Buying a basic camper trailer and adding all the luxuries.
If you have the right tools and some imagination, lots is possible. My 3D printing skills have made so many things possible.
How the project started
We became interested in doing a bit more exploring of Australia. We have traveled to lots of places over seas and do plenty of travel in Australia in hotels and Motels. My wife and I have camped when we were younger, So we want our daughter to experience something different.
I have a 7×4 box trailer and was thinking of rebuilding this. It actually was an old 70’s camper trailer I restored. When looking at the cost of materials and time required it may be cheaper to buy a used camper trailer. One problem is the trailer is only rated to 500kg had has not brakes. I have no issues in doing the work, there may be something second had already suitable.
Originally I was thinking for extending the side of my 70’s trailer and fitting a roof top tent on a frame. My wife didn’t like that idea very much of a roof top tent, it wasn’t what she imagined and still costly.
I started to look around on the internet for campers, soft floor variants that were in our price range but with limited accessories. The hard floors were way out of our budget. I though they wouldn’t be expensive (I was kidding my self). There was a camper that I liked just for the trailer.
Our first physical look at camper trailers and caravans was at a caravan and camping show. This was an eye opener, so many different brands and types, many configurations to suit your needs. Our biggest wake up call was the price again. Maybe just continue how we holiday by booking accomodation, fly or drive.
One local brand soft floor optioned was around $9000, its nicely built but too expensive for what we budgeted for.
We were a bit disappointed and ended up buying a Domenic 75L dual zone fridge. The show was mainly high end options that we would only consider once retired. Back to the idea of modifying the old trailer.
I think at the time we had no idea what the prices were going to be. campers now had lots of luxuries we never considered.
Weeks go by while searching online at the second hand market just for fun. I saw plenty of camper trailers, they were either over our budget or looked in bad shape. I did see one that was advertised right from the start, a basic setup. This camper was locally made, a heavy duty off road trailer with a water tank, pump fitted and a big tent. After lots of thinking many weeks I rang thinking its already sold.
When we arrived the camper was set up, we were amazed how new and hardly used it looked. The trailer looked hardly used with original tyres and the paint work was very good. The only issue was the annex walls were missing. We purchased it at a bargain at price. I could not buy or make the trailer for the price we paid. So now I have a starting point.
LED tail list on European cars
I have a semi modern SUV, a 2008 VW Touareg. The trailer has modern LED lights, the car is too clever for it’s own good.
When hitching up the new camper trailer to tow home I got a fault warning “check trailer lights!”, got out the car to have a look, I see that the trailer lights are flashing like a disco. The brake light’s and indicators don’t work as they should. I had no choice but to drive home like this, lucky I wasn’t pulled over. I know the Touareg detects faulty light’s by measuring current. A old fashion light globe has resistance through the filament this draws more current that a LED lights. The trailer module controlling the trailer lights measures each light circuit, measuring for open or short circuit, if the current is not correct the controller shuts down that circuit. The controller will then try again and again, this gives a on off cycle, hence the lights flashing.
The fix I know is to place 8ohm 25watt load resistors across each light circuit on the trailer, this fools the system think everything is ok. This annoyed me as this increase power consumption, you lose the advantage of LED lights saving power. At the time it was cheaper replacing the LED lights with old fashion tail lights.
Since I did this I have purchases quite a few load resistors on Aliexpress. Doing the same modification to the bike carrier, this had LED lights too. I installed a switch to disables the resistors when not needed.
They hydraulic over ride brakes did not function and seized. The master cylinder had an issue so I just replaced it. Wheel bearing serviced while checking and adjusting the brake shoes. The brakes now work!
75L Domenic fridge
Let’s try the new fridge out for size. Its dose not fit, it’s too tall.
You must be joking, I didn’t even think of this when buying the trailer.
Well this has sort of killed this idea. A few drinks and a good nights sleep I came up with an idea. Extend the side up, I only needed 45mm extra clearance, this included a fridge slide.
I though why not use some 75x75mm timber. Doing the would require the tent floor frame hinges to be extended 75mm also. Cut off the old hinge pins and welding them onto a new longer thicker steel bar, holes to match. The lock down catches had to be extended, can’t miss them as they are pink. I think it turned out quite good.
Fridge slide draw
The fridge filled up is quite heavy it needed a draw with roller bearing. I was going to use roller bearing and make a slide system. I ended up buying of eBay a pair of 1.5M slides, these are rated too 220kg. L steel profile was used to mount the . A draw was made to suit with solid timber sides. This draw had a space for the fridge and a small BBQ, under the BBQ is a lift out floor to store the hot plates and cooking tools. The draw had tie dow points. The slide was set in 400mm to allow the tailgate kitchen to fit.
The heart of the off grid power system is the battery.
I had two ex radio communications site sealed lead acid 100A/Hr batteries. These batteries are tall and narrow. The original idea was tho have them on the side of there trailer. I didn’t like using valuable side space, the trailer would be too heavy on one side too.
Why not make an under slung storage system, This design would allows the heavy batteries to be lowered down for servicing or replacement. The other benefit under slung is the lowering of centre of gravity. I 3d printed vents into the lower part to stop gasses accumulating, also to allow water to drain. The compartments are heavy to withstand impacts and hi G loadings over bumps.
This is when the fun started, this evolving part of the project.
I had in my head all the possibilities our family wanted for on grid and off grid. Then each trip after that I dreamt up something we may have lacking.
I wanted at least a 20amp DC power supply, a DC-DC charger battery management system, A solar regulator and charger, a 240 volt inverter. Power outputs to run my ham radio gear, air compressor power, cigarette light sockets, then plenty of circuit breakers for all the electrical circuits. It had two be serviceable out in the field. Some device I actually modified to make it remote controllable to fit in a small area.
If you look at the photos below you can see how the system evolved. Lots of the bits were designed and 3d printed by me to fit its purpose. I even made the buss bars.
This system worked well off grid and ran our 75L fridge all day and night when it was 40deg temperature.
I thought the switch board area was full on, no it was the wiring to the rest of the camper, it seem to take for ever.
The fridge slide has its own 240V and 12 volt power feed, one off grid the fridge selected automatically the 12 volts.
The Tent area had a 240volt out let, multiple 12v and 5 volt out lets and of cause lights
All storage lockers had lights including the under tent storage area and tool box.
The tool box had 40watts of solar on the lid and 12volt power feed of anything inside.
The solar system were two flexible solar panels and one solid solar panel, there are two solar connection points.
A tail gate kitchen, this was what we chose to do. There is the option of a pull out kitchen but we needed the storage space.
The kitchen was build on a frame I made that fits on the inside of the tail gate. The kitchen has 3 draws, 2 burner gas stove and sink with hot cold water tap. A voltage monitor, power out lets and annex kitchen light switch. This kitchen can be unbolted and removed. The first use of the kitchen we realised we need more bench space next to the stove. The idea for a fold down extension bench with towel rail and paper towel dispenser.
It would be nice to have hot water, we did boil water for the first few camps. I have seen plenty of ideas on commercial campers on the market. We purchased a Smarttek Lite water heater, its quite compact On the next trip I mounted the heater to the side of the kitchen with a deflector plate for the exhaust. It was an improvement, closing the tail gate wasn’t easy now with out disconnecting every thing. It would be nice if the heater was mounted on the side of the camper and it could be half connected.
This is when the idea of making a side locker to mount the water heater, have a tool box storage as well. The gas bottle needed relocation, this is when having a plumber in the family helps. I do the work and they check and connect it after.
The heater was mounted so it can be lifted out easily, a water manifold system was made to combine the tank water to mains ware together. A gas manifold was also made for the bayonet gas fitting and hot water side. The water tank got a level meter to stop us guessing how much water we had. Again this had to be serviceable.
The top of the heater compartment has a flue hatch that opened up to vent hot exhaust. The door and floor have air vent to allow the heater to breath. This also vented to stop gas from pooling inside the compartment. The output water manifold allowed the kitchen to connect with short water hoses to the mixer tap. A cold water tank was used as either a mains pressure water in feed or tank water out of grid.
Ok this is as they say a place for storage. I though the lid of the toolbox is a good surface for solar. I was thinking when on the move or stored these panels would help keep the battery topped up. Inside the tool box I had an isolation switch for the solar as well as. two 12 volt power outlets. A light was fitted inside the lid.
Storage locker diesel heater.
It’s cold now in winter, we want a heater. The tent poles are stored in the tent area thats heavy. OK let’s use the other side of the trailer and build more lockers.
Most of the tent poles can go in one locker, the heater in the front part of the locked and a locked safe place for valuables while away from camp.
The extra long poles can go in a storage tube under the back.
The frame was designed around the fitting of the diesel Heater and access to the electrical system for service. A trap floor had to be made above the electrical switching area and then a access hatch on the tops so you can get your arm in.
The diesel heater had the exhaust extension run past the front of the tool box.
The heater fuel tank was installed between the tool box and trailer, its were the jerry cans are stored. The top of this areas has been enclosed with a vinyl cover. This is the best spot for the tank to protect it from UV light and security.
PDF instructions for the campercamper-trailer-tent