Damn, it's been more than a year since our last drive. It was short and sweet, but after so long, it was nice. Lots of people on the road though, but I was lucky enough to get mostly clear roads for most of the fun bits:
really nice, inside
social distanced meeting
We then went for the drive. It was fun once I was able to get some free road on hwy84, all the way to the beach:
huge line at alice's resaurant, we skipped it and went home
We got a Kuga Campervan for a road trip from travellers-autobarnrv. While the underneath platform is a crap chevrolet with a gas guzzling engine, unreliable AC/heating, poor build quality across the board (gaps in the door seals creating major wind noise, we had to fix them with duct tape), and not even a glove box, it actually worked pretty well for our national parks trip, and as much as the platform vehicle is on the poor side, the campervan conversion is quite good.
We definitely looked at competing options, but turns out they were both a lot more expensive and had a very poor kitchen in comparison (including total lack of 120V support of any kind, and of course no microwave, and microwave is great to quickly heat food and drinks on the road)
You can read about our two trips with it, here:
It doesn't win beauty contests (ok, the decals and color scheme don't help), it's top heavy and will be happy to tip over on a curvy road if you drive it like a regular car, but it is practical and much easier to handle than a full RV:
the Kuga didn't like twisty mountain roads though, it was a boat to drive and the seats in the back would fly around
One plus side of the gas guzzling V8 though, was that I never felt it didn't have enough power. The van was ECU limited to 100mph, as the engine could do more, and I was easily able to reach 85mph+ climbing at altitude. Too bad the vehicle doesn't have a more efficient V6 turbo like some competitors.
That said, the conversion inside is the better one I found amongst rentals I looked at:
decent size fridge fully powered by big enough solar panels (it'll run forever without plugging in or driving). Competition often required you to plug in if parking for a few days, or run the engine
The kitchen is legit. Proper gas burners with an 8 gallon propane tank, not a little camping stove thing you screw in and out every time you need it
A nice sink with more than 15 gallons of water (not safe to drink for reasons that are a bit complicated to go into)
And the big bonus is: a microwave. With the microwave, we ended up heating most of our food and barely use the gas outside of cooking eggs and stuff like that.
The one thing missing, which is available in more expensive campervans, is a toilet. Having some makeshift toilet would have been nice, but realistically it's not in any campervan of that class.
Back to the power system, our version (not all Kugas have power fed from the alternator to the rear battery, but ours did as I requested it), the main issue, was that the microwave, or expresso machine we added, would not work unless the van wan plugged in utility power (RV site), so I decided to fix that.
this is how it's supposed to work
similarly, RV sites have water that you can use to refill the Kuga
This is how it looks by default: big cable to allow jump starting the car if its battery is dead, power input from the car's alternator to charge the battery when the engine is on, and solar charge controller:
my big 3000W inverter didn't quite fit in the battery cabinet, but there was a hole to feed cables to the battery
non standard equipment, but nice addition :) (uses over 1000W, just like the microwave)
the kitchen is definitely better than other campervans that trade this space for a 2nd row of seats
Because I made a temporary addition, I didn't wire the inverter into the car's 120V system, so cheated by making a male-male plug (totally illegal ;) ):
Two things have to be done to use the inverter: turning off external power (to make sure outside power is never backfed into the inverter), and the 2nd breaker turns off battery charging from external power. This one is important or the battery charger tries to charge the battery from 120V while the 120V is coming from the battery through the inverter:
our Kuga had been upgraded with a 12V and USB plug coming from the battery, my inverter meter is on the left. The 12V plug there was only good for 10A though, so you can't use it for an inverter
Here is a demo of the microwave. The start was a bit rough because the microwave needs around 150A from the 12V battery at start, my connecting cables didn't have the best connection for so many amps, and the battery was a bit low, so the voltage sagged a bit at start:
Demo of the expresso machine, which also requires over a 1000W and peaks at more than 120A on the 12V battery:
I will however stress that, if you attempt this:
have a good understanding of Amps, Volts, and wire gauges. Understand how many Wh are usable in your 12V battery, so that you don't run it flag and damage it
if your battery is not fully charge, run the engine and the alternator will bring in a lot of extra amps
unless you really know what you're doing, not the best thing to do a rental vehicle. If you damage the electrical system, that's on you. If you create a terrible short without a fuse and start a fire, that's definitely on you
you need a big inverter, and it really should be pure sine wave or the microwave will not be happy. My inverter is 3000W for a 1500W use.
you need thick and short cables between the inverter and the battery. 150-200A is a lot of amps, you need fat cabling for this to work, and many inverters come with cables that are too thin.
again, keep track of your battery voltage. Running 1500W from the battery will work for 5 to 10mn at most if the battery is full, or not at all if it ran the fridge all night and it's low on charge in the morning
Lead acid batteries get damaged if you run them down, the Kuga's electrical system does not have a low voltage battery disconnect (it could), so it is on your to make sure the battery is not run down
Space in the Kuga
While the Kuga can fit 3 people, it's not comfortable when you drive (the middle seat is small and narrow). Also, the 3rd person needs to sleep on top, which requires setting up boards and shifting luggage every night (we did use the top space to store luggage, which was more for 3 people). Yes, you can have a passenger ride in the back, it's legal in some states, illegal in some others (CA, but no points for the driver, while in NM it's definitely a big fine for the driver)
don't let the picture fool you, the middle seat is only ok for someone not very wide and ok being somewhat sandwiched for many hours of driving
The kuga is not meant to have 2 boards on top, or hold luggage or more than the first, non moveable, board. If you put 2, you need a way to stop the luggage from flying off, and even the board from sliding around:
because there was no way to stop the bottom board from sliding, I jerry rigged something with duct tape and got it secured that way. Ghetto, but it worked well enough.
normally if you only need the minimal of luggage depth, there is fabric and clips to hold things
this was the 2nd board before I found the way to properly secure it
The bottom bed is big enough, albeit a bit short. I'm 5"10 / 1M77, and my feet stuck out a bit, but thankfully stopped just before the doors:
you're actually supposed to sleep in the other direction, but if you're short both directions work
One of the boards used for the bed, is conveniently also the table, that works pretty well:
we can also note on this picture that the pantry had decent space
while we often used the microwave, the gas cooker was quite functional
At the end of the trip, we had to refill the little propane we used:
the container is well sized and should be enough for most trips
The Kuga is not even close to a $200,000 custom converted Mercedes campervan, but it also doesn't come close to costing the same. It's so much cheaper. We got ours from travellers-autobarnrv and we were very happy with the pricing and service (including free unlimited miles).
And here are the adventures we went on with ours. Maybe it'll inspire you for yours: