New caravans and motorhomes have only the bare essentials. This article describes the top ten RV accessories that RV owners really will need.
RV Accessory 1. Smoke Alarm
Smoke alarms have been mandatory in all new Australian RVs since June 2013. Despite this, RVs made in Victoria may not have them (due to ambiguity in legislation).
A smoke alarm is essential RV Accessory. The alarm gives 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 lifesaver.
Pic: Border Mail
RV Accessory 2. First Aid Kit
There are various sizes and types of First Aid kits. Before you buy, check that included. Also, check whether this it 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 the first aid kit is stored, what is in it and how to use everything it contains. 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 before expiry.
Supplement your kit with some first aid knowledge from a first aid app or better still, a first aid course.
RV Accessory 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. An RV rear camera can, however, assist in identifying what is behind the RV while reversing, or on the road.
If feasible, have a partner at the back of the van while reversing and have your hazard lights blinking. It assists hugely for you and your partner to use hand-held CB radio to communicate while doing so. Children riding bicycles or skateboards in caravan parks are particular hazards, as are slide-outs, annexes and guy ropes and pegs of RV’s on adjoining sites.
When choosing a rear camera, seek one that is robust (both water- and shock-proof), has night vision and has a cowling to shade it from the sun. Cameras facing full-sun tend to show only white light on a monitor.
Monitors are available in various shapes and sizes. These include dedicated dash and windscreen monitors, and monitors built into a rearview mirror. Check the quality of the monitor image before buying. Physical wiring between camera and monitor is preferable to wireless cameras to guarantee a connection.
RV Accessory 4. Fifteen-Amp to Ten-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. While needed in a caravan park, a 15 amp plug has a larger earth pin than its 10 amp equivalent. That pin’s size precludes inserting it into a 10 amp socket outlet (as used in most homes). While not often an issue it complicates recharging your RV battery from your home power supply. It can also be an issue if you used the RV as a spare bedroom.
Apart from having an electrician install a 15 amp outlet, the only legal way around this is a so-called Ampfibian. This unit accepts the RV’s 15 amp supply cable. It restricts current flow to 10 amps and thus has a domestic type 10 amp plug. The Ampfibian is available for three different usages. The Mini is for indoor use only. The Plus version is intended for RVs. Other brands are available but are limited to indoor use.
The Ampfibian adaptor
RV Accessory 5. Spirit Level
Caravan parks, national parks and free camping areas seek to maximise every square metre of available ground available. Because of this, some sites can be surprisingly sloping or bumpy. Spirit levels are an RV accessory that will 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. A ‘bulls-eye’ spirit level is a circular dish. Each has a bubble floating in a liquid. The RV is level when that bubble is centred.
Experience shows that it is preferable to have two linear levels (placed at 90 degrees to each other) rather than one ‘bulls-eye’ level. The former is somehow more readily ‘translated’. Caravan parts suppliers and some hardware stores stock these levels. There are also spirit level apps available for your smart-phone.
Typical twin linear spirit level.
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 motorhomes, place the spirit level on a level surface inside the vehicle.
RV Accessory 6. Wheel Chocks and Levelling Wedge
Wheel chocks stop an RV from moving. They are invaluable in the event of the handbrake being accidentally released or failing to restrain the caravan. That may happen if it is necessary to stop on a slope. Doing so may be necessary to repair or replace a punctured tyre.
Once happy with your location, place chocks both in front and behind at least one wheel of your RV. If the site slopes laterally, you may need to adjust the tilt of your RV using a levelling wedge. Wooden blocks work well but are heavy, and deteriorate over time. Plastic versions are lighter and have gentler inclines. They also one wheel (or two if dual axle) 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.
Typical sturdy plastic levelling wedge.
RV Accessory 7. Tow Ball Scales
Maintaining correct tow ball weight is critical to trailer stability. The amount of weight on the tow ball should 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. The inner tube slides into the outer tube under spring compression. Measuring is done by placing the inner tube under the tow ball and retracting the jockey wheel. The compression (and hence tow ball weight) shows on a scale on the side of the inner tube.
Typical tow ball weight scales
RV Accessory 8. Awning, Annexe and Matting
An awning and or annexe provides shade and weather protection alongside an RV. They virtually double the amount of private space available to you. They may also help you to reduce RV weight! 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 – rather than as permanent fixtures in your RV.
Instead of extra beds for occasional use in the caravan, have air beds for use in the annexe. Doing so reduces RV weight and fuel consumption. It also makes towing safer and provides a 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. The polyester tent material used in some RV awnings, however, dries in minutes.
Awning mats are now available which allow dirt to drop to the ground through a fine mesh. These mats also allow sunlight and water to filter through to the grass (if any) underneath. They are the only type of floor mat permitted in some parks. For a similar reason, tarpaulins are generally not permitted as ground covers – they tend to kill any grass below.
Pic: Vista RV Crossover annexe
RV Accessory 9. Twelve-Volt Fan
Only the largest of RV owners can run air conditioning once away from a grid supply or generator. While not reducing the temperature, a lightweight 12-volt fan consumes little energy and has a substantial cooling effect. There is little to go wrong with them. They are not expensive – having two can create a pleasant 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 cold packs or ice in front of the fan to enhance the cooling effect. When the weather is hot this is one RV accessory that will make a difference.
RV Accessory 10. Caravan Mover
For some owners, a caravan mover can make the difference between buying, or not buying the trailer. RV storage, particularly on narrow urban plots, can be challenging. A caravan mover can help to move a van into those tight spots where tow vehicles do not fit or reversing is too challenging.
Caravan movers are available in a range of shapes, sizes and moving capacities. There are two main types. Tow bar units can have heavy powered wheels or caterpillar tracks that replace the jockey wheel to provide additional traction.
‘Tyre grabbing’ units have 12-volt motors that rotate a metal roller. The roller is forced onto the tyre and rotates it. The RV’s house battery powers some such units: others have their own. Most have a remote control.
Each type has pro’s and con’s and none is particularly cheap. Compared, however, to the cost of a back operation, or not being able to go caravanning at all, they can be a good investment.