Tow vehicle upgrades: Part 2

Dan Everett — 5 October 2017

12V Power

Many vans boast huge electrical systems that promise to run your 60in plasma TV, while you fire up the microwave and attack the local wildlife with camp lights so bright they would have been considered weapons of mass destruction under the Bush administration. The problem is when those batteries run out, if you’re not near a powered site, you’re hauling around a large box that holds a bed and not much else.

Solar panel setups are great if you’re parked up with good weather. However, if you’re on the road day in and day out, or find yourself staring down the barrel of an east coast low, a couple of hours with a soldering iron to put an Anderson plug on your rear bar, will allow you to top up the van’s batteries off your tow-tug’s alternator. The wiring itself is simple, but modern vehicles often run intelligent charging systems that may cause issues. Your best bet is speaking to an auto-electrician before you start twisting and taping electrical connections.

Expected cost: $50

Rear Worklights

Ever tried to hitch a van in the dark? Or fumble your way through changing a gas cylinder you could have sworn was full when you left home? I have and, much like nightly television, it’s an unpleasant experience. The solution is a quick and easy one, and with a little clever sleuthing on eBay, it won’t cost much more than a couple of ‘I swear they used to be bigger’ pizzas from your local Dominos.

LED worklights are cheap, draw very little power, and can be wired up in any form of complexity on a scale from a peanut butter sandwich to geopolitics on the Korean peninsula. If you’ve got a roof rack, the process is quick and easy, and alternatively mounting an LED strip light on your tailgate will do the same trick. 

If you’re handy with a soldering iron, they can be hooked up to trigger from your reverse lights, making swinging a van around in the dark significantly easier.

Expected cost: $50+

Storage Drawers

If you’re packing your tow-tug with German efficiency and Swedish storage solutions, skip this step. For the rest of us, facing the constant battle of ‘where did I put the tongs’, a set of storage drawers in the back of your tow-tug can have multiple benefits. Sure, there’s the obvious benefits like decluttering your van, and getting weight out of the trailer and into the tow-tug, but there’s a whole lot of little ways they make life easier for any extended travelling. They give you a secondary setup if the road you want to travel has your van quivering at the knees. Just load a few essentials into the drawers and off you go, without looking like you’re on vacation with the Griswolds. 

In remote regions like Cape York or the Kimberley, where corrugations can shake a van to pieces, having a simple setup for a night or two under the stars can be a trip-saver. It’ll also allow you to store the ‘hope you never need it but probably will’ gear like spare wheel bearings, jumper leads, hoses and belts.

If you’re handy with a panel saw and straight edge, you can knock together a basic set of drawers for a few hundred bucks, but considering budget offerings can be picked up for under $500 these days, you’d be better off spending the extra for a ready-made kit then just bolting it in.

Expected cost: $300-$1500

Water Separator

Diesels are a hell of an engine design and, believe me, I’ve owned a few engine designs over the years. They produce uber-grunt from right off idle, making them the perfect choice for hauling big vans, and they sip fuel at half the rate of their petrol drinking cousins. The problem is, they’re a bit of a snowflake when it comes to fuel quality. Diesel fuel itself is essentially an oil, and is used to lubricate and cool the fuel injection system as it makes its way from tank to combustion. Get even a splash of water or contaminants past the stock filter, and those previously cool lubricated components tear themselves to shreds like America in election year.

If you’re travelling beyond the city limits, the chances of picking up a batch of dirty fuel increases exponentially. The good news is fitting a secondary fuel filter not only removes finer particles and picks up water earlier, they’re also incredibly easy to install. Unless you’re driving a 1979 Lada Niva, chances are there’s an off-the-shelf kit available for your tow-tug just waiting for you to piece it together like a fuel-injected Lego kit.

Expected cost: $350-$450

Centre Console Fridge

 If you’ve got a big fridge in your van, you’ll know how good it is to have the ability to load up with food and have cold beverages waiting on a hot day. The problem is, it’s in your van, and you’re not. You’re in your tow-tug, because you’re on the road. It’s a problem that’s plagued travellers and benefited rest stop owners for decades, but it’s solved with a quick trip to your local camping shop.

Centre console fridges are the perfect travel companion allowing you to store a half dozen cans of drinks as well as a few nibblies all within arm’s reach, without looking for a rest stop then digging through three weeks’ worth of supplies.

There’s a few different options depending on your budget, with cheaper options more of a chiller than a full-blown fridge. Regardless, they’ll install with a quick seatbelt through a built-in loop then just plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter. My poor old Waeco CDF-11 has racked up near on six digit kilometres and it is still the first bit of kit I grab when heading off on a roadtrip.

Expected cost: $120-$450

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #567. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!


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Dan Everett