In the same way as we customise our tow vehicles to suit individual requirements, customising a camper trailer is undertaken by many to minimise the compromises found in these miniature mobile homes. As an electrical engineer and born tinkerer I can’t help but to tweak and modify and the TVAN has not escaped, in fact I find that modifying the trailer brings an additional level of enjoyment from ownership given we can’t be out in it as often as desired.
I’ll keep updating this post as a live blog in the same way as I did for the Patriot Campers X3 to capture the various modifications made over time, including review and feedback on what has worked and what didn’t.
Oh, and a heads up – as an engineer I get a bit carried away with the tech details, so if anything in the post doesn’t make sense or you need more info please drop me a comment. There’s also a chance I’ve made a mistake somewhere and would appreciate your advice or a correction if you can provide a better solution than what I have described here.
ARK XO750 Jockey Wheel
The standard TVAN jockey wheel is a rugged bit of gear, however it’s fixed length is a disadvantage at some camp sites and it’s not the easiest to wind up or down.
A common upgrade is to replace it with an ARK XO750 heavy duty jockey wheel which offers many advantages:
- double wheel for lower ground pressure
- greater wheel caster for easier manoeuvring
- Sliding body to increase vertical height adjustment and offer greater flexibility of mounting location when stowed
- Much easier to wind up and down, with a removable handle to minimise chance of damage (but increasing chance of getting lost)
The ARK XO750 bolts straight to the TVAN draw bar using the factory ‘U’ bolts, although I drilled additional holes in the Ark mounting plate so I could position the assembly higher.
A unique feature of the Ark jockey wheel is the horizontal handle shaft, which improves ease of use but it does slightly reduce jack-knife angle of the car and trailer when reversing to the left – if the handle shaft hits your vehicle bumper it can cause damage to the car and wheel (on a previous trailer I had an Ark jockey wheel shaft fail due to this, preventing us from unhitching for the entire trip…).
The removable handle is retained onto its shaft using a strong magnet, which is a great way to prevent people messing with your set height and could even be considered a security feature as it stops someone easily hitching the trailer. It is however easy to drive away with the handle in place with likely outcome of the handle falling off, so I always carry a spare handle with me.
We know that lots of folks like their coffee from an Aeropress or other contraptions, some even like instant :-/…
We’re quite fond of Nespresso pod coffee and the 350W inverter that’s standard in TVANs just isn’t up to the job. We also like the idea of having access to an induction cooktop when foul weather chases us into the tent where its not completely safe to use a flame type cooker. Our previous camper had a 1,500W inverter running off gel batteries, and I have a 700W inverter running off 100AH LiFePO4 in the Landcruiser, so we know the benefits and pitfalls of taking an inverter camping.
Others may also argue that a big inverter will cook the batteries, burn out the wiring and cause all sorts of other problems. Well, I disagree on all counts and if done right a decent sized inverter is a great upgrade.
Why 2,000W? Its like asking why I have a Landcruiser with 200kW of engine power, I don’t use all that power often or for very long, but when its needed its good to know its there.
We could get away with a 1,500W inverter for the coffee machine on its own, but when combined with a milk heater/frother we needed an extra 300W. And most small to medium induction cooktops demand 2,000W when turned to full power. Cost is a consideration, good quality inverters cost about 1$ per Watt so the bigger inverter is more expensive, it is also slightly larger but only in length, width and height are the same. To integrate with the Redarc control system optioned into our Zenith I opted to use a Redarc 2,000W pure sine wave inverter.
We ordered dual 100AH batteries when optioning the Zenith, each of the Invicta LiFePO4 batteries has a continuous current rating of 95A at 12.8V but this is derated by 10% (to 86A) when two are in parallel. This equates to 1,105W each or 2,210W combined – so battery output rating is not a problem.
Battery storage capacity is however an important consideration, a big inverter will drain the batteries in around an hour of continuous use – but a 2 shot coffee from the 1,250W Nespresso Essenza Mini Solo takes only a couple of minutes including preheat time, and knocking up scrambled eggs on the 2,000W Kmart Anko cooktop takes only 5 minutes or so.
Recharge time is another important aspect of battery capacity, and given that we rarely stay in one spot for more than a day the car’s 30A charge supply will be a big contributor, plus the 200W TVAN solar panel and an additional 150W solar blanket when weather is favourable. So, when used intelligently, our 200AH of lithium batteries have enough capacity to service the large inverter for several days.
Lastly, there’s cabling and fuses. Unfortunately the layout of the TVAN is not well suited to dual LiFePO4 batteries which are very sensitive to imbalance when current is taken in and out of them and the factory cabling is very small which makes the issue harder to manage. To try and combat this I installed larger cables from each of the batteries for both the positive and negative circuits, then twin 50mm2 cables to the inverter. A 250A MEGA fuse protects positive supply to the inverter. The Redarc BMS shunt is rated to 300A and to finish things off I replaced the ground cables with 50mm2 as well.
I wanted both the new inverter (2,000W) and the original inverter (350W) to be controlled from the Redvision screen, which also makes them controllable using the smartphone app for when the camper is locked up or you’re just too tired to get out of the chair you’re sipping a hot coffee in. This required a bit of reprogramming of the Redvision using Redarc’s configurator app, including adding a new soft key control button and matching screen icon.
An important reason for wanting easy control of the inverters is to ensure they are turned off whenever not in use. Even with no load being taken the inverters waste a reasonable amount of power, about 2 amps if they are both left on. Over period of a day that equates to 48AH, or over quarter of our battery capacity, so it pays to turn the inverter off when its not being used.
The 240V output from the larger inverter is connected to the two kitchen side outlets, I also added a double 240V outlet inside the TVAN for occasions that we may want to cook or make coffee inside the tent. You’ll also note I added some extra dual USB outlets, I use this area to recharge our electronic devices that are mostly USB driven such as headlamps, cameras, bug lights, electric toothbrush (yes, seriously haha). The standard 350W inverter is mainly used for recharging the laptop, power tool batteries and other low power devices.
You can find more details about the installation at this YouTube video.
Safety Dave rear view camera
We already installed a Safety Dave rear view camera in the Landcruiser (useful for reversing as the rear storage module in the Cruiser obscures the regular mirror) so we optioned a factory installed rear view camera on the TVAN for when we are towing. Unfortunately the Track Trailer camera installation terminated at a video cable plug, without the flexible umbilical “woza” cable I prefer to use for rugged off road conditions.
The woza cable installation is an easy upgrade to the trailer, though finding a suitable mounting place that was safe from damage required a bit of fiddling. While on the job I also tidied up the factory trailer plug cable which was showing some of the inner wire cores.
I plan to produce a YouTube vlog of the woza cable installation, I’ll add the link here when its up so keep an eye on this page or subscribe to the Travelling Two YouTube channel for a notification email.
Servicing and maintenance of your camper trailer is important for safety and reliability, and becomes critical if you use your trailer offroad in remote areas. Good trailer manufacturers provide a service schedule, with maintenance tasks set out based on time or kilometres travelled.
Keeping track of your trailer kilometres is not as easy as it sounds because trailers don’t usually have an odometer and keeping a log book is a chore. On our Patriot X3 I fitted a Hummingbird GPS odometer to solve this problem and decided to also fit one to the TVAN.
I didn’t want the LCD display to keep us awake at night so I installed the unit in the front-right storage box. This worked out well as it was a simple job to install the GPS antenna in top of the box. The unit also requires constant 12V power supply when the trailer is being towed, which was easily accessed at the storage box internal light switch which is on the TVAN’s constant 12V circuit.
The GPS odometer has been quietly doing its job of accumulating kilometres that the trailer travels and will enable me to keep on top of maintenance and component replacements.
I put together this brief video showing my installation process.
Savvylevel trailer inclinometer
The airbag suspension of the Patriot X3 made levelling of the camper an easy job, so reverting to the use of levelling ramps and Maxtrax for the TVAN was one of the few steps backward when we changed campers (though I love the MC2 suspension when travelling).
While a good old fashioned spirit level is the normal go-to for setting up your camper trailer I decided to invest in a device that allowed me to achieve a perfectly level trailer first time, every time, without having to get in and out of the car half a dozen times. Enter the Savvylevel!
Savvylevel is a 2-axis electronic inclinometer that communicates by Bluetooth to your smartphone, where an app displays the angle of your trailer laterally (side to side) and longitudinally (front to rear). When combined with a good quality levelling device you can simply drive the trailer so that the low side rises up a ramp until the trailer is level (lateral). Then when unhitched you simply fine tune the longitudinal level using the jockey wheel.
The TVAN set up does take a little bit of practice because the jockey wheel is offset on the drawbar, so that it lifts the left hand side of the trailer when raising the front, partly to compensate for weight of the kitchen when it is slid out.
The basic Savvylevel is designed to be mounted internally but a separate weatherproof housing can be purchased – I went with this in case the metal front box of the TVAN impeded the Bluetooth signal from reaching front of the Landcruiser. Its also important that the Savvylevel is mounted in a location that is aligned with the chassis (and hopefully the bed) so the drawbar is ideal.
The unit requires constant 12V power supply when the trailer is being set up, which was easily accessed at the storage box internal light switch which is on the constant 12V circuit. Once everything is installed and powered you do set the trailer up once with a spirit level and calibrate the device using the app, from then on it will show you incline of your trailer in degrees and millimetres.
So far the device has proven to do its job really well, greatly simplifying the trailer set up process, particularly when I’m out on my own. The Savvylevel is also handy when negotiating difficult tracks where roll over is a worry because you can monitor trailer side angle from the driver’s seat at times when it can be difficult to accurately judge how much of a lean its on.
You can view the YouTube vlog of the Savvylevel installation at this link on the Travelling Two YouTube channel
One of the best investments you can make for your trailer is a Stone Stomper – your trailer will love you for it!! Stone Stomper is the best solution to protect your trailer and tow vehicle from stone damage and works much better (in my opinion) than Rock Tamers and the various over sized mud flap variants.
Not only does Stone Stomper keep the flying rocks at bay, it also holds dust, mud splatter and other material down low rather than being sucked up onto back of your tow tug, and helps to keep dust from billowing around the trailer.
I already had a cross bar from our previous trailer that I modified to work better with our Kaymar rear bar and wheel carriers. I also widened the attachment to fit to a standard Toyota hitch tongue. I therefore only had to buy the mesh panel and attachment hardware.
Installing the mesh attachment brackets onto the trailer is a simple project, the important part being to correctly space them so that the mesh will fit between them without being too baggy. I opted to replace the supplied zinc plated fasteners with stainless steel hardware for longevity in salty conditions such as beach runs and desert salt pans.
The new mesh was a tight fit, which is exactly as I like the Stone Stomper to be. One problem with Stone Stompers is their habit of collecting gravel and mud on top of the mesh, which eventually weighs them down so much they can drag on the ground or tear from the mountings. To prevent this I like to run the mesh higher in the centre, by adjusting the inboard bungee cords tighter than the the outer ones. There’s not much that can be done at the rear chassis rails other than keep it taught and angled downward so that debris will fall from the back of the mesh.
While the Stone Stomper does a great job of controlling flying rocks, there is no doubt that it is a pain in the A when it comes to accessing rear of the Landcruiser, which is already compromised by the wheel carriers. If you are getting one make sure you spend time thinking about the cross bar arrangement and how it attaches to your hitch, as it is the most important part of the specification process – especially because the bar moves around quite a bit when you are driving and will come into contact with the rear bumper, airbag inflation points or cable plugs that are too near. Things to think about include:
- to work at its best the cross bar should be mounted as high as possible (mine is really too low, to clear the Kaymar carrier handles, hence the rubber strip I added)
- access to your safety chain shackle attachment points when the steel cross bar is fitted
- access to your electrical sockets and airbag fill points, especially if they are under the bumper bar which may require a hole to be cut through the canvas skirt
- access to wheel or jerry can carrier release levers if you have them
- type of hitch tongue you have, you need at least 40mm of the 50×50 hitch section to be exposed for their Option 3 attachment
I plan to produce a YouTube vlog of the Stone Stomper installation, I’ll add the link here when its up so keep an eye on this page or subscribe to the Travelling Two YouTube channel for a notification email.
Gas bottle storage
I love the way that Track has integrated the gas cylinders into the trailer, even better that they supply cylinders with the trailer.
I know from experience that the steel cylinders will eventually wear a rusty groove into the aluminium storage box and rattle around if they work loose, so I decided to put some rubber pinch weld onto the raw steel edge of the cylinder base.
A squirt of Inox corrosion preventative finishes this simple modification.
Similar to the gas bottles we know that eventually corrugated roads can rattle around contents of the pantry and drawers, damaging the containers and wearing paint off the drawers themselves. To help prevent this we line the floor and sides of our drawers with perforated rubber matting.
The matting comes in adhesive backed for sides of the drawers and simple anti-slip matting for the floors. Each piece is cut to size before installation to ensure a neat fit.
While we were at it we added marine carpet to the pole storage area and some form of protection to any other metal drawer, pocket or storage nook. You lose a small amount of storage in each compartment due to thickness of the matting but the benefit of everything sitting snugly in place makes up for it. No more arriving at camp rattling and clanking down the track!!
Water outlet tap
We optioned our TVAN to have the pressurised water outlet, and I was underwhelmed by what we got for the money…
A bit of hose and a ball valve teed off an existing line isn’t a great solution, particularly in the location Track Trailer chose to mount it – the ball valve is nearly inaccessible with the tent set up and the hose end fouls with the Skyward deck going up and down.
I already run a Front Runner lockable ball valve on rear of the Landcruiser, the Patriot X3 had a similar tap on the drawbar, so it was a logical choice for the TVAN upgrade.
This type of outlet is great for washing your hands after hitching up the trailer, after lunch on the road or a myriad of other times you want access to running water when the trailer kitchen is packed away, or when the Lowboy pump doesn’t suit.
Sink water hoses
Quite a few TVAN owners have reported that the kitchen sink water hoses wear through, causing a water leak in rear of the kitchen area.
When mounting the inverter I knew I would be obscuring access into the area that had caused people problems, so I set about improving the hose arrangement before I got caught out.
Given that this is a known problem I was dismayed to find how poorly the hoses and cables had been routed in our new TVAN! In particular, the water hoses were rubbing up and down on a raw steel bracket edge each time the kitchen was deployed, this was a water leak waiting to happen…
To improve things I added some pinch weld to the exposed steel edges wherever hoses would make contact, and jacketed the water lines in corrugated conduit that would form a sacrificial wear liner. I also loomed and tied the lines more neatly so they wouldn’t snag on screws and other fittings.
We had pushbar kits added to all of our fridge and drawer slides, making it a one handed operation to open or close them. This is only a little touch but makes things a lot easier around camp when you have an armful of stuff to put in/out of the fridge or pantry drawer.
Our pushbars were fitted by Atlas Trailer Hire when Tristan was installing the Dometic CFX75 fridge, but he sells the kits for self installation if you need them.
The Thirsty Nomad water filtration
When on the road it is unavoidable that you will have to access water of questionable quality, from dams, bores and rain water tanks. To mitigate chance of contaminating our water tanks I have been using a Thirsty Nomad filter on the fill hose.
The Thirsty Nomad filters are more than just sediment traps with a bit of carbon mixed in, they are scientifically proven to eliminate bacteria and purify the water passing through them. To add another level of protection we asked Atlas Trailer Hire to install a Thirsty Nomad filter into the pump line of the TVAN during pre-delivery.
Weber BBQ storage
Our previous camper had a great swing out arm to store and support the Weber, making it a very quick job to get it set up and cooking. We didn’t want the BBQ smells lingering inside the TVAN cabin so the front right storage box was the logical place to put the Weber Baby Q1000 – but I didn’t want to lose the valuable storage volume of the slide out drawer to house just the Weber.
To solve this I fabricated a simple steel frame that supports the Weber just above level of the drawer, allowing cooking implements and consumables to be stored right with the Weber for easy access. I’ve also done a separate write up of this modification for those who are after dimensions of the mounting brackets, check it out at THIS LINK
The steel support frame holds the Weber BBQ in two positions:
Other accessories that we find useful include:
- Underkover Australia canvas BBQ plate storage bags
- Kaon stainless-steel side tables, much stronger than the Weber plastic items and you can fold them on to a hot grill
- Weber night light
- Weber disposable fat catch trays
Front vinyl bin covers – keeping them on!
The TVAN has those handy little dirty gear bins built into the front box – they’re an odd size but useful for things like wheel chocks, firewood and other stuff that is okay to get dusty and dirty.
The bins have those vinyl covers kept in place by a thin bungy cord – and here’s a little trick I picked up off the TVAN forum.
To prevent your vinyl covers flying off while travelling put cable ties around a couple of the loops – that way if you forget to lace it on properly or the bin contents move you won’t lose them. Its also worth putting a twist in each loop when securing on the button, to take stress of the eyelets in the vinyl.