We've had a caravan for a good few years now, but pre-COVID we were using it less, and less. AirBnB and cheap hotel deals made it easier and more comfortable to just book somewhere, and not have the hastle of towing. We basically used it for the events that are difficult from a Hotel+Taxi perspective, so it was really only once or twice per year.
Well in the depths of lockdown, we took another look, and could see that it was going to be a while before we were happy with Hotels/AirBnB, so maybe we should upgrade. If we could be self contained, then we can interact as much as we are comfortable with, and we don't need to worry about what others want to do.
We looked at a number of options. We wanted to be able to roll up, wind the legs down, connect water and waste, and be done. We didn't want to have to have electric hookup, we didn't want to need the awning, we wanted our own toilet/shower. We also looked at the space, and didn't want to have to keep converting the living area to the bedroom area, so we wanted something with a seperate bedroom. Our main car has a towing limit of 1500kg, so we started looking at the options. We quickly decided on a rear island bed, with toilet/shower in the middle. Looking at the various manufacturers, I liked the way that Baileys had changed a few things around. The engineer in me could see that they had taken a fresh look at things and made some small but significant improvements. Putting the battery under the floor, so lower down and central. Putting the gas cylinders under the sink unit, still accessed from outside, but again nearer to the axle. Removing the front cupboard, so more room inside, and avoids things messing up the nose weight. The alu-tec means a mechanically sound edge joins, and no mid-side joins, so less damp problems over time. Looking at the various ranges, we settled on the Bailey Pheonix+ 640.
Options: We took a few dealer fitted options, motor mover, solar (but upgraded from a 100W to 150W panel), ALKO ATC (anti-snake), 4G, and a few other extras in a package (wheel lock, power lead, etc.). But after collecting the caravan, I immediately changed a few things.
Spotlights/USB: As supplied 2 of the 4 spotlamps have a single USB socket. I found similar replacements, that are dimmable, and have 2x USBs per light, replacing all 4, suddenly gave us a lot more USB sockets. This was a really simple upgrade, unscrew the old fitting, pull the wires out of the hole, reconnect to new fitting, do up the 2 screws.
Water: Installed a Whale ES8000 Intelligent control - About £50 but what a difference! No more trying to adjust the pressure switch between pulsing water, and reasonable cutoff, plus worrying about the tank running dry and ruining the pump. Simple to install: On the back of the water socket, remove the 3 wires, remove the pressure adjuster, install the ES8000, replace wires, and calibrate. Takes about 10 minutes.
Awning: We didn't want a full awning, so went with the 13ft Sunncamp Protekta Roll Out Sun Canopy, with the sides. Rolled up it stays on the side rail, it's takes about 5 minutes to set it up, 5 more minutes if you want the side panels.
Front cover: We had a cheap front cover for the old caravan, but the straps were not very well thought out. So we attached some awning rail tape to some spare fabric, with velcon on that, then put velcro on back of the front cover, so it's really easy to put on / take off now. The awning rail tape+ fabric + velco stays in place, and the cover just velcos off and back on as required. Because this Caravan has the reflectors down low, and the running lights on the side, it's fine for night time towing.
Speakers: We don't use the stereo much, it's mainly for the TV sound (via the Aux in), but the supplied speakers are basic twin-cone ones, these got replaced with some twin driver ones, that took a bit of tinkering to get to fit, but now look great, and sound much better than the older ones. I also fitted some cardboard protectors for the back of the speakers, as sliding things into the cupboard, would sometimes pull the cables off!
The solar controller: The supplied PWM controller is only about 70% effecient, so from a 100W panel would get a peak power of about 70W. We got the dealer to upgrade the install to a 150W panel, and we changed to an MPPT controller, gets a peak power of 144W (14.4V at 10A), so over 2x! I went for an EPever 1210AN one (Factory return unit for £35, so a great price). I've used others in their range before and they do what they claim. During the upgrade I found that there was no fuse in the the solar charge cable, which is pretty dangerous (if the wire gets snagged, the 150A battery fuse is much bigger than the cable, so the cable will melt before the fuse blows!). So while I was replacing the controller, I put a fuse at the battery end of the cable (the controller end will current limit, so is safe). While I was doing the fuse, I actually pulled a thicker cable through, to reduce cable losses.
The LTE router: The Maxview 3G/4G Roam, comes with an LTE router/Wi-Fi that is actually a re-badged Teltonika RUT240, it's a single stream LTE-CAT4, so 150Mbps. I replaced it with a RUTX9, which is dual stream LTE-CAT6, so 300Mbps. The RUTX9 is only a router, I really wanted the RUTX11 that is an LTE router with built in Wi-Fi, but the lead times were poor, and those that had stock wanted a lot of money (more than £100 more than the RUTX9). So for Wi-Fi, I added a seperate TL-WR902AC, this is a dual band IEEE802.11ac unit, which I've reflashed with OpenWRT. The main reason I wanted to upgrade was to get dual stream, this gives two connections on different bands from a single SIM, so you tend to get 2x the bandwidth even in poorer signal areas (when my phone is getting 5M...10Mbps, I often see at least 40Mbps). The RUTX9 has dual SIM slots, so I've got a 24month/24GB SIM from Three (was £60, so £2.50 per month), and a 5GB/month EE SIM (works out at £5 per month). The EE is the preferred slot, but the Three is set as auto fallback.
For high power 12V I use the Speakon connectors, these are 20A touchproof and water proof, so are great in a camping environment. The 4-pin ones I run as two 20A circuits, so in parallel can handle 40A, which is a very useful current level.
High powered fusebox: I replaced the battery Midi fuse holder with a 4 way Midi fusebox. This master fusebox is used for 1=Bedroom, 2=Solar, 3=Extra devices, 4=High power 12V connection, I also added a resetable breaker going to 2 extra leisure batteries.
The bedroom feed allows for 2x 12V sockets, and 2x USB sockets (in addition to the 4x USB in the spot lights)
The Solar feed, protects the cable going to the solar controller (was unfused!)
The extra device circuits are relay switched by the caravan main power switch. There are two circuits, one internal and one external. The internal devices are 12V, USBs, and the 12V->19V for the TV/STB/Media PC. For the external devices there are a pair of speakon connectors under for lights, 12V devices, and USB charging while in the awning.
The high power 12V fuse connects to a 60A plug, it's mainly for connecting a 350W inverter, but during the winter this is used to connect the external Solar controller (connected to a pair of 100W panels on top of the cover).
The seperate resetable breaker is wired to a space for 2x extra leisure batteries. This allows off-grid without needing a generator for quite a while, even if there isn't much sunshine to top things up, 3x 110Ah leisure batteries gives a lot of usable power. Fixing them down safely was difficult, so I transport them in the car, then move them into the caravan and connect them in.
Rerrange: While doing these upgrades is was obvious that things weren't fitting in very well. So the main 12V distubution terminals moved up to a side panel, then the motor mover controller could be moved back, the motor mover power switch moved, and there is now a surprising amount of extra space.
Buzzer: I added a 12V buzzer with a simple transistor circuit. This buzzes if both the main power switch and the motor mover are on. So when we're setting up camp, when the carvan power is switched on, it buzzes if we forgot to turn the motor mover off. When we get back to base, and use the motor mover to park up, it buzzes if we've left the caravan power on.
Always on 12V: The 4G router, Wi-Fi, plus a few other things are connected to the solar controller's 12V/Lamp output (set to 24x7). This means that even with the battery disconnected, if the solar panel has light, things keep working. So while changing batteries around, or with the 12V turned of while doing other work, these things stay power up.
There was a wheel lock included in the upgrade package, but a bit more security is probably a good thing.
GPS: The RUTX9 has GPS built in, so I've added a script that uploads the GPS data to a remote server every 10 minutes.
Cameras: For another project I got a Blink camera system (so before they started charging the monthly fees) so I've connected the hub to the Caravan's internet, and have a pair of cameras connected to the hub. With the system armed, and not triggered much, it uses about 500MBytes/month, so not too bad.
Cover: It's stored outside in Winter, so I got a 2nd hand cover for a different caravan that's big enough. A few cheap straps make sure it stays on
Solar: With the solar panel covered up, I wanted to keep the batteries in good condition, so roped a pair of 100W panels on top of the cover, these feed into a spare controller and are connected into the 60A connector. When we camp without hook-up, then these panels can be wired in to give us an extra top-up. (So 350W of solar instead of 150W.)