TOP 5 TOW VEHICLE MODS
TOWING YOUR CAMPER DOESN’T NEED TO BE HARD; THESE FIVE SIMPLE MODS CAN SAVE YOUR BACK, AND YOUR WALLET.
Save your back and your wallet
1. HELPER AIRBAGS
We’ll kick this list off with one that every single tow rig should be running. When you’re towing a fully-laden camper, the leverage applied through the towbar and into the rear axle can amplify to a point where it effectively pushes the rear end of your tow rig down to the equivalent of 240kg or more, excessively sagging the rear suspension. This can not only prematurely wear rear 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 losing control.
The obvious solution is replacement rear springs with a heavier rating to handle the loads seen when towing, but this can leave you with an uncomfortably stiff ride as soon as the camper is unhitched. Helper airbags work as an assistant to the main spring, temporarily increasing the weight your vehicle can carry before the suspension sags to unsafe levels. If you’re taking off for the Big Lap with the camper connected the entire time, your best bet is a set of suitably stiff rear springs; for the rest of us unlucky buggers, a set of helper airbags provide the perfect middle ground. Kits can be had in the $200-$300 range but do require a modicum of mechanical knowledge.
2. DIESEL FUEL FILTER
The last decade has seen a veritable boom in diesel tow tugs. They offer previously unheard of levels of torque making for smooth towing, hatchback-like fuel efficiency, and a lifespan that, frankly, no modern vehicle should be capable of. They’re tremendous things, but quickly fall apart when water is added to the equation, particularly with late model common-rail engines. Throughout the common-rail system there are high pressure fuel pumps and injectors that require lubrication with microscopic tolerances. Diesel fuel itself 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 un-lubricated causing catastrophic failure, easily costing in the five figures to fix.
In high turnover areas like capital cities and regional centres, there’s 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 system can cost in the $200-$300 mark and can not only save you thousands in engine repairs but can also prevent ruined trips from ending in you sitting on the side of the highway with a broken engine and frustration all round.
3. REVERSE CAMERA
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to perfectly line up the towball into the receiver, 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. Imagine if, while you were reversing, instead of ‘guesstimating’ in the hope of avoiding a camper-tow tug bumper collision, you could get the perfect vantage point of your towball and line it up accurately and quickly. With a reversing camera, you can.
While normally used to ensure the area behind you is clear when reversing, they’re also ideal for lining up towballs 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-def resolutions right through to night-vision capability but, for the budget-orientated, you can buy a simple kit and install it yourself for less than the price of a tank of fuel. When you consider the time you’ll save having 30 attempts lining up the towball, it’ll pay for itself in no time.
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 camper that requires very little set 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 God-send at night. The most common are small units on the rear bar which will allow easy connecting and disconnecting of the camper at night, but more elaborate side lighting can be perfect for a wide range of uses. For the light itself, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30-$300, depending on quality, but you’ll need to factor in around an extra $20-$30 for wiring, relays and switches.
5. CENTRE CONSOLE FRIDGE
While some modifications are safety upgrades, and others make setups easier and faster, this one is a little left of field. Centre console fridges have become huge in the 4WD scene and are starting to filter their way into the RV industry as well. They’re generally around the 10L mark so are no substitute for a full size fridge, but give plenty of extra room for a handful of cold cans of drink, a few bits and pieces for road-side 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 your camper, or can serve as a portable solution when you’re off on a day trip away from base camp. They’re one of those modifications that while 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 simply strap down with a spare seat belt.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Fitting helper bags is within the scope of an experienced DIYer; Helper bags stiffen suspension only when excess weight is applied, for a welcome boost on tow without impacting your daily drive; Diesel filters protect common-rail diesel engines from water-contaminated fuel sources out on the tracks; Reversing cameras simplify hitching up; Low cost systems are available for the budget-conscious buyer; The in-car display will make hitching and reversing a breeze; Once installed, a diesel fuel filter is cheap and relatively easy to replace.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A vehicle-mounted work light will aid setting up camp in the dark; Discrete lighting at the towball is a God-send for easier hitching and unhitching; Quickly and easily satisfy little appetites out on the road with a centre console fridge.