Getting a caravan hooked up to your tow vehicle for the first time can be a bit of a process. There a plenty of decisions to make including:
- Brake controlller installation
- Charging system installation
- Weight distribution hitches
- Suspension upgrades
Leaving these decisions to the last minute when you pick up your caravan can lead to some unfortunate consequences. A little bit of research early on will give you tremendous benefits down the track.
One of the most common requirements for towing any caravan in Australia is the need for an electronic brake controller to be installed in the tow vehicle. A brake controller is responsible for activating the brakes on your caravan and is absolutely critical in the performance of your rig on the road. A cheap brake controller can be difficult to adjust, resulting in a poor setup, poor braking performance and a dangerous rig on the road – for you and other drivers.
There are a large range of brake controllers available on the market. The common brands are Hayman Reese / Guardian and Tekonsha – each have their pros and cons. The cheaper controllers for around $130 don't have much configuration capabilities. The expensive ones for around $350 have a fine level of control and built in fault finding. In the scheme of things, a good brake controller is a small investment with a huge dividend!
The main problem we see with brake controller installation is poor wiring. Unstable connections and either lack of fusing / or incorrect fusing causes headaches for the owner, and can present a very dangerous situation very quickly. Let's look at a couple of the common problems:
1) Poor connections
Many auto-electrical wiring installations use crimped terminals for making connections between wires. Crimping is a perfectly fine process to use, but must be done with the right tools and in the right situations. Unfortunately, many technicians installing these devices have inadequate experience in this type of wiring – resulting in loose connections that simply fall apart.
A common technique used is a "scotch-lock" device which taps into existing wires. For the most part, these are a temporary device and do not make a positive connection for any extended period of time. They are fast to install, but generally fail almost as quickly. Having these installed on the braking system is a recipe for disaster.
We use a range of soldering and crimping connections based on the size of the wire, and type of connection.
2) Poor security
Wires needs to be run in the engine bay, under the vehicle, and to the rear of the vehicle near the tow bar. All of these areas are fraught with their own issues – heat in the engine bay, water/dirt/grime under the vehicle, dragging at the rear. Each of these factors can result in wiring being damaged and failing.
We protect all of our wiring with split convoluted loom tubing, secured with chassis clips. We heatshrink exposed connections.
Many installations we see don't have any fuses in the system. This can cause really big problems with overloading your electrical system in both the vehicle and the van, burnt and melted wires, fires and damage to your vehicle computer and van's electrical appliances.
Other installation use common cheap fuses which protect the systems, but allow your brakes to fail – which is terribly unsafe.
Our recommended method is using an auto-reset circuit breaker on the brake lines – this way your brakes will always be available, even in the event of a short-circuit or wiring damage.
Stay tuned for more of the finer details on why setting up your vehicle for towing deserves your attention!