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Campervan Conversions And #VanLife

It’s perfectly possible to sleep in the back of most cars in a pinch, as long as the rear seats fold flat and you have a reasonable bit of padding underneath you and a pillow (speaking from experience here).  However, I wouldn’t want to do it for more than a night or so in a row without very good reason.  If you like to stay in campgrounds or in the middle of nowhere but don’t want to lug around a caravan, then possibly the answer is to build your own campervan, giving you more versatile motoring as well as the ability to take secure accommodation with you – and making it easier to find a park when you stop in to pick up supplies.

If you want to convert a vehicle to a campervan, you need to start with the right one.  Vans are always popular and give you more floorspace and headroom in your mobile bedroom, but it’s also possible to convert a sizeable SUV or MPV.

Good vans for converting to a campervan include:

  • Mercedes Sprinter (a popular choice for many enthusiasts)
  • Ford Transit
  • Fiat Ducato
  • Toyota Hiace
  • Hyundai iLoad
  • VW Crafter
  • VW Kombi – the classic retro campervan!

Good SUVs and MPVs for conversion are:

  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Toyota Estima
  • Honda CRV
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Skoda Octavia

In fact, any decent-sized SUV or van or MPV can be converted into a campervan.  Even some utes with a covered deck can be used as campervans.  Some can even be converted into full legal motorhomes, as long as you meet the standards.

The simplest way to convert your vehicle into a campervan is simply to fold down the back seats, then toss in a mattress, a butane stove and some picnic plates, and you’re good to go.  You may also be able to even remove the rear seats completely, although whether you can do and have a legally roadworthy vehicle will depend on which state you’re in. 

Assuming that you can remove the rear seats permanently (or at least until your holiday’s over), then you can go one step further and build a bed platform, which will avoid the problem of weird niggly bumps under the mattress that will make you realize where that folk tale of the Princess and the Pea came from.  The advantage of a bed platform is that you can store stuff under it (like your clothes and your cooking gear). 

If you want more than a place to sleep and a place to stash clothes and food, then you can add all sorts of things.  LED fairy lights and rechargeable batteries have made lighting a lot easier than it was when I was in my 20s, so don’t worry about installing fancy lights unless you’re super-keen.  The upgrade that a lot of people like to go for is a loo of some sort; in fact, if you’re a New Zealander reading this, you have to have some sort of loo on board to get certification as a freedom camper.  I’d add curtains as one upgrade, as cars and vans are usually built for visibility, which means that when you’re trying to sleep or get dressed inside the van, you’re still exposed to the outside world.  Even if you are in the middle of nowhere and get changed in the dark, the light of the rising moon can still wake you up in the wee smalls (although an eye mask or a beanie pulled over your eyes can do the trick).

Ultimately, exactly what you want to put into your vehicle to convert it to a campervan will depend on what you want to do with it and how long you’re going to be doing it for.  If you are currently without a permanent home and living the van life, like one of my nieces did, then something larger will make your life more comfortable.  The big thing to remember, as with any DIY project, is to measure first and play around with squared paper (or a computer-aided design tool if you know how to use one) before you head down to Bunnings and start cutting up the timber.

To be legally classed as a motorhome in Australia, the vehicle has to be fitted with seats and a table, which need to be fixed (although fold-down tables are legit); storage (fixed), somewhere to cook (also fixed) and somewhere to sleep, which also – you guessed it – needs to be fixed. It also needs good ventilation and a fire extinguisher, and you need to stick with the weight restrictions for the class of vehicle.  If you want to add anything fancy involving electricity, water or LPG gas, then this needs to be professionally installed and certified for your own safety as well as to meet the requirements.  You can read the full requirements here.

You can also take the easy option and simply add a rooftop camper to a ute or 4×4, which takes out a lot of the hassle of cutting, measuring and shocking the neighbours by what you say after hitting your thumb.

A Rally With A Difference that Makes A Difference

Bendigo to Pooncarie to Milparinka to Innaminka to Betoota to Isisford to Beylando Crossing and then to Townsville; now that sounds like an insane adventure!  It’s an adventure just waiting for you to register, and it’s an adventure you could be on during 18th–26th October in spring 2024.  Then there’s another one in autumn 2025.  Are AWDs, 4WDs or any buses allowed on this rally?  No, only vehicles with 2WD can be entered. 

But that’s nuts!  Yes, but it’s also a blast.  These car rallies have been happening for quite some time now, and they were first brought into being by James Freeman.  He is somewhat of a legend round these parts, as, sadly, James lost both of his parents to cancer just 12 months apart from each other.  This was devastating and a really heavy burden for James to carry, as you can imagine, but James and his family nursed their parents through the last stages of their lives.  In order to bounce back on top of things and to help him to make a difference, he carefully planned and instigated the first Shitbox Rally.  The Shitbox Rally is a car rally that is all about having fun while raising money for cancer research. 

Can I enter a new car that I buy from Private Fleet?  No way!  There is a $1,500 car value/budget rule, and it is the main rule that the Shitbox Rally organizers have stipulated.  There are “penalties” for any cars not meeting the criteria!  But yes, you can decorate your car.  The crazier the decorations the better, and this is a big part of the rally’s fun.  Just the bonnet and two front doors are needed for the rally sponsors’ and organiser’s stickers, so these are the areas you need to keep clear.

You do not have to have had a run in with cancer to enter the Shitbox Rally, but the truth is that many of the entrants have been affected by cancer in one way or another, whether it be from losing parents, family, or close friends from cancer; or people that they know of that have battled or are battling cancer.  This car rally is all about raising awareness and money for the Cancer Council, but it is also about wanting to offer support and a friendly ear to those that have suffered or are suffering.

This sounds like my favourite sort of motorsport.  This is not so much a race, but rather a challenge to achieve the unthinkable.  That is to drive cars worth just $1,500 across Australia via some of its most formidable roads; and it’s all in the name of charity.  I might see you there one day, as I line up in an old BYD Dolphin at the starting line of the mighty Shitbox Rally (at some point in the future, because these cars are brand new to the market at the time of writing).  That might not go so well because I don’t think there’s many charging stations out there!

If you race me to the Shitbox Rally, then you’ll definitely have first bragging rights.  What a blast!

Visit the official website at

https://www.shitboxrally.com.au/

Why Would You Wear Driving Gloves?

Take a look around the cabin of your car – or a new car – and check out all the different storage compartments.  One of the most important ones you’ll spot is the glovebox.  You’ll find many things in a glovebox – mine has a mileage logbook, a paper map, several CDs, the driver’s manual, several paper serviettes, some compostable teaspoons and a half-eaten packet of nuts.  What you’re less likely to find in just about any driver’s glovebox is… a pair of gloves.

So why is this compartment called a glovebox rather than, say, a mapbox or just a plain old cubbyhole? Well, the reason is that in the early days of motoring, wearing driving gloves was de rigueur, so one needed a place to put them when one wasn’t driving.  Hence the need for, and the name of the glovebox.

For the most part, driving gloves seem to have gone the way of driving goggles and leather helmets and similar motoring garb of the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century.  After all, we don’t need to keep our hands warm no matter what the weather (but see below!), bees and fast air out of our eyes, and dust from gravel roads off our clothes (in an era when clothes had to be washed by hand).  However, there are some advantages to wearing driving gloves and keeping a pair stashed in the glovebox.

First of all, what are driving gloves?  If you’ve never come across them before, you can get the idea of thick ski gloves or even motorbiking gloves out of your mind.  Instead, think of something more along the lines of a golfing glove – something lightweight and supple.  Driving gloves are usually made of leather or faux leather and are not padded.  Some are fingerless (so you can use the touchscreen) and others have full fingers, and they usually stop at the wrist.  Some, especially the sort made from synthetic materials, have ventilation holes to allow breathability.

So why would you or should you wear driving gloves?

  • They keep leather steering wheels, gear knobs and the like in good condition for longer.  The skin naturally produces oils and sweat, and the palms of your hands are particularly prone to this sort of behaviour, especially if we get a bit nervous, stressed or het up.  If you don’t have gloves, then this sweat, etc. goes onto the wood or leather, and gunge builds up on them.  Over time, this can spoil the leather or wood.  Even on plastic or synthetic steering wheels, that gunge can build up and look pretty horrible.  Gloves are a lot easier to clean than a steering wheel.
  • They keep your hands comfy.  If things are a bit nippy outside, your fingers are some of the first parts of your body to get cold and are among the last bits to warm up.  Fingers that are cold are clumsy and less responsive, so keeping them warm when you’re driving is a smart idea.  However, most car heating systems, whether it’s the warm air blowing through the vents or a heated seat, don’t quite target your hands, especially if you need that warm air to demist your windscreen on a chilly morning.  Gloves help your hands stay warm, even if they’re only thin leather.
  • They improve your grip.  Sweaty hands, chilly hands, and hands with super-dry skin don’t grip as well.  However, a good leather driving glove will keep on gripping and grip well.  This is one of the reasons why racing drivers wear them.
  • They reduce fatigue.  Vibration from the engine (in an ICE or mild hybrid) and from running on the road is transmitted to the driver’s hands and wrists via the steering wheel.  On a short trip, this isn’t a problem, but if you’re driving for a longer period, this can increase your fatigue.  The mild cushioning provided by leather gloves will dampen this vibration.  If you have a harder steering wheel and you drive a lot, then wearing driving gloves will make things more softer and easier for your hands, rather like socks inside your shoes.  That’s why long-haul truckies often wear them.
  • Sun protection.  If you drive a topless car a lot, you may have remembered to protect your face and arms from getting too much UV, but you probably wash your hands a fair bit, which means that you’ve washed off the sunscreen.  Gloves make up for this by shielding your hands.
  • They’ve got style.  Last but not least, driving gloves have got style.  It’s not just that they cover up the fact that you bite your nails or haven’t quite got rid of the traces of paint on your fingers.  They have a look of their own that naked hands just don’t have.  And there’s something about the act of pulling on your gloves before you drive that makes the drive seem like more of an occasion, even if it’s just the school run.  You can opt for elegant white for the princess or police officer vibe, brown for a touch of steampunk, or black for your wilder side – and other colours are available if you look. 

Let’s make driving gloves fashionable again! 

Introducing The Jetour

The Jetour T2 – ready to roll over here.

I’ve always loved the exterior of the Land Rover Defender, whether old or new.  Its boxy shape and rugged appearance are perfectly crafted for off-roading.  The short front and rear overhangs are just perfect for clearing steep entry and exit points on a slope.  Of course, there is also the legendary Defender’s 4WD powertrain that is the rock of what makes this an immensely capable 4×4 off-road machine.  However, there is another vehicle coming to Australia with that same chunky, boxy shape and talented off-road skills. This new machine comes to us from China and will be available to buy down under in 2025.  Let’s take a closer look, and by this, I mean you’ll need to look really closely to make sure it is a Jetour and not a Defender.  A big hint is to read the brand name that runs across the front of the bonnet!

It is said that we all have a double of ourselves somewhere in the world (I know I do).  This double basically looks like us.  Land Rover Defender’s double or doppelganger (German for “double walker”) would surely have to be the new Jetour.  The Jetour is a vehicle that was designed to be a luxury crossover brand in 2018 and is the creation born from the Chery Holding Group, often known simply as Chery.  Chery is an automotive group currently based in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhu.  Born in 1997, Chery has grown and developed in a diversified manner with automobiles as its primary business.  Over time, Chery have created automobiles, gotten involved in automotive parts, finance, property and modern services.  Chery now has over 300 member-enterprises; these include Chery Automobile, Chery Commercial Vehicle, Chery Jaguar Land Rover, Chery Finance and Chery Technology. 

The Jetour T2 large off-roader does look really good in the metal, with its square boxy body shape, bold wheel arches and big rubber, high ground clearance, a swinging tailgate with a spare tyre on the outside, big solid bumpers, and an interior that won’t mind getting dirty from an adventure Outback.

Similar again to how Land Rover has designed its latest Defender, the 2024 Jetour T2 is built around a monocoque body, which is a design that offers loads of structural rigidity and stiffness for tackling the rigours of serious off-roading.  The monocoque body is the perfect solid foundation for the Jetour T2 4×4’s advanced all-independent chassis.  An independent suspension means that all four wheels can drop and ride over large obstacles individually and independently of what the other three wheels are doing at the same time.  This enhances the ability to obtain maximum traction at each wheel, perfect for progressing through tricky and slippery terrain. 

The new Jetour will come with the option of either a 1.5-litre or a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine to power the 4×4, and the engine’s power is sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for ensuring optimum engine torque is harnessed at all times.  Having a ground clearance rated at 220 mm, and with the engine’s drive sent to all four wheels via the full-time 4×4 system, this is an exciting new off-road SUV for the Adventurer needing a new vehicle to get them to a remote location. 

We’re looking forward to it, and be sure that we’ll review it fully when it makes it over here.