We renovate and upgrade almost every aspect of our lives these days, so why should our tow vehicles miss out? It makes sense when you plan on hitting the road, whether long or short term, that you roll out the spanners and make your tow tug something that’ll be not only more suitable for your needs, but more comfortable, too.
Here are five great DIY tow vehicle mods to get you started!
1. CUSTOM REAR DRAWERS AND SHELVES
If you’re after a good DIY project for your touring vehicle, this can be a fun – yet still challenging – place to start.
It’s a great way to keep your gear in order and can be built to accommodate a car fridge. Designing it yourself allows you to fully customise, and there are heaps of different materials and layouts you could go with, so you can get your creative juices flowing!
Before you design the unit for your vehicle, you’ll need to work out what you want to store in this space. If you’re fitting a fridge, the height of the unit and the size of the drawers will be dictated by this. You’ll also need to allow for adequate ventilation for the fridge.
Think about how you’ll get the unit into the car and how you’d remove it if you want to revert your car at the end of a trip. It may need to be built in sections to get it through the door.
Drawer slides can be purchased in sets and at different weight capacities. Make sure you get heavy-duty slides to support the weight you’ll be carrying, particularly for larger drawers.
In the planning stages, work out how you’ll fix the unit to the vehicle. Bolting it down using existing anchor points avoids having to drill new holes. It’s also essential to get the unit totally flat so there’s no movement and it can’t bounce around on rough roads.
These units can add a fair bit of weight to the back of your car so consider your materials carefully, but make sure it’s strong enough to handle rough roads.
This example, which comprises a rear drawer and shelving unit with room to sleep up top, uses 12mm hardwood ply for strength, but keeps weight down by building part of the shelving frame out of lightweight aluminium Connect-it (a square tubing with joiners) that allows you to construct the unit inside the vehicle. For a neat finish, the unit is covered with automotive carpet. A ready-made fridge slide was then added, providing easy access to the chest fridge.
2. CENTRE CONSOLE FRIDGE
If you’ve got a big fridge in your van or camper, you’ll know how good it is to have the ability to load up with food and have cold beverages waiting on a hot day. The problem is it’s in your van, and you’re not. You’re in your tow-tug, because you’re on the road.
Centre console fridges are the perfect travel companion allowing you to store a half dozen cans of drinks as well as a few nibblies all within arm’s reach, without looking for a rest stop then digging through three week’s worth of supplies.
There’s a few different options depending on your budget, with cheaper options more of a chiller than a full-blown fridge. Regardless, they’ll install with a quick seatbelt through a built-in loop then just plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter.
3. AUXILIARY BATTERY
If you have a fridge or any other 12V appliances in your car, you’ll want a second battery to keep things running at camp.
For this project, you’ll need some knowledge of 12V systems to ensure safe and correct installation, as well as a bit of know-how when it comes to running wiring through the vehicle interior. Safety is paramount when working with electricity, so take care.
In this example, a 110Ah AGM battery built for under-bonnet used was installed, along with an auxiliary battery wiring kit, which came with full instructions and included a voltage sensitive relay (to safely charge and isolate the two batteries, ensuring your car’s main battery isn’t drained by your appliances), as well as all wiring and connections.
Ensure your system is safe by choosing an appropriate battery for the job, as well as using the appropriate fuses and circuit breakers. Some batteries aren’t suitable for under-bonnet installation so, as with anything, do your research.
When choosing your battery, think about what appliances you’ll be running and what kind of charge they require, as well as how you will charge your battery at camp (eg., with a complementary solar system).
4. REVERSING CAMERA
Reversing cameras absolutely make towing easier, so if you’ve got the ability to fit one to your tow tug or caravan/camper, do it. It’ll be worth every cent, guaranteed.
Many tow-tugs come with reversing cameras as standard these days, but there’s still room for improvement. Duck down to your local auto parts store and pick yourself up a wireless reversing camera. They’ll come with a battery powered camera and a plug in small screen to mount inside.
Walk right past the back of your tow-tug and hot-glue that camera firmly on the back of your van. It’ll allow you to easily reverse to within a few inches of obstacles, aid in guiding you into the perfect site for a week of relaxing, and is a final line of defence to make sure no wayward kids have plonked their bikes behind your van.
Wired and wireless units are available with the wireless unit being a simple plug and play install. Keep an eye out for secure mounting points that show the back of the van without requiring you to puncture the outer skin. Read the back of the box too to ensure the wireless signal is strong enough to reach from van to tow-tug reliably.
5. ELECTRIC WINCH
The most important thing whenever you go exploring beyond the reach of mobile phone towers is an escape plan. How will you get out if you get stuck, particularly if you’re travelling by yourself? If there’s even a slim chance of finding yourself in a predicament with no lifeline, an electric winch can be worth its weight in gold.
They’ll do the basic recovery if you find yourself in muddy terrain, but the real boon is being able to combine a winch with a few pulley blocks and extension straps and perform all sorts of miracles. From pulling loaded vans away from steep edges, to moving downed trees from the path ahead, and even helping out fellow travellers you might find on your way.
The actual install process is pretty straightforward. Four high-tensile bolts hold the winch into place with a control box feeding cables from the battery down to the winch’s motor. If your tow-tug doesn’t have a bull bar or you don’t want one, many offroad shops can fit a hidden winch behind your stock bumper.
MEET THE AUTHORS
Dan Evertt has freelanced for RV magazines for five years. The self-declared “car tragic” has rebuilt more trucks and performance rigs than his age in years and came to RV travel on a US blitz, where he gifted a $1000 Craigslisted camper to a backpacker in Miami. He often travels the east coast with his young family between gigs and has spent time in Cape York and the High Country.
Journalist Ali Millar is a lifelong traveller and writer. A formereditor of Australia’s largest RV club magazine, she is currently on an indefinite ‘Big Lap’ of Australia with her partner Glenn and their trusty Prado, during which they intend to explore every corner of Australia.