our external fridge is a Waeco CDF-35 compressor fridge – although it can run on both 12v and 240v power, we only run from the external 240v socket on the van near the door (when running on 12v it would discharge the 12v house battery too quickly). The Waeco travels in the boot of the car, and is lifted into the annexe when camped – normally it sits under the table near the van door, but if we aren’t using the Porta-potti in the ‘ensuite’ area, we move the Waeco into the ensuite to give more room in the other part of the annexe. We only use the Waeco in fridge mode (4 deg C +/- 1 or 2 degrees) – we haven’t required running it in freezer mode so far – the internal freezer in the van fridge is normally adequate for our current needs.

 

To give us more accurate guidance in setting both fridges to the correct temperature (around 4 deg C) we bought two Waeco AC-RT-800 dual display digital thermometers – these run from an AAA battery – the dual display shows both the internal temperature inside the fridge and the surrounding ambient temperature. For the Waeco CDF-35, I fitted the sensor mounting block right near the bottom of the food compartment adjacent to where the refrigeration is generated – this gives a more even guide to the temperature throughout the fridge and allows you to set the fridge temperature to approx 4 deg C, so food and drink will not freeze. The thin sensor cable runs up the inside of the fridge and out under the hinged lid and insulating cover – the display unit is fixed to the side of the Aliner with two strips of Velcro just below the waist hinge line (see photo below) – this allows the display to be easily seen without bending, and can be easily removed before towing the Aliner – the Velcro also allows for the display unit to be peeled off the van side if you need to replace the AAA battery. A pair of Velcro hook strips was fitted to both areas of the van side to suit both places where the fridge could be used.

 

For the Aliner internal 3-way fridge, the Waeco display unit is Velcroed just above the top cupboard door below the benchtop lip, and adjacent to the fridge door – the temperature sensor is run inside the fridge down to about halfway up the fridge compartment – the cable is held in place with a bit of clear duct tape to stop items from displacing the cable – just below the sink bench we fitted a plastic towel rail – the surplus sensor cable is wound around the towel rail end to take up the slack. Again the Velcro attachment allows the AAA battery to be changed when required – this display unit is permanently fitted in the Aliner and is not removed for transport.

 

We also fitted two similar towel rails on the bottom entry door to hold our facewashers / hand towels to dry during the night. After a few trips we found the double-sided tape tended to loosen and fall off, and so have fitted the towel rails with an extra large head self-tapping screw in the top of each mounting bracket.

 

   

 

As we get more experience, we now increase the cooling slightly on both fridges each morning (to compensate for the increase in ambient temperature during the day) and decrease it each evening (as the ambient temperature cools down) – this helps us to keep the food within the ‘target’ temperatures without spoiling. Another side benefit of having two display units is that we can instantly see the ambient temperatures both inside the Aliner and inside the annexe and adjust the ventilation for either area appropriately.

 

Amphibian 240v 10amp / 15 amp domestic power connectorsee under ‘mains 240v power connection’

 

Aldi Ascot Digital LED Projection Clock

From time to time during the night we may wake up and wonder what the time is! For our first trip we just left our watches near the sink, but often when fumbling for them in the dark we dropped them on the floor, and we had to turn the light on to be able to read them anyway – not a practical solution. Next trip we took along one of our small home LED clocks – this gave constant red LED time during the night, but the 240v lead frequently got in the way, and every time it was disconnected to get it out of the way, it lost the time and we had to laboriously reset the time again – not a practical solution.

 

One day recently, we saw an interesting digital clock at Aldi for $20 and so we bought one.  Great, this has an internal battery, so does not need a 240v lead to keep it on correct time – pressing the ‘snooze’ button on top made the display light up in soft blue for around 5 seconds – as well as the time it shows the date and the temperature (in centigrade or Fahrenheit). But it has two great features – it has an inbuilt motion sensor; when you wave your hand over the top of the clock within about 300-350 radius it detects your hand and illuminates the blue display – this is great, as you don’t have to fumble trying to find the button, and knocking it onto the floor.

 

But here is its best feature – it has a projection facility; if you angle the small right hand section (see picture) it projects a red LED display on any wall or ceiling panel that you like – the display can be focused for sharpness and angled to suit the surface it is projected on - again it works with the motion detector to trigger the ceiling display – but, if you also plug in the included small 240v plug-pack, the projector display is shown constantly, and can be set to cycle between time and temperature. Now, this is absolutely fabulous – we can set it up on a convenient surface, plug in so the lead is not getting in the way, and at anytime during the night simply look up at the small red display on the ceiling above us – we no longer have to wonder what the time or temperature is.

http://www.aldi.com.au/au/media/offers/WK41_ALARM_CLOCK_PD29.jpg

The clock is not a standard line in their stores, but comes up for sale from time to time, if your nearest store has already sold out, keep your eyes open, they will be re-released after various time intervals. It can also be found from a few other internet sources, Google “Ascot projection alarm clock”.

Vacuum Cleaning System

Some of the larger caravans and motorhomes have built-in vacuum cleaning systems to enable you to keep the interior of your van clean and free from dirt and other accumulating debris. For an Aliner this is obviously too expensive, too impractical and is really an overkill for the small size of the van. At the other end of the scale are the small re-chargeable ‘dust buster’ style hand-held units. The biggest problem with these is that the suction nozzle at the end is rather blunt and it is impossible to effectively get into all the little nooks and crannies in the Aliner.

I found the ideal solution – the Hoover Carvac AVC48 (from SuperCheapAuto) – this is somewhat like a ‘dust buster’ style, except it is not re-chargable (it has a long 12v cord with cigarette lighter plug on the end), and has an excellent set of accessories – this unit has a 600mm long flexible hose and has two small brushes and a crevice tool – much more useful in the Aliner – now I can get into any part of the van and vacuum out all the dirt and debris. The dust collector is easy to unclip and empty the dust, and it is easy to clean the dust filter.

Hoover Vacuum - Portable, 12V

If you keep the packaging box (130x130x340), it all stores away neatly inside the box – by standing the box on end, it will fit nicely into the corner of the main locker under the bed, or in the bottom of the central front locker, taking up very little room.

Creative Crafts

My wife is rather creative when it comes to sewing and similar handicrafts – in doing so she had made an incredible range of small ‘comfort and convenience’ accessories to use with our Aliner.

The horizontal spreader bar across each end of the annexe allowed us to fit several 6-prong chrome hanging hooks and hang a range of custom accessories – these included:

Two hanging full-height pocket strips with four pockets to hold miscellaneous items like thongs, spare socks, undies, etc – a tissue box holder – a paper towel holder, with several loops underneath to hold my wife’s’ walking sticks – a peg bag – a toilet roll holder for use with the ensuite Porta-potti and two small bags for personal toilet paper to carry over to the amenities block when we need to (We found the normal toilet paper supplied by parks is usually too thin and hard to use, so we carry our own favourite brand of toilet paper just like we use at home). The remnants of the striped material allowed us to add two matching cushions for our chairs.

Sometimes we camp without the kitchen window awning in place – at night the two curtains don’t fully close and leave a gap of about 75mm, where outsiders can look into the van. My wife cut a strip of matching material and fitted it with Velcro strips top and bottom to fit over the gap in the closed curtains – this blocks all vision into the van from the outside.

   

Hand Washing and Drying Facilities - Although most caravan parks have laundries and clothes drying lines, occasionally you need to be self-sufficient. To minimise wash days we normally hand wash a few items on a day by day basis – daily consumable items; things like undies, singlets, socks, handkerchiefs, teatowels, hand towels, etc. To facilitate drying, Von has sewn a couple of short tag loops (from bias binding) on adjacent corners of every teatowel, facewasher, handtowel, bathtowels and similar items. We hook the tag loops over the 6-prong chrome hanging hooks inside the annexe to dry – most dry overnight, but if the weather is damp, they can hang out of public sight for a few extra days if necessary.

In sunny weather, we can quickly fit a ‘double’ clothesline to the front of the Aliner. We use four chrome S-hooks from the handles and rails on the front of the van, with a section of 3mm polypro line. The inner line runs from the ends of the front chrome handrail, down and wound around the hitch handle and back up to the handrail. The outer line runs from the vertical end handrails and is also wound around the hitch handle. Line tension is adjusted by the number of turns of line around the hitch handle. These lines are mainly used to dry the larger items like bath towels and bath mats, etc., and mainly only when the park’s lines are full.

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Storage within the Aliner

For such a compact camper trailer, the Aliner has an amazing amount of internal storage space. The variety, functionality and sizes of the storage spaces are good, and I’ll describe these in sections:

Front vertical lockers – the Aliner has three vertical lockers against the front wall of the camper – one at the left (540W x 310D x 360H) sits above the passenger side under-seat locker, the centre one (780W x 310D x 820H) goes the full height from the floor, and the one at the right (540W x 310D x 360H) sits above the driver side under-seat locker. The centre locker had a rod fitted across the space to act as a wardrobe with hanging space for clothes on standard clothes hangers. We had no requirement for a wardrobe with hanging space, so I converted the locker into a dual compartment – I removed the rod and fitted a new divider shelf just above the front drop-down access door – this divides the locker into two separate compartments, making four lockers in total. Gravity holds the shelf and supports in place, they are not fixed, and they can be easily removed without tools at any time.

Unfortunately, the design of the vertical lockers does not allow the top-opening lids to stay open when being used. Some Avan owners fit small gas-struts to hold the lids open – we chose a simpler solution – we found an old brown woven belt in our home wardrobe – this was cut into several pieces about 125mm long, and Velcro hook and loop fasteners attached to each end and under the locker lid and the front lifting roof section – to use, we simply lift the lid and restrain with the new Velcro straps.

This is how we use the lockers – the left hand side locker is HER locker, the right hand side locker is HIS locker – these are used to hold all of our personal clothing. I gave her the left hand side locker, as it is easier for her to access without trying to squeeze past the cut-off dinette table beside the fridge to access the right hand side locker. We have found that for all intents and purposes, all the clothing we would normally expect to use for a full week’s camping trip will fit easily into these lockers. For extended trips beyond a couple of weeks, we have two additional rectangular plastic boxes (380W x 380D x 160H) with snap-on lids that store (normally empty) in the driver side under-seat locker – we have one each and can use these to accommodate extra ‘overflow’ clothes, otherwise extra clothing is stored in a bag or suitcase in the car.

The centre top locker is used to hold a full spare set of bed sheets and pillow slips and a lightweight bedspread / blanket – also this space contains all our beach towels, bath towels, hand towels, face washers, etc. and a number of kitchen tea towels.  We also have three small open-topped plastic mesh trays (280W x 340L x 120H) – once we setup camp, these three trays sit openly on top of the centre locker, one for HER small personal items, one for HIS small personal items and a central one for miscellaneous items – things like mobile phones, car keys, camper keys, wallet, purse, reading glasses, name tag badges, etc. – this helps to contain random clutter which would otherwise invade the camper.

The newly built centre bottom locker is used to hold all our shoes (we get by with about 3-4 pairs of shoes, sneakers, thongs, etc. each) and the dirty linen bags. We have four dirty linen bags, one each for our used clothes, and two for used towels, etc. – these are made like a pillowslip with a drawstring at the front – two bags are used to hold ‘washable’ items that may be washed in a camp laundry before we return home, and the other two to hold more heavily soiled items that will only be washed when we get home.

You can also see from the photo above right, that we place the 240v box fan above the left hand locker, the LCD TV above the right hand locker and the three mesh trays over the middle section to hold all the personal items to avoid clutter. This way if we need to get into a locker, it’s only a couple of things to temporarily move rather than the dozens of things sitting on the lockers like we had previously!

Front under-seat lockers – the Aliner has two lockers (540W x 1000D x 385H) under the front dinette seating areas – the left hand locker has both a top lift-off lid and a front access door opening into the camper doorway area, the right hand locker has only a lift-off lid. It is possible to have the Avan dealer fit two extra external baggage access doors to provide extra access to these two lockers from outside the camper. In our case we decided that the extra cost and for the way we pack these two lockers that the external access would have minimal advantage to us. It may prove a different advantage, if we decide to review our overall packing plan in future years.

One of the things that we specifically wanted to accommodate was a Porta-potti setup – accordingly after measurements, a custom set of locker dividers was built and installed into the left hand locker to hold the Porta-potti and its accessories.

Locker dividers were cut from standard 16mm x 100mm wide laminated MDF shelving strips – vertical walls of ‘trough’ screwed and glued to ‘trough’ bottom, then trough screwed in place – support under Porta-potti is two layers of MDF (32mm total) – foam rubber packing is fixed in place with double-sided adhesive tape.

NOTE – the total clear height of the opening through the locker side door is 335mm MAXIMUM – the total overall height of the Qube 345 is 330mm MAXIMUM – so there is only a 5mm clearance – this is why there is a double thickness support fixed underneath the Porta-potti, to allow it to slide in and out of the storage locker without tilting and jamming in the door opening – CARE MUST BE TAKEN WHEN MOVING IN/OUT.

The left hand locker is used to hold the Thetford Qube 345 Porta-potti (so it can be easily removed/replaced via the access door), spare bottles of Porta-potti chemicals, the smaller folding aluminium access step for the camper entry door, several packs of special Porta-potti toilet paper (for use only in the Porta-potti) and several packs of standard household toilet paper (for use in park amenities blocks rather than the thin paper type normally supplied). The locker also has two rectangular plastic wash basins that stack inside each other, spare rolls of paper towels, several spare boxes of tissues, screw top bottles of kitchen and laundry detergent, Woolmix, etc. The residual space above the toilet paper packs at the front of the locker can hold a couple of spare cushions, which help to hold everything in place to stop it moving around when travelling. Various blocks of scrap foam rubber are used to separate main items and stop them rubbing against each other or the side walls of the locker. All these items (except the Porta-potti) are accessed through the lift-off lid under the dinette seating.

The right hand locker is used to hold a plastic 12-litre screw-top lid Grey Water tank, two 12-litre open-topped rectangular plastic buckets (different colours, one for fresh and drinking water only, and the other for shower / wash-up / grey water only, and clearly marked as such) – these slide right up against the front wall of the locker. The 12v portable camping shower unit stores inside the top bucket in its PVC storage bag. Next, the two ‘spare’ clothes plastic boxes fit in the locker;  and a couple of plastic tubes containing assorted length bungee cords.

In the back section (next to the fridge) I have an ‘electrical / TV’ box with snap-on lid (SuperCheapAuto - 29 litre roller storage box – with orange handle – 460W x 350D x 250H) that holds the TV aerial itself and the TV cable (7 metres long) – this also contains all the 12v adaptor/charger leads for our mobile phones, TV set, etc. as well as a set of stereo headphones and extension lead (for when one wants to watch TV late at night, but not disturb the sleeping partner). The small 12v fluorescent annexe light is also stored in this box.

Note that the Phaselink TV antenna is a pretty neat fit in this box, the 50mm high blue lidded storage box underneath holds all the miscellaneous electrical cables and adaptors in the one place.

Under-sink cupboards – the Aliner has two cupboards with drop-down doors under the sink area – the top cupboard is 460W x 260H x 460D, and the bottom cupboard is 460W x 260H, but only 330D (due to the wheel well intrusion). If you have an Aliner fitted with the optional microwave oven, it occupies the top cupboard space.

We elected not to have the optional built-in microwave oven, for the following reasons – 1 - Around $350 for the microwave fitted is rather over-priced, 2 – when fitted here, the microwave is mounted far too low, which requires significant bending (bad for us oldies) to access the interior, or to see and set the controls, 3 – the microwave only uses about half the depth of the cupboard, thereby wasting valuable storage space, and 4 – the microwave is dead weight and dead space when camping on unpowered sites.

We found two suitable open-topped plastic bins, a narrower one for the bottom cupboard and a wider one for the top cupboard – we use the top cupboard as our dry food pantry (all food that is not in the fridge or the fruit/vegetable cupboard), and the bottom cupboard as our cooking utensils cupboard – to use, we drop down the hinged door, and slide out the plastic bin to access the contents. At some time in the future, we may consider replacing them with custom made roll-out wire-basket shelving.

As we have been extending our trips to longer than a week at a time, we have added a ‘second’ dry food pantry. We use an old 30litre blow-molded plastic cooler box with lid; this lives in the boot of the car. We load it with duplicate ‘reserve’ items for the most frequently used foods in the main dry food pantry in the van – when an item in the van runs out, we bring in another from the second pantry to replenish our van supplies. This allows us to camp for longer periods before needing a go to a local supermarket to stock up again.

Door-side cupboards – the Aliner has a cupboard unit between the bed and the entry door – this has two roll-out drawers (370W x 370D x 130H) and a cupboard (420W x 330D x 210H) with drop-down door at the bottom. The top drawer is used to hold all our melamine crockery and cutlery settings – we have a four place setting, and it all fits in quite neatly. The second drawer is used as a miscellaneous drawer for smaller items that literally holds everything else that can’t be conveniently housed elsewhere. The bottom cupboard has two rectangular plastic bins with snap-lock lids – the bottom one is the larger, and is used to store all our fruit and vegetables – the second bin is smaller (due to the intrusion of the fire extinguisher housing) and is a closed bin with twelve internal compartments – in this we store heaps of little miscellaneous items, like spring clips, rubber bands, some screws and nails, small tools, suction cup-hooks and various other items.

Under-bed storage – the Aliner has three horizontal lockers underneath the lift-up bed base  – the left hand locker (looking towards the back of the camper) contains all the camper services, like electrical systems, both 240v and 12v, hot water heater, etc. We do not store anything in this space other than what originally came with the camper. Access into this area is only by lifting the bed base.

The right hand locker is 540W x 1050D x 370H approximately (due to the wheel well intrusion). Access into this area is mainly via the external drop-down baggage access door, but can also be accessed by lifting the bed base. This locker is used to store the camper jack and associated tools, the camper leveller blocks and wheel chocks, the drinking water and sullage hoses in their hose bags, the standard Aliner awning complete with its rope and peg bag, the mesh annexe floor matting and some of the custom annexe walls in their storage bags.

The centre locker is 820W x 1300D x 370H, and can be accessed from lifting up the bed base, or for smaller items stored at the front of the locker via a drop-down access door.  This locker is used for all our outdoor furniture. Firstly, our Companion double quick-fold cupboard lays flat on the floor, next a spare EVA foam mat lays on top, next our Oz-Trail small aluminium folding camp table sits on that, with another EVA foam mat on top, then we have two 136kg rated aluminium framed folding directors chairs with side-fold table. These are laid flat on top of each other, and finally another spare mat to protect the whole load – all this just fits quite neatly under the bed with minimal clearance.

There is just enough space left in front of the furniture and at the sides to accommodate the remainder of our custom annexe walls set.

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Awning and Annexe

The enclosed annexe is an optional add-on to the Aliner – it is a two part system - Part A, the awning roof section, and Part B the annexe walls. There are three ways to get an annexe – buy the standard dealer supplied OEM setup, buy a pre-made off-the-shelf setup specifically designed for the Aliner from one of the major commercial annexe suppliers, or engage a canvas maker of your choice to individually make an annexe to your own design.

When we bought our Aliner, we got the OEM awning, but decided against the annexe walls as we didn’t consider the price was realistic for the design offered; we considered it over-priced, and therefore decided to manufacture our own annexe. Additionally, we wanted to have two full annexe systems, one made of shademesh for summer use, and one made of solid walls for winter use; a further consideration was that we wanted each piece to be fully inter-changeable, so we could mix-and-match in any combination.

Starting with the standard OEM awning – this is a simple design which slides into a full length sail-track above the front roof, a half sail-track above the rear roof, with a Velcro section with rain-flap in between. The awning is 1.8m wide (6ft), whereas most conventional caravan annexes are 2.4m (8ft) wide. The outer edge is supported by a single pole at each end with a taller pole in the centre. Poles, ropes and pegs are supplied with the awning. The photo below shows the simplicity of the standard OEM awning setup.

For the OEM annexe that we saw, the sidewalls were attached to the inside bottom of the drop valance of the awning via large plastic weatherproof zippers, and sail-track vertically mounted at each end of the camper body where the canvas sidewall meets the Aliner body. As we were making our own annexe walls, we elected not to have zippers retro-fitted to our existing awning, or sail-track fitted to the camper sides, but to design an alternate method of hanging the annexe sidewalls.

Making our custom annexes

My wife is rather adept with a sewing machine (she has 3, an Elna, a Janome and a Pfaff to choose from, as well as an Elna over-locker)

After careful consideration, we came up with a simple system – we would add an extra pole at each end of the awning fitted into new eyelets in the awning directly adjacent to the camper body (about 20mm clear of the camper side) – then fitted across the top of the two poles (underneath the awning valance) we would add an eye-to-eye spreader bar that fits over the top of the pole spigots and locks them into place. This system gives us a rigid adjustable ‘frame’ to each end wall, and also supports the outer lower edge of the awning to prevent sagging in rain or inclement weather. The annexe end walls would be hung via six substantial Velcro loops (tucked under the drop valance) spread evenly along the 1.8m dimension to support the vertical weight of the wall, and via four additional Velcro loops around each vertical pole to hold the ends in place.  The photo below shows the method of supporting the walls under the awning.

However, before we started, I used a 3D modelling program to make a virtual model of how we thought our annexe would look – this helped us to solve several problems and saved us wasting valuable materials on faulty designs. See the concepts below, including the ensuite model and the shower tent model.

    

So, having agreed that the proof of concept looked good, we then made two prototype shademesh end walls, carefully fitted, and after thorough checking, we considered them a success.

Spurred on by this success we then looked at how we could hang the twin front walls, considering that the top sloped upwards towards a peak in the centre. My wife then sewed a continuous strip of Velcro hook tape up the full length of the diagonals under the awning valance. The new front shademesh walls would be supported by the full length of the Velcro at the top, and via similar Velcro loops around each vertical pole to hold the ends in place. Access into the annexe would be by parting the Velcro loops adjacent to the main centre pole and ‘peeling back’ one wall as a ‘duck-under’. In this form we then site tested the new shademesh annexe at our next trip (the combined Cotton Tree / Bongaree) trip. We found the new shademesh annexe was considerably better than just the awning alone, and gave us reasonable protection from wind inside the annexe, far better privacy, but still being able to see things outside through the shademesh. During this two week site test, we wrote down a list of improvements and refinements to incorporate before the next trip, and before we moved on to making the more complex solid wall version. The photo below shows what we had at this stage – shademesh annexe Version 1.0

We made a list of refinements that we wanted to incorporate into the new shademesh annexe system – firstly, a ‘proper’ door with twin vertical zips, so we could either fully close the door (against wildlife – read scrub turkeys and ibises - pushing through the ‘duck-under’) or roll up and secure in the open position with two click-in webbing straps at the top – secondly, a 100mm vinyl infill skirting around the base of all walls to adjust to varying ground contours without leaving gaps for small wildlife; this also has several eyelets so it can be pegged in place to stop the walls ballooning in windy conditions – thirdly, an under-van skirting along the full length of the van to stop wildlife coming under the van and into the annexe area, and finally, a simple wrap-around cover at the ends of each wall to hide the unsightly exposed vertical Velcro fastenings.

To fit a zip-up door, we added one extra pole (with another eyelet through the canvas awning), and spaced it about 700mm to the left of the existing tall centre pole – this gave us a finished door width of about 650mm. I got a piece of scrap pole tubing, cut it to 700mm and added large C-clips in each end, then at 1.8m from the ground, I fitted two Supapeg nylon pole collars clamped tightly to the two vertical door poles – the short 700mm crossbar then clips in above the collars (the collars are to stop the crossbar from sliding downwards under use). The top of the roll-up shademesh door is then Velcroed onto the crossbar to support the weight of the door – twin zippers run vertically, the full length of the door from the crossbar down to the ground – the zippers have both inside and outside tabs, so can be opened or closed from either side. This left a small tri-angular gap above the roll-up door, so we cut a scrap piece of shademesh and fitted it into place with short Velcro tags. The photos below show what we had at this stage – shademesh annexe Version 2.0

  

We were now satisfied with the full design of this improved shademesh annexe, and considered this as our final design for the shademesh version, and so then proceeded into manufacturing the solid wall version.

During our shopping trips to buy stuff for the Aliner, we came across an end-of-roll lightweight striped canvas at Spotlight – and bought the whole remainder of the roll – the stripe was on a white base with varying widths of red, light grey, dark grey and black – this matched the new 2012 Aliner graphics colours perfectly – it was almost as if the canvas was made for a current model Avan. We think the stripes, although bold, do blend nicely with the current Aliner graphics – however, our adult son thinks otherwise, he reckons he wouldn’t be seen dead anywhere near our ‘circus tent’ - insolent ‘little B.....’

To provide extra stiffness to the lightweight canvas, each wall is fully lined inside with the same shademesh as used for the first annexe design, this also automatically provided for screen mesh behind the windows when the outside window flap is rolled up.

Having achieved a successful design for the shademesh version, we were able to use each separate shademesh wall as a direct pattern to make the new solid walls.  Our solid design would be slightly different from the shademesh design; as well as having a matching solid roll-up door, we wanted the right front wall and the right end wall to have zipped windows, which could be zipped closed or rolled up and clipped like the door. The left end wall and the left front wall would be solid without windows, as we would be incorporating an internal Porta-potti / washbasin ensuite in this area, and did not want windows here for privacy. The method of supporting and fitting the full set of solid walls and door was identical to the shademesh version, so we could substitute any individual shademesh or solid wall in each position to allow a very flexible setup to suit any prevailing weather or site conditions. After manufacture, all solid walls were painted with clear waterproofing compound to repel rainwater. The photos below show the new solid wall annexe with both mesh door and solid door fitted and windows rolled up. When the full annexe is setup, it becomes a very comfortable extra room and doubles the size of the van facilities – it is worth setting up the full annexe.

     

We anticipate using the full mesh annexe only in the hottest part of summer, and the full solid annexe only in the winter – for all the in between seasons we expect we will have a combination part solid / part shademesh annexe – this will most probably be with the enclosed ‘ensuite’ section at the left (see description below) with shademesh walls for the whole of the right hand section – if it suddenly comes up cold or windy, we can take down the rear end mesh walls and fit the solid wall equivalents in a matter of minutes. The part shade part solid combination is shown in the photos below; this also shows the shademesh side skirting.

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Subsequent to using the part solid / part shademesh combo as shown above, we had a heavy rain storm at Ballina where wind blew rainwater through the shademesh annexe walls and around the inside of the annexe. So after we got home, Von came up with a brilliant idea – she bought several plain colour lightweight Nylon shower curtains and cut them to exactly fit the inside of the shademesh walls and fixed them securely with more Velcro (see photo at right). At Kingscliff Beach we had torrential rain and wind, so Von quickly fitted the ‘internal raincoats’ to the shademesh annexe walls and we survived the full force of the violent storms with very little rain being blown into the annexe area, just some minor run-off coming in under the bottom skirting of the walls. Considering the ferocity of the storms, we are rather amazed at how well the Aliner withstood all the rain without any leaks, and how well the home-made annexe stood up to the heavy wind-blown rain with very little penetrating the annexe area.

Update – The Kingscliff storms did reveal one minor problem – as we had the solid walls at one end, we found that after a few hours of soaking rain, the walls absorbed an amount of water making them considerably heavier and putting undue strain on the Velcro fastenings at the top of the wall – this required us to check and re-tension the Velcro loops several times a day. During our search to solve this problem, we found that the Annex Wall Clips from Supa-Peg would be ideal – see picture above. The clip fits over the horizontal spreader bars, and the clip is attached to the walls by a short section of webbing passed through the slot in the clip base and sewn to the canvas walls – the top of the clip is aligned to suit the spreader bar position. Five or six clips each end is all that is needed – the original Velcro loops are now really redundant, but we left them in place anyway. The new clips fully support the weight of the damp canvas walls – problem solved.

Another experiment that we have done is to make a pair of ‘external raincoats for the solid end walls. We attached a couple of spare Annex Wall Clips to two extra Nylon shower curtains – these can be easily clipped over the end stretcher bars and then pegged out to help keep rain being absorbed by the solid end walls – it is obvious this would only work when there is no significant wind accompanying the rain – see photo below. It just helps to keep the end walls drier, and the back wall can leave the window rolled up in the open position to allow extra ventilation into the annexe area.

The Aliner comes standard with an orange tinted step light adjacent to the entry door – we found the orange colour a bit too overpowering to be used as a general annexe light at night. We found a nice compact 12v fluorescent light at SuperCheapAuto that had twin 4w lamps which can be switched as a single lamp only or both together, complete with a 3.5m lead and 12v plug. I fitted a pair of bicycle pump spring clips to the back of the light, and the light clips vertically near the top of the main annexe centre pole. I mount the light with the switch at the bottom just high enough so we can reach the switch easily; the cable is stretched across the annexe at high level, and then wraps around a plastic cup hook which is stuck to the corner of the window beside the entry door, the cable then drops vertically down the camper sidewall and plugs into the extra 12v socket that we had fitted. With the light facing back towards the shiny white side of the Aliner, there is adequate light reflected around the annexe. With both tubes lit, there is just sufficient light to cook a meal on a table beside the van, and with only one tube lit has a nice soft glow, just right to sit outside in the enclosed annexe on a warm night and enjoy a coffee and snack!!!

Subsequent to the above, I have now replaced the orange tinted step light lens with a matching clear lens (from Camec); it was worth the minimal upgrade cost.

      

After cooking outside for many trips, Von wanted a better and brighter lighting system. I found a 1000mm LED strip fitted into a solid aluminium extrusion (from Korr Lighting) complete with switch and lead with 12v plug. I install 3 small suction cuphooks to the bottom of the van windows, and the strip lies in the cuphooks easily, and can be rotated to direct the light straight down, straight out or straight up (or any other direction to suit) – the plug to the twin fluorescent is temporarily swapped to the LED striplight plug during cooking – unfortunately the only currently available colour of the striplight extrusion is bright green, I would have preferred silver or black to blend in better with the van. The suction cuphooks go back in the van drawer, and the striplight travels on the bed. We’ve found this LED striplight VERY bright, and next time they are on special, will probably get the optional dimmer to be able to vary the light intensity to suit. Update : we now have the Korr dimmer, and can vary the light intensity to suit our needs.

AWNING MODIFICATIONS - In a number of campsites, we’ve had heavy torrential rain. When it drives in from the kitchen side of the van, we’ve found the edge of the ‘rain flap’ lifts up with the result substantial rain comes into the annexe through the gap – not good when we have 240v appliances on the table below and other things that we don’t want to get wet ! During one of our trips, I saw an idea and copied it, with changes to suit our circumstances. I got my local canvas expert to make a triangular flap out of white vinyl tarpaulin material – this was sewn vertically down the length of the rain flap, and had a rope edge sewn in on the other two sides with a stainless steel D-ring at the small end. The top rope edge is slightly curved, so when the new flap is tensioned it pulls the flap down hard onto the van roof and resists rain blowing under – the outer edge is tensioned with a doubled-over Bungee cord wrapped around a tonneau hook fixed to the side of the roof. The tonneau hook needs to be carefully positioned so that the fixing rivets clear the van roof framing – the photo below shows where it fits best.

We’ve had a heavy rain event since, and the new flap prevented any water coming down into the annexe – problem solved !

 

All up we spent the best part of five weeks measuring, cutting, and fitting each piece until we got it perfect – if we were charging for our time, this annexe would be worth a ‘million bucks!’ Although it was time consuming, we both got great satisfaction out of the experience. If we ever live long enough to buy a replacement caravan – well! We’ll get someone else to make our new annexe – one experience is quite enough, thank you!

Fitting an annexe flooring system in the new annexe

The final part of the annexe system was to provide a removable flooring system inside the annexe. We have provided for this with two separate methods – we can choose which method to best suit our specific site conditions at any camp ground – ground surfaces at any camp site could be grass, gravel or a concrete slab.

If you are camping on a grassed site and want annexe flooring, most caravan parks will not allow you to fit solid flooring, as they want air and moisture to penetrate the flooring to help keep the grass alive.

Firstly, we bought a pre-cut pack of standard mesh PVC floor matting 3m long by 2.4m wide, it comes in its own zipped carry bag – all packs of annexe matting are 2.4 wide as that is the standard width of normal caravan annexes, however the Aliner annexe is only 1.8m wide.  We measured across the width to 1.8m wide and cut-off the excess (as it stuck outside the annexe front walls by about 600mm) – this was then sewn across the end to increase the 3m length – the modified flooring now fits the dimensions of the Aliner Annexe far better, and it still folds up to fit the carry bag, and we carry it in the left rear locker with the awning and associated fittings. We have used this matting on a gravel site, a grass site and a concrete pad site.

During a trip to one of the camper stores, my wife saw the thick EVA interlocking modular mats and suggested we get some for when we are on a concrete slab. Most brands of interlocking mat are 600 x 600, however, we found the Wild Country mats at Rays Outdoors are 640 x 640 – a measure up resulted in us getting several packs of the 640 square ones – this allows a bit of extra overlap to tuck under the vinyl wall skirting without leaving gaps. To fit our annexe area we needed 18 of these mats – the total thickness when stood on edge is 180mm, so where can we carry them as all lockers are already filled up! A quick measure up found that if I stand them on edge underneath the dinette table, we can still sit at the table with more than adequate leg room if the mats are stored there. I found two small clips and screwed them to the front locker wall just under the seat edge – a bungee cord fits around the whole set of mats and hooks to the two clips, thereby keeping the mats nicely secured under the table. The mats are stacked in numerical sequence (in the order and rotation they lay on the ground) from no1 next to the lockers to no18 on the outer edge – this makes it easy to lay them when setting up without having to constantly juggle the pieces like a giant jigsaw.

By having both types of flooring we can choose either or both to suit whatever site we are on. In practise, we only carry the EVA interlocking foam mats when we know in advance we are booked on all concrete slab sites – otherwise for mixed site combinations of grass (or gravel) and concrete slabs we use the mesh PVC matting.

When using either of the flooring types, we got a set of black square ground plates (from BCF) which are about 90mm square (these had a ground spike underneath to press into the grass, but I cut them off for a flush base) – these are placed under the foot of each pole to stop the poles from punching holes through the flooring.

Incorporating a Porta-potti /washbasin ensuite area

After making the new solid annexe, we then looked at providing for a divided ensuite area inside the annexe in which to place our Porta-potti and a washbasin for personal use which could be fully screened off for privacy. We measured up and found the area to the left of the camper entry door was really too short for tables or chairs to be used effectively, but could be easily partitioned off into a section about 900mm wide, which would have adequate space for a Porta-potti and washbasin.

Although most of our camping would be done at serviced camp grounds with amenities blocks containing toilets, we considered the advantage of having a private Porta-potti for use mainly at night for No1’s and the occasional emergency No2. During the day we would use the normal amenities block, but at night the convenience of not having to find your way across a dimly lit campground to the toilets would be a great advantage. Additionally, having a plastic washbasin on a camp cupboard inside the ensuite area would be convenient for personal hygiene, such as hand and face washing, teeth brushing, and the occasional ‘face-washer under the armpits, etc.’ when needed.

Having setup an extra pole for the zipper entry door in the annexe, this became an excellent place to start the ensuite wall cross-bar – I bought an extra spreader bar similar to the ones I use across each end, except I cut off the flat steel eyes – I got another C-clip fitting and rammed into one end, and got a Supapeg bow mount unit, coupled with a nylon spreader eye – the spreader eye was rammed into the other end of the spreader bar and the bow mount fitted to the wall of the Aliner in the circular space just above the front window. This modified spreader bar now becomes the ensuite wall cross-bar, when the spreader bar is fitted into place the nylon spreader eye fits into the bow mount on the van wall and is retained by a hand tightened setscrew – at the outer end, the c-clip clips neatly onto the vertical door pole above the other existing c-clip that holds the zipper door cross bar. The new spreader cross-bar can be adjusted for exact width and it also adds extra rigidity to the door poles at the outer edge of the annexe. When positioned correctly, the new ensuite wall cross-bar clears the opened Aliner entry door by about 20mm when the door is clipped fully open with the annexe hook. The photos below show the ensuite spreader bar and how it mounts at each end – this also shows the 700 wide door cross-bar with and without the door attached.

    

We found (at Spotlight) a nice light blue 1.8m x 1.8m opaque shower curtain and fitted it to the cross-bar with 12 nylon shower curtain rings – this gives a fully enclosed curtain right across the annexe enclosing the left hand end for total privacy – to ensure that wind wouldn’t blow the curtain and reveal anyone in the ensuite area, we sewed a series of Velcro strips down the side of the curtain so it could be fixed to the front annexe wall – to get into the ensuite, we slide the curtain back from the van end.

Having made the ensuite area, we use it by setting up the Porta-potti near the side of the van, sitting on the larger aluminium support step – my wife made a basic throw-over cover to hide ‘the device’ and to keep dust off the Porta-potti. At the outer wall side, we got a Companion double quick-fold cupboard – this is 840 wide and just sits nicely in the 900 width of the new ensuite –it has a solid melamine top, on which we sit a square washbasin – the cupboard itself has three shelves on each side. We use these as follows, the left hand shelves are HERS, the right hand shelves are HIS – we use the top shelf to hold our towels, including bath towels, hand towels and face-washers, the second shelf holds some of our underwear out of the front lockers inside the van (to allow for convenient daily changes of clothing), and the bottom shelf holds our everyday shoes and some spare sets of socks. The way it is setup for convenience minimises the number of times we have to trek to the amenities block for daily basic necessities, and the number of times we have to ‘dive’ into the front lockers for fresh clothes and towels.

Pole Carrier – Having expanded the annexe pole supports, we now have a total of 9 (10 with the shower tent support) separate poles – these no longer all fit in the rear bumper bar pole carrier. For the first few trips we had to carry three of the poles on the floor of the Aliner, and when stopping we found they slide around on the floor – not a satisfactory situation. I checked and found that the normal 150mm diameter pole carriers are too large to fit between the front of the Aliner and the back of the gas bottles. So, I searched and found that Coast to Coast RV had 100mm pole carriers 2000mm long complete with removable end caps and mounting brackets. It is easy to fit and took only about ten minutes or so – a more satisfactory solution. Of course, if you are a fisherman (I’m not) you could carry a few fishing rods in the pole carrier as well. The CUDA Alarm box needed to be rotated 90 degrees to clear the new pole carrier. We also now carry the plastic TV mast fully assembled in the new pole carrier (instead of four separate mast pieces in the front driver side locker).

Just a few additional comments about the Thetford Porta-potti capacities and weights – these comments could also apply to other brands of portable cassette toilets. The Porta-potti comes in three main types – bellows flush, plunger flush and battery electric push-button flush. We looked at each type before buying, and decided the electric flush was just a bit too exotic and pricey compared to the two lower models. I carefully considered the other two types and made the decision to go for the plunger flush type as it would give a more reliable and consistent flush. Once purchased, I did a ‘dry’ run with plain water before using in a camping situation. I found that the quantity of flush water from one full up/down plunger stroke would be suitable for flushing a No1 waste, and two (or three) full up/down plunger strokes would be suitable for a No2 waste flush. The second consideration is capacities – the Thetford comes in 10litre, 12litre and 20litre waste capacities; all have a 15litre flush tank. Assuming that 1litre of liquid weighs 1kilogram; here are a few things to consider. The overall height of the 20litre version precludes its use in an Avan under-seat locker, so unless you carry a 20litre in your tow car, you’ll have to use either the 10litre or 12litre versions; as the 12litre fits under the dinette seat, why would you want the lower capacity 10litre unit – so, a 12litre was my choice.

The Thetford guidelines suggests that a 3litre ‘pre-charge’ should be put into the waste tank – this leaves only 9litres to accommodate waste; assuming that most waste would be liquid waste (with the corresponding reduction in flush volume) rather than solid waste, would suggest that only about 2-3 litres of flush water would be used before the waste tank is full. This means that if you totally fill the flush tank, you would have about one flush tank fill to about five waste tank fills – a ratio of 1to5. So, if you totally fill the flush tank it adds 15kgs of weight, and the flush tank would last for around five waste tank fills. Next, assuming that a typical camp duration would be about 7 days, you would expect to only fill the waste tank maybe once during this period (also assuming night time use only). As we go camping at around 4 to 6 week intervals, does this mean that we are still OK to have the part residual flush volume left in the tank between camps or should we empty and rinse between camp trips. The cost of the chemicals is not inconsiderate, so if we are just going for a week, should we save costs (and travel weight) by only filling the flush tank with 5litres instead of the full 15litres?

Consider this – if starting the trip with full capacities – 15litre flush + 3litre pre-charge + base unit weight of 4kg – the total weight to be transported is about 22kgs all up. If we cut down to a smaller ‘weekly’ flush capacity, the result is 5litre flush + 3 litre pre-charge + unit weight of 4kg = 12kgs; a saving of 10kgs transport weight. The smaller ‘weekly’ flush capacity results in a proportional reduction in use of chemicals and a reduction in associated costs. Alternatively we could transport just the empty unit weight alone (4kgs) and fill at the camp site; if we do this and have mains water that is OK, but if we go to an un-serviced site, we immediately consume 8 or 18 litres of precious water from our limited underfloor water tank – in this case, I’d transport the unit with flush and waste tanks filled to the required levels, and not have to use precious tank capacity. Another way of reducing water and chemical usage, is if you only intend to use the Porta-potti for No1 waste – the 3litre pre-charge is designed to cause quick breakdown to solid waste, and is a waste of water and chemicals if only using liquid waste – we have considered experimenting with only using a 1litre pre-charge (and 1/3 chemicals) – this should work well with liquid waste only and allows another 2 litres to be accommodated before the unit is full.

We have now expanded further on our personal ‘ensuite’ idea – so far, we have not yet ‘activated’ the Porta-potti (in fact we no longer carry it on our trips), by requesting suitable sites adjacent to the amenities blocks, or using sites with private ensuite facilities. However, we found that having to leave the van at night in very cold or wet weather to use the amenities block was an inconvenience. So, we bought a Male and a Female ‘personal portable urinal’ from our local Pharmacy, which we keep in a lidded plastic bin in the annexe. If we determine the conditions are too bad to leave the van, we can quietly slip into the privacy of our fully enclosed annexe in the dead of night and use the portable urinals. Early next morning, it is easy to visit the amenities block and empty and wash-out our ‘devices’.

Incorporating a standard pop-up shower tent into the annexe system

When camping at commercial campgrounds, we would use the on-site amenities blocks to have our daily showers. But when camping at un-serviced sites or free camping, having an add-on shower tent was considered highly desirable. Obviously, the only option was to use a standard shower tent unit, but how best to incorporate it into our custom annexe design. A bit of radical thinking provided the solution.

Within our custom annexe we had an ensuite with Porta-potti provision and washbasin at the drawbar end of the Aliner. The annexe design resulted in a rigid adjustable ‘frame’ to each end wall – we bought a ‘standard’ pop-up shower tent unit, this was erected hard up against the back end wall of the annexe with the left hand side of the shower tent zip door hard up to the end of the Aliner – this gives a privacy view-block at this point. I made another adjustable pole with a C-clip which fitted vertically between the annexe cross-bar and the ground – this is setup to fit the right hand side of the shower tent zip door. Using our existing wall pattern, we made up a half-wall without windows to fill the remaining gap.

The pop-up shower tent has tie-down loops about half-way up the walls to allow guy-ropes to be braced to the ground. The two loops at the front are adjacent to the zip door, I simply use two steel S-hooks through the front loops and around the two annexe poles – this firmly secures the front of the shower tent to the end of the annexe. I then fit the two rear guy-ropes to steady it. (As we haven’t yet been free camping requiring a private shower facility, we haven’t yet set it all up in this configuration, apart from testing – hence no photos at this stage – photos to come later).

When setup this way, if the full solid wall annexe is in place, we can undress either inside the Aliner or in the ensuite area, duck under the 1.5m high annexe end wall straight into the shower tent without being seen – it gives us total privacy – our towels and change of clothing can sit on the annexe chairs ready to hand just outside the shower door – this way they don’t get wet inside the shower tent. I also cut away the ‘useless’ solid polythene floor in the shower tent, and we intend to use a couple of standard thick perforated floor mats like we use in the annexe – this allows the water to soak through and disburse into the grass area without leaving a muddy patch.

The actual shower is achieved by filling one of the 12 litre buckets with warm water, taking into the shower tent and setting up the portable shower unit, the 12v supply for the pump comes from the extra 12v outlet we had fitted near the entry door. We have a 1 metre long 12v splitter cable, so can run the 12v portable shower and still have the 12v annexe fluorescent light at the same time.

As this is a little more complex than setting up a basic annexe, we would only add the shower tent unit if we knew we were camping without site showers for more than about 5-6 days, otherwise the site amenities block and the ‘washbasin in the ensuite’ rules the day.

Kitchen Window awning

One of the first modifications that we made to our new Aliner was to make a kitchen window shade awning; this was made with some remnants of striped lightweight canvas, and dark blue canvas that we had to hand. My wife sewed a strip of Velcro loops across the top of the shade awning and I fitted a stick-on strip of Velcro hooks right across the top of the kitchen window – the bottom of the shade awning had three eyelet holes and was secured with three small bungee cords to tent pegs in the ground.

Original shade V1  New shade V2

This was successful only for the first two trips during winter – we found that as soon as the weather started to warm up considerably, the heat softened the glue under the Velcro hooks on the wall, and the weight of the awning, coupled with the bungee cords at the bottom, pulled it away, which then fell to the ground – it was a rather messy job to get the sticky glue residue off the walls.

OH ! OH ! Time for Plan B

We retired the original shade awning, and made a new one from the same striped material as the rest of the solid wall annexe – this matches the annexe and looks so much better.

We had our local dealer fit a section of sailtrack right across the top of the window, and sewed a matching strip of keder into the top of the new shade awning – the bottom fixing was made into a rod pocket, and I made a simple bottom frame of 16mm curtain rod which clips into sockets screwed to the bottom of the van – these are steadied by a pair of bungee cords pegged to the ground – the new version 2 awning is now more stable and no longer prone to falling off. 

The kitchen window shade mounting has been modified again – at Kingscliff we had a severe storm with high winds – the wind overcame the two small bungee cords, and pulled the side tube supports off the van side and the shade started flapping violently in the wind, which resulted in me having to go out into the rain after midnight and pull down the whole shade and bring it into the annexe.

Next morning we were at the local shopping centre and Von spotted a ‘$2 shop’ – we went in and found a nice little 1.4 metre bungee cord with metal Karabiner clips at each end. So, I pulled the new bungee with Karabiner clips through the bottom rod pocket (still with the rod bracing in place), and stretched the two original (blue) bungees doubled-over at each end, parallel to the van and fixed into the karabiner clips. This anchored the shade front to rear, and to counter any wind attempting to pull the tube supports off the wall, fitted two extra doubled-over (red) bungees stretched straight down to the ground. Now this was very solid – even in the height of the storms during the rest of the week at Kingscliff, the shade had room to move about a bit to absorb the wind, but was solidly anchored down and did not blow off again. See right-hand photo above.

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Life Support Systems – Making Your Camping Life Better

Travelling through the wild blue yonder with a camper trailer can be likened to the first astronauts flying to the Moon – if it don’t have Life Support Systems, it ain’t going!

By life support systems, I mean things like power (both mains and 12v), water, gas and other essentials to maintain life on the road. Then as a sub-division of this, there are ‘self-contained’ and ‘tethered’ support systems – self-contained meaning you are totally self-sufficient from ‘site based’ support systems; tethered meaning you are relying on a number of established supply sources at the camp site, like mains power, fresh water and sullage water, toilets and showers.

This section will take a detailed look at all those things necessary to provide you with a safe and comfortable existence when on the road in your camper trailer.

 

Firstly, we will take a detailed look at the Aliner electrical systems – see below a Typical Block Diagram of the systems in our customised Aliner.

 

CAUTION – When connected to a caravan park 240v supply, note that your MAXIMUM power is 15Amps or 3600w ONLY. To put this in perspective, a typical electric jug is around 2200w, a microwave around 1100w, a skillet/frypan around 1200w and the inbuilt-hot water unit is 1000w. If you try and boil the jug, run the microwave and use hot water simultaneously, you’re going to trip the circuit breaker. But there’s two of them, one on the park power pillar, the other on the van ‘switchboard’ under the bed – either way it will be inconvenient having to reset the breakers, especially the one under the bed, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will hit your head on the bed framing when trying to twist around to reset the breaker. So you will have to be discerning in what you try to run simultaneously.

However, it gets worse when connected to a ‘normal’ household 10A GPO (through an Amp-fibian of course) – that is only 2400w MAXIMUM. Similarly if you try a 1Kva or 2Kva generator set, the maximum output is less than a 10A outlet – 1Kva about 800w and a 2Kva set about 1700w (due to losses in the system).

 

Mains 240v power connection

When you are at home, you regularly use 240v mains power appliances for convenience – however, you must take a different approach when camping on the road.  Mains power is only available from two sources – powered sites at commercial campgrounds and portable petrol fuelled generator sets, however minor power for some small appliances could be sourced from 12v/240v power inverters.

At a serviced campground 240v mains power is available at special ‘power pillars’ (some campgrounds REQUIRE all 240v leads and equipment to be certified tag-tested before connection to their power pillar) – these provide a heavy-duty 15amp weather-proof socket connection, primarily for mains wired caravans.  

Occasionally, you may find a few older camping grounds with older 10A sockets only – also you may find only 10A sockets at a few roadside rest stops, such as the ‘free’ parking around the back of the local pub. Additionally you probably want a power connection at home to charge your batteries while the camper is stored – unless you have a 15A socket specially installed, you will need an approved 240v 10A to 15A adaptor.

CAUTION - Some owners make up their own adaptor leads, but this is highly ILLEGAL and can result in heavy fines – note also that the common tradesman’s multi-point power packs from hardware stores are NOT approved for use with recreational vehicles.

The most common adaptor is a special unit called the Amp-fibian – this is a fully weatherproof unit, with a built-in 10A current circuit breaker and RCD – it plugs into any convenient 10A GPO, and your 15A camper lead then plugs into the Amp-fibian. The circuit breaker is to prevent you from trying to draw 15A from a 10A GPO, and will trip when overloaded.

 Photos copied from Amp-fibian website.

http://www.ampfibian.com.au/images/RV-02-diagram.jpg  http://www.ampfibian.com.au/images/Product-Slide-RV-02-4.jpg

All of the ranges of Avan camper trailers have a reasonably comprehensive 240v AC power installation. There is an enclosed services locker under the bed (or lounge / sofa) which contains all the 240v and 12v power supply equipment and hot water unit.

The camper comes with a 15A heavy duty orange power supply lead 10m long which (unlike most conventional caravans) is hard wired into the electrical switchboard in the services locker. The lead is carefully drawn out of the locker to connect to the campground power pillar, and carefully fed back inside the locker when packing up; there is a weatherproof flap over the power hatch on the side of the van. When being used, the full length of the power lead must be withdrawn from the service locker, the surplus cable lying on the ground – this is to prevent any unused cable inside the locker from overheating due to inadequate cooling air.

The main supply has a circuit breaker and residual current device that limits the power drawn to its maximum rating of 15A (3600w) – the unit is wired to a 4-point power block inside the locker – this then feeds the standard 240v devices installed in the camper:

-          1 point for connecting the 240v battery charger (70w) to maintain the 12v ‘house’ battery system

-          1 point for connecting the supply to the 240v section of the 3-way fridge / freezer (180w)

-          1 point for connecting the 240v hot water system (1000w)

-          1 point – spare for connecting the optional microwave oven (???w)

Additional to this, a standard double GPO is fitted inside on the side cupboard (facing over the bed), and a weatherproof GPO is mounted on the side of the camper adjacent to the entry door.

This is the full extent of the 240v system in the standard camper.

CAUTION – attach water hoses and turn on water BEFORE turning the 240v power on:

The 240v hot water system in the Aliner is ‘permanently’ connected to the van’s power supply as soon as you plug in and turn on at the park power pillar – there is no separate on/off switch – the only way to isolate the hot water unit is to lift the bed and switch off the HWS from its powerpoint in the services locker. DO NOT CONNECT THE 240V SUPPLY UNTIL WATER HAS BEEN CONNECTED AND THE WATER HEATING UNIT FULLY FILLED WITH WATER – otherwise you risk burning out the 240v heating element if it is turned on without water in the unit.

The sequence we adopt is now – attach the sullage hose first (so flushing water can be drained away) – connect the mains water hoses, open the cold mixer tap and run water until all air is purged from the system, switch the mixer tap to hot and run water until all air is purged from the system (the hot water unit is now full) – now we connect and turn on the 240v power supply system.

At packup time, we disconnect the 240v power supply system first – we then run sufficient cold water to rinse the sink out and flush the sullage hose (also, if we still have hot water left over in the jug, we pour this down the sink first to help dislodge any residual debris in the sullage hose), we then turn off the mains water (with the mixer tap still open to release any pressure), disconnect and fully drain the hose, roll up and store in the services locker – finally we disconnect the sullage hose, fully drain, roll up and store.

We have expanded on the 240v system in our Aliner – we had a local electrician install an extra double GPO underneath the dinette table (there is a half-routed cut-out already in place for it). This now gives us four GPO points inside the camper instead of the original two. The extra two under the dinette table are intended only for plugging in small appliances like our laptop computers (360w), 3-speed box fan etc.

To allow greater functionality in our Aliner, we have the following 240V appliances:

-          Microwave oven (1150w)– a Homemaker 20litre cheapie from K-Mart $45

-          Pop-up 2-slice toaster (850w) Kambrook KT50 from K-Mart $19

-          Jug (2200w)– a Homemaker cheapie from K-mart $8

-          12” Square Deep Frypan (1800w) Kambrook KEF125 from K-mart $49

-          3-speed box fan (50w) – a GVA cheapie from the Good Guys $22 (carried only during the hotter months)

-          Ceramic fan heater (900/1800w) – Lumina 4146 from Aldi $20 (carried only during the colder months)

-          Waeco CDF-35 compressor fridge/freezer (72w)

All extra 240v appliances (except the box fan/fan heater which is laid on the bed under several pillows for packing), travel in the boot of the car, and are bought in to use in the van or annexe when required – the microwave sits on top of the side cupboard beside the entry door, the jug normally sits on the timber stove cover when unused – it is then taken across to the side cupboard and sits in front of the microwave when being boiled, or used outside in the annex – the toaster, frypan and Waeco fridge are only used outside in the annexe – the 3-speed box fan or fan heater sits on top of the front vertical lockers at the left side (opposite the TV) and plugs into the under dinette GPO. The appliances used on top of the side cupboard are only plugged in when needed, otherwise the cords tuck around behind them so no stray leads are dragging across the bed area.

For obvious reasons, the 240v appliances don’t run when on an unpowered site – the fridge /freezer is switched to gas, hot water is provided by boiling the kettle or saucepan on the gas stove, however, the box fan is small enough to be run from a small 150w 12v/240v inverter. All other 240v appliances are left at home when we are confirmed at a non powered site for the duration of the trip.

If you are out in the ‘boonies’, with no mains power available, you can use a portable generator pack - the generator replaces the ‘power pillar’, and there are several common-sense restrictions.

·         The generator will NOT have the same rated capacity as your 15A (3600w) power lead, so the 240v appliances used need to be selectively restricted and used with caution – generators up to 2400w rating will only have a 10A plug, so to plug your Avan into the generator, you will need to use the Amp-fibian 10A / 15A power adaptor.

·         The primary reason for having external generator supply is to recharge the 12v house battery to allow extended camping durations.

·         The generator may create a noise nuisance to other campers, so only use with their permission and restrict your generator hours to only that absolutely necessary

·         The generator will emit noxious and dangerous exhaust – only place it where fumes cannot be blown or gravitate into the enclosed living spaces, especially around annexes.

·         Make sure the generator is properly covered as protection against wet weather

·         Make sure your flammable fuel container is kept well away from the camper or other flammable items

There is NO provision in any of the range of Avan camper trailers to transport or house a portable generator, so unless you have adequate space and capacity in your tow vehicle, using a generator will not be an option for you. I have seen several Aliners with custom boxes added to either the drawbar or rear bumper bar that house generator sets – however, under the road traffic rules, these contradict the regulations and the rules regarding construction of the RV – if the modifications have not been certified by an approved motor engineer and approved by the transport authorities, as a variation from the manufacturers specifications it will be illegal to tow the modified camper on public roads.

Onboard 12v power system

The Aliner is fitted with a full 12v DC power supply system. The heart of the system is the ‘house’ battery in the services locker with a capacity of 95 A/hrs – it is a fully-sealed maintenance-free deep-cycle type. All internal lights, plus the step light are powered by 12v rather than 240v. The water pump from the underfloor tank to the sink is also 12v powered; a switch on the edge of the kitchen adjacent to the sink, powers the pump on and off, if turned on, the pump doesn’t activate until it detects a drop in water pressure from turning the tap on, then it starts pumping water – the way the pump has been plumbed in, it also pumps via the hot water system. The final item in the standard 12v system is a single 12v socket on the side cupboard adjacent to the double GPO over-looking the bed.

The ‘house’ battery is recharged by an internal 240v ‘smart charger’ inside the services locker, as long as 240v power is available, the charger will keep the battery full charged and conditioned without overcharging it. Apart from the 240v mains charger, the other way to recharge the battery if you don’t have 240v mains connected to the camper, is to either connect an external generator set (see comments above), or fit a solar panel system.

Avan has an option to fit either a 20w or 50w solar panel to the roof of the Aliner, cabled internally to a solar voltage regulator in the services locker and connected internally to maintain the house battery charge. The primary advantage of the Avan panel is that if you store the camper in the open, the exposed panel will constantly top-up the battery - additionally it will charge as you drive along to the camping site.  The primary disadvantage is the high cost of the panel compared with portable folding panels. 

In today’s camping world, folding solar panels of more than double the Avan panel capacity (80w or 120w) are readily available for about half the price – the main drawback, is that you have to carry and store them in your tow car as there is nowhere in the Aliner to store them, and to connect them, you’d have to get a 12v specialist to fit an external 12v Anderson plug wired into the house battery. Once at the campsite, you unfold the twin portable solar panels, set them up where you want them, point them towards the sun, run the cable across to the Anderson plug and plug the panels in (the solar voltage regulator is built-in to the back of the folding panels, so only a cable connection and plug is required direct to the battery) – then you have constant battery charge (provided the sun is out). The big advantage of the non-Avan panels is that they are larger capacity and so will charge the battery in a much shorter time. As we have not yet succumbed to freedom camping, we haven’t added a solar panel – yet!

The trick with solar panels is to try to calculate the maximum daily draw from your house battery in terms of ampere/hours – to do this take the wattage of each 12v device, divide by 12 to convert to amps, them determine how many hours you reckon it will run for, and calculate the daily ampere/hours for that device – then add them all up (e.g. a 36w TV is 36/12=3amps x 3hrs a day = 9a/hrs daily drawdown). Let’s say, for example, that I determine my maximum total daily ‘drawdown’ is 30a/hrs – if I don’t re-charge, my battery will discharge in only about 3 days (or even less). So, the output of the solar panel system has to equal or exceed the maximum daily draw to be fully sustainable. To find the ‘right’ panel size, take the wattage (e.g.80w) and divide by 12 then take only 75% of that (for system losses) to find the amperage – assume only a maximum of 6 hours full sun, then calculate the ampere/hours that the solar panel will put back into the battery – e.g. 80/12=6.6 x75%=4.9amps x6 =29.9a/hrs – if the solar output equals or exceeds the battery drawdown then you’re OK, if not, you’re going to run out of battery power at some stage.

Although the Aliner has a 3-way fridge that has 12v operation, this is NOT wired into the house battery – a separate 12v cable runs to a special socket near the drawbar, and it is intended to run a dedicated cable from the camper to the tow vehicle – assuming that the tow vehicle would have a dual battery system and Anderson Plug installed which would allow the camper fridge to run from the tow vehicle’s dual battery while being towed.

We have expanded on the standard 12v system by getting a 12v specialist (see Helpful Contractors) to install three extra sockets – one is mounted on the outside of the Aliner adjacent to the external 240v GPO – the other two are mounted on top of the front lockers at the far left and far right sides, between the outer edge of the lift-up locker lids and the sidewalls of the camper – there is just enough room to mount them here.

The socket on the outside is used to run our small fluorescent annexe light – if we have the external shower tent installed with the portable 12v shower pump, we use a 1 metre double –splitter cable, so the light and the pump can be connected at the same time.

The far right hand socket on the locker top is to run our flat-screen 12v TV set, the one at the far left is to plug in our mobile phone chargers, GPS charger, etc. – if we were free camping this socket would also power a 150w 12/240v inverter to run the 240v 50w 3-speed fan sitting on top of the adjacent locker.

We have changed all the internal 12v incandescent lamps to low current LED type (Duratech ZD-0360 and Duratech ZD-0488 from Jaycar). This dramatically reduces the drawdown from the house battery and extends the time between recharges, as well as having longer lamp life.

All regulation camper lights, such as taillights, stop lights, turn signal lights, numberplate light, and side clearance lights required by the road rules are wired into a totally separate 12v system from the 7-pin trailer plug on the drawbar which plugs into the tow cars wiring system, and have these no connection in any form to the ‘house’ battery system.

CD/Radio Sound System

One of the options available when buying your Avan is a fitted CD/Radio system – we opted not to have one fitted before delivery as we thought the price was excessive. Accordingly I have fitted an after-market system to our Aliner. I have kept my eye open for specials around the auto accessory shops, and recently a good set of equipment came up on special. I bought a Sony CDX-GT26 CD/Radio head unit, a set of Sony XS-GTF1627 6” 2-way speakers, and an Aerpro AP122 centre pillar mount radio antenna, along with extra speaker wire and connectors, etc. The Sony GT26 also has a small remote control handset as standard.

Before starting the installation, a careful assessment was required – my approach was to fit the speakers into the front face of the two side front lockers beside the dinette setting – the CD/Radio unit would be mounted in the ‘standard’ position in the side cupboard next to the entry door, and the radio antenna fitted to the van side near the entry door – this would require minimal wiring and installation problems.

Firstly, the speakers – I marked a line centred on each front side locker, with the top of the speaker about 25mm below the top lip. The speaker template pattern was placed and the centre cutout and screw fixing positions marked onto the timber face – then, with my heart in my mouth, I started cutting! A short time later I had two neat holes to mount the speakers – these projected about 25mm or so into the lockers, so I decided to get a pair of 150x150x50 plastic electrical junction boxes from my nearest electrical wholesaler – this was for two reasons – the box protects the back of the speaker from damage getting clothes into or out of the locker, and the enclosed ‘box’ behind the speaker improved the sound response of the speakers, resulting in a pleasant full sound. Unfortunately, the junction box being square, the four fixing screws are exposed outside the circular speaker mesh (see photo below), but with careful installation don’t detract too much. The speaker wiring was run across the top of the lockers, under the top lip, then down the driver side wall into the underseat locker, then passed through the gap behind the fridge/sink area, into the ‘services’ locker. Then the cable was run through a couple of small holes just below the lip of the double bed base section and into the side cupboard unit – all cables were secured with small cable clips or cable ties to support them.

 

Having mounted the speakers and being satisfied with them, I moved on to the fitting of the CD/Radio unit. Avan provides a half-routed cutout on the door side of the cupboard, so that the unit can be suspended midway between the two roll-out drawers. Again, with trepidation, I started cutting the hole in the side of the cupboard – this requires great care, as the hole has to be a neat fit on the head unit. Most head units come with a slide-on sleeve (see centre photo below) which is to be fitted first, and then the unit itself slides in and locks in place. The hole was ‘rough’ cut first, then carefully trimmed with a wood rasp to be a good press fit on the mounting sleeve. To provide extra strengthening support for the sleeve and head unit, I bolted a cut-down steel 90 degree bookend underneath the sleeve – unfortunately this also required an exposed screwhead on the face of the locker like the speakers (see photo below).

   

Now comes the hard part – I had to find a scrap piece of metal and make up a custom bracket that fitted to the bolt on the back centre of the head unit, and fix it to the timber brace on the bed side of the cupboard – this took a lot of testing and fitting until I got it right. Once fixed in place, it stops the head unit from flexing when towing the van, and it also provides a support for the cables to the head unit (remember that a drawer runs both above and below the bracket, so you don’t want the cables to catch on the drawers and tear free). Once the head unit was fixed, and before connecting up the wiring, I fitted the radio antenna – the position is fairly critical to clear other equipment – I positioned it so the bottom was just above the wheel spat and about 50mm to the left of the roof latch unit (see right photo – this photo also shows the new clear lens on the step light) – the cable goes through a ˝” hole drilled through the van side (see centre photo for where it comes through) and is fixed with a single screw for both the main bottom mount and the top guide mount – weatherproof rubber seals are provided with the antenna. When the aerial is fully retracted, it sits just below the side of the closed roof, and when fully extended goes to near the top of the window. For areas near cities and towns reception can be good without the aerial extended; for more remote areas, the antenna needs to be fully extended – and as the annexe is only canvas and/or shademesh, it does not attenuate the signal getting to the aerial. You can see I ran the aerial cable up around the mains conduits for the outside GPO, then wrapped around the drawer brace, and cable tied to the top of the head unit, and then plugged in.

The last process was to join the speaker cables to the cables in the multi-pin radio plug, and join extra cables for the 12v+ and 12v- power supply to the head unit – these connected to the existing wiring on the back of the 12v socket in the bed side of the cupboard – I used press-on blade type twin adaptor plugs to avoid soldering. The spare cables from the head unit that were not needed (i.e. rear speakers, auto power aerial connection, etc.) were wrapped in insulation tape and fixed with the other wiring, then all wiring was fixed neatly in place with cable ties, and surplus cable tucked away where it would not snag on other equipment or vibrate loose when towing.

After the ‘big switch-on’, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the system sounded. I experimented with the remote control unit, and found that when lying on the bed, if you point the remote at the passenger side of the front lockers, the control signal reflects off the timber face and operates the main CD/Radio unit.

Caravan Reverse/Rear-view Camera Systems

When towing a caravan, you may be required to fit extended towing mirrors to be able to see down the sides of the van to view traffic travelling behind you. The normal rule is that if the van is around 300mm (or more) wider than the towing vehicle, then extended towing mirrors are recommended. The Aliner is a relatively small van, and in many cases narrow enough that you might not have to fit towing mirrors to your tow vehicle. I decided that I’d fit mirrors anyway, to improve my vision.

Ignoring the Aliner for the moment, I fitted a reversing camera system to my Kia Cerato long before I bought the Aliner. It is a wireless system, with the camera mounted above the rear numberplate, and the monitor is built-in to a clip on rear-view mirror which fits over the standard rear-view mirror. This system is only used for reversing - to reverse, I have to manually switch the rear-view monitor on and then select reverse gear, and then the image behind the car is shown on the small credit-card sized screen embedded in the rear-view mirror. I have found this to be a decided advantage when I’m reversing up to the Aliner to couple up, as I can steer the towball close enough to the coupling that I only have to use just a little manual force to align and couple. Obviously when I’m towing, the cars reverse camera system is useless, as looking back in the mirror, all I see is the front of the Aliner, and as I’m not driving in reverse gear, the camera isn’t activated anyway. So, I decided to investigate the scenario of fitting a second separate wireless camera system, so that I could tow the Aliner and be able to see what traffic is directly behind the van (supplemental to the towing mirrors of course).

Obviously, the design of the Aliner with its folding roof does give specific restrictions in where you can place and wire a reverse camera.

The most popular type of system when used with a large tow vehicle and a large caravan, is a specially configured system where the tow vehicle has a camera monitor screen fitted to the top of the dash, and two cameras are wired into the system, one camera at the back of the tow vehicle, and the second camera at the back of the caravan. This system is hard-wired, and has a flexible lead that plugs in across the caravan drawbar to carry the rear camera signal to the on-dash monitor. These systems typically cost between $800-1000 fitted. Additionally, the rear camera is usually mounted high up on the back of the van just below the roofline and the wiring is routed down through the van interior and under the floor to the drawbar. Straight away you can see the problems with fitting this type of system to the Aliner, especially with the folding roof and the low height of the back of the van when towing. So again I decided to investigate using a wireless system – as my existing car reverse camera system is NOT active when I’m towing there is NO interference between the two wireless camera systems – they are used entirely independently of each other.

After reviewing what wireless systems were available, I decided on the Response QM-3806 Digital Wireless Reversing Camera Kit (from Jaycar).

http://www.jaycar.com.au/products_uploaded/productLarge_15857.jpg 

The camera is a fully waterproof IP65 rated unit, and has infra-red LED’s around the lens to provide a night view range out to about 5 metres behind the camera. I doubt that I’ll ever use the night time view, as my aim is to be camped and setup long before dark!

The monitor supplied with this system is a small 3.5” LCD colour monitor which fits to a strong suction-cup mount from the windscreen somewhere near the centre of the dash – I also fitted a small strip of adhesive foam tape under the monitor to stop it rubbing and wearing on the top of the dash when driving over bumpy roads. The monitor is supplied with 12v from a small lead that plugs into the 12v socket on your vehicle console. The monitor also has a small re-chargeable battery built-in and so can be used for a few hours without the 12v lead plugged in. The wireless transmission between camera and monitor is at 2.4Ghz, and has a radius of around 100 metres – even with the full ‘thickness’ of the Aliner between the camera and the back of the car, I get full strength signal with the wireless aerial turned upwards (it can be swung down behind the monitor for storage – see right-hand picture above). If you find that you regularly get interference from other wireless systems around you, you can reset the pairing of the camera and monitor on a different channel. I only mount the monitor on the windscreen and plug-in the power supply cable when I’m towing – otherwise I leave it off for storage at home, and to reduce the temptation of thieves to break-in and take it. Also the picture above shows my Sat-Nav screen on the far right of the dash beside the A-pillar – this is also removed and stored when parked away from home.

When fitting a ‘normal’ wireless reverse system, the camera is normally connected into the reversing lights, so the camera is automatically activated when you select reverse. However, on the Aliner, this is not possible - it doesn’t have reversing lights. The camera needs a 12v supply to activate, so how can we do this on the Aliner – my solution – I can connect it into the numberplate light at the back of the van – this has a bearing on where the camera can be mounted to be able to run the wiring to connect to the numberplate light. The construction of the Aliner with the sealed moulded fibreglass rear panel and the sealed internal timber back wall is not conducive to being able to cut through and run wiring inside the rear wall cavity, so the wiring will have to be run externally at the back of the van.

My solution was to fit a strong steel oval tubular section (GetSorted BA11 wardrobe adjustable hanging rod from Bunnings) clamped with 75x75 U-bolts (from SuperCheapAuto) vertically to the back of the spare wheel bracket, with the camera bracket bolted to the top of the tube section, about 75-100mm above the top of the spare wheel. The camera cable was run internally down inside the tube, then cable-tied across the back of the Aliner bumper bar and up into the numberplate light – excess cable was coiled up and cable-tied – see photo. The numberplate light cover just needs a small nick cut or filed in the side near the top for the cable to enter as a tight fit – add some silicon for waterproofing if you desire. All this is easy to get access to (with the van closed up) and fit the system without having to drill holes in your van.

I had to make up two steel cross-bars to fit across the back of the U-bolts to suit – note also I fixed two strips of double-sided foam tape between the vertical tube and the fibreglass rear panel to stop the tube rubbing on the fibreglass. For some reason, the camera bracket is too short for direct ‘back’ mounting because of the wireless aerial - so I moved the top fixing screws to the forward-most position, and put the two surplus screws in under the edge to stop it rotating downwards. We have also made a small ‘drop-on’ vinyl cover to slip over the camera to protect it from rain, airborne dust and dirt etc. when we are camped.

    

By wiring into the numberplate light it is easy to turn the camera on and off – I normally tow with my vehicle lights on, so as soon as I start towing, the camera activates automatically and it turns itself off when I turn off the vehicle lights. Similarly, the monitor has a small on/off switch on the right-hand side. So, I can either leave the camera system running while I tow, or switch it on only when I want to do ‘spot checks’ behind the van. Additionally when I uncouple the van and disconnect the 7-pin plug, I cannot possibly forget to turn the camera off, as its 12v supply to the numberplate light is automatically cut when I unplug.

This system was first used on our Mount Warning / Kingscliff Beach trip and I left the camera running the whole trip – it was very handy to have, as it covered several blind spots each side to the rear of the van – the only drawback was I found the monitor had to be turned up to a higher than normal brightness for clearer vision, and the wide-angle focal length of the lens rendered distant objects fairly small in the monitor, so additional concentration was necessary to identify all objects behind the van.

Note that this wireless reversing camera system is entirely separate from the internal 12v power supply system in the Aliner.

If you are totally happy with this wireless system, it is future expandable, and can have up to another three optional cameras attached. The monitor can manually cycle from camera to camera or be split into four sections, each showing one camera image. It would be great to have an extra camera aimed down each side of the van and angled slightly down, so you can see the edge of the tyre at the bottom of the image – this would be very handy when backing up against concrete annexe slabs or other obstructions on the ground – but, getting a 12v supply to these extra cameras on the Aliner is another problem in itself!!!

Fresh water connection

Fresh water is the most important supply that you need with your camper – you might well be able to survive out in the ‘boonies’ for a few days without food, but you WON’T survive without adequate fresh water.

Fresh water supplies can be used for:

·         Drinking water

·         Food preparation and cooking

·         Meals wash-up

·         Basic personal hygiene - washing hands, face, brushing teeth, etc.

·         Personal showers – if enough water and appropriate shower equipment is on hand (only required if you are camped where there are no on-site shower facilities)

Fresh water can be sourced from:

·         On-board water tank

·         Mains pressure potable water if camped at a ‘serviced’ site in a commercial camp ground

·         Central large capacity potable water tank in some camp grounds – carry water to your van in buckets or screw-top water containers

All recent Avan camper trailers have an on-board 63 litre (42 lit. in older vans) water tank fitted under the floor above and behind the axle (helps to balance the camper loading), it is plumbed into the mixer tap on the kitchenette sink with a 12v pump as standard. Some Avan owners have fitted an extra external tap to the chassis (for washing hands, etc., after packing up or washing sand off feet after the beach), in fact one of the Avan options is an external shower unit fitted into a lockable box on the kitchen side of the camper, and this has both hot and cold water with a mixer tap and a long hose with shower rose on the end.

Avan has cleverly provided a dual water system – if you are on a site where there is no mains pressure water available, both hot (via the 240v HWS) and cold water is drawn from the tank through the 12v pump to the sink mixer tap – if you are on a site that does have mains pressure water, then bypass valves direct both hot and cold water to the sink mixer tap, without running the 12v pump or drawing water from the tank. The major disadvantage is that plumbed hot water is available ONLY when you have a 240v mains supply connected to the camper, otherwise you have to heat your water in a kettle or saucepan on the LPG gas stove.

When filling the tank, either at home or on the road, it is advisable that you buy a specially rated ‘food grade’ hose so that the water doesn’t acquire a ‘plastic’ taste – these are readily available from all good camping outlets. I’d also suggest keeping the hose in a dedicated hose bag to keep it separated from contamination by other ‘dirty’ hoses. There are two types of water hoses, the white ones are rated for mains pressure water (necessary if you want to connect to site mains pressure water) and a light blue hose – caution – which is NOT rated for pressure, and it is designed only for water transfer under gravity. We use a ‘standard’ 10m white pressure hose, with brass click-on hose fittings (rather than plastic garden ones) – we use a dual-sized tap coupling with a removable screw-in insert to fit the two most common size taps used in Australia. To allow for the odd occasion when we find all taps have been used at our site, I carry a Y-splitter tap coupling to allow a ‘branch-off’ from another tap – unfortunately these are only made in plastic, but as they are so short they don’t contribute to plastic taste in the water (update – we’ve now found a brass Y-splitter). Also we have a tubular ‘in-line’ click-on filter to filter the supply water before it goes into the tank. See main photo at the beginning of this article – it shows how the in-line filter is connected from the main hose with a short connector hose to the water inlet on the Aliner, the filter is hanging vertically from the short hose – we have not found any problem with this arrangement.

 

UPDATE: The ‘normal’ water filters that you buy from a caravan or camping shop are generally only a basic activated carbon style filter. We’ve found that after a few months use, the quality of the filtration falls off rapidly and the water is not filtered adequately – they have to be thrown away and replaced several times a year. Secondly, as we’ve moved around, we’ve found the quality of the local town water to be very variable – the levels of chlorine, fluoride can be exceptionally high making the water unpleasant to drink even though it is filtered. Recently we were on the Sunshine Coast and found the level of fluoride far too high – it was affecting my wife. Enough is enough ! I went out and bought the B.E.S.T. water filter – this is quite expensive (around $120), but has a silver activated section, then an activated carbon section and another silver activated section all sectioned off through 1 micron filters. The silver activated section kills all the bacteria and activated carbon section removes the excessive chemicals. The difference in taste was dramatic, worth every dollar ! – I’ll never buy another ‘normal’ filter again.

 

There are two schools of thought about the water tank – should we tow with the tank full? or should we tow with the tank empty? – Some say, tow empty to save weight and fill up at your destination.  A full tank adds about 60kg of weight to the camper. We originally choose to tow with the tank full – for several reasons, firstly, the weight of the water in the tank is balanced around the axle, biased toward the rear, to offset weight on the towball; if the tank is empty, the towball down force increases, maybe beyond your towball capacity (I’ve now balanced that out by removing the un-used twin gas bottles) – secondly, when you reach your destination, local water restrictions may prevent you from filling your tank, and then you’re left without water. Your choice!

Another consideration – if you are on an un-serviced site, then water capacity becomes critical – assuming you’ve totally filled the water tank with a filtered supply from home, the full tank can be considered drinking quality, but there’s only 63 litres of it available for all purposes. We augment our drinking water, by adding an extra 14litres above and beyond the tank capacity – we do this by: we each have a 1litre insulated personal water bottle (normally carried in the door pockets in the car), we normally carry a 2litre screw-top drinking water container in the door of the van fridge, and on the floor of the car behind my seat, I carry two reserve 5litre water canisters (we now optionally carry two 10litre canisters). This brings our total water capacity up to 77 (or 87) litres, 14 (or 24) litres of which are guaranteed drinking water only – this helps to extend the camping time at un-serviced sites by an extra day or two, before you have to head for a serviced location to refill your water tank. We have a filtered refrigerated water cooler at home, and the extra 14 (or 24) litres are drawn from this to provide best quality drinking water.

The trip to the Glasshouse Mountains Camping Ground was a good test of our van water capacity – we knew beforehand that drinking water was not available piped to the van, so we totally filled the van underfloor tank with new fresh water and took an additional 20litres of drinking water from home. Our tank water was only used for personal hygiene / food prep / wash-up and kettle fill-ups, and used sparingly – our tank and drinking water lasted six days before it ran out – the last day we carried drinking water from the sole camp tank, but boiled it all before use.

UPDATE: I have re-evaluated the loading of our Aliner – we always use sites with mains pressure town water, so I now travel with the underfloor water tank empty, so that has removed another 60kg of weight. In the rare event that we camp at a site where mains water is known to be poor quality (i.e. like the bore water at the Glasshouse Mountains Camp Ground), we can refill the tank with fresh Brisbane City water just for that trip only.

At a couple of previous caravan parks we found the local mains town water pressure to be very high, resulting in leaks around the water filler connection. I bought a Pope 300kpa pressure reducer from Bunnings – this screws directly to the tap, then your normal tap connection screws to the bottom of the reducer. When local water pressure is questionable I use the pressure reducer – this reduces the flow of water into the vans plumbing system; I found the flow rate about 20% less than without the reducer, but it is quite acceptable and manageable.

TIP - There is one fault with all Avans – when built Avan only fit plastic hose connectors to the mains water inlet – the problem is the plastic connector is Australian metric and the brass inlet it is screwed into is American imperial thread – Avan overcome the difference by wrapping heaps of white plumbers tape around the plastic thread. The problem is that over time the mains water pressure will find ‘paths’ through the white tape and then your water connection starts leaking, getting progressively worse over time. Ours reached the point where we could not connect the mains water as the leakage was so severe. Solution – we got a 1 and 1/16th inch American threaded brass connector (funnily enough, our local Avan agent had them in stock – maybe they knew all along the plastic connecters were garbage !) – no more leaks – problem solved. I don’t know why Avan simply don’t fit the proper brass ones direct from the factory – for the sake of a couple of dollars, they are causing a van owners a problem, which only rears its ugly head after the van warranty runs out !!!

Sullage water connection

Grey water (sullage) is the residue from food preparation, meals wash-up, and basic personal hygiene. It should be collected in dedicated ‘dirty’ buckets and properly disposed of. By this I mean that in a commercial campground there will be specific places to discard the grey water, and if you are camped on a ‘powered’ site meant for caravans, you will more than likely have a sullage connection. Similar to the ‘food’ hose, you can buy specific sullage hoses, which can be connected between the under-floor sink outlet on your Avan and the sullage drain; again, these should be kept separate from the fresh water hose to prevent cross-contamination. If you are camped on a basic site away from serviced facilities, disposal of gray water should be done by carrying the used water well away from all other campers on the site, maybe into the adjacent scrub.

In our Avan we have two ways of disposing of grey water – for ‘serviced’ sites we have a ‘standard’ 10m sullage hose – this is about 50% greater diameter than the fresh water hose, and is corrugated on the outside (but smooth on the inside) – usually grey or black in colour – we chose grey to reflect its usage. For some reason, Avan chose to fit an American thread on the sink discharge, so all the standard Australian hose fittings do not screw directly on.  I fitted a standard click-on tap fitting, and firmly screwed it in place, even though it ‘cross-threaded’ the sink outlet – I did this as the outlet is not subject to water pressure, only gravity, and I fitted a standard click-on hose connector to the end of the sullage hose (with great difficulty) using a worm-drive metal hose clamp – this way installing the sullage hose is a simple click-on / click-off action. See main photo at the beginning of this article –it shows how the sullage hose is connected to the sink outlet under the camper with a standard orange and grey hose connector which is secured to the larger sullage hose by a worm-drive hose clamp.

 

Update : With experience, we have found that the 10 metre hose has been generally far too long, and the water drainage under gravity is too slow, because of the excessive length. I’ve now bought a 25mm hose joiner from Camec, and cut my hose into two separate 5metre lengths; I had to cut the retention flanges off the joiner so the hose would push on easily – I estimate that the shorter 5 metre hose will suit about 75-80% of most site situations – for those outside this length, I can ‘plug–on’ the extra 5 metre length back to a full 10 metre as required.

 

The second way of disposing of grey water – I bought a 10 litre moulded plastic jerry can – however, the total height underneath the sink outlet, will not allow a standard 10 litre vertical water can – I found that the BMW branded 10 litre red fuel can with screw top filler from SuperCheapAuto is lower in height and will just fit nicely under the outlet - I made a short 100mm long drain hose  – this clicks onto the new tap fitting mentioned above and the 100mm hose goes straight into the tank – we found that even though it is sold as a 10 litre can, it actually holds 12 litres – to emphasise its use I prominently marked “grey water only” in black permanent marker on both sides of the tank. For transport, the tank is emptied and flushed out with fresh water, then is stored in the front right under-seat locker – refer comment under ‘Storage within the Aliner’. The tank holds about a day’s grey water, and so I empty it each morning. Before each trip, I call the park(s) we intend using and ascertain the sullage water disposal situation, and only carry the sullage hose OR the sullage tank as appropriate.

Another problem arises if you are on a site without serviced shower facilities – you can buy small ensuite shower tents to erect beside your camper. The main problem with these is disposal of the shower water – if you have two persons, and say 4-8 litres per shower, that is 8-16 litres of ‘dirty’ water to dispose of. Most ensuite tents have removable floors – probably the best way is to site the ensuite as close to the edge of the campground as possible on a slight slope away from other campers, remove the ensuite floor, then fit a couple of the modular EVA floor mats in the ensuite tent; these are available from many camping outlets; this should allow the used water to drain away into the surrounding grass area without pooling under the ensuite, creating a muddy shower tent. Minimal use of soaps, detergents and shampoos is desired to minimise chemical contamination to the surrounding grass and ground area. Some campers use external shower kits which are clamped to the side of their SUV or camper and shower in the open with their swimming costumes on! It may be OK in summer, but I’d hate to do that on a cold and windy winter’s day!

Update : After a couple of storms where we got some un-wanted mud and debris around the van and annexe, we found that it would be good to have a short wash-off water hose to hose off muddy mats, etc. So, I got a cheap 5m hose with fittings, and carry this inside the sullage hose bag; the two-way splitter tap allows us to add the wash-off hose as well as the main water supply hose to the van when we need it.

LPG gas connection

The Aliner has only a minimal LPG installation – a dual 4.5kg gas bottle system with regulator is mounted on the drawbar. LPG is plumbed internally to the 2-burner gas stove and to the gas section of the 3-way fridge/freezer – no other gas appliances are installed. Only one gas bottle is connected at any one time – this is a preferred system, as when one gas bottle runs out you disconnect the empty and reconnect to the spare full bottle, and then get the empty bottle refilled at your next major town stop. Once good safety feature that is worthwhile is to buy a GasFuse and fit it into the gas line from the bottle – it is an easy screw-in fit and does not require a gasfitter to install. The GasFuse has two advantages – it acts as a ‘circuit breaker’ if there is a major gas leak in the gas lines anywhere past the regulator, the GasFuse shuts off the gas instantaneously – secondly the GasFuse has a graduated coloured gauge on the top, which gives an indication of how much gas is left in the bottle – this saves you unnecessarily refilling a bottle that is still half full. At specified intervals the whole gas installation has to be checked and recertified by a licensed gasfitter.

As we tend to mostly camp in serviced sites with 240v power, we run the fridge on 240v and do all our cooking in any of the 240v appliances we carry – accordingly we have not yet used the LPG system in our Aliner. We do have a separate storage box with kitchen equipment specifically to use with the gas stove – but, if we are knowingly booked at a powered site, we leave the ‘gas set’ at home, and put the 240v appliances in the boot – likewise if we know we are going to an unpowered site, we take the gas equipment and leave the 240v appliances at home. Maybe at some stage, if we continue to only use powered sites, I might remove the two gas bottles and store them at home in the garden shed – this could take about 10kg or so off the towball weight and help to balance the van. Alternatively, if I’m only camping for a week or less at an unpowered site, I could carry only one gas bottle instead of two, to lighten the load.

UPDATE: I have re-evaluated the loading of our Aliner – as we now always camp at fully serviced sites, I made the decision to remove and store the 2 gas bottles (bottle weight including gas is 21kg for the pair), so the 8kg gas weight shown in the Load Balance sheet above is now removed along with the 13kg dead weight of the empty bottles. During the time we have had our Aliner, we have never turned the gas on – we have never used the gas cooker in the van, preferring to cook with 240v appliances in the annexe area, and we never run the van fridge on gas, only 240v. The flexible gas hose had a couple of plastic bags wrapped tightly around the open end to waterproof it and stop debris entering while towing, and the hose was then tucked up under the back of the regulator and secured in place with a couple of cable ties.

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Security Considerations – Protecting Your Investment

It is an unfortunate fact of life that among the broader community there are some low-life’s out there that will attempt to steal your hard earned camping trailer and accessories. If the thief is really determined, he will get it no matter how hard you try to protect it; however, it is relatively easy to make his task much more difficult, time consuming and noisy, so he will pass on to easier pickings.

The notes shown below are specifically for the Aliner, but could also apply to the other Avan campers.

Firstly, looking at the Aliner itself – the main entry door and the left rear baggage door are keyed alike and the key supplied with the camper, the water filler hatch is key locked and the key supplied, and finally the hard-shell spare tyre cover is key locked and the key supplied. No other locks are standard with the Aliner. The over-centre clips that hold the roof down in transport mode have provisions to secure with padlocks, and the access door for the rear bumper bar pole carrier has provisions for a padlock – I use a set of three padlocks keyed alike for these. Other security measures are described below.

At home

Here are some suggestions on how to protect your camper while it is parked at your home premises. Ideally, your camper should be stored in a locked secure garage. If that is not possible, it will probably be under a carport roof (if your carport is big enough). Depending on the setup of your carport space, it may be possible to get a local contractor to dig a hole about 300-400mm square and 400-600 deep at the far edge of your carport slab, and fill with concrete, or you can DIY – get a long heavy-duty U-bolt set into this concrete block, so the curved part sits about 50mm above the concrete. Alternatively you might have a secure part of your building structure that a chain can be passed around or through – in my case I have a solid brick/concrete breezeblock wall at the end of the carport; I pass a heavy-duty chain through the breezeblock and camper drawbar.

I would suggest four levels of security – firstly use a very heavy duty chain (say 50mm long link or even heavier – ‘Master Lock’ have a 2 metre x 8mm case hardened steel chain with a plastic sleeve to protect painted surfaces that the chain may be wrapped around – available at Bunnings or other main hardware stores); pass this through the middle of the drawbar, and down through your new eye bolt and use a big heavy duty padlock. This should deter many thieves, but for extra piece of mind, the second level of security would be to fit a coupling lock to your trailer coupling – this prevents the trailer from being attached to a towbar – see the next section ‘On the Road’ for details.

The third level of security – we purchased a Fiamma ‘Security 46’ folding security door handle (from Pro Bar at Caboolture) and had it fitted beside the entry door – this has two functions, it acts as an assist handle when climbing up into the van, and when closed, the handle folds securely across the entry door and can be locked in that position, thereby preventing an attempt to open the entry door and get inside the van.

  The Fiamma folding security handle; shown in the locked condition.   The heavy duty chain around the drawbar

Finally, the fourth level of security – a trailer alarm.

A Brisbane firm makes a self-contained alarm called the CUDA alarm – this is fairly hard to track down, as CUDA is not listed in the phone book and only supplies through a limited number of outlets. I found that BCF has them is some stores (but not all), ring your local BCF to find if they stock them (NOTE – the CUDA alarm is NOT available through the BCF on-line store). See  http://bcftv.com.au/public/default.aspx?id=SXwTOKqA3uk.

Update : Subsequent to my comments above, BCF now make them more readily available : http://www.bcf.com.au/online-store/products/Cuda-Portable-Trailer-Alarm.aspx?pid=223425&menuFrom=10205#Description

The CUDA is self-contained; with an internal battery – it is armed with a key switch – it is designed to be bolted to your drawbar, and is impact proof, tamperproof and rainproof. When the battery is getting low, it chirps to let you know to change the battery. Once it detects that your trailer is subjected to significant movement (seems to be immune against minor wind gusts) the alarm triggers and runs for 30 seconds, then it resets and rearms for another attempt. If the trailer is subjected to continuous movement (like being towed) the alarm sounds continuously until all movement stops. The only main drawback is that the internal battery only seems to last around three months – so, I have to frequently unbolt the alarm, open it up, replace the battery, reseal the unit then bolt it back onto its mounting. I’m currently looking into replacing it with a self-contained GPS Tracking alarm which can be set to ring my mobile (and show on a map) if the alarm detects the van has moved away from its designated ‘parking zone’, or is being towed.

I might sound paranoid with four levels of security, but when I leave the house, my camper is visible and accessible from the street – I want to have the peace of mind that, in all probability, it will still be there when I come back!!!

By now, I guess you’re thinking, why he hasn’t mentioned wheel clamps. I have considered these, I tried two different types – the problem being that the clearance between the tyre sidewall and the fibreglass wheel spat is insufficient to fit either clamp I tried – secondly, once around the back of the wheel, the large axle hub with the large diameter electric brake hub has only around 20mm clearance and stops the inside leg of the clamp from wrapping around the wheel. In short I was unable to find a wheel clamp that would fit the Aliner.

UPDATE - I found a solution – ARK Corporation has recently released a new wheel clamp – see photo below - the Compact Wheel Clamp. This is ideal for the Avans, as the clamp has two parallel arms which open up by winding the locking handle – you place one of the wheel nut adaptors (the small one) into the socket covering one of the wheel nuts, and fit the clamp around under and behind the wheel – make sure the rear part of the clamp locates at the back of the brake drum, then wind the clamp shut (not too tight, you don’t want to distort the brake drum), align the handle with the slot, remove the key and press the handle into the slot so it is flush. The bright yellow colour makes it very obvious you have a wheel clamp fitted to deter thieves, and it comes with a zip-up carry bag for when it is not fitted to the wheel. The great advantage with this clamp is that the adjustable parallel arms do not interfere with the brake drum at the back of the wheel. One note of caution for Avans – you have to fit the clamp at the rear of the tyres (the mudflap ends), as they don’t fit properly at the front of the tyre because of the protruding shock absorbers on the van suspension. I now have five levels of security – every bit helps to stop your valuable investment being stolen.

Normally, between trips the Aliner is secured in the back of the carport, but for a few days during the pre-trip and post-trip provisioning stages, it sits exposed on the front lawn. In this case, I modify the security to suit – I have the coupling lock on and the wheel clamp on, I have the door security handle locked in the secured position, I have the alarm on, and just to add to the security, I have the camper roof fully opened – with the locked door access, no one can get in to lower the roof, so if it is taken and towed, having the roof up would be pretty obvious and attract traffic police fairly quickly. Additionally with the roof up, I lock the padlocks through the over-centre roof clips, this way if they did manage to get the roof down, they’d be unable to lock it down in transport mode, with the risk of the roof opening during transport and consequent damage to the camper. Another minor precaution – I wind the stabilisers down hard to the ground – I know they can’t be locked, but the action of someone having to walk around the van winding up each of the four stabilisers adds another minute or two delays, and increases the chances of the thief being caught in the act.

At the moment when parked on the front lawn, it is just that, lawn – we have found it harder to push the Aliner on and off the driveway, so are considering putting in a new concrete ‘turning pad’ perpendicular to the driveway, so when we move the Aliner, it is on all hard paved surfaces, and not sink into the grass. When we do this, I’ll add a heavy duty U-bolt set into the slab at the back, so when the camper is out the front, I can use the carport chain wrapped through the new U-bolt and around the back bumper bar – this adds an extra level of security. Update: the new concrete parking pad has been installed in the front yard, complete with a heavy duty anchor bolt set deep into the concrete, so the van can be chained and padlocked to the slab.

On the road

Here are some suggestions on how to protect your Aliner while it is parked on a public road i.e. when you stop in a roadside town and go into a shop to buy more consumable camping supplies, or go sightseeing locally. Firstly, make sure the Aliner itself is fully locked as above. You can readily buy hardened steel coupling locks, these fit around the bottom tongue of the towball and above the trailer coupling, and are secured with a padlock – this makes it difficult to uncouple the trailer and haul it away, as it is now ‘permanently’ coupled to your car – they’d have to steal both to get your camper ! Park in an area where there are lots of people around; anyone tampering with your camper would be readily seen, however the passersby might just think it is the owner working on his camper.

NOTE – these types of locks are NOT suitable for use when the camper is being towed – only fit it when you take a rest stop, it only takes a moment, and remember to remove it before you drive off.

Older towbar units have the towball tongue bolted to the main towbar, with two large diameter bolts – it would take less than five minutes or so for someone to lie on the ground under the back of the car to unbolt these, so the visual deterrent factor of being caught in the act is high. If it is of concern to you, go to your local garage and get the mechanic to tack-weld the bolts to secure it.

However, modern towbars are built differently, these now have a large square hollow receiver, and the towball section slides into this and is fixed by a hitch pin through both parts – this pin then has an R-clip to stop it falling out. So, if you have only fitted a coupling lock, the thief only has to remove the R-clip, slip out the hitch pin, and then waltz off with your camper, complete with your carefully fitted coupling lock. To stop this, you can get a new hitch pin with a locking facility instead of an R-clip; this stops the towball section from being removed from your car’s towbar. The samples below are from ARK, but other equivalent Brands are readily available.

ARK coupling lockArk-tow-lock.jpg  ARK hitch pin lock Ark-hitch-lock.jpg ARK Compact Wheel Clamp on Aliner wheel

Another level of security – if you have a vehicle alarm, turn it on when you leave the car and camper, and turn it back off again before you drive away.

In the campsite

Here are some suggestions on how to protect your Aliner while it is parked in a camping site i.e. in most cases you don’t sit around in the camper 24/7, you go out to see the wide world around you, and your precious Aliner is left ‘literally’ for the pickings.

The first level of security is to normally camp where there are many other campers – the community spirit of the fellow-minded camping fraternity will help to keep an eye on your rig while you’re away – sort of like a Neighbourhood Watch program. Make friends, ask one or two campers near your site to keep an eye out for you, and offer to do likewise when they go out.

If you are just staying near the camp, and maybe sightseeing on foot around the surrounding area, and not intending to drive your car while you are camped there, just use the coupling locks, as per the ‘on the road’ section above, so the trailer is locked onto the car. Then I’d suggest that easily stolen items like your folding furniture, etc. in the awning/annexe area be temporarily packed back inside the Aliner centre aisle before locking up.  If you have the vehicle alarm, turn it on when you leave and turn it back off when you return.

If you are staying for longer terms and intending driving away on shopping trips or local sightseeing trips, and leaving your camper alone for several hours or more – still fit the coupling lock; these are adjustable to be lockable when the trailer is by itself or coupled to a towbar. Make sure the safety chains are wrapped through the towbar lock several times and secured with the same padlock, so that the chains can’t be used as a ‘temporary’ tow link. Thieves can back up to your trailer, wrap your safety chains around their towball and padlock it in place, then they can tow your camper off into the sunset to a quiet place and work on removing your coupling lock at their leisure ! If you have the new ARK Compact Wheel Clamp, make sure you fit it so it is clearly visible. If you have the vehicle alarm, turn it on when you leave and turn it back off when you return.

Final thoughts – if a thief really wants your Aliner, he’ll get it anyway – he’ll just back up a tilt-bed tow-truck, tilt the ramp, hook the winch to your drawbar and drag the camper onto the truck, whether there are security locks or not. Even if he does $1000 or more damage, He’ll just tow it away to a closed workshop somewhere where he can cut off your locks with a gas torch, and then he’ll buy new parts to replace those he’s damaged. When sold at a ‘bargain price’ on the black market, he’ll make more than enough money to make it worth his while.

As a final security measure, take a few photos of the camper (packed up for travel – from all four sides), keep these and a copy of the rego papers, with VIN numbers etc. in a plastic bag in your glove box – if it is stolen you can give this to the Police when you report the theft, to help them try to find it. However, historic data shows that the vast majority of stolen campers are never recovered, they are often ‘rebirthed’ and sold interstate. You can also help reduce the risk of theft by adding some distinctive trim to the front, sides and rear of the trailer to distinguish it from all the other similar models – make it hard to remove or repaint the trim and ensure it is included in the photos mentioned above.

 

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Mobile Communications on the Road

Mobile telephone services

We do not need any ‘super-duper all-singing all-dancing’ mobile phones – we use it mainly as a way for others to contact us, rather than us calling out – when we’re in a big shopping centre, we often go our own separate ways, and then when finished, we contact the other to find out whereabouts they are. Actually rather than wasting call costs, we have a simple code, if we’ve agreed to a specific meeting place, one just calls the other, lets the phone ring three times, then hang up – that’s our code for ‘I’ve finished my thing, lets meet up again’.

 

Originally our two mobiles were on the lowest plan with Telstra at $20/month, but when you look at it, we were being ripped off – 2 phones x $20 x 12 months = $480 a year plus excess calls, I was getting rather sick of contributing to senior Telstra executives’ golden parachutes. So I searched around for a better deal, and found one! We were even able to port our existing handsets and numbers over without problem.

 

We now have pre-paid accounts with Virgin Mobile, we chose to use the $50 plan with a 365 day expiry, this gives us free texts between our two mobiles, and cheap 5c calls between them, calls to other outside numbers are approximately the same as what we were paying to Telstra. For the amount of use we get, we find that we rarely use up all the $50 credit before the year is up, if we have any residual credit, as long as we recharge before the expiry date, the balance rolls over into the new period. What this amounts to is that, basically, our annual mobile costs have come down from $480+ to only around $100 – not a bad deal at all! Maybe your mobile deals are better suited to you, but if you are thinking about ditching your over-charging provider, this is certainly worth a look!

 

Mobile internet services

At home we have a landline with an ADSL2+ plan with unlimited downloads for $50/month, plus our landline rental and landline calls which average around $45-55/month. Obviously, being on the road we can’t use the ADSL. So when looking around for a good mobile broadband plan, I went down the Virgin route again – to get started, I got a $49 pre-paid starter kit – this gave me a decent (mid-spec) USB wireless modem and 4GB to use in 30 days (it wasn’t the 4GB that attracted me, just that we need to start somewhere, and the modem in the $49 kit was far better than the modem in the $29 kit), then just before the month was up I recharged with a $149 – 12GB with a 365 day expiry – this is the best combination for us. This means we only have to worry about topping it up once a year, and if we do say 12 trips a year, that gives us an average of 1GB per trip for emails, and web browsing – great for finding tourist info in the local area, making forward booking for the next camp ground, etc. We both have laptops, and either of us uses the modem when we want to check emails or find info on the web. If you don’t already have a wireless internet plan, this one is certainly worth a look.

 

Free to air TV services

One of the reasons for going camping is to get away from the ‘everyday humdrum’, and for some that also means getting away from TV – however, ‘the Managing Director’ likes her night-time TV. We had a small cheap no-name LCD TV that was used in the kitchen, but before we could really do much with it, it died.  When looking for a decent replacement we found a TEAC flatscreen HD 19” with built-in DVD player for a good price, this set has a 240v/12v power adaptor lead, but when we take it in the Aliner, I leave the bulky 240v/12v adaptor at home – I got a suitable 12v only lead from Jaycar Electronics, and we only use the TV on 12v (36w), this way it is still usable if we have a campsite without 240v power. Normally it resides at home in the kitchen, but when we go camping, it gets put in the Aliner and travels on top of the bed, snugly packed down with pillows to protect it. Once the Aliners’ setup, we place it either on the top of the right hand front locker, or it can be moved to the top of the cupboard between the bed and the entry door. We both take a couple of our favourite DVD’s each, just in case we can’t get suitable TV reception, or the daily programs on offer are garbage (which they mostly are !).

 

Now the TV aerial has been an ‘interesting’ experiment – looking through various camping suppliers and magazines, I was attracted to an ad for the Foldaway TV antenna, and the fact that they had a special version for A-frame campers to lift the aerial above the peaked roof – so I bought one. I fitted it so the vertical mast sat neatly between the kitchen window and the front window on that side (see main photo at the start of this document) – the mast and mounting are made of plastic – the base of the mast is mounted to the side of the camper just below the hinge line, the top is clipped into a C-clip mounted on the side of the front roof section – then the antenna is attached to one of four plastic tubing (read electrical conduit) sections which plug together to make a mast about 2.5m high, the cable is then fed through and the other three tubes added, the bottom of the mast is then clipped into the wall mount and locked into position, then the top part of the mast pushed into the C-clip to steady it. The actual antenna itself is simply a pair of ‘adjustable rabbit ears’ which can be angled to suit.

 

Rather than using a through-wall connector with ‘signal sapping’ cable joins each side, Foldaway have a hollow wall duct called the Direct Connector – this has a weatherproof plug on the outside, you open the plug, push the cable through the wall to the inside of the van, run the cable to suit, then plug the cable directly into the TV – this means there is a continuous cable from the TV antenna to the TV set without intermediate joints. So far so good! I drilled for the Direct Connector through the wall just to the right of the sink area (looking from inside) so the cable could be easily run along the back of the sink/fridge, behind the dinette seat cushion to the front right locker top, where the TV is normally placed. The cable is held in place with a few small white stick-on cable clips – these open out, the cable is pushed in, and they clip shut to hold the cable – it is also easy to unclip the cable when packing up. By coming through the wall at this location, if we wanted, we could rerun the cable down beside the edge of the mattress, across the end of the aisle, tucked under the outer edge of bed base, and up the side cupboard near the door – this gives us two easy TV and cable positions to suit how we want to watch TV that time.

 

We went to our first campsite at Cotton Tree – now here is the best test of TV antennas around – Cotton Tree is notorious for bad TV reception, as the park is filled with trees – unless you can get a site away from the trees, or can get a ‘clear shot’ window looking towards the transmitters at Coolum, the TV reception is, well, at best, atrocious! All we could get was the 5 analogue channels with high degree of snowiness.  No matter how I twisted and angled the antenna, the reception didn’t improve. I got talking with a few camp neighbours to see what their reception was like, and many of them had small flat aluminium antennas. Several said, ‘Oh yes, TV around here is bad unless you get one of the Phaselink antennas from the Cotton Tree Caravanning Bait and Tackle shop in King St. They sell a Phaselink with 6m cable for about $60” – you fit it to your existing mast – if you need longer than 6m, they will make you up one on the spot for a modest extra price. We had ours made up to 7m to allow variations of position of both the TV and antenna.

 

UPDATE – Cotton Tree Caravanning Bait and Tackle shop has new owners, and the Phaselink antenna is no longer available.

 

A possible alternative antenna is available from Jaycar – however, it is a larger size and may prove difficult to find space to store during transport

 

http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=LT3138&form=CAT2&SUBCATID=1016#4

 

So, I went and bought a Phaselink, removed the Foldaway antenna and cable (but kept the plastic mast, mountings and Direct Connector) and fitted the Phaselink instead – I retained the exact same antenna position on the Aliner and pointed it in the same direction as before. WOW! What a difference, not only did we get the 5 analogue channels, but all the digital channels as well, even 4 stereo radio channels! And with great clarity, sound and colour! Needless to say the Foldaway is back in its storage tube languishing in the back of our garage, probably never to see the light of day again!

 

One of the things we found was that people have their antennas pointing is all sorts of directions, when we asked how to find the direction of the transmitters we often got conflicting answers. One neighbour put me onto the solution – buy a Matchmaster digital TV direction finder from Dick Smith – we bought one, unfortunately the antenna cable input is a threaded F-connector and the end of our cable a standard Coax plug – I had to get a socket adaptor to suit. To use, it is easy, before you run the aerial cable into the van, you plug the cable into the direction finder, turn it on, then rotate the antenna – a series of LED’s will light up – when you have the highest number of LED’s lit up, that’s the strongest signal – you may need a little tweaking by a few degrees either way – you then pass the cable inside and connect to your TV – run your TV in Auto Tune mode, may take a few minutes, the TV will scan and lock onto any channels it finds – once you’ve done this, you’re ready to watch TV. In practise, I’ve not found the Matchmaster that affective where there is only a marginal signal – it only seems to work where there are high strength signals.

 

One small hint that I have found – if you frequent commercial caravan parks, many will have a detailed park site map on their websites – the better ones even have a direction arrow on the map showing where to point your TV antenna – why don’t all parks do this?

 

At some stage in the future, I’ll look into replacing the plastic mast with a tubular metal one, probably mounted at the front, clamped to the drawbar A-frame (I was originally thinking in terms of clamping the antenna mast to the rear spare wheel carrier bracket, but I’ve now used this location to mount the reversing camera).

 

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Pre-trip and Post-trip provisioning

Between trips, the Aliner is normally stored in fully closed and secured (refer security section) condition, complete with fully fitted PVC camper cover, in the back of our double-length carport, with the car parked under the carport between the camper and the street. In storage, the Aliner is fully provisioned, ready to go at a moment’s notice, with only food, clothes and associated items to be packed. We have developed an effective pre-trip and post-trip methodology that works well.

Pre-trip - Once we’ve made a decision to go on a trip, the day before we go, we remove and store the camper cover inside the house, then roll the Aliner out onto the front lawn, perpendicular to the driveway and off to the side, and secure it (refer security section). The camper is opened up, and the 240v mains connection setup with the fridge set to 240v mode, cooling it down overnight; this also tops-up the 12v camper house battery. We then load all our trip clothing, bedding and associated items, and load the dry food pantry boxes.

Next morning, all there is left to do is load the fridge food and minor personal items, stow the 240v cable, close and lock the camper; then couple up and tow the camper off to our desired destination – no more than half an hour’s work on the morning of departure. This allows an early getaway, if we are travelling longer distances.

To assist our pre-trip provisioning, I made a spreadsheet checklist – this is based on the things that we considered necessary for every trip. Some perishable items, like milk or bread, may already be available at home, and can be taken along to use them up – if not, instead of a ‘tick’, we write ‘buy’ on the checklist – then when we get to our destination, we already have part of a shopping list for local purchase. This checklist is printed off for each new trip. A sample is shown below:

For trips longer than a week or so, there may be other required provisions not on the above list – in this case we pack a suitable plastic storage container (or esky) with the ‘overflow’ items and carry in the boot of the car. You may vary the list to suit your own individual requirements.

Post-trip - On return from the trip, I drive fully into the carport, uncouple the camper, then roll the Aliner out onto the front lawn, and then open up the camper. The first step is to remove all unused food, both fridge food and dry pantry food and take inside the house. The fridge is wiped out and dried internally (the fridge was turned to the off position just before we left to return home), and the door left semi-open on the door clip to ventilate. The second step is to remove the dirty clothes and linen and any unused clothes and take inside the house. The used bedding is then stripped and taken inside for washing; then the spare bedding in the front centre locker is fitted to the bed, and when the washed bedding is returned to the camper, it now goes into the front centre locker – this way we rotate the wear and tear on our two sets of bedding from trip to trip. Once this is done, the whole interior is wiped down and dusted (including the flyscreen mesh) and the floor vacuumed. At this stage the camper may be left overnight in a secured condition (refer security section), or if we have sufficient daylight, we proceed straight to the next step.

The next step (or the next day), we top-up / refill the camper water tank (if required) with our drinking water hose and filter, then we give the whole camper exterior a full wash-down and rinse-off – this is left to air dry. Any accessible water spotting is then cleaned off with a normal car chamois. Once fully dry and clean, the camper is closed up again, and pushed back into the rear of the carport, the camper cover refitted and the full security provisions activated. The car is then driven back into the carport between the camper and the street.

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Preventive Maintenance

You get your car serviced to maintain it in a safe, reliable and roadworthy condition – so, you should also service your camper trailer. Dependant on how frequently you use your camper, I’d suggest an annual service (or maybe every two years if lower usage). Camper trailers are easy to service as there is really not much to them; however, the important areas are shown below:

Tyres – You should check your tyre pressures every time before you go out on a trip. Tyre pressures are subjective – everyone has their own opinion. From my own personal viewpoint, I use similar pressures to my car tyres, e.g. if my car has 32psi, I set the trailer to 32psi. Once you have a bit of experience towing the trailer over varied road conditions, you may want to increase or decrease a couple of pounds either side of your car pressures, to suit the trailer that you have. After several trips, I have now settled down to using 28/29 psi in my Aliner.

Don’t make the mistake of setting your trailer pressures too low – many years ago I towed a loaded box trailer from Sydney to Brisbane – the trailer dealer recommended 20psi for the trip. What a mistake – after around six hours at highway speeds the heat build-up inside the tyre from excessive side-wall flexing, due to the low pressures, caused a total blowout and destruction of the second hand tyre at 100kph – not a pleasant experience I can tell you!

The life of a tyre is measured in two factors, tread wear and age. On your car, over a relatively short period, a tyre may easily get 40,000 to 50,000 km before the tread wears to illegal condition. But, on a trailer it may take well over 10 years before that mileage occurs. The big factor with trailer tyres is age; if you take an extended look at many different tyre manufacturers website, they generally recommend that you replace the tyre after six to seven years – this is due to age deterioration in the rubber and tyre materials. Each annual service, it is recommended to check your camper tyres for cuts, abrasions, cracking, splits, stones wedged in the treads, and especially any significant chunks ripped out of any tread blocks. If it looks suspect, get your tyre dealer to check it over – if doubtful, scrap it and buy a new one.

Wheel bearings – At each annual service, have your wheel bearings stripped down, cleaned, inspected for excessive wear and repacked with new grease. Check for any breakup of the hardened roller bearing surfaces.

Brakes – Also at each service have your brake shoes or pads inspected for wear, blow any dust out of the brake housing, adjust the brakes to operate effectively and adjust the handbrake cables to suit.

Electrical system – There isn’t much to go wrong with the electrical system, but check all lamps are working correctly – if you can, inspect the wiring for any abrasions or nicks that could potentially result in a wire breaking at some time in the future.

Gas – If your camper has built-in gas lines from the gas bottle to a permanently mounted stove unit, get a certified gas fitter to check and issue a new gas certificate when required.

If you look after your camper trailer, and have it serviced regularly, it should give you many trouble-free and reliable years of service.

Emergency Toolkit – Note that while the Avan campers come with a custom scissors jack and winding handle, they do not come with a wheel brace. So, if you get a flat tyre on the road and need to change a wheel, you’re in trouble. Accordingly I bought a 4-way wheelbrace 17/19/21/23mm from SuperCheapAuto and keep this in the left rear locker with the jack. Check that the wheelbrace actually fits the nuts on your Aliner wheels, they may be different from those on your tow car.

Additionally, during the first couple of trips I had a need for a few basic tools to do a few small adjustment jobs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any tools with me, and I had the embarrassment of asking to borrow tools from nearby campers. So, I surveyed the basic toolkits available, and bought a simple general purpose 100 piece toolkit from SuperCheapAuto – this I now carry in the boot of the car, for when I need to do small maintenance jobs. As well as a good range of spanners and sockets, this kit also includes useful general tools like allen keys, a claw hammer, screwdrivers, cutter knife, tape measure, pliers and a small multi-compartment box of miscellaneous screws, nails, pins, wall hooks and wall plugs.

First Aid Kit – We also carry a fairly comprehensive first aid kit in the car – you never know when you are going to need it. My wife was a high school teacher before she retired, and as part of her career, she was required to attend a one-day training course, and sit a practical exam to gain her First Aid Certificate. So, I have my own ‘mini nurse’ on board. Decent first aid kits can be bought from your state motoring organisation, such as RACQ, and major pharmacies.

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Finding Resources to Enhance Your Camping

This section covers a whole range of miscellaneous sources of information to enhance your camping experience. It comprises details of publications, books, websites, DVDs etc., applicable to camping. Some of these resources are free, some have a fee attached. Whilst the main resources apply only to Queensland, assuming a trip radius of say 500km maximum, centred on Brisbane, I have also included some resources that allow you to venture further afield into northern and western NSW.

Many of these resources, especially those that are internet based, often have extensive Hints and Tips sections with lots of valuable information. It is worth the time taken to trawl through these – you never know what new information you will uncover!

Of course, the No1 resource for owners of Avan camper trailers is:

THE AVAN CLUB – This is the club specifically for owners of A-frame campers made by Avan Camper Trailers Australia.

Details of the club and how to join are found at:

http://www.avanclubaust.org.au/479/Home/

Alternatively, contact the Club Secretary at secretary@avanclubaust.org.au

or on 03 9436 1356 or mobile 0427 546 719

CARAVANNING QUEENSLAND – This is an ‘umbrella’ association with the two principal members being –

The Caravan Trade & Industries Association of Queensland, representing the manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, hirers, repairers to the mobile camping industry in Qld.

The Caravan Parks Association of Queensland Inc., representing the member owners and operators of Caravan Parks throughout the state.

http://www.caravanqld.com.au/about-us.aspx

Caravanning Queensland publishes an annual directory of all caravan parks within Queensland who are members of the CPAQ. This publication is free on request, and is available at all good camping stores and camper retailers. If you have difficulty getting a copy, you can phone CQ on 07 3862 1833 and they will post you a copy.

This directory includes detailed road maps (provided by RACQ) to enable you to plan your trips around the state. Each park entry shows the street address, phone numbers and website and email addresses, along with a brief description of the park features. A guide to daily site fees is also provided. Many of the parks have taken out display advertising showing photos and other details of their facilities. Whilst it only covers Qld, and only CPAQ member parks, it is a MUST have directory.

QLD NATIONAL PARKS WEBSITE – This is part of the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Resource Management. Note that every camping stay MUST be by paid Permit.

http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/activities_in_parks_and_forests/camping/index.html

The main page has links to a “Where you can Camp’ page, which breaks Queensland up into ten regional zones. When you click on the desired zone, it brings up a list of all parks within that zone. Beside the park names listed, are coded icons showing the facilities within that park. Clicking on the park name at the left, takes you directly to information about that specific park, including its location and generally includes a detailed local map showing the camp areas and local access roads and other specific information. These are formatted as PDF files in A4 size, and are designed to be printed and taken with you when you go camping.

In the top right corner of the page, is a clickable link which takes you directly to a Campsite Booking Page, where you can check the camp sites for available days, and calculate your camp fees, and confirm your booking. Once your camp site has been confirmed and fees have been paid, the Permit will be posted out to you – make sure you book early enough in advance to guarantee a site when you want it, and enough time to receive the Permit before leaving home. Permits must be displayed on your tent at all times when camping.

If you take your laptop computer with you, and have wireless Internet access, you can check and book alternative campsites as you travel around – this is great for extended trips, as you are able to change your plans and itinerary ‘on the fly’ - provided the campsite is not already fully booked out on the days required.

NSW NATIONAL PARKS WEBSITE – This is part of the NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage.

http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/default.aspx

In the centre of the main page is a map of NSW - when you move your mouse over the map, it highlights fourteen selectable regions – clicking on a region will bring up a detailed map of that region with coloured press-pins, pausing over a press-pin brings up the name of the park, and on the right-hand side, it brings up a list of all parks in that region. By clicking on the name at the right, it brings up a page specific to that park. This details the location, how to get there, a coded legend of icons with the facilities at that park [NOTE: if the coded icons DO NOT show the camping symbol, the park is day use only – camping is NOT permitted], there is also a printable map, and at the left hand side is a clickable link Camping, this then shows the name of the campground and the daily fees.

NOTE THAT – some parks require a daily Vehicle Access Fee in addition to overnight camping fees – a list of parks that do have these additional fees is selectable on the website; and the dual fee structure is also shown when you review that park.

When you bring up the full list of parks, it shows ALL parks, including those NOT suitable for trailer camping. However, there is a really great way to limit your list to ONLY those sites applicable to trailer camping. Over on the left hand menu, click on Camping – at the bottom of the page, see ‘Search for campgrounds with....’ – in the first drop-down selector box, choose ‘I Need Camper Trailer Access’, in the next drop-down box, select ‘Suitable for standard 2WD cars’. When you click the Search button, it will bring up a full list of all parks within NSW that are suitable for camper trailers towed by 2WD cars. See also in this selection process, there is the ability to also choose only parks with eight types of selectable facilities. So, if you need camps that have hot showers and/or flush toilets, tick the boxes and press Search – the list will be displayed accordingly – this is a VERY handy feature.

If you intend to frequent parts of NSW during a calendar year, you can buy an Annual Pass which gives substantial savings over daily fees – the best Pass to obtain is the Country Parks Pass – this covers all parks in NSW, EXCEPT for the greater Sydney Metropolitan area and the Kosciusko National Park.

CAMPS AUSTRALIA WIDE - is a readily available publication from independent authors, Philip and Cathryn Fennell.

This is commonly referred to as the ‘Campers Bible’.  It is a MUST have directory. There are two versions of the directory, one called ‘Camps Australia Wide 6’ which costs $60, and one called “Camps Australia Wide 6 with Camps Snaps’ which costs $90 – the later book has colour photographs showing an overview of most of the camping grounds, so you can get an idea if you want to stay there. Although it seems costly, it has a massive amount of information of value to the serious camper. The current version 6, has over 3700 listings, and covers, all free camp sites, rest areas, community camps, station stays, national parks, state forests and parks, remote caravan parks, pet friendly sites, GPS coordinates, and a full list of public Dump Sites. This directory also includes a full HEMA Road Atlas.

Each entry contains a coded campsite number (cross-referenced to extensive indexes), the location of the site, the GPS coordinates, and contact numbers where applicable. There is also a clearly labelled set of coded icons for each site showing the facilities – note that not all sites are suitable for camping trailers, but those that are, are clearly ‘icon-ed’ in the campsite listing.

One of the aims of the book is to encourage budget camping, so the target nightly camp fee is set for those campgrounds that cost $22 per couple or less, including all the known FREE campsites – there are some campgrounds listed that are above the $22 target figure, but they are included because of their exceptional features, or have excellent vista outlooks. The book is published at bi-annual intervals; however the publishers offer a free internet website where all known changes are listed until the next new version is published two years later. The authors take the care to remove any out of date listings and add any new listings in each new issue. The publication is a large format B4 size 375mm high x 255mm wide, with hard covers and spiral bound spine, so it can be laid out flat when viewing. The book is available at most RACQ branches, most camping outlet stores or direct from the publishers:

http://www.campsaustraliawide.com/

CARAVAN PARKS AUSTRALIA WIDE – is a ‘sister’ publication to Camps Australia Wide by the same authors.

This publication covers all the commercial caravan parks not covered in the book shown above. The book is in spiral bound A4 size format with stiff card covers and costs $50. Each entry has coded park numbers and is cross-referenced to extensive indexes, and to place markers on the included HEMA Road Atlas showing the location of the park, the GPS coordinates, and contact numbers and website address where applicable. Colour coded symbols are listed for each park which shows the facilities available at that park.

http://www.campsaustraliawide.com/

AUSTRALIAN CAMPER TRAILERS GROUP – INTERNET FORUM – This is a free internet forum, setup by camper trailer enthusiasts for camper trailer enthusiasts; anyone can join.

The Australian Camper Trailers Group main website is:

http://www.campertrailers.org/

There is a vast amount of information on this site all just for camper trailer enthusiasts – including –

List of camper Manufacturers, photos and stories from members with different brands of campers and some show how they have modified their camper, a huge repository of DIY hints and tips, a list of members used campers for sale, a list of stolen campers to watch out for, hints on buying a camper, trip reports from members, upcoming events and show dates, a What’s New section showing some great new accessories for the camper, camp cooking hints, and heaps of other info.

Some members use the forum for showcasing their trips and telling you about great new discoveries they have made along the way!

OTHER USEFUL SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Queensland Dept of Transport and Main Roads – Safe Towing Guide:

http://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/~/media/a2570893-dd8b-4446-8ca1-a43bcd5caf57/safe_towing_information_v2.pdf

Recreational Vehicle Manufacturers Association of Australia – Owners Handbook:

http://www.rvmaa.com.au/downloads/owners_handbook/RVMAA_Owners_Handbook.pdf

Caravan & Camping Industry Association NSW – Towing Guide:

http://www.towingguide.com.au/content/braking_systems.html

And ........... to round it out, here’s a couple of general camping sites

TheGreyNomads.com.au :

http://www.thegreynomads.com.au/

This site contains all sorts of miscellaneous information relative to the older generation travelling around Australia in their retirement years.

Grey Nomads Australia :

http://www.greynomadsaustralia.com.au/

Another typical site for the older generation.

 

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Helpful Contractors

As you go through your camping life, there will be times when you need assistance from an ‘outside contractor’ or two. But, how do you select the right one? Are they good enough? Will they do the job the way you want it done? Who services the south side of Brisbane? Can they come to your home?

Here’s a few that we have found to be excellent, and we have no hesitation in recommending them.

12v wiring modifications – the Avan manual states that any work performed on the 12v electrical installation, by other than a qualified auto electrician, could void your warranty.

We found Anthony Wood from ‘Go12Volt’ to be excellent – he came to our home and fitted two extra 12v sockets inside the camper on the top of the front wall lockers, and one external socket near the entry door.

Find him at www.Go12Volt.com.au, or call him on 0475 622 485

240v wiring modifications – the Avan manual states that any work performed on the 240v electrical installation, by other than a licensed electrician, will void your warranty (and probably your insurance policy as well).

We found Simon from ‘Simtek Electrical’ to be excellent – he came to our home and fitted an extra double GPO just under the dinette table.

Find him at simtekelectrical@live.com.au , or call him on 0433 527 665, or 07 3343 3036

Al-Ko electric brake service – the Avan manual states that the first service for the Al-Ko electric brake system must be performed between 500 and 1000km from new. So, I rang my local Avan dealer, and strangely enough, they said it was an Al-Ko service and not an Avan service, and they were unable to offer a brake service to me (yet more strangely, servicing of the electrical braking system is part of the Avan dealer annual service anyway) Go figure!!!

I then rang Al-Ko in Brisbane and asked for a brake service contractor’s name – although the Al-Ko manual states that you should ring them for an authorised serviceman, they don’t actually have any. They said, just go to any major caravan or brake dealer.

We found Peter Armstrong from ‘Tow Care’ to be excellent – he came to our home and performed a full Al-Ko electric brake inspection, clean and adjustment, including adjusting the handbrake cable to prevent brake drag when the camper suspension flexes on undulating roads.

Find him at peter@towcare.com.au or call him on 0417 747 831

Canvas Awning Modifications – we bought our Aliner with the dealer option canvas awning, but not the annexe walls. As part of our custom manufacture of our own design annexe walls, we needed several extra eyelet holes to be reinforced and punched into the existing canvas awning.

We found Craig Embleton from ‘Boomerang Canvas & Vinyl’ at Coopers Plains to be excellent – we had to deliver our awning to their premises at Coopers Plains, and pick up the finished work after a couple of days.

Find them at http://www.vinyl-banners-canvas.com.au or call them on 07 3275 1840.

All of these outside contractors, I would have no hesitation in using again for any future RV work I might need, and so highly recommend them to you, if you don’t already have your own ‘pet’ contractors; these blokes are worth a try. Good contractors are hard to find!!!

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My Camping Background before the Aliner

My love of camping goes back to the 50’s and 60’s. Dad was a keen camper, but it was Mum who really loved the camping lifestyle; it was her great enthusiasm that instilled the love of camping that I have today.

My family lived in Wollongong, and not long after the end of WW2 my father bought his first family car, a Standard 10; however it was too small to tow a caravan or trailer. A few years later he bought a Standard Vanguard – now this was the start of our family camping holidays. Dad bought a small 6x4 box trailer, mostly as an adjunct to his business as a painting contractor, but at many times during the year, all our tent camping gear was thrown in the cleaned out trailer, tarped over, and off we went. Every School Holidays was our target, and also Long Weekends (for short distance trips only), so all up we went trailer camping about six to eight times a year.

Pretty soon, Dad started to think of ways of making our camping experiences better, and in conjunction with a couple of his best mates (we always went camping together in groups of three or four families), came up with the idea of putting a tubular frame on the box trailer and Mum sewed a canvas canopy for it. All our camping friends did much the same, as I guess many families all over Australia did. This was not yet the commencement of the Camping Trailer revolution as we know it today, but when we camped, Dad and Mum set up the big 16 x 12 canvas tent as per normal, and he and Mum slept on stretchers in a separate partitioned part of the tent. Dad setup the trailer direct end-on to one of the tent doors, and my younger brother and I slept in the enclosed trailer, which had a mattress fitted on the trailer floor. Nice and snug, protected from the ‘big bad bities’! I was absolutely terrified of snakes at the time.

As we got more camping experience, Dad took us to places much more distant – in the earlier years, we often went to East’s Beach, near Kiama, but our favourite place was Lake Conjola – what a magnificent location! Lake Conjola is locked away in my heart forever! Other popular places we camped at were Huskisson, Sussex Inlet, Currarong, Gerringong and other small hidden jewels along the NSW south coast.

Lake Conjola - Photos from Public Domain on Wikipedia Commons – centre photo from NSW tourism

 

By the mid-50’s Dad bought his first Holden, and by now also had a bigger 7x5 trailer – now here was a vehicle that could go vast distances in comfort – we literally abandoned the NSW south coast, much to my sadness, and the Great North beckoned. South-east Queensland and northern NSW now became our playground. I now discovered ‘exotic’ places like Forster and Tuncurry, Nambucca Heads, Sawtell, Yamba, and Brunswick Heads. Not long after, we moved from Wollongong to Sydney, so our sojourns north could reach further. However my parents liked Queensland best – holidays here included Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach, and further north to Bargara Beach east of Bundaberg – this was as far as we got due to time constraints driving from Sydney. In fact when they eventually retired, my parents chose to move to Burleigh Waters, near to one of their favourite holiday destinations, and this is where they saw out their last days.

 

In the early 60’s I got my first car, and not long after, I ‘flew the nest’. My parents decided that tent trailer camping was now too hard for them and bought their first caravan, a pop-top Sunwagon – by this time Dad had a Ford Fairlane, and towing the new van was a breeze. This was the end of my camping trailer holidays for many decades. The days camping during the 50’s and 60’s with my family were rather crude by today’s standards – if my parents were still alive today, they’d be amazed at the incredible range of comfort and convenience accessories that makes camping all the more enjoyable.

As I’ve now been married nearly 40 years and my own family have ‘empty nested’, my dormant camping bug has bitten again!

Oddly enough, in the first eight years of our marriage (before ‘curtain climbers’) my wife and I frequently went tent camping all over NSW, and the ACT, and even ventured deep into South Australia and Victoria.  All this was only by throwing a small 4-man tent and associated bits into the back seat and the boot, as during this period we only had a 1200cc Toyota Corolla and the first series 1500cc Honda Accord – neither of which was really suitable for towing a medium box trailer, let alone a fully equipped Camper Trailer.

I’m amazed at just how easily this document came together. It all started when, as part of my review of my retirement lifestyle, I was attracted back to my earlier camping experiences. One day I was sitting with my wife watching TV and an ad came up related to camping (a BCF ad no less), I looked at my wife and said “Now that we’ve empty-nested, how would you like to go camping again?”.

This started me off by having a quick look at simple on-road canvas side-fold camping trailers, just out of curiosity – but, quick look! No way! I was astounded at how quickly the camper trailer world sucked me in.

The more I explored, the more I enjoyed. Once I remembered all the wonderful camping experiences that I had in my earlier life, I knew it was what I wanted to do as an active part of my retirement. Not so much as doing “the Big Lap”, but just to be able, at a whim, to couple up the camper and go travelling, to go see parts of Australia that I’ve never seen before, as well as re-visiting ‘old haunts’, anywhere from just a few days, up to about two to three weeks maximum.

All my research into what is available to today’s camper trailer buyers is the culmination of this document. During my walk down the road of the world of camper trailers, I’ve discovered many things that I would never have otherwise thought of and have come across many limitations for those with small cars; so enjoy my discoveries, and you may well finish up with a camper trailer much better equipped for your needs.

My camper survey covered more than six months of research, and started at the small ‘mini’ campers, right up to the high end campers, such as the Jayco Pop-top campers and the Avan Camper Trailers. I reckon the Aliner (and its family members) is the best on-road camper trailer available in Australia today; as there is NO canvas to worry about when setting up – unless of course if you decide to setup the annexe.

This document is specifically targeted to couples who have empty nested and are either still working out their last years part-time, or have retired with vast amounts of time on their hands. The whole concept of ‘Grey Nomad-ing’ has had an explosive effect over the last decade or so – many retirees are selling up their homes, buying a big 4-wheel drive and a big caravan, or buying big self-contained Motorhomes and going off on ‘The Big Lap’ around Australia.

However, there are many retirees who simply do not have the reserve funds to do the ‘posh’ $50-100k+ travelling. For example, I am one of those who only have a smallish car – a well equipped 4-cylinder 2-litre car – unfortunately, it does not have the power and towbar rating to pull a full size caravan (as many smaller cars don’t), but a well equipped Camper Trailer like the Avan Aliner is well within the capabilities, and can be bought, fully equipped for around $25,000.

When I look back at those fifteen odd years spent camping with my family during the 50’s and 60’s, I can see that, whether she intended it or not, my late mother instilled in me a great love of camping, and through both Mum and Dad’s guidance I sub-consciously learned an incredible amount of knowledge of camping and about the myriad exotic places we went to. As a tribute to her great enthusiasm and instilling in me a great love of camping, when it came to deciding a ‘name’ for our Aliner, both my wife and I instantly decided, we will name it after my late mother – so, our Aliner is called ‘Una May 1924-1986’

All this newly acquired, and my old, knowledge made my task of writing this document so much easier. This document originally started out as a series of notes that I wrote primarily for my own use, as a one-stop-shop resource to use in my selection and use of a typical camping trailer. As my knowledge increased I made the decision to make my experiences available to all camping trailer enthusiasts, especially those who own an Avan Aliner.

Along the way, we’ll show you some of the ‘wonderful’ modern day accessories that will make your life ‘on the road’ much more comfortable and pleasurable. I trust that we will have a pleasant journey, and maybe even ‘see you on the road’ sometime.

Happy Camping.....

 

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