Problems and issues

Of course given the types of roads and the distances we've covered we've had a few problems. All of them have been sorted out by the people at Balance Trailers. These guys really do stand behind their product.

Poles and hoops and water leaks

Our first issue was the top, main hoop failing and a few water leaks at the corners of the canvas. I spoke to Balance Trailers and was asked to bring the camper down to them This is an inconvenience for us as it’s almost a day trip there and back and another one to pick it up. Anyway we took it back to  them. They replaced the pole no problems but the water leaks were a bit more of an issue. It was identified that some Velcro loops along the seams inside the camper had been incorrectly sewn so the canvas had to come off so it could be resewn. The job was done and new waterproofing applied and it’s been happily waterproof since.

The water tank

On our way up to the Birdsville Races at the south end of the Old Strzelecki Track we saw that we had a pretty severe leak along one of the bottom seams of the tank We lost about 100 litres of water and had to improvise for the rest of the trip. When we got home I had a good look at the leak and it appeared that one of the folded and rolled seams had let go. Probably due to the “oil canning” from 100 litres of unrestrained water.

When we got home we contacted Balance Trailers again and they, of course, asked us to bring the camper down. They had a look at it and suggested welding it up. I was opposed to that as a solution as welding stainless steel can make the surrounding metal brittle and it would probably crack and we’d be stuck with a leaking tank again. Nevertheless it was welded against my wishes. Our next trip was a pretty smooth trip with only about 100km’s of dirt road. Of course the tank split and we lost our water. Again we called Balance Trailers and they, this time, offered to replace the tank. One catch. A new tank had to be fabricated and it would take about four weeks. Oh well, what can you do.

We now have a properly baffled and lined tank as well as a new bash plate and mounting straps. The new tank looks a lot better made the the original.

The suspension

While Balance Trailers were replacing the water tank they noticed a couple of minor cracks in the suspension trailing arms. They were replaced without them asking us. They also welded some reinforcement around where the cracks formed on the original arms. It should be bullet proof judging by the appearance and the quality of the welds.

Losing a wheel.

Just outside of Hawker in SA this happened.

The wheel studs had sheared off. Probably due to a design fault illustrated in here.

We had repairs done in Hawker which got us home.

When we got home I called Balance Trailers and, of course, they asked us to bring the camper down. They replaced both brake drums and hubs as well as the wheel bearings. Eventually they refunded us the cost of repairs in Hawker as well as the retrieval.

Another feather in the cap of Balance Trailers.

Modifications to the camper

Batteries and charging

Since we got the camper we've made a few modifications. They've all been to the 12V system so far. Due to a past association I've been able to get Victron stuff at a very keen price so it's all Victron, of course.

First thing that we did was to fit a DCDC charger. The camper had an Anderson plug installed that connected directly to the batteries. A Victron Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger  was chosen and duly installed in the cabinet with the distribution panel. I simply cut the cables from the Anderson plug to the batteries and wired in the DC-DC charger. It can be configured and monitored via a Bluetooth app.

The next step was to put a decent solar regulator in. The regulators supplied with most solar panels are cheap and nasty affairs that would be better off in the spares box for emergency use. Again I chose Victron. I installed a Victron Smart Solar MPPT 100/20 which does the job very nicely. Installing it was dead easy - solar input via a red Anderson plug, the load connected to the power input of the distribution box and the battery output connected to the batteries. This controller also gives you the ability to controlled the load via a Bluetooth app.

Next cab off the rank was a 240V 12V battery charger. Again Victron was chosen. This time it was a Blue Smart IP22 Charger from Victron. Installation is dead simple. The output to the batteries and the input to a 240V mains socket that is already wired into the battery cabinet. Again this is able to be configured and monitored via a Bluetooth app.

The next step was to have a look at the batteries. We have two 100Ah AGM's in parallel which gave us about 100Ah usable capacity although we have been guilty of running the way flatter than that - down to about 10%SOC. While there is nothing wrong with the AGM's - they're only about three years old and haven't been overly mistreated - we'll stick with them. When the time comes to replace them, in five or so years I reckon, I'll be replacing them with the relevant Victron LiFePo4 offerings.

By having good charging capabilities and good battery monitoring we can manage our power off grid much better. We can last about four days without a recharge as our power requirements are modest. With our 250W and 100W panels connected in parallel on a full sun day we can be fully charged well before lunch so we have a considerable comfort margin. If we have a series of zero solar harvest we can always start the car and use it to get at least enough charge to keep us going.

The kitchen tap

In our slide out kitchen we have a cold water tap. With the pump turned on if you lift the tap the water flows. There are a couple of issues here.

  • If you’re trying to do the dishes and you lift the tape to get it up and out of the way you put more cold water in the sink.
  • Lifting the tap is quite hard and tends to turn the tap mount up so that the kitchen slide can’t be closed.
  • The switch for the pump is at the distribution panel on the other side of the camper which is a pain if you need to turn the water on or off when you’re at the kitchen.

Fortunately there is an easy solution. The pump is in the storage box under the seat in the rear of the camper right next to the kitchen. It was an easy matter to put an external waterproof switch right next to the kitchen slide. All I needed to do was to drill a hole for the switch, cut the +ve wire to the pump, crimp on a couple of female spade connectors and connect it all up. Now we can turn the pump off from right next to the kitchen sink. Much better.

A new jockey wheel

we quickly discovered that the original jockey wheel sunk into soft ground a LOT so we started the hunt for something better. We eventually ended up getting Ark XO 750 jockey wheel.  Here’s a pic.

ARK XO 750 Jockey Wheel

This new jockey wheel allowed us to easily push the drawbar sideways to line up the poly block coupling. It’s got a heap of vertical travel which makes it easy to get the camper level on uneven ground before we put the stabiliser legs down.

My view is that if you’ve got a pretty heavy ball weight and a poly block coupling this is the jockey wheel for you.

A winch to help closing the camper

Neither Jenny or I are what you’d call tall or strong so closing the camper posed a problem.

Being a forward fold camper the bed end needs to be lifted over the centre and down onto the lounge section. Using muscle power alone we can get it up to about 30deg from horizontal but no further – we simply don’t have the height or strength. It’s alright for the boys at Balance Trailers (where we got the camper) – they’re six foot balls of muscle.

A cheap, 1000lb winch from ebay was the answer. The boys at Balance Trailers made up a bracket and fitted the winch mounting, the winch and an anchor point for us.

Winch
Anchor point

It was a simple matter to wire it into an Anderson plug and use a fly lead from the battery box. The big advantage was that the winch has a remote control which enables us to quickly fold in the canvas as it goes up and over.

Once it goes over the vertical it falls into place and we go around pushing the canvas in and then close the camper up.

Here’s a couple of pics. One of the camper erected and one of it closed. I reckon you’ll be able to see the issue for us shorties.

Camper when erected
Camper when closed

 

Our camper

Our camper is a 2017 Balance Trailers forward fold.

Balance Trailers BT20HF forward fold.

As can be seen it’s a pretty large affair. It’s pretty heavy too weighing in at 2 tonnes GTM (Gross Trailer Mass). The end nearest the draw bar is a queen sized inner spring mattress bed while the rear of it is a sort of lounge room which can be converted to a double bed so it can sleep four. The canvas is so called Bradmill Kordux Lightweight. I’d sure like to steer well clear of their Kordux Heavyweight canvas. It’s treated against just about everything up to, and possibly including, nuclear holocaust.

It has a slide out kitchen consisting of a sink with a cold water tap and a four burner stove.The four front lockers hold our Engel 40 litre fridge / freezer which is unbelievably good – it was able to keep the frozen stuff frozen during a string of days over 45 degC. The other three lockers hold plastic tubs for food, cutlery and crockery, the pegs and poles for the annex and our BBQ oven as well as a couple of extension leads and lights, 250W solar blanket, etc. There’s also a narrow full width locker that holds the steps which we need to put the annex up because we’re short. Once the camper is up we can’t open that locker.

On the other side are two more lockers which give access to a 2,000 watt inverter, the 240V battery charger, the DCDC charger and the solar regulator. It’s all Victron and can keep us in power for as long as we like as long as we get no more than four days without any solar panel action or have any other means of charging the batteries. The batteries are also Victron. Two LiFePo4 12.8V 160Ah in parallel.

The water tank under the rear holds 100 litres and there is one 12V pump for the kitchen sink. That’s enough water for us for a week if we are careful to not go overboard.

It all sounds a bit complicated but it really isn’t. From the time we pull up to the time we can get the kettle on is about ten or fifteen minutes. If we take the time to put the awning up it takes another twenty or so minutes. If we do the whole monkey puzzle thing with all of the poles it takes about an hour but we usually don’t. As long as the awning is up the kitchen is covered and if we want to stay out of the weather we go inside rather than put the full annex up. We usually don’t even take a lot of the canvass with us.

Here’s a few photos of the camper both folded up and set up.

Brand new and folded up in the front yard.
And from the rear
A wonky old setup at Bradley’s Hut in the Kosciusko National Park
Set up at Pilaga Bore NSW

Well, that’s our current camper. Before this camper we had an Indigo rear fold camper which we sold for a couple of reasons.

1. It didn’t really suit our needs It was small and light but it was too small and had bugger all indoor room to sit and relax or eat, etc.

2. The chassis broke in Bourke NSW which we managed to get repaired but it left us feeling that we couldn’t trust it.

3. The kitchen really wasn’t a kitchen. No built in stove or sink or drawers, no tap and very small.

Here’s a few photos of it.

Set up at Marla

As you can see the fridge and food boxes needed to live in the back of the car which was not ideal.

Getting down and dirty on the Oodnadatta Track.