Tech improvements in your caravan, such as adding USB points and
upgrading your TV signal amplifier, can be easy, says Nigel Hutson
You might have gathered by now, I like my gadgets, and I doubt I’m alone in that.
If you’d asked me 20 years ago what a USB or a tablet was, I would have suggested that the former was some kind of ailment, and the latter was the treatment for it!
These days, so many items have USB charging capability – phones, tablets, rechargeable lamps and torches, to name but a few – that you simply can’t have enough USB sockets in your caravan. There are plug-in types, but they can sometimes interfere with radio signals.
A better solution, and one of the simplest (although not the cheapest) ways of adding USBs to your caravan is to swap some non-USB reading lights for ones with integrated USB sockets.
Another very simple, but effective, tech upgrade involves the TV signal amplifier.
For both jobs, the first thing to do is ensure that any 230V mains hook-up is safely disconnected, and to then disconnect the leisure battery.
Switch reading lights
Let’s begin with swapping the reading lights. First, you need to decide where they would be best positioned.
Some manufacturers put reading lights in the bedroom, which to me doesn’t necessarily seem the best place for USBs, especially if there’s no shelf for whatever is being charged.
For us, the best place is in each of the front corners of the caravan. If you do end up with longer cable dangling there when you charge your devices, there’s usually room to put the items out of the way on the front shelf, under the window.
Obviously, the job looks a lot neater if the USB lights match any other reading lights in the van. There are lots of different types available.
The reading lights in our caravan have a night-light facility, where low light is emitted behind a semi-opaque, crescent-shaped plastic cover around the on/off switch.
To remove these lights, the crescent-shaped plastic pivots around the switch in both directions, but won’t pivot out of the way, because of the stem for the reading light.
Pivot the plastic in one direction to expose one of the screwheads underneath. Then, using a suitable screwdriver, remove that screw.
Next, holding the base of the light, pivot the plastic in the opposite direction to expose the other screwhead, and remove that screw.
The light unit should now just dangle on its wires.
Carefully pull the wires out of the hole above, until the spade terminals come through. Make a note of which wire is which in terms of -ve and +ve (from the light unit, they’ll usually be red for +ve and black for -ve). This is important where LEDs are concerned, because they often only work with the connections made in one way: that is, if the wires are reversed, it’s unlikely any damage will be caused, but they might not function.
Disconnect the spade terminals, then connect your USB light. Before you secure the unit to the fixing point, reconnect the caravan battery and check that the lights and USB sockets work.
Disconnect the battery again, and then attach the lights, reversing the procedure you followed for their removal.
Changing your Reading Lights
1 Standard light 2 Pivot crescent-shaped plastic to expose screwhead 3 Remove screws 4 Carefully pull wires to access spade terminals 5 Note connections and separate them 6 New light with USB 7 Fixing new light 8 The completed job 9 Charging a tablet (caravanner of the future on ‘Grumpa’s’ knee!)
Upgrade TV amplifier
Our caravan was supplied with the excellent Vision Plus Status 570 TV antenna and VP2 TV amplifier. Now, the VP2 is fine, but it only has an LED showing whether the power is on, so it doesn’t help when trying to find a good TV signal.
I have a separate signal-finder, which I plug into one of the TV aerial sockets and then extend and rotate the antenna until I find the best position for the signal. That’s fine if your aerial socket is where you can see it from the antenna, otherwise it becomes a two-person task.
The radio signal was also rather weak – frustrating, as we tend to listen to the radio more than we watch TV.
I decided to upgrade to the Vision Plus VP5 TV amplifier (www.visionplus.co.uk), which not only has an extra TV outlet should you want one, but also provides a radio connection and a signal-finder LED. When the unit is powered, the LED’s colour goes from red (no or poor signal) to green (strong signal), depending on signal strength and which way the antenna is pointing.
First, before you disconnect anything, note the various leads to the VP2 – Ant In (from the antenna), TV1 and TV2 (if you have more than one TV point in the caravan). There’s also a 12V power plug.
With the caravan battery disconnected, unplug the 12V power feed, then detach each of the other leads.
Very often these are little more than finger-tight, but if you do need more strength, a small pair of pliers will help to loosen them enough for you to unscrew them by hand.
Remove the two screws securing the VP2. Fitting the VP5 is basically the reverse of removing the VP2, but as I mentioned before, there is also a socket for a radio lead (if you don’t already have one, you’ll need an F-connector and coaxial cable) and the Status 570 is DAB signal compatible.
With everything connected (including the battery), extend the antenna and switch on the VP5. Rotate the antenna until you get the best signal, shown by the colour of the LED.
Finally, I use a handy app, Antenna Aligner, available from the App Store and Google Play, which will show you the best direction to point your antenna and whether it should be in a horizontal or vertical attitude.
Upgrading from VP2 to VP5 tv amplifier
1 VP2 as installed, with blue on/off LED 2 Detach connections (12V power lead, Ant In, TV) 3 Remove securing screws 4 VP2 and VP5 with signal-finder LED and radio connection 5 Secure VP5 with screws 6 Attach the connections 7 Raise the antenna and switch on VP5 – the LED colour will depend on TV signal strength 8 Our former remote signal-finder. Could be a two-person task! 9 Antenna Aligner smartphone app
With thanks to Harvey Moorcroft from Vision Plus for his help
- Take a look at our guide to the best TV aerials for a caravan guide to help you find the one for you.
Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of practicalcaravan.com /