articles and blog
Finding and fitting-out my first slide-on campervan
Category: My first slide-on campervan. Published: 23 Jun 2009
After deciding that I wanted a slide-on campervan and 4WD, I looked around to see what was available.
I could buy a new one -- there are several companies in Australia that build them. I inspected a few at the caravan show and was very impressed by some of them. The problems are that they take a long time to build and require lots and lots of money. I wasn't absolutely sure of what I wanted, and as my plan was to travel for 12 months I didn't want to spend a significant part of that waiting for a van to be built.
The problem with wanting a slide-on is that they are probably the least popular type of van, meaning there are very few used ones for sale. I couldn't find a caravan or campervan dealer who sold them second hand. There were very few on the Internet or in the various magazines, and whenever I did find one suitable it had already been sold -- anything worthwhile was snapped up as soon as it became available.
I eventually found a slide-on via the Internet in Canberra, but it was an empty shell needing lots of work to get it to the condition I required. The original details are as follows:
- Freeway make, 1970s model.
- Full length 3.6 m, base 2.3 m, height 1.95 m, width 2.1 m.
- Hardwood frame.
- Aluminium sides and roof.
- Foam insulated.
- Double bed over cab (no mattress).
- Fly-screen door and windows.
- Curtains and carpets.
- Table and seating.
- Stainless steel sink with hand-pump.
- Ample storage cupboards.
- 9 kg gas bottle.
- Gas cook-top and grill.
- 60 litre fresh water tank.
- Access ladder.
My preference had been to buy a complete unit -- van and 4WD together -- but I was happy to buy a van first thinking it should be a lot easier to buy a vehicle to suit, which it was. I eventually decided on:
- 1997 Mitsubishi Triton 4WD.
- 5 speed manual.
- 2.8 litre diesel.
- Air conditioning.
- Power steering.
As part of the purchase the following were also installed:
- Cruise control.
- Central locking.
- Driving lights.
- Towing mirrors.
Attaching the slide-on to the truck
The van had detachable wind-up jacks to lift it up so that the truck could be reversed under it. Sounds good in theory, however the van was designed for a standard ute, not a 4WD, which is much higher. I wanted the higher clearance to enable me to get to more remote areas, but that's no good if the jacks won't lift the van up high enough.
After investigating options I decided on new jacks. These were hydraulic, which are a much better option than the wind-up ones, but I hadn't accounted for the extra expense and the time to fix them to the van. Hydraulic are better than wind-up for two reasons: it's much quicker to lower the van, and because they're permanently attached I don't have to find somewhere to store them when the van is on the truck.
Once I got the van onto the truck I then had to find some way of keeping it there. More driving around Canberra finding suitable shackles, chains, etc.
I also needed a plug to connect the truck's electrical circuits to the van, mainly to power the lights and indicators. The van and truck both had the connecting plugs, but they didn't match so I just had to get an adaptor, which was easily obtained.
Improvements and modifications
By the time I bought the van I had already sold the house and had to start moving. I decided to only get done what had to be done in Canberra and anything that wasn't done I would do as I was travelling. Following is a summary of the changes I made in rough chronological order. Click on each link for more detail:
- Solar power system -- installed in Canberra.
- Fridge -- bought and installed in Canberra, fixed in Melbourne.
- Large lockable steel storage boxes -- installed in Canberra.
- Fire extinguisher for van and truck, fire blanket for van -- bought in Canberra.
- Mattress -- bought in Canberra.
- Grey-water storage container -- bought in Canberra.
- Television -- bought in Canberra, installed in Port Pirie; antenna bought in Adelaide, installed in Port Wakefield; booster bought and installed in Port Augusta.
- Stove -- bought in Melbourne, installed in Maryborough, tried to get it connected to the gas in Mount Gambier but eventually did in Adelaide, then connected the electronic ignition in Port Pirie.
- External 12-volt light -- bought in Melbourne and installed in Port Pirie.
- Rear-vision camera -- I bought a rear-vision camera in Mount Gambier, had the video screen installed in Adelaide and installed the camera in Port Pirie.
- Stereo (radio/CD/DVD) for the van -- bought in Adelaide, installed in Port Pirie; returned it to Whyalla where I bought a different one that I installed in Port Pirie.
- Stereo (radio/CD player) for the truck -- bought and installed in Adelaide.
- Toilet -- initially thought I didn't need one as I usually use caravan park facilities, but this is a hassle in the middle of the night so after travelling for about three months I obtained a porta-potti and converted a cupboard into a dedicated porta potti cupboard.
- Miscellaneous bits and pieces bought and installed along the way -- clock, towel rail, drawer organiser, dust buster.
All the things I did in Canberra were being done at the same time as I was moving out of my house -- selling, giving away or throwing out 20-odd years of accumulated possessions, as well as finalising the sale of the house. I would not recommend anyone to do it this way -- some forward planning would have been a better option. Having said that, sometimes you just have to do it and sort out the details as you go...