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BUYERS GUIDE - 4X4 CAMPERVANS

DIY CAMPERVAN CONVERSION
A comfy campervan doesn't have to be expensive.

An Australian manufacturer and tradesman – and also a grey nomad – is demonstrating that fun and comfortable family life on the road doesn’t have to be expensive.

Jay King is the managing director of Aus J Hot Water Solutions and he’s converted a humble workhorse van – a 2001 Toyota HiAce 2.4-litre petrol four-speed automatic with 369,000km on the clock – into a test bed for his latest Duoetto 12V-240V water heater for caravans, RVs and boats.

The DIY conversion cost of around $15,000, plus the used-HiAce cost, for his DIY project compares favourably with ready-to-roll new  campervans that cost between $95,000 and $300,000.

“Originally my wife and I just wanted a vehicle we could put the Duoetto water heater underneath, without a protective enclosure, to prove how tough it was,” said Jay King. 

“But building the van became a fun project that showed people they don’t have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for modest but solid fit-outs that many of them can do themselves. 

“There are many tradies, former tradies and DIY people of all ages who could do it,” said Mr King, 68, a former automotive upholsterer, whose Aussie water-heater engineering company has earned thousands of local and global sales.

His spare-time project extended over three months and Jay first of all ensured that his base vehicle was in optimum mechanical condition and that brakes, steering and transmission were professionally checked.

For the fit-out he drew up and cut a jigsaw of MDF sheets as pattens, to ensure the fit and strength of the layout. The next step was to convert those patterns to  light but strong RV-plywood panels for the walls, benches, seats and convertible beds. 

Then he installed pre-measured kit, including an external awning, 80-litre fridge, inverter microwave, two 130-amp AGM batteries, 2000-watt inverter, roof ventilator fan, Redarc 50 Amp DC to DC in-vehicle charger, gas detector, internet signal extender, high gain phone aerial and external shower and hot water provided by the Duoetto, drawing from a 50-litre storage tank.

The Duoetto was deliberately located under the vehicle (instead of protected within it) to show how it would stand up to thousands of kilometres of rough roads. 

“A good supply of hot water was not negotiable for my wife and daughter,” Jay said.

 

On the road

The Kings’ trial trip turned into an adventure, with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic that closed state borders.

“Instead of a stay of a couple of weeks, the van got a real workout over more than six weeks before we could come back,” said Jay King.

“There was plenty of room for the three of us in the van and under the retractable awning.

“We had our meals outside usually, using the microwave when needed, or just a $20 butane burner. 

“We also proved that our water heater could stand all the muck and grit thrown at it – much more than it would normally have to cop in a proper compartment.”

The latest 12v/240v Duoetto MK2 water heater can be wall or floor mounted. It retails for $420 and features a digital temperature control and automatic switching to 12V when mains power is not available.

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