Top Ten RV Accessories
1. Smoke Alarm
Smoke alarms have been mandatory in all new Australian RVs since June 2013 (although RVs made in Victoria may not have them due to ambiguity in legislation). If your RV is older than this, get a smoke alarm. They will give you potentially life-saving extra seconds to leave your RV in the event of a fire.
If you have gas cooking appliances inside your RV, a carbon monoxide detector is also a potential life saver.
2. First Aid Kit
First aid kits come in a range of sizes. Check before you buy what is included and whether this is likely to deal with first aid situations in areas that you may visit. If you are towing, ideally have a first aid kit in both vehicles. Make sure everyone knows where they are kept, what's in them and how to use everything they contain. If you go bush walking, take one of these kits (or a smaller, more portable one) with you. Some medical items have expiry dates – replace these prior to expiry.
Supplement your kit with some first aid knowledge from a first aid app or better still, a first aid course.
3. Rear Camera
Cameras located at the rear of an RV are NO substitute (legally or otherwise) for RV reversing mirrors. Cameras cannot see what is down the side of an RV and may also miss hazards immediately behind your RV or overhead hazards such as branches. However a rear camera can assist in identifying what is behind the RV whilst reversing or whilst on the road.
It is always advisable to have a partner at the back of the van whilst reversing and to have your hazard lights on. Children riding push bikes or skateboards in caravan parks are particular hazards, as are the slide-outs, annexes and guy ropes and pegs of RV's on adjoining sites.
When choosing a rear camera, keep in mind that it needs to be robust (both water- and shock-proof), have night vision and have a cowling to shade it from the sun – cameras facing full sun tend to show only white light on a monitor.
Monitors come in several shapes and sizes, including dedicated dash and windscreen monitors and monitors built into a rear view mirror. Check the quality of the monitor image before buying. Physical wiring between camera and monitor is preferable to wireless cameras in order to guarantee a connection.
4. 15 Amp to 10 Amp Adapter
Virtually all Australian caravan parks have only 15 amp supply outlets. Australian RV owners consequently have 15 amp supply cables and socket inlets. A 15 amp plug, however, has a larger earth pin than its 10 amp equivalent, precluding it being inserted 10 amp socket outlets used in most homes. So how do you recharge your RV battery from your home power supply?
The Ampfibian is a device that has a 10 amp plug plus a device restricting RVs current to 10 amps. It has an integral (short) 10 amp plug and cable, a 10 amp circuit breaker and an RCD (Residual Current Device). It accepts a 15 amp supply cable. The Ampfibian is available for three different usages. The Mini must only be used indoors, the Plus is fine for RVs, the Max likewise and is also rated for construction sites. Other brands are available but limited to indoor use.
5. Spirit Level
As caravan parks, national parks and free camping areas seek to maximise every square metre of available ground available for RV owners, some sites can be surprisingly sloping or bumpy. Spirit levels help to get your RV level in these circumstances.
There are two types – linear and ‘bulls-eye’. A linear spirit level is a thin tube whilst a ‘bulls-eye’ is a circular dish. Each has a bubble in liquid that must be centred. It is often easier to have two linear levels (placed at 90 degrees to each other), than one ‘bulls-eye’. These ‘T-levels’ can also be easily purchased.
For towed RV’s, attach the spirit level to the A-frame, either permanently with glue or with a rubber band or Velcro. Magnetic spirit levels are also available. Use the jockey wheel and stabiliser feet to adjust front-to-back levels and wedges (see below) for side-to-side adjustment. For motor homes, place the spirit level on a level surface inside the vehicle. Some people prefer to sleep with head higher than feet – take this into account when levelling.
There are also spirit level apps available for your smart phone.
6. Wheel Chocks and Levelling Wedge
Wheel chocks are important items to stop an RV from moving. Whilst this is the primary purpose of the handbrake, there is a risk that the handbrake may be accidentally released or may fail. Place chocks both in front and behind at least one wheel of your RV as soon as you arrive at camp and are happy with your position. Doing this on the passenger side of the RV (where the RV door is generally located) reduces the chance that you will forget them on departure.
If your site slopes from left to right, you may need to adjust the tilt of your RV using a levelling wedge. Simple wooden blocks work, but can be heavy and deteriorate over time. The plastic versions are lighter, have gentler inclines compared to wheel chocks and allow one wheel (or two for dual axle vans) of the RV to be driven over them to increase height on one side. The heights available on wedges vary, but each should offer at least three height options.
An alternative to the flat levelling wedge is the ‘curved wedge’ – these are shaped like a ‘comma’ and offer 'infinite' height adjustment up to about 100 mm. On departure, an RV can simply be driven forwards and off the wedge, eliminating the need to reverse.
7. Tow Ball Scales
Maintaining correct tow ball weight is critical to trailer stability. The amount of weight on the tow ball should as a rule be 7-10% of the trailer’s laden weight. See here for more information on getting this percentage right.
To check tow ball weight, use proper tow ball scales. These are widely available and not expensive. A tow ball scale consists of inner and outer metal tubes, with the inner tube sliding into the outer under spring compression. The inner tube is placed under the tow ball and the level of compression is measured on a scale on the side of the inner tube. They are similar to an upside down ‘pogo stick’ for those old enough to remember them!
8. Awning, Annexe and Matting
The awning and annexe have been traditionally used to provide shade and weather protection alongside an RV. But one of these has the potential to serve another important purpose. If there is one accessory that will help you to reduce RV weight, it is the annexe. How come?
Well, these structures are weather resistant and can literally double the amount of private space available to you at camp. So instead of buying a 2 tonne caravan, why not buy a 1.5 tonne caravan and a decent annexe? Put your table, chairs, cooking gear and even a portable toilet in the annexe and eliminate these as permanent fixtures in your RV.
Instead of having fixed beds in the caravan for the grandchildren, why not give them air beds in the annexe? In the process you are reducing RV weight and fuel consumption, making your towing experience safer and giving the kids their own private space at night.
The only downside to most annexes is their use of heavy canvas and the need to keep them dry when stored. On the other hand, modern polyester tent material used in some RV awnings dries in minutes.
Some clever awning mats are now available which allow dirt to drop to the ground through fine mesh. These types of mats also allow sunlight and water to filter through to the grass (if any) underneath and as such are the only type of floor mat permitted in some parks. For a similar reason, tarps are generally not permitted as ground covers - they tend to kill any grass below.
9. 12 Volt Fan
It is probably a hard sell to persuade some RV owners to give up their air conditioning unit in exchange for a 12 volt fan, but there could be days when the fan might just keep you cool enough to avoid flicking that aircon switch.
These fans are lightweight, consume little power and have a remarkable cooling effect. There is little to go wrong in them and they are not expensive - having two can create a good circular breeze inside an RV.
If you are planning to spend some time off grid, 12 volt fans are likely to be your only way of keeping cool. Some entrepreneurial 'off-roaders' experiment with cool packs or ice in front of the fan to enhance the cooling effect. It is unlikely that such measures will have a material benefit, but the process of experimenting may help to keep hands cool.
10. Van Mover
For some trailer owners, a van mover can make the difference between buying or not buying the trailer. RV storage, particularly on narrow urban plots, can be challenging. A van mover can help to navigate a van into those tight spots where tow vehicles don’t fit or reversing is too challenging. Lighter van movers can help whilst on the road if moving a trailer onto a narrow site.
Van movers come in a range of shapes, sizes and van moving capacities. They typically attach to either the towbar or the chassis near the trailer wheels. Towbar models can have heavy wheels or caterpillar tracks to replace the jockey wheel for additional traction, whilst ‘tyre grabbing’ models attach 12 volt motors to the chassis which rotates a geared metal roller which ‘grabs’ the tyre and rotates it. Some need to be connected to the RV’s house battery, others have their own. Most are now remote controlled.
Each has pro's and con's and none of them are particularly cheap. But compared to the cost of a back operation, or the cost of not being able to go caravanning at all, they can be a good investment.
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