Caravan, Caravanning, Caravans, Maintenance, Modifications, Reversing lights, Scene Lights, Towing, Trailer Electrical projects, Travel Trailer, Travel Trailers, Work lights
A while ago I upgraded the lights on our caravan by changing the functions round and added two new LED reversing lights which I can’t understand why I hadn’t done this years ago. In daylight they are bright… and at night they are really bright… retina burning bright according to reports. Reversing into a dark pitch is a lot easier and safety wise having an additional set of tail and brake lights with two large bright rear fog lights instead of the single factory 21 watt light mounted almost as low as you can get on the rear of the caravan is a vast improvement in my mind. You can read about my changes here… “Put Yer Lights On Mate…“
Following that article I had lots of people contact me letting me know they liked what I had done and considering upgrading themselves. Not a clue if anyone did, but that’s how these things go. I did have another email from a gentleman which was a bit different. Now I’ve edited it a bit as it was originally two emails and included a company name and some specific details which I’m sure they would not wish me to publish to the world…. here’s the gist of it though:
“Hi Simon, been reading your blog for a while and I read your post about upgrading your caravan lights. I was wondering if you might be able to help with something we would like to do with our trailers or could put us in touch with someone who can? We have around eight trailers that are used on various locations separately or as a group and are towed by a variety of vehicles, mostly our own but occasionally by contractors. Most of our trailers have additional side lighting powered off the trailers own batteries which are charged from the vehicle or while on site from generators. A lot of our set up and tear down is done at night and we have had issues at dark locations where the vehicles reversing lights don’t really help. Is there any way we could get the side work lighting to come on when the vehicle reverses but could be controlled from the vehicle without any additional switches or alterations to the vehicles but could be turned on and off as reversing on a public road with them on might not be legal”
From an exchange of emails, I do know what the company does and some of the sorts of places it works. They don’t always have access to mains power when setting up or tearing down and would like something that can easily be installed in a trailer without too much alteration to the electrical services. Nothing could be installed in any of the tow vehicles as the vehicles were not always their own and I first suggested a cheap(ish) remote switch that could be used by the driver to turn them on and off as required. I was told this was not an option as the remote switches would likely get lost/damaged or need batteries or be with the wrong crew, some sites they could not use any radio equipment.
Time to put my thinking cat on…
I had a bit of an idea forming. Something I’d seen on a Class A American RV (Prevost I think) was a set of spotlights set in the side panel of the RV pointing backwards and located near the front wheel. These lit up down the side of the RV and the ground to the side when reversing…. I’d thought about adding a couple of simple cheap LED lights to the underside of the caravan between the wheel and front of the caravan angled outwards by about 60 degrees mounted under the floor… so when I reversed they lit up the caravan wheel and the ground it was going over so I could see it clearly at night in my mirrors. I had pondered how to switch this on and off using the Amarok but not add any more wiring between the caravan and vehicle. So I’d already come up with a solution.
Here is what I came up with…
It’s a simple two relay set up. The two triggers for this to work are the vehicle reversing lights and the rear fog lights. The top relay in the box is activated by the vehicle being in reverse with the reversing lights on. The lower relay is activated by turning the vehicles rear fog lights on. Only when these two conditions are met, is there a circuit across the two relays switches made thus activating the work lights on the trailer.
Quite simply when reversing to turn on the work light simply turn on the rear fog lights and the work lights will come on.
Cables 1, 2 & 3 connect to the road lights. Cables 4 & 5 are for the switched load. The cost was around £15 for the components for each unit and that included Bosch relays & sockets, the die-cast box and fuse holder. I guess putting it in a plastic case and using cheaper eBay sourced relays could halve that cost.
I did also think that as an upgrade or option the relay operated by the reversing lights could be a timer relay. Set it to say 15 seconds, then when reversing you turn on the work lights and they will remain on of 15 seconds after reversing as long as the rear fog lights are on. This would give you time to reverse, pull forward and reverse again. Each time you select reverse the timer would reset and as soon as you disengaged reverse the timer would start its countdown again.
It was as simple as I could get it using existing signals from the vehicle that already pass through to the trailer. I guess it could be used to turn anything on using any combination of lights operating from the vehicle.
The wiring between the road lights and work lights is kept separate as I wasn’t 100% sure how the trailers power system worked and how it was connected to the road lights (if at all) The two relays were installed in a die cast box with a grommet for the 5 cables. All the trailers were fitted with one of these and apparently they have all been working fine for several months.
Why did I opt for reversing lights and fog lights?
I wanted something that would not be used generally through the day so reversing on a public road during daylight or even at night the work lights would not illuminate. Running during the day with lights on and your fog lights will not operate the working lights… and if you are running in weather that requires headlights and rear fog light… then I guess having the working lights come on while you reverse in those inclement weather conditions just makes you more visible to everyone around. So apart from that I don’t think that you will cause a danger on the road with this set-up.
So…. I think I might just have to install one of these on my caravan…. just in case!
Its a fairly simple DIY job to build a box and install it without too much messing about with the original wiring. Now someone asked me about getting the orange side marker lights to flash in time with the indicators…. and remain as side markers when the indicators weren’t being used. Is this something I need to put my thinking cat on for? Let me know in the comments.
Hi where can I find nice idea for trips with the 🚙? In France ?
Thanks 🙏 Tami
Simon Barlow said:
Probably the best place you;d be to search for travel locations for caravans an motorhomes…. or you could check out pitchup.com for some great sites to stay with recommendations for activities around the sites.
Dave Coatham said:
Thank you for your interesting ideas and insights some of which I have blatantly copied and used. Do you have an update on how the Sterling ‘Wildside’ Caravan Battery-To-Battery Charger – 12V/12V is operating..
With regard to your query about getting the orange side marker lights to flash in time with the indicators…. and remain as side markers when the indicators weren’t being used this could simply be achieved by the use of a relay with an adjustable operating coil delay. The normal side markers supply would be taken via the normally closed contacts thus allowing them to operate as normal. The operating coil would be feed by the flasher supply with a feed teed off via the normally open contacts to the marker lights. The delay on the operating coil would be adjusted so as to just cover the period the flashing supply is off thus keeping the relay operated until the flashers are switched off and allowing the side markers to ack as flashers.
Care will need to be taken to check out how the existing side marker lamps are feed as I have seen caravans where the wiring to these has been taken of the appropriate rear light supply at the rear of the caravan. In this situation if the relay was added to the rear light supply at the front of the caravan the rear lights including the number plate light and the red/white high level marker light (on the switched side of the caravan) would flash as well.
Similarly I have seen caravans where the existing side marker lamps are feed on a separate feed from the front of the caravan but the red/white high level marker light have been tapped onto the last of the side marker lights at the rear of the caravan. In this situations if the relay was added to the side marker lamps supply at the front of the caravan the red/white high level marker light (on the switched side of the caravan) would flash as well.
However I do have some observations with regard to the lighting legislation and this idea as follows:-
1. the optical requirements of side direction indicators (repeater lights) are different to side marker lamps with the side direction indicators having a wider field of illumination.
2. the horizontal spacing of the side direction indicators (repeater lights) is different to that of the side marker lamps with a maximum of three side direction indicators being evenly distributed along the length of the trailer.
3. the vertical positioning of the side direction indicators (repeater lights) is different to that of the side marker lamps with the side direction indicators being a minimum of 500mm as against the side marker lamps minimum of 250mm.
Whilst these maybe considered by some as minor infringements of the regulations they are none the less infringements.
Hope this is of some interest.
Simon Barlow said:
Thanks for commenting… the Wildside unit has been working flawlessly and really I could not ask for anything better for our current needs. The only way I could think of improving it would be to have a remote display and maybe menu type switching. The other improvement would be to have an input terminal for the on-board charger so that people swopping to lithium could just use the wildside unit to handle the on-board charging when plugged into shore power (EHU).
Intrestingida about getting the side marker lights to operate as indicators. I’d got int he back of my mind to use a couple of FET transistors…. but your idea would work well. I did look into the wiring layout and on Siwft and Bailey caravans would need some modding and it would almost be to the point of moving away from DIY to Dedicated Enthusiast level of conversion.
I hadn’t looked into the legalities of doing this mod… as it was something that I kind of put on the back burner as it would require a lot of reworking the existing wiring. I do always have to keep in mind too, that I have to be a “this is how I did it” not a “this is how to do it” blog, there are so many people out there with a lawyer on speed dial. When I modded my lights on the caravan, I did look into the compliance side of what I’d done and unless it was a technical inspection I would be OK I think… my reversing lights are a bit low for a car but for a trailer I could argue that if I tow a bit more nose down then the back lifts up and they are legal. (Now I’ve said that I know I’m going to get pulled by an inspector!) But on the flip side…. it is not a requirement to have reversing lights on a trailer as I understand it. This is why I said in the article this is what I’d done and not tried to write it as “Hey guys, here’s a mod you must do and this is how you do it…”
I still think that there is a safety aspect to side marker or additional lights repeating the flashers… I was in a line of slow moving traffic on a motorway… lane 2 and was matching speed with a car and caravan in lane 1. My head was just slightly forward of the back end of the caravan so could not see the caravan rear lights… nor could I see the rear off side vehicle light. I only knew he wanted to lull into my lane because I could see in his drivers door mirror a series of flashing dot’s in the mirror glass forming an arrow. If I was a little further forward I would have seen his vehicle tail light flashing, but for that brief moment I knew he was indicating only because of the repeater in the door mirror. I guess if our speeds hadn’t been identical or I wasn’t in that perfect ‘eclipse’ spot then I’d of never thought about it.
I did then start thinking ‘what if his indicator light was out on the vehicle? once I was past the rear of the caravan I would not know…. that lead me down the black hole of “I wonder what happened that made them legislate that indicators must have repeaters on the front wing?”
May mind wanders when I haven’t got my thinking cat on!
Dave Coatham said:
Thank you for the reply. I have thought about doing this to my caravan for a couple of years and have actually bought the parts but never installed them. My idea was to fit an additional side marker light on the side of the caravan towards the front as there is an obvious place for one at the same spacing as the other along the side. This would have been used solely as a flashing side repeater lamp. However, as I did not want a different type, shape or design of light I was proposing to use a side marker lamp of the same type and design but then realised that this did not comply with the optical requirements as previously mentioned. I have considered using it solely as a side marker lamp as the caravan looks, to me, as if it has a side repeater lamp missing but I still consider that the additional flashing side repeater would be useful. I must be suffering from OCD. In this case it would be only the single light that would flash. Looks like I will be fitting this arrangement as I can simply revert to only side markers if required. I will keep you informed if I do go ahead with this.
Simon Barlow said:
Since posting my earlier reply….. darn it you got me thinking about an additional repeater at 500mm high and it ticks my OCD box as it will be exactly the same hight as the rear caravan indicators AND the vehicle indicators…. I have a perfect place for it too… about 350mm back from the front edge of the caravan…. but should it be directly in the vertical centreline of the side windows… decisions decisions!!!!
Dave Coatham said:
Sorry!!! I do understand your dilemma but it does sound like a good compromise.