If you’ve been following along with us on Instagram lately you might have noticed that we’re in the middle of a massive vintage caravan renovation before we set off on our lap around Australia next year.
As we speak our van is currently sitting in our backyard, with half old cladding and half new cladding and all the windows taken out. It’s kind of a skeleton right now! To other people it might look like way too big a project and a bit of a big mess, but to us we can see our new home and we’re so excited to work on it whenever we can.
We’ve been planning our lap around Australia since our first visit to Uluru a couple of years ago, and now that we’re actually working on the van and the car and everything else to make it happen, it seems like it’s coming up so fast! So we wanted to start sharing a bit of what we’ve been working on and how everything’s coming along before we set off.
In this post:
Why we chose a caravan?
We’ve had a few people asking us why we chose a caravan rather than more of a campervan type set up. There were a few different reasons, but the biggest one for us was that we wanted to keep Thom’s car to give us the flexibility of getting into absolutely anywhere we wanted. (Plus, Thom and his car are pretty inseparable, I just couldn’t break that up!)
We didn’t want to be limited by a van or a bus that we couldn’t take off-road. By choosing a caravan we have the option to leave it somewhere if we need to, and get into tighter places that don’t allow larger vehicles. Sometimes it’s those off the beaten track spots you stumble across by accident that are arguably most beautiful.
The other reason we chose a caravan was because we wanted to be comfortable. A whole year (maybe even longer if the funds can stretch) is a long time on the road, we wanted to be able to stand up, move around and even have a shower if we wanted to.
So to us, that was that. A caravan was the best option for us, and not too long after we found our new home, being lovingly cared for by it’s previous owners in Lara.
Getting ready to tow a caravan
So once we purchased our little vintage van we needed to make sure the car was equipped and ready to go to be regularly towing extra weight. I mean, the car is going to be pulling our van behind it every day for a whole year, so we want to make it as easy as possible on the car.
Have you heard about electric brakes before? It’s okay, I didn’t know much about them either!
If you’re a new owner of a caravan and you’ve never really had to tow anything before, this could be very easy to overlook. It certainly wasn’t something that was at the front and centre of my mind when we went to pick up our van. Luckily for me, Thom is always thinking of these things!
It seems like Thom’s hobbies always have him towing something. Whether it be a boat or a trailer, he’s always doing something that requires some extra towing! So luckily, he knows all about electric brakes and how important they would be when we start towing our van behind us.
So what are electric brakes and why do you need them?
The simple answer is – for safety.
Towing all that extra weight behind your car can make slowing down or coming to a stop a little more dangerous than just driving a normal car. The caravan or trailer’s momentum can cause the car to keep moving and it can be more difficult to come to a stop. If your van isn’t slowing down at the same pace as your car this is when accidents can happen.
An electric brake controller system stops the possibility of your caravan pushing your car by activating the van’s brakes whenever the driver hits the car brakes. The electric brake system will then figure out how much power is required to help the van safely slow down and come to a stop.
Pretty clever, hey!
Our choice: REDARC’s Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller
In all honesty, Thom actually already had electric brakes fitted on the car. They were REDARC’s original Tow-Pro product, that he had been using for years. From all his towing, he already knew all about the benefits of a brake system and he loved them.
So when REDARC offered us a chance to upgrade to their newest product, Tow-Pro Elite, we jumped at the chance. We were already confident that their products are the best on the market and couldn’t wait to try out the new features.
It might sound crazy if you’ve never towed a van or trailer before, but since using REDARC’s electric brake controller we almost can’t feel our van behind us when we’re slowing down. In fact, the first few times we drove with it I couldn’t help but keep checking that the van was still attached! Don’t get me wrong, our van is light – before we gutted it all it only weighed 1,400kg with everything inside it. But still, you would really think over tonne would make more of an impact at stop signs or roundabouts!
Why we love the Tow-Pro Elite System
Car things are definitely Thom’s domain, so to get even more of an understanding about why REDARC’s Tow-Pro Elite system is the best on the market I thought I would quiz him a little on why he loved the electric brake kit so much. I actually wasn’t prepared for the list that he dived into, I had to tell him to wait while I pulled this post up so I could make notes while he talked!
After comparing lots of different brands and brake system, we can honestly say the Tow-Pro Elite system is the best because –
The system is extremely easy to use. Once you install the brakes into your car you really don’t have to think about them again if you choose not to.
The Tow-Pro Elite features Active Calibration, so it knows how hard to work. The brakes turn on and off with the brake lights and apply the van brakes in proportion to how hard your car is decelerating.
But you also have control if you want it! As the driver, you have control over which mode you want to use at all times. This is fantastic because we can switch between braking style depending on where we’re driving and what kind of road and conditions we’re looking at.
The Elite system has two different modes to choose from – proportional and user-controlled, which is a huge highlight moving from the classic system. The proportional mode works by applying the same amount of pressure to your van as you are applying to the car brakes, which means they brake at the same time and speed – the harder you brake, the harder the van brakes. The user control mode gives you all the option to set a specific amount of pressure which will be applied to the van no matter how hard or softly you break. The two different modes are great for different situations, and offers greater flexibility when you’re travelling through all different kinds of roads and conditions.
The actual control unit is completely hidden, keeping your dashboard and centre console clean with only a dial showing in the car (like above). Rather than having a big unit sticking out somewhere, our Tow-Pro unit is hidden inside the dashboard, completely out of the way.
When you hold down the button inside your car, the brakes on your van will automatically start to brake without having to brake the car. This obviously isn’t a function that you would use very often, but it’s a good setting to have available in an emergency situation such as van sway.
The electric brake controller installation is incredibly easy to do yourself with the instructions supplied. Use one of REDARC’s wiring looms to make the job even easier. They have really thought about every detail in the wiring loom and how they would work together with your car. The whole system is incredibly neat once it’s installed. We used the wiring kit for a Hilux/Fortuna but there are heaps of options to match lots of different cars. The wiring kits cost $290AUD for any car model and absolutely make a difference to the install according to Thom.
It only took about an hour and a half to install the whole system ourselves. Nice and easy!
No matter what you’re towing, how big or how heavy, REDARC has you covered. Their system works will all kinds of car types, both electric and electric/hydraulic trailer brakes and are also sway control system compliant (another thing you might be looking at if you’ve got a new van). The Tow-Pro Elite also offers next gen technology, resulting in smoother braking for drivers towing heavy caravans or trailers (that’s us!), is suitable for both 12 and 24 volt systems and is compatible with all new vehicle technology.
You can purchase the Red Arc Tow-Pro Elite Brake Controller directly from their website. It costs $350AUD and also comes with the button to place on your centre console.
Do you need an electric brake controller?
Still not sure if you actually need a brake control system for yourself?
Apart from all the safety assurance you’ll feel when you’re towing, the first thing to you actually need to consider is whether you legally need an electric brake controller. Depending on the size and weight of your caravan, you might be required by law to have them.
Towing regulations in Australia state that any trailer with a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) of more than 750kg must be fitted with brakes.
Even more specifically –
Between 751kg and 2,000kg GTM you will need to have a braking system on wheels of at least one axle. Over-ride brakes are allowed, however electric is recommended on all trailers over 1,000kg.
Over 2,000kg GTM you must have a breaks system installed on all wheels, and the system must be powered by a full-charged battery at all times.
There aren’t many (if any) caravans that fit under that 751kg weight limit, in fact most of them are over a tonne, if not two! When you’re towing that amount of weight behind your car it really is better to be safe than sorry.
You can’t go wrong with the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite system, we absolutely love it. If you catch us on the road next year Thom is sure to tell you all about it too! If you have any questions about the product or how we installed it leave a comment or send us an email.
To equip yourself with the latest expertise on towing, including the operation of modern brake controllers, REDARC recommends you consider a professional towing course such as one of those offered here – www.tow-ed.com.au.
We’ve also included both the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite system and the Toyota wiring kit in our shop.
And to catch up on our van renovations, make sure you check out our Instagram highlights to see where we’re up to right now!
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