Lately it seems every week there is a new dash-cam video of a caravan coming to grief on the road, usually as a result of an uncontrollable sway or fish-tail incident. These videos get plastered all over social media and they attract hundreds of comments usually questioning the skill of the driver involved or the recklessness of their actions. Some question the load distribution of the rig and whether or not the towing vehicle was up to the task. Personally I do not like these sort of posts mainly because they comments they attract are often misinformed and opinionated and come from people who have absolutely no knowledge of the facts leading up to the incident. For me it’s very easy to be an armchair expert with little regard to the effect those comments may have on the actual individuals involved.
It gets worse. A well-known current affairs program notorious for their lack of journalistic excellence, jumped onto the same bandwagon when the latest footage emerged on the net. Their comments and those of their experts we’re one thing, but the comments posted on their facebook page really only served to cast caravanners in a bad light. Nothing in the report really offered any guidance for others who might find themselves in a similar situation. It also featured footage from the UK and the US while stating that ‘we see this on our roads all the time’. One clip they showed was of a car and caravan skidding into the path of an oncoming truck. I know for a fact the incident in that instance did not result from any driver error but was due to the presence of oil on the road. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The truth is, there is a variety of opinions about what a driver of a car and trailer should do in the instance the trailer gets the sways. The natural reaction of the driver, especially if they are inexperienced, would be to hit the brakes. That, in my opinion, would be the worst thing to do. Many guides state that you should try to accelerate out of the sway. This, again, is not always possible and I doubt it would work anyway.
Years ago, before I had any real idea about towing and weights and such stuff, I was towing a small box trailer carrying about 12 railway sleepers with a Diahatsu Feroza. Now before you all jump on me for my obvious stupidity, I was less than half my current age at the time and really didn’t know any better.
In any case, the inevitable happened and, while driving up the busy Hume Hwy, as I approached 70kph, almost without any warning the trailer started to sway quite violently. Fortunately I had some knowledge of 4wding at the time and one thing that gets drilled into you is not to panic when the proverbial hits the fan and DON’T slam on the brakes. Instead, I slowly released my foot from the accelerator and steadily slowed down, keeping the steering wheel straight, until the swaying stopped. As quickly as the sway had started, slowing down had an immediate opposite effect and brought the rig back under control.
Fortunately I have never been in a similar situation since then, however, I am absolutely convinced that my actions that day saved my life and that of my passenger, not to mention other motorists around me.
I don’t believe trying to accelerate out of the sway would have worked for 2 reasons.
I couldn’t even if I wanted to, the poor Feroza was struggling with the load as it was.
Even if I could, that would only introduce additional ‘energy’ into an already out of control situation and possibly would have made things worse.
Hitting the brakes would only have served to raise the speed difference between the car and the trailer leading to a worsening of the sway as the trailer tried to overtake the car.
Slowing down gradually by just releasing the accelerator enabled the energy already in the system to dissipate equally from both the car and trailer, taking energy away from the sway and returning the rig to a state of control. If I had trailer brakes operated remotely from the car, activating them would have had the same result, a controlled slowing down and dissipation of the energy in the sway.
So my suggestion is to avoid the situation happening in the first place. This is done by following some simple suggestions:
Ensure both your car and trailer are roadworthy and any servicing is up to date.
Ensure the load is correctly distribution across the whole rig.
Ensure your tire pressures across the rig are set according to the manufacturers’ instructions
Ensure your trailer connections are working especially any electronic braking system
Fit a weight distribution hitch. This will ensure that control of the rig is on the front wheels of the tow vehicle, enhancing stability.
Get your rig weighed to ensure you haven’t exceeded any limits on the tow vehicle or the trailer
Take your rig for a test drive somewhere away from heavy traffic and gradually work up to normal cruising speeds.
You can consider fitting a sway control device such as friction arms or trailer mounted electronic stability control but keep in mind these can induce a false sense of security. You don’t want to be relying on these features. Setting up the rig correctly in the first place is far more important.
Passing large trucks can expose your rig to some pretty strong forces such as the wind turbulence coming from the front of the truck and down along both sides. This turbulence or pressure wave can have a detrimental effect on your rig’s stability as you pass through it. If you have to overtake a truck, give yourself plenty of room to manoeuvre and don’t cut back in front of the truck until you are well past it. Give the truckie plenty of warning by contacting him/her on UHF Ch.40.
I would also recommend you don’t exceed 100kph especially when towing a trailer in excess of 2500kgs or if the trailer is at the limits of your tow vehicle’s capabilities.
If you do experience trailer sway:
Remain calm. Do not panic.
Don’t touch the tow vehicles brakes and don’t try to control the sway by steering input.
Keep the steering wheel pointed straight ahead as much as possible.
Gradually release the accelerator and reduce speed until the swaying stops.
If the trailer is fitted with electronic brakes, activate them manually using the override feature.
Once the vehicle has regained stability, slow right down and pull off the road at the first safe opportunity.
Check over the rig for anything that may have contributed to the situation. Tire pressures, load balance, etc.
Something else to keep in mind is that some caravans require a load such as water in their tanks to be completely stable. It can be a sign of poor caravan design but many vans are like this. If you have any doubts, fill the front most water tank and retest your rig to see if the stability has improved. Check with the manufacturer if you have any doubts.
Have you got an old smartphone or two lying around and you’re wondering what to do with them? Well…if you’re like Kylie and I, and you love upgrading to the latest gadgets, you’ve probably got at least one sitting in a drawer in your home. I know I find it very difficult to just get rid of a device that once cost me a lot of money. So I started to think about what use could an old, unused smartphone be to the average caravanner? Well…as it turns out, there’s quite a lot of functions a spare smartphone can be used for especially for RV use and, when compared to purchasing individual hardware for each specific task, you could end up saving yourself a substantial amount of money.
Here we look at just 10 useful apps that we have found that you can install on a spare iPhone or similar device that will be useful for caravanning and camper travel.
1. GPS Tracking Device. Pretty much every iPhone and most other brands of smartphones, have a built in GPS function. Normally this is used for mapping and navigation but it is also used as a means to locate a lost or stolen iPhone using the Find my Phone application. This comes standard with iOS and basically allows you to view the location of any other iOS device you own using the internal GPS. Android phones have a similar app. The location is displayed on a map and, from what I have found, it is extremely accurate. By placing an old iPhone in your caravan or camper and having it connected to a constant 12v source, it can act as a GPS locator in the event your RV is stolen. Where ever the caravan goes, the phone will go. Obviously you will need to install a separate SIM card for the phone to work. I found that Vodafone offer a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid account that has a validity period of 12 months for any credit you put on the card. This means you can put a minimum of $10 on the account and this will last you a year or until you run out of data credit. A dedicated GPS tracking device can cost anywhere between $300 and $1,000 dollars depending on functionality so the savings on this function alone justify keeping a spare phone in your van. 2. Video Surveillance Camera. If you have a look on the App Store, you will find a variety of video surveillance applications that turn a spare mobile phone equipped with a camera into an IP camera that can be accessed remotely from another smartphone. Some apps like Surveillance Pro allow 2 way video and audio communications. If you travel with dogs and, for whatever reason, you need to leave them in your van for a short period of time, you can monitor them and ensure they are OK and not barking. You could also place the phone in a window to keep an eye on your campsite. The uses for this are endless. Installing a similar dedicated IP camera could cost upwards of $150. 3. Caravan Levelling Device. Another unique feature of the iPhone is the inbuilt position and accelerometer sensors that are used to , among other things, detect the movement and orientation of the phone itself. It allows the screen to rotate between portrait and landscape modes automatically or for applications like the digital spirit level. Now some enterprising people have come up with an app that sends this positional data to another smartphone remotely allowing the spare phone in the van or camper to tell the driver when it is level. The app is called StayLevel. It’s a brilliant system that allows you to park your van in the most level position on a campsite before unhitching it from the tow vehicle. It should avoid one of the most common causes of arguments between couples and prevent you from rolling out of an uneven bed at night…! Again, there are devices that can be purchased for this very purpose that cost upwards of $350. 4. Remote Battery Monitor. Just about every modern caravan or camper has a 12v electrical system of some description and monitoring the health of your batteries is key to ensuring this system delivers constant power to all of your appliances. If, like me, you rely on your 12v power system to power a cpap machine overnight, knowing your batteries are fully charged before nightfall is essential to your health. Your van will likely have an inbuilt monitor of some type but imagine how good it would be if you could have that information at your side all the time? Well now you can with the availability of several devices that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and display all sorts of information about the health of your batteries and the rate at which you’re using power. They are not cheap, costing around $300 but the convenience they can offer can be very helpful. You can keep the phone with you outside of the van and at a glance see what state of charge your batteries are at. If they are not getting charged sufficiently, you can move the solar panels into better sunlight or consider other methods of charging. Some apps give you the ability to set alerts to prevent running your batteries too low and causing them damage. 5. Juke Box. If your caravan or camper has an inbuilt stereo system that allows the connection of a smartphone or MP3 player, you can store your favourite music on your spare iPhone and leave it in the van permanently connected to the stereo so you will always have your music with you when you travel. 6. Movies on the go. Take the above one step further and, if you have sufficient memory capacity on your phone, you can also store a selection of your favourite movies that, with the addition of an AV cable, can be connected to your TV. This saves carrying around a heap of DVDs or a separate portable hard drive. 7. Walkie Talkie. How many of us love watching others trying to back their campers and vans into a tight spot and have a giggle at the antics and agreements that inventively ensue. Sadly we do and often we have offered these poor souls the use of our portable UHF radio. I’ve often wondered why people don’t have one of these useful tools for assisting with this task. Well, there is a great feature on all smartphones called push to talk and it allows phones to communicate with each other without using valuable data or phone credit turning your phones into walkie talkies. Just do a search on ‘push to talk’ apps on the Appstore. It could save you $50 or more on a dedicated portable radio. 8. Night Light/Alarm Clock. You can spend hours trolling through all the night light apps on the app store. There are literally hundreds. Some will have sound activation, others will have various functions like a night clock that is sound activated. There are probably more out there with features you may not have ever contemplated. Either way, making use of your spare iPhone as a night light and a bedside alarm clock can be very helpful. 9. Children’s entertainment. We don’t have children but on occasion we may have people visit is when were in the caravan and they may bring their kids along. If it’s raining and there is not much for them to do , it may be handy to have a spare iPhone around loaded with a selection of games to keep them entertained without lending them your actual mobile phone. Kids have a habit of destroying things from time to time so if they do break your spare phone, it won’t be such a hardship. 10. Netflix Box. Netflix, if you haven’t heard about it, is an on-demand online TV streaming service that costs a fraction of traditional pay TV subscriptions. You can use the Netflix app on your smartphone to stream TV to a normal television using a device like the Google Chromecast. By installing the Netflix app on your spare phone you will always have a player handy in your RV and it will allow you to use your personal mobile phone for other applications. I wouldn’t recommend using a smartphone for Netflix unless you were at a caravan park with free WiFi access available.
So there you have it. Ten very practical uses for a spare smartphone that you can keep in your caravan or camper that can make life on the road just that little bit easier.
Today I had a bit of spare time to install a set of Aussie Traveller Awning Rafters. Yes….I did it myself.
I’m reasonably handy with most DIY projects however the prospect of drilling holes into our near new caravan was not a task I was looking forward to. One stuffed up measurement and I could have ended up with a hole or two where they shouldn’t be.
There’s a golden rule in any DIY project; measure twice, drill once. It’s a good mantra to have especially with this install.
Step 1: Measure out the rafter positions. Depending on the number of rafters you need to install, you need to measure out where they will go. I was installing 2 rafters so I needed two equal distant spaces. I measured from the edge of the awning material itself as this correlates back to the roller perfectly ensuring both ends line up.
Step 2: Screw in the bracket. The instructions say that you need to ensure the bracket is about 2.5cm lower than the awning itself. I found that this was not so critical and I just screwed my brackets into the metal strip that secures the awning itself. I figured the panel behind it had already been drilled into so it was a safe bet that I could drill in line with the rivets without hitting any wires. If you’re not sure, drill your holes very slowly so as to control the drill when it reaches the inside edge of the panel. The kit came with wood screws but given I was screwing into metal, I used my own self drilling sheet metal screws. I drilled pilot holes first just to be sure.
Step 3: Drill the holes in the roller. Before drilling the holes, install the rafter at the van wall end and check to see the place you’ve market for the hole in the roller lines up. Again, the instructions show the holes being drilled above the grove where the shade slips in. This was not going to work for us so I just ensured the awning was completely unrolled and drilled the hole in the same approximate position.
That’s it. Job done. It really is a simple install anyone can do. We’re expecting some rain and wind tonight so it will be interesting to see how it holds up. So far it feels very solid and with the assistance of ratchet strap tie downs, I expect it will survive pretty severe conditions.
I just know there are going to be a great many caravaners and campers out there who are going to be mortified by this, but I have to admit it, I really do love Caravan Parks. To pinch a line from Forest Gump, they are just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
Take the park we are at right know. It’s at a place called Cresent Head, NSW. It is right on banks of an estuary and beach and is an ideal location to get away from the city and enjoy a seaside getaway. It’s also a fairly big park and the layout ensures you have only just enough space for yourself. That said, some sites are quite cosy so you will have little choice but to say hi to your neighbors. I don’t really mind this as more often than not, fellow RVers tend to be kindred spirits and we generally really like the people we meet. There are times when that’s not the case but you make the best of the situation. Right now, our current neighbors are lovely and we have shared a couple of happy hours and afternoon teas with them. We had a very windy night a couple of nights ago and I made sure they were OK in their roof top tent. They were appreciative of my concern. I really get a lot out of this sharing and caring attitude that seems to exist in caravan parks.
Caravan parks are also a great opportunity for a sticky-beak at a plethora of other caravans and RVs of every size, shape and age. Most RVers are only too happy to show off their rigs and share the modifications they’ve made and the accessories they have had success using. We have learnt so much from talking to other park residents over the years.
Theres so much you can learn just by introducing yourself to others at the caravan park. Where to go to get a good meal, where the fish are biting, what are to better attractions around the area and, most importantly, where else they have been on their travels that might be included on your next itinerary…!
Of course, there is always the regular entertainment of watching people packing up and leaving and, more importantly, the new arrivals as they attempt to park their massive rigs into the smallest of spots. Kylie and I just love Witching Hour…!
As I said at the beginning, there’s a lot of travellers out there who don’t like caravan parks. Yes they can be expensive, amenity blocks can vary greatly in quality and cleanliness, park rules can be a bit restrictive and, sometimes they can be occupied by undesirable tennents. But these days there is so much information available online to give you a good idea of what a caravan park is like and, using applications like WikiCamps, you can see what parks are available in a set location, compare prices and even read comments from past tennents. There really is no excuse to not find a great caravan park in any location these days.
With the trend in free camping growing exponentially, the days of viable caravan parks may be on the slide and I admit, we are making more of an effort to free camp these days, but I think for convenience and social interaction, caravan parks will always feature on our itineraries in one way or another.
Everywhere we have travelled we have seen many campers using a Webber BBQ, usually the Baby Q. It seems to be the perfect size for portability as well as being capable of cooking a sufficient quantity of food for two to four people. So when we ordered the new van, we opted to fit a Baby Q on a slide out in the tunnel boot.
This has proved to be an excellent choice however I have struggled a bit with it to cook basic meals like bacon and eggs or potato chips and chopped onions. These are not really suitable for cooking on an open grill and the half hot plate made by Webber is too small to be very useful.
To solve this, we purchased a set of silicon bbq mats and these have proven to be the perfect solution. They have transformed the Webber into an every day cooking appliance.
So now, in addition to perfect roasts and char grilled steaks, we can now cook bacon and eggs with ease.
To start you off here’s my method for cooking perfect bacon and eggs. Click here.
The silicon matts can be purchased from eBay or any variety store that sells BBQ accessories.
I love photography and I especially love taking photos of the beautiful places we visit on our travels. For years I’ve carried a digital SLR camera with me along with an assortment of lenses and filters. It has allowed me to take some truely spectacular photos. But this comes at a price. The camera and all its accessories need a bag big enough to carry all the gear and protect it from the elements. It can also be quite fiddly changing lenses and keeping the dust out in the process. It’s not really suited for impromptu photos. Using an SLR camera is about taking time to be creative to capture the true essence of the subject.
For those random moments that happen every day, the camera on my smartphone is much more usable and available when the opportunity presents itself. The images cannot be compared to those from the SLR, but they are more than adequate for sharing on social media or even publishing on the web. Add to that the sofisicated image editing software that comes standard with iOS or Android and you really do need to ask if the smartphone camera is all that we need for capturing our holiday snaps.
Now, a new camera technology is becoming popular. Drones with digital cameras onboard allow us to take photos from an entirely different perspective. I’ve been experimenting with our Parrot drone and the results are nothing short of spectacular. The problem with the drone is its not really suitable for every occasion. You can’t just launch the drone anywhere. Trees, weather and other obstacles can make flight difficult.
So what camera or cameras should we chose to take with us on our travels. Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. For many, the smartphone can pretty much take any photo we would want. For others, the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and exposure control allow us to exercise our creativity more than a smartphone can. A drone might be an added level of complexity for only the real dedicated photographer chasing a truely unique perspective.
If your thinking about extending your photography beyond your smartphone, we’ve take a deeper look at what can be achieved with all three types of cameras. You can read the article here.
So, to answer the original question, is the SLR camera dead? Well that’s up to the individual to decide what they want from their holiday photographs. For me, I would not be without my SLR camera.
At the moment, Kylie and I are one week into our first big trip in the new van and you would be forgiven for thinking we are on our first caravan trip. We’ve made all the classic mistakes. Perhaps after all these years we’ve become a tad complacent or we’ve just been a bit unlucky. One thing is for sure; a pre drive checklist could have saved us a bit of frustration.
One thing hasn’t helped and that’s been the weather. For the first three days of this trip it has rained almost constantly. Mostly when its been time to set up or pack away and, because we’ve been in a hurry to get out of the rain, we’ve probably rushed things a bit.
Mostly it’s just the little things like forgetting to take the hose fitting off the tap at the caravan park or forgetting to turn off the tap before removing the hose. I copped a face full of cold water on that occasion. Probably the worst mistake we made was to leave the four seasons hatch open while driving in the torrential rain. It was opened after we set off the smoke alarm cooking bacon for breakfast and nearly setting alight a tea towel in the process…! Fortunately the only result was a bit of wed bedding and a fine spray of rain water in the living area. Nothing a wipe down with a couple of towels couldn’t fix. Considering the whole vent could have blown out, we got off lightly. Kylie discovered some new words in her vocabulary on that occasion..!
There are some things that cannot be avoided even with a checklist. Plugging in the power cord into the inlet without lining up the plug properly was a simple mistake anyone can make. Fortunately, we carry enough tools to fix little problems like that. We also discovered all the 12v system inoperative at one stop. I checked every fuse and connection to no avail. I was completely stummped. Using the process of elimination and a good multimeter, I was able to trace the problem to the solar controller having a power isolation function that is activated at the power meter. One of us must have pushed a wrong button at some point and switched everything off. Good to know we can do that…!
At the end of the day, a checklist that you religiously go through before every drive will help avoid a lot of issues. Knowing your van and being able to diagnose and fix minor problems is also essential.
After all, it wouldn’t be any fun if everything went according to plan. Where’s the challenge in that?
There’s one thing that has always annoyed me about our caravans and campers; the jockey wheel.
I have not been able to find a system that I have completely happy with. The camper’s we’ve had used the swing away variety but I’ve found the pivot mechanism to be a weak point resulting in bending of the wheel. Both caravans have had the removable unit that is attached using 2 screw clamps positioned in the middle of the A frame. These are awkward to get to and the clamps are damn fiddly. Then you have the problem of where to store the jockey wheel when you’re on the road. I never really found a good spot to store it where it wasn’t in the way of other stuff. What I wanted was a jockey wheel that I could leave in the holder but could retract it so it was is out of the way when travelling. Well I’m glad to report I have found such a device.
It’s called the BOS 370 Jockey Wheel and it is absolutely brilliant. It uses a geared winding mechanism to raise and lower the shaft. The ends are interchangeable depending on what unit you buy. I went with the straight base plate instead of the traditional wheel as the team at BOS advised that it is not really useful for a huge van like ours. You can also attach extensions to the base plate in order to cater for uneven sites. The mechanism can be operated by either the hand winder or using an ordinary clutched battery drill, the later make raising and lowering your caravan a breeze.
Best of all, once the base plate and any extensions have been removed using the quick release cotter pins, the shaft can be fully retracted sufficiently to allow the unit to remain in place. No need to remove it from the clamps. To me, this is the best part of the system.
We’ll be giving the BOS unit a good workout shortly on our up and coming trip to Stradbroke Island so we’ll do a complete review later. For now, if you’re a bit frustrated with your existing jockey wheel, the BOS370 may be worth a look.
Having a keen interest in all things caravanning and camping, I spend a bit of my spare time scrolling through various facebook groups and caravanning forums. More often than not, they are a great source of information as well as ideas for this blog. Recently I have noticed a troubling increase in the number of posts that advocate for completely unsafe practices particularly when it comes to 240v mains power. The old argument about plugging a caravan into a domestic 240v 10 amp power supply is the most common. Others are about the use of generators and inverters. These topics seem to start off innocently enough with the original poster having a genuine question to ask but many of the replies that follow just defy belief. It is incredible the number of people who suggest that making up your own power lead with a 10 amp point at one end and a 15 amp plug at the other and try to justify its safety and legality. I have even read a post from one person, whose son was supposedly a qualified electrician, claim it was a totally legal thing to do. I cannot imagine any self-respecting electrician making such a claim especially when the laws about this are so clear.
Other troubling advice I have read suggests to grind down plugs so that they fit the smaller outlets. Others suggest that drilling out the power point to accept the larger plugs is also acceptable. Fortunately, many forum and facebook group administrators have recognised the issue and are now deleting these posts. Apart from the fact that people posting such advice are actually incriminating themselves on a public forum, the possibility that someone could actually think this advice is correct and act accordingly means lives are put at risk. The question of liability in such an event would be very interesting indeed.
There is another troubling side-track that has also emerged from these posts. That being the behaviour of some caravan park managers and their blatant disregard for electrical safety. Some allegedly have been handing out illegal power cords and instructing their tenants to use 10 amp outlets for their RVs. Worse is the tenants have actually been using them…! Truly staggering behaviour.
It is so important that we are all aware of the laws and have a clear understanding of what is safe and what is unsafe. This is especially true for the novice and the experienced caravanner alike. We have an article on electrical safety with pictures of the sort of things to look out for as well as a summary of the laws in question.
In essence though, the advice is very clear and simple. No one should be doing any work beyond changing a fuse or light bulb on anything 240v related unless they are a qualified electrician. Any electrical work must be accompanied with a certificate of electrical safety. Don’t listen to the trolls on forums and facebook groups. Only use electrical products purchased from reputable retail outlets.
If in doubt, talk to a reputable and licenced electrician. It really is that simple.