Choosing a Vehicle
So once we had decided that we were going to travel for a year in Central America the next big decision was what vehicle to take. We first looked at our current vehicles to see if there was a contender:
- We have a 1986 Volkswagen Camper Van that is a lot of fun, pretty practical, but not so reliable. It’s reliability had come into question on a previous trip to the Grand Canyon that was remembered by some second degree burns from an exploding radiator hose; a night on the side of a mountain road in Yellowstone; limping into Idaho Falls with regular rest stops to cool the engine; and pushing it away from the gas pumps in Butte, Montana when the motor refused to ever start again. That trip was capped off with a furious drive back in a rental car to make it to a family Thanksgiving gathering. As much as Alice (the VW Van) keeps trips interesting, she is not up to this trip.
- Our newest and most reliable vehicle was a 2005 Toyota Echo 4 door hatchback. Two adults, a dog, camping gear, and miscellaneous necessities for a year on the road may overwhelm it not to mention our sanity.
- We also had a 2000 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 extended cab truck and a 1995 truck camper. The truck had been purchased for acreage use, good for hauling stuff and a 4X4 to ensure we can get out in winter. It did not get great mileage and had the world’s worst turning radius. The camper was bought during one of Alice’s long and infamous stays in a repair shop. It is a lightweight molded fiberglass model but the interior design had a few issues.
The perfect vehicle for the trip would probably have been a combination of the three…a reliable four wheel drive camper van. We looked for a while but quickly decided that such a vehicle in reasonable condition was a) hard to find and b) a lot more money that we wanted to spend. We started looking for a two wheel drive model but were generally disappointed in either their quality or their price and were concerned about their rough road capabilities.
We finally decided that for the cost we were going to have to pay for a van we could address the shortcomings in the camper; upgrade our truck and still be money ahead.
The Truck: After a long search we found a 2004 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab. It has a 3.4 L V6 engine and a 5 speed manual transmission. With four wheel drive, locking rear differential and the TRD suspension package, it has excellent off road capability. With an upgrade to the shock absorbers (Bilstein HD) and extra leafs added to the rear suspension it was ready to haul the camper. There were just two other upgrades to the truck, a new stereo with auxiliary inputs and a Blue Sea Dual Battery Charger System.
The Camper: Our camper is a 1995 Somerset built by Bracewell Industries of Vancouver, British Columbia. It is a 7′ molded fiberglass model with a manufactured weight of 490 kgs. (1080 lbs). I believe that Bracewell only made a few campers over a couple of years but have not been able to find much information about them.
The interior was completely removed and redesigned for more storage, a better dinette and a more efficient kitchen. We were also able to address Kristel’s claustrophobia issues about sleeping in the upper bunk. The before and after photos below provide an idea of the changes we made to the unit.
We’ve had lots of questions about the specifics of our mods so we’ve tried to include details on the various systems below. This part of our page is a bit of a work in progress; we intend to add to it over time to answer questions that crop up and report on the successes and failures.
New Electrical System consisting of:
- LED lighting
- 170 amp hour battery
- 15 Amp Smart Charger
- Tied to truck alternator with Blue Sea Dual Battery Charger System
- 400W inverter
- 12 V outlets
- 120V outlet
- We were able to pick up a new Fantastic Vent on KIJIJI for a great price and are very pleased with it.
- New Taillights
New Water System consisting of:
- 70 L storage tank
- Foot operated pump
New Propane System consisting of:
- 2 – 5 lbs storage tanks
- 2 burner Ramblewood cooktop
Rear Mount Bicycle Racks
We used a clutch mount from Rockymount to hold the front forks. The rear wheels are held by wall mount system that is intended to hold the front wheel, but in our application holds the rear wheel. It allows you to set the rear wheel in and then rotate the bike and lock it into the clutch mount. The front tires are held on separate mounts.