Build a budget tourer

By: Ali Millar, Photography by: Glenn Wardle

Cut costs on your vehicle setup with these DIY project ideas.

People -sitting -next -to -a -4WD-camping -setup

When you’re working to a tight budget, setting up your 4WD for touring and towing can be daunting – there’s a million and one pieces of gear out there that are touted as camping essentials and it’s easy to spend half your savings before you even leave the driveway. But one way you can save a buck is with a good old-fashioned DIY approach.

We bought our Toyota LandCruiser Prado 95 Series a couple of years ago, and prepping it for our big trip on a shoestring budget became an ongoing DIY project. We decided to leave the camper at home this time, so our 4WD needed to be entirely self-sufficient.


Man -standing -next -to -a -rear -4WD-unit

There are numerous companies that can build you a quality rear drawer unit, but if you’re after a good DIY project for your touring rig, this can be a fun – yet still challenging – place to start.

It’s a great way to keep your gear in order and can be built to accommodate a car fridge. Designing it yourself allows you to fully customise, and there are heaps of different materials and layouts you could go with, so you can get your creative juices flowing!

Rear -4WD-unit -the -drawers -and -shelving

We wanted to be able to sleep in our 4WD for easy overnighters, so we designed a rear drawer and shelving unit that takes up the entire rear area (after removing all the back seats), with enough space to store all our gear within the unit and still allow for a mattress and sleeping space (albeit slightly cramped!) on top.

We used 12mm hardwood ply for strength, but kept weight down by building part of the shelving frame out of lightweight aluminium Connect-it (a square tubing with joiners) that allows you to construct the unit inside the vehicle. We installed a ready-made fridge slide, providing easy access to the chest fridge.

Rear -unit -in -a -4WD-storage -shelving

For a neat finish, we covered the unit with automotive carpet – this can be expensive, but we picked up a roll of off-cuts for a bargain, so it pays to shop around.

OUR COST: Under $1300 (costs will vary hugely depending on the size of the unit and materials you choose).


Auxiliary -battery -voltage -sensitive -relay -under -bonnet

If you have a fridge or any other 12V appliances in your car, you’ll want a second battery to keep things running at camp.

For this project, you’ll need some knowledge of 12V systems to ensure safe and correct installation, as well as a bit of know-how when it comes to running wiring through the vehicle interior. Safety is paramount when working with electricity, so take care.

Auxiliary -battery

We went with an 110Ah AGM battery built for under-bonnet installation and used an auxiliary battery wiring kit, which came with full instructions and included a voltage sensitive relay (to safely charge and isolate the two batteries, ensuring your car’s main battery isn’t drained by your appliances), as well as all wiring and connections.

We ran wiring to the rear and installed a 12V DC distribution panel, which includes a voltmeter to monitor battery charge. To charge our 230V AC appliances, such as laptop computer and camera batteries, we also fitted a 12V pure sine wave 350W inverter.

OUR COST: Under $950 for all fixtures and fittings, including the pure sine wave inverter ($230), AGM battery ($350) and battery tray.


Snorkel -4WD-water -crossing

Installing a snorkel is a good idea if you’re planning on doing water crossings; however, cutting a hole in the side of your car can be nerve-racking and it’s certainly not something you want to get wrong! If you’re not confident, this is one to leave to the professionals. But if you’re fairly sure of your abilities, you can save on labour costs by installing your own.

You’ll need the right tools for the job, such as a drill with a hole saw attachment, step drill bit and an air saw, which will add to your costs if you don’t already have them.

Snorkel -a -hole -saw -is -used -to -drill -the -holes

You can buy snorkels in a kit specific to your vehicle’s make and model, which comes with a stencil for cutting and drilling the holes and everything else required to fit it.

While you’re at it, consider installing diff breathers to ensure your transfer case and gearbox don’t take in water on crossings. This is an easy DIY project with the parts available in a kit.

OUR COST: $330 (costs will vary depending on your vehicle’s make and model).


4WD-towing -a -caravan -in -australian -outback

Upgrading your suspension may be a good idea if you’re carrying or towing heavy loads. Consider the kind of roads you’ll be driving and the conditions your car can handle, as well as the weight it’ll be carrying. Costs of parts can vary hugely depending on the brand and quality, but this is something you don’t want failing out on the tracks.

Suspension -front -coil -spring -and -shock

We installed a heavy-duty coil spring suspension to accommodate the weight of our gear, as well as a 2in lift for additional body clearance.

Mechanical knowledge is essential for this project; if you’re not sure, don’t do it!

OUR COST: $1400 for heavy-duty coil springs and shocks (front and rear) with pre-assembled coil-over strut.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #567. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!