1. HELPER AIRBAGS
When you’re towing a caravan, the weight imposed on the towbar acts on the suspension through increased leverage. The towbar download will push down the rear end of your tow vehicle and may cause its rear suspension to excessively sag. This can not only prematurely wear suspension components but can also remove vital traction from the front end, mess with suspension geometry, cause excessive tyre wear and, in extreme cases, contribute to a loss of control.
The use of a weight distribution hitch should be actively considered in this scenario, particularly when high ball weights are involved. However, if the ball weight is relatively low, helper airbags can still help.
It might be tempting to simply replace the rear springs with springs that have a heavier rating, but this can result in an uncomfortably stiff ride as soon as the van is unhitched. Helper airbags work as an assistant to the main spring, temporarily increasing the weight your suspension can handle before sagging to unsafe levels. If you’re taking off for a big lap with the van connected the entire time, your best bet is a set of suitably rated rear springs; otherwise, a set of helper airbags provide the perfect middle ground. Kits can be bought in the $200 to $300 range but do require some mechanical knowledge to fit.
2. DIESEL FILTER
The last decade has seen a boom in diesel tow tugs. They offer previously unheard of levels of torque, making for smoother towing and hatch-back like fuel efficiency. They’re tremendous things but a diesel engine will quickly ‘fall apart’ when water is added to the equation, particularly with late model common-rail engines. Throughout the common rail system are high pressure fuel pumps and injectors that require lubrication with microscopic tolerances. Diesel fuel is, essentially, a mild type of oil that lubricates the fuel system as it runs through it. When even a small amount of water is introduced to the system, these components can run unlubricated, causing catastrophic failure and easily cost five figures to fix.In high turnover areas like capital cities and regional centres, there’s very little chance of water contamination, but in quieter service stations with inferior tanks or fuel that sits for longer, it’s not uncommon to have water contamination issues.
A quality diesel filtration system can cost between $200 and $300 but it will potentially save you thousands in engine repairs and prevent your trip from being ruined.
3. REVERSING CAMERA
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to perfectly line up the towball with the coupling, don’t stress – it’s something we’ve all been through time and time again. It can be exceptionally hard when connecting by yourself, on steep or uneven terrain, or when a sharp approach angle is required for tight sites.
Instead of playing a game of guestimation and hoping you don’t put the business end of your van through your rear bumper, imagine if you could clearly see your towball and line it up accurately and quickly, time and time again. With a reversing camera, you can. While reversing cameras are normally used to ensure the area behind you when reversing is clear, they’re also ideal for lining up the towball with pinpoint accuracy.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to reversing camera systems. High-end units can offer all sorts of add-ons, from audio and high-definition resolution, right through to night-vision capability. But budget-orientated caravanners can buy a simple kit and install it themselves for less than the price of a tank of fuel.
4. WORK LIGHT
Travel is unpredictable. It’s just the nature of pushing outside your own little comfort zone and experiencing things very few others will. Unfortunately, this means we’re often making or breaking camp in low-light situations.
If you’re lucky enough to have a van that requires very little setting up, it might not inconvenience you at all. But for those setting up awnings, hammering in pegs or collecting wood for a campfire, a set of quality work lights on your tow-rig can be a godsend at night.
The most common are small units like these on the rear bar, which will allow easy connecting and disconnecting of the van at night, but more elaborate side lighting can be perfect for a wide range of uses.
For the light itself, expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $300, depending on quality, but you’ll need to factor an extra $20 to $30 for wiring, relays and switches.
5. CENTRE CONSOLE FRIDGE
While some modifications can be safety aspects, and others directly relate to making setups easier and faster, this one is a little left of field. Centre console fridges have become popular in the 4WD scene in recent years and are starting to filter their way into the caravan industry as well. In terms of size, they’re generally around the 10L mark so they are no substitute for a full-size fridge. However, they give plenty of room for a handful of cold drinks, a few bits and pieces for roadside sandwiches, or even for an afternoon snack down by the beach.
When you’re on the road for extended periods of time, they can save the hassle of finding somewhere to pull off the highway to access the fridge in the van, or can serve as a portable solution when you’re off on a day trip with the van back at the park.
They’re one of those modifications that, although far from vital, are something you’ll wonder how you ever lived without. Budget cooling-only options can be picked up for as little as $100 and are simply strapped down with a spare seat belt.
Want to modify your caravan on a tight budget? Read our Five Budget Caravan Modifications