Arb Tow Vehicle Awning

Discussion in 'Other Gear & Equipment' started by Inn42, Oct 27, 2016.

  1. Inn42

    Inn42 Junior Ranger

    Here are some photos of our custom made rack and home grown side shade for our ARB awning, the installation of which was its own little mini-adventure within the past 15 months that we have spent on the road.
    We purchased an ARB 2000 awning (2 meters by 2.5 meters, or about 6'6" by 8'), while we were on the road and I naively had my niece accept delivery for it in Dallas and drive it down to Austin for us (I apologized profusely after seeing just how big the package was - this was one time it would have been worth the $5 to pick it up at a UPS Store).
    Tight Squeeze! At over 8 feet long, I was barely able to wedge this into the van for the trip back to our campsite...

    The standard option for mounting these awnings is to attach it to the side of a rack basket. That would require factory rails, crossbars, probably some towers, the basket and special mounting brackets - for a total cost of probably $700-$1,000. Add in the the nearly $300 we paid for the awning, and that would have meant some very expensive shade!

    Our Ford Transit Connect van has a channel for the factory rails, with several plastic caps covering elongated holes for mounting them to the roof. I popped off four of those and cut a two by two to about 6'6" ( I got that in Jackson, MS). The roof slanted at a noticeable angle, so I used a 3/4" chisel while camping at Oil City, LA to attempt to approximate the corresponding angle along the length of the two by two (if I had access to a table saw I could have duplicated the precise angle very easily).
    The holes allowed me to attach the two by two to the roof of the van using stainless steel lag bolts. Before doing that, I liberally applied high quality silicone between the roof and the two by two. I purchased a one foot section of T6 1/4" structural aluminum angle bracket on, cutting it in two pieces to create two very sturdy mounting brackets. I secured these to the two by two with additional lag bolts, attaching them with locking washers and a dash of silicone adhesive (just in case there was any shrinkage of the wood that might cause them to loosen over time).
    Once I had the awning in hand in Austin, TX, I drilled the top holes in the angle brackets for mounting the topmost awning bolts (I needed to be certain of the bolt diameter before doing so). With the help of Alea and my neice Paula to hold the awning temporarily in place, I marked the location of the bottom holes. We unmounted the awning, drilled the additional holes and installed the awning. Yee-Haw! It worked. Awesome!
    Alea and Paula model the new awning...

    It managed to rain that night, so it wasn't until Van Horn, TX that things were dried out for me to finish the install (I also needed a campsite where it was possible to move a picnic table next to the van to facilitate performing this final step). I coated the bare, sanded wood with truck bed liner. (Thanks to Cary at Camp Inn for his suggestions on mounting and sealing the two by two that we used to mount the awning to the van.)

    ARB has a $100 option for a wind screen that attaches to either side of the awning, which is pretty much essential, since the sun moves around a lot during the day. (At low sun angles, the awning can be almost worthless without them.) We opted to visit Harbor Freight in El Paso, TX instead, where I purchased a 7.5' x 5.5' silver tarp (the most reflective option that they had) for $3.50, several bungee loop cords and several carabiners. Using the same, for about $25 we fashioned our own wind screen. It can be staked directly to the ground, but by guying it out we get a lot better air flow and more shade. it installs very quickly and requires very little storage space. If we made a few additional mods to the outside edge of the awning, we would also be able to mount the same awning along that edge (there is another $100 option from ARB for a wind shade that fits along that edge). But as yet, we haven't found that to be a necessity.
    We mounted some key rings to the ARB's extruded aluminum to make it easy to use carabiners to clip and unclip the factory guy ropes. We attached a carabiner to one end of the tarp, attaching it to the same key ring. At the other end, we looped a bungee cord around the end of the awning top rail, and attached the tarp to it with another carabiner. The top edge of the tarp is attached to the top rail with additional bungee loop cords through the tarp grommets. We guyed one corner of the tarp using some existing paracord and guyline adjusters ( that we had on hand, sharing one of the pegs used to stake down the ARB. For the end on the car side, we looped the guy wire around the front wheel of the van, then slid the adjustable end onto a carabiner at the corner of the tarp. We then use the guyline adjuster to set the proper tension. With the tarp in place we can still open the passenger door of the van.

    The downside of the ARB awning is that if you need the tow vehicle for a trip to town, the awning needs to be taken down. However, deployment and take down takes about 30 seconds (for the awning itself, and about the same amount of time for the tarp), so that's not a deal killer. On the plus side, it doesn't take up any space inside the tow vehicle, preserving space for other wants and needs, and it can be deployed and taken down by one person (provided you are tall enough to do so without needing assistance). It also provides more shade than a similarly sized free standing shade (which measures size at the base of the structure, not at the maximum width of the shade fabric). The outside height of the awning can be adjusted from around 4+ feet to nearly 8 feet, and the height of the two poles can be set independently so that you can directly where any rain runoff is channeled to. The awning fabric is much more substantial than our old REI Alcove, resulting in less penetration by sunlight, so that it stays cooler under the awning (provided there is adequate airflow).

    Since we didn't go with the typical rack basket installation, there isn't nearly as much drag (it creates about a 6"x6" profile vs. about a 10" by 60" profile) on the van. The effect on our gas mileage has been negligible, but would have been significant with the basket option.
  2. JeremyB

    JeremyB Junior Ranger Donating Member

    Great write up!! Thank you for sharing!
  3. Inn42

    Inn42 Junior Ranger

    We recently had an opportunity to have our custom awning rack torture tested in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico. We had driven up and down the main drag a dozen times before, including several times on the day of this event. We were trying to find where to make a U-turn in order to reach a mini-mercado for some supplies. Suddenly, I notice just ahead of us that a power line was drooping down in front of us, hanging about five and a half feet off the ground. There is traffic beside and behind me, so I stopped quickly, but not a full panic stop, not wanting to get rear ended. There were some ominous sounds being made before we came to a complete stop.

    We got out and surveyed the damage. The first thing that I noticed was that the power line was not visible on my side of the van. As I got around to the back I looked up at the top of the van and saw a bundle of frayed wires wedged into our front ARB mount. Once I got to the curbside of the van, I found attached to the end of those frayed wires half of a ceramic insulator. It had bounced around a few times, putting three small dents above the curbside cargo door and chipping some paint here and there, plus some of the stitching on our awning was worn away. There were also extensive areas where the vinyl from the cable had transferred to the van's paint. I removed the wire and insulator.



    I got up on the threshold of the passenger side door and took a look at where the wires had been wedged against the aluminum bracket that supports our ARB awning. It was scorched and parts of the edge had started to melt.


    At that point we noticed that we were attracting a crowd, and traffic was piling up behind us. We figured that someone or several people had just lost power to their home or business, and that there was a live wire in the east bound lane of traffic. It seemed unlikely that we would track someone down who would be responsible for the damage to our van, and the deductible on our Mex insurance would almost certainly be higher than what it would cost to take out the three dents. So we drove off like nothing happened, not knowing what else to do. We figured that folks without power would be calling the power company right away, and there were plenty of people who understood what had just happened, in case the police wanted an account of incident (we could only imagine trying to make ourselves understood in this situation).

    I was able to take the vinyl off of the paint easily enough by using some scratch remover. There are a few places with faint brown marks that I haven't yet been able to remove. Those are where the power line arced and burned the paint., and they may never come off. I suspect if we ever want to remove the three small dents that a paintless dent repair place would probably do that for under a hundred dollars.
  4. Inn42

    Inn42 Junior Ranger

    My sister-in-law shared a link to some RV tips several months ago. Most were of zero interest, but one caught my eye. To be honest, I have no recollection what it was about, but it dawned on me that it could create a means for us to attached our existing tarp to the front of our ARB awning. Currently, we can only mount it on either side.

    ARB sells a front wind wall for our awning, which can be purchased at a discount for around $80. For about $10 or so we were able to adapt our existing $3.50 Harbor Freight tarp to do the same thing (though we'll likely spend a few more bucks to modify this first attempt at a solution, as explained later). There is an extruded aluminum cylindrical channel along the length of our awing, and the top of the factory wind wall slides into that channel.

    The tip I had noticed was the use of some steel spacers, paracord and fender washers to provide a means of attachment to a channel similar to that found on the front of our awning. We modified the idea by using some 1/8" diameter shock cording from REI (this is kept in the back, so you will need to ask a clerk to cut it for you). The steel spacers we got from Lowes, and fender washers you can get just about anywhere.

    For my first attempt, I
    1. Cut three 12" pieces of shock cord,
    2. Threaded a spacer over each one,
    3. Folded the shock cord in half,
    4. Threaded the two ends of shock cord through a fender washer, and
    5. Tied a knot in the end of the shock cord (I also zip-tied the knot, being neither a proficient scout nor sailor).
    I tied some existing paracord to the corner grommets of the tarp, in order to use a carabiner to attach to the two keyrings that we use for attaching the outside corner when we use the tarp as a side wall.

    I set the tarp up in the driveway, in order to test for a proof of concept. We will move to a campground next month, where I plan on modifying this setup. I will replace the paracord on the corner grommets with loops from two 20" pieces of shock cord. I will loop these through the corner grommets and over themselves. That should provide fairly equal tension across the top of the tarp, allowing it to be taut when staked to the ground. If needed, I may end up shortening or lengthening the three shock cords with the steel spacers by an inch or two, if necessary to get more even tension on the tarp.

    IMG_20170312_173733574_HDR.jpg IMG_20170312_173706146.jpg IMG_20170312_173655646_HDR.jpg

    So ,with a little MacGyvering, we've managed to use a single $3.50 tarp to replace an ARB side wall or a front wall (around $80 each) for our awning. This solution saves both weight and space, and provides some deep shade when we are camping in the desert.
  5. Inn42

    Inn42 Junior Ranger

    Here are pictures of the above changes, taken once we were able to set up in the wild. We decided it was close enough and that no additional changes were needed.

    Mark & Casandra and Mike_Kathi like this.
  6. Mark & Casandra

    Mark & Casandra Junior Ranger

    Our very own Camp Master MacGyver! I love it!
    Inn42 likes this.

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