So, as I said in my last post, we have done a few things to get Black Betty a bit more up to scratch. I spent 2 days with my dad (he’s a sparky) “Electify-ing” BB. She did have an anderson cable for charging, but it was 4mm2 cable, she had a battery but it had dropped a cell and was not accepting any charge, and she had 2 ciggy plug outlets but they were wired up with wire as thin as hair, I was not happy plugging in the new BIG fridge into these outlets so we made some changes.
Author Archives: mattf2013
I know Jess has already ‘introduced’ Black Betty but I thought it was time to do it properly…. i.e. Blokey-ly….
So settle in for another one of my monster posts. (I don’t post often, I just post BIG)
First up, Stats:
Make: All Terrain Camper Trailer (ATC)
Model: 17′ Full Off Road with upgraded deluxe kitchen and ‘Moon Roof” otherwise it is bog standard (well, it was….)
No disrespect to Karen Camper, living in her during our big trip was very comfortable, but there were times when we faced a decision whether to take a certain road or not, based on if we felt Karen would make it. Jess and I do not like being limited like that, if we want to go somewhere or do something, then nothing is stopping us.
Enter “Black Betty”
Hello world. My name is Kipp Matthew Fealy
I am finally here. I’ve been kicking the door down in Mum’s belly for weeks now and 2 weeks ago I thought I might have succeeded, but no dice.
I know my Mum and Dad were beginning to wonder if I would ever come out. I heard my dad say that by the time I arrive I’ll be enrolled in school! Continue reading
Ok, enough of the emotional fluff from Jess, time for something really interesting! Modifications to the Prado! Yeah! (To our female readers, this is your queue to switch to your Facebook page and go and ‘like’ people’s pictures of cats and e-harmony cards, or turn on Home and Away). For anyone else, you know the drill…..Matt has had a beer or three and is in the mood to write, I suggest you grab a beer of your own. As a guide, this post took 4 beers to write. Good luck.
So the first modification was to install the brake controller after thankfully learning early on that without it, we were actually illegal, and being we intended to camp every month from the day we purchased Karen Camper to the day we depart for the big trip, we needed that sorted asap. While we would be running cable for the brake controller, we knew we would also need an Anderson plug to allow the car to charge Karen’s batteries while we drive. We also knew that we would need a second fridge, preferably in the car so when we did day trips away from the Camper we would have cold storage (read: beer). Having a fridge in the back of the car meant upgrading the power outlets to the back of the car (to handle the current draw of a fridge) and, unless we wanted to run the risk of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a car that wont start (or worse, warm beer) we would need a second battery set up.
It was clear the first modifications were going to be electrical. Thankfully we play squash with a top bloke who is an auto electrician, and who is very meticulous. So off to Russell from Kedron Car Electrics (07 33594411) to do up a dual battery install with redarc isolator, heavy-duty power outlet in the rear, Anderson plug and while we are at it, throw a few extra power sockets in the second row of seats to charge the iPad and torches.
While Russ was at it, he put in a “Momentary Push Button Battery Switch” which is a fantastic idea.
You see, my ultimate goal when designing this dual battery system was to (try) and ensure that we would never be in a position of not being able to start the car, either because of a flat or broken/failed battery. Also after Stewie and Myra explaining their disappointment of feeling like they had to rush parts of their trip worrying about the car fridge running the starter battery flat, it was priority No.1 to always be able to start the car. So, we still start the car as per normal, but lets say somewhere along the line, the starter battery does go flat or fails or breaks, all we do is hold down the little button on the dash that momentarily switches over to the auxiliary battery to start the car. This way we can recharge the starter, or, continue to start the car until we can get somewhere where we can replace the broken battery….love it, Great Tip Russ. Actually, another great tip from Russ, he ran the heavy-duty power lead for the fridge to the back and into the little compartment for the bottle jack.
1. It is nicely hidden when not in use, but more importantly
2. It is not permanently installed by cutting a hole in some arbitrary place in the plastic trim of the car. Russ left about 3 meters of extra lead on it that just rolls up and hides in the jack compartment, this means it can act pretty much as a 3 meter extension cord for power from the car, be it for the fridge if we wanted to take it out and under a tree during a picnic, or for a light or anything requiring the 12V!
So we installed a 105Amp/hour “Allrounder” battery (not purely deep cycle, so we can start from it, not purely a start battery, so we can deep cycle from it), Russ assured me that it should in most conditions happily run the car fridge for about 4 days without having to start the car or hook up any solar etc.
I tested this theory over (the HOT) Christmas, and he was spot on, at the end of the 4th day, the fridge switched off. For the nerds out there, I had the Waeco set to -1deg (mmmm cold beer) and on the lowest low voltage cut out setting, meaning the battery would have been quite flat, but not totally dead. I had intended to try and start the car from the second battery at this point just to see if it would, but I forgot, bugger. Now I have to spend another 4 days of stringent testing, requiring me to find a way to ‘replicate’ the real world conditions of running the car fridge for 4 days, with regular intervals (say every 30mins) of opening and closing the fridge for, I don’t know, some kind of beverage maybe….. how am I going to do that? Would anyone like to help?
I digress…..so, with the redarc battery system installed, once we start the car it will immediately begin charging the starter battery, once it is fully charged, it will isolate the starter, and begin charging the second battery, and once it is charged, will send all the alternator power to the Anderson plug to charge Karen’s battery.
So with all this done, it was time to think about Modification number 2……hmmmm anyone see what is wrong with this picture?
If anyone makes any comment about me needing to “lay off the pies”…..
So after working out (thankfully quickly) that getting a brake controller installed was a must, it came time to work out what modifications to Peter would have to happen, and the ones we want to happen. Again I had planed to blog as these decisions happened, but I will have to do it retrospectively. I will break them down into separate posts though, so don’t worry, you are not going to noticeably age by the end of this post.
Suspension, Electrics (Dual Batteries, Anderson Plug, Fridge plug in the rear), New Stereo and UHF, Second Spare Tyre
Roof Racks, Awning, Rear Drawers System, Spotties, Snorkel, Steel Bull Bar, HF Radio.
I think we were pretty realistic about the essentials, except some of you may say the new Stereo is a luxury, but I challenge anyone else to attempt this trip without a working stereo. Only the AM radio was working on the Stereo it came with, fine for Jess and I who have finally given in to the ABC and Radio National (and accepted our transcendence into our 30’s, not necessarily gracefully!) but 2 hour discussions on the emerging economics of China vs South America and how it will effect the taste of milk is not exactly engaging content for sub-7year olds. And yes mum, before you say it, I know you drove across the country in a non air conditioned Sandman ute with NO stereo, and a baby on your lap, but, well, “Kids these days are soft”……there, I said it….
So time to raid the piggy bank, who had already run off squealing for the hills after the purchase of Peter Prado. We had to coax him back with the lure of 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards and a promise that we would not have takeaway ever, ever again.
Well, Piggy came back…… We celebrated with some Pad Thai and Yellow Curry…….silly Piggy!
Wow, you are strapping yourself in for another of Matt’s monster retrospective posts? Crazy!
So, yes, like the decision of which car to get, there were plenty of lessons learned in choosing a camper.
If you have stumbled upon this blog searching for camper recommendations for a ’round Oz trip’, then let me save you some time, I came to the same decision as so many others. It went something like this…
Tent …are you kidding me? No way…if we wanted to come home with the same number of family members as we left with, we were not tent-ing it.
Softfloor camper…. Love the space, but the set up and pack down time, along with not being off the ground, wet canvas, and having to set up virtually the whole campsite every time, no thanks. We decided early on (and after some good advice from others who have done this/similar trips in the past) if it is not easy, you will avoid doing it, it will effect your decisions along the way, and you will end up skipping over/missing things because of the dread of the set up/pack down.
Caravan…. easy tiger…. The kids might keep reminding me when they see ‘pre-kids’ photos of me of how much more hair I had, but we are still a good 30 years away from caravans thank you very much.
So it was easy, it was going to have to be a wind-up camper-van. But which one? Jayco? Coromal? GoldStream?
Again let me save you some time, we came to the same decision as you will find 100’s of others have done throughout the interwebs…
Jayco: Love the presentation, love the price, love the colour schemes etc. Don’t love that the cabinetry is held together with staples not much bigger then what is in my office drawer. Don’t love the live single axle (ever followed one and watched it over bumps, dirt road, potholes?)
Coromal: Loved everything about the Coromals, except the price. Very well built, many with independent suspension, but I think because there are just so very few of them around, they hold their value really well. Had I found the right Coromal for the right price I would have bought it.
GoldStream: Just do a google search and have a read of all the Goldstream owners reviews and comparisons to the companies above. The Goldstreams are a very well built piece of kit. Cabinets are stapled, bracketed and glued. Independent suspension, rock solid camper.
So it came down to Coromal and Goldstream, after over 12months of watching the camper market, it became clear that immediately after major holidays/school holiday is the time to buy. I guess anyone with a camper they are wishing to sell figure they will get one more camp out of it before they sell.
So watching for 12months I knew the market and values very well, so I knew when we saw a 2003 Goldstream GoldStar, with independent suspension, 120ltrs of water storage (and 2 x jerry holders on the rear bar) 120W solar, Gas Hot Water, external shower, external pull out BBQ, Fiamma, dual gas bottles, Generator box, full oven and Microwave and a TV to boot, in our price range (well…. within ‘upsell’ range I reckoned I could get past the accountant) I knew that as long as it actually had wheels then it was a go-er.
So off we went and had a look. Turns out the owner had just completed their family ’round Oz’ trip in it and needed to off load it. Lovely people they were, and a great source of info regarding the trip as well. So after a little negotiations (and upselling to my accountant – who may or may not have been in New Zealand at the time!) we purchased Karen Camper.
Here she is about 3 mins after we got home with her!
And here is the kids first impressions (press ‘play’ for the video):
You might have heard me say “we’ve got some learning to do” Well, well, well…. we certainly have done some learning.
It should be noted at this point that I had only ever towed anything a couple of times before in my life – namely the neighbours trailer (thanks Luke & Dunc) to the dump and back – so I was as ‘green’ to this towing/trailer stuff as it comes! (Please keep this in mind and be kind when you hear what I have to say next!)
For example, here is a trap for young players, maybe I was just being blonde, but the way I read what I read about brake controllers, electric brakes etc was that any trailer over 750kg needs to have electric brakes…check (it has electric brakes) but brake controllers were just for more efficient braking (ie proportional braking, brake hard in the car, camper brakes go on hard, brake soft in the car, camper brakes softly) So while I thought we would definitely get a brake controller for the trip, I had NO IDEA that without a brake controller…….the camper has NO BRAKES.
I towed it all the way home, and that weekend to Flanagans Reserve with no brakes!
Like I said……we had some learning to do, and you know what, geez life would be boring if we didn’t learn something new everyday! Anyone else game to fess up their ‘rookie errors’? Oh – and we do now have a brake controller!
A few photos of Karen Camper to finish off.
Warning: Looooooong Post! The idea was to update this blog as we made these decisions as separate chronological posts, now I have to cover it all retrospectively, so grab a cuppa and dive right in!
Originally we had planned to get the camper first, give ourselves time to pay it off, and then get the 4wd. I guess this was where we learned our first lesson, tow ball weight.
We had ‘Graham Grandis’ (Mitsubitshi Grandis 7 seater van) at this time
and while the Grandis had an 1800kg tow rating, it had a ridiculous 45kg ball weight limit. Working on the general rule of thumb that the ball weight will be approximately 10% of the camper weight, there was absolutley no way we were going to be able to buy and safely tow home/use a camper while we had the Grandis.
As you can imagine, I was pretty upset about ‘having’ to go and buy a 4bee! I had already made a short list for when the time came, I was looking at, in order or preference:
1. Nissan Pathfinder
2. Toyota Prado
3. Mitsubishi challenger.
In my heart I wanted the Prado, but, we could buy a brand new fancy pants Pathfinder with swanky heated leather seats and all sorts of bells and whistles, for the price of a 4-5 year old Prado (bloody Toyota tax!) The Challenger was really only in the list as a baseline to keep the accountant happy. (See, I tell her the price of the Challenger, and she can deal with it, I then down sell it and how for only $xx all those issues can be sorted by stepping up to the Prado/Pathy)
I test drove a brand new ST-L Pathy, and yeah sure, all the bells and whistles are cool, but to be honest, I found it was ‘not my cup of tea’ to drive. It was pretty clear that the Pathys are based on the Navara drivetrain, it felt very big, very cumbersome and everywhere I looked I saw blind spots (can you ‘see’ blind spots? If a tree falls in a forest…..?) Also starting to look at the availability of spares on the road, the multitude of electronics involved and the Pathy was beginning to lose it’s sparkle.
So it was time to seriously consider buying a car that would be older then the one we already had, also a good chance of having almost double the amount of klm’s for a good $15,000 more then what we could sell the Grandis for! Something just didn’t add up!
Anyway, off to test drive a Prado. 1st was a Petrol 120Series (because they are just so much cheaper). Well, I just loved it from the second I drove it 100mtrs down the road, somehow it felt no bigger then the Yaris, everything was where it should be on the dash and it was so nimble (considering it would still be an every day run about for Jess and the kids to school, shopping centres etc)
I did some figures on the fuel consumption under tow and it became pretty clear that the diesel was going to save us considerable money in the long run (approx 19L/100 petrol vs 14L/100kms diesel). This was based on getting one of the the post October 2007 Diesel Prados when Toyota introduced the new ‘D4D’ engine with considerably better power/torque and economy. It was time to down sell the petrol and up sell the diesel to the accountant.
After considerable research, and watching the market for a number of months, I started calling and making ridiculous offers for available Prados virtually anywhere within 500klm of Brisbane. Reality set in and we were beginning to think that while we have come up with the right car for our requirements, we were simply not going to be able to afford one. I extended my range to anywhere in QLD and NSW and we found a Dec 2007 120Series D4D Prado waaaaay out in Alpha QLD.
Turns out Jess’ parents happened to be baby sitting a station in Moranbah at this time, ‘only’ about 5 hrs away. “Nah” I said to Jess, “we can’t ask your mum and dad to drive over 400klms just to look at a car we might not even buy”. “Just call them and see” Jess said.
Well, I got a hold of Stewie and thought I would just ask the question. The conversation when something like this:
Me: “Hey Stewie, how’s things, how’s the Station?”
Stewie: “Yeah, not bad, getting a bit bored”
Me: “Hey we found a car in Alpha that might be a go-er……you don’t feel like a drive do you?
Stewie: “Yeah sure we’ll go and have look if you like”
Me: “Are you sure? Well let me get an address and find out when they might be free and I’ll give you a call back in about an hour yeah?
Well, I spoke to the owner, got an address and called Stewie back in about 20mins…
Me: “Geez it’s noisy there, where are you?”
Stewie: “On the way to Alpha”
Seems after 2 weeks out in Moranbah any excuse for a change of scenery was all Stewie needed and he was out the door and on the road!
Well, Myra and Stewie, we can’t thank you enough, because that was how we found Peter Prado. They collected him from Alpha a week later and drove him all the way back to Brisbane (We did have to pry the keys from Myra’s hands when she got here!)
So he arrived in virtually stock condition, other then the factory bull bar, the set of SandGrabba floor mats, full set of sheepskin seat covers and 5 x Brand new Yoko Geolandars, it was stock. I will do another post on the modifications we have now made, this post is plenty long enough, congratulations to all 2 of you that made it to the end (Mum because you are mum, and Jess because she had to proof read it!)