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Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Heavy leaf springs + Upgrade shock absorbers | Switzerland
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Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Tough Dog shock absorbers, OME HD leaf springs and air assist suspension

Last time we took you through the upgrade process of the electronic part of the 4×4 camper and placed it around the real #vanlife feeling to be able to experience solar panels to be able to work Offgrid† Now a few weeks later we have started with the next upgrade: improving the road holding of the 4×4 camper. To strengthen things at the rear, I had other (heavy duty) leaf springs installed along with (gigantic) new Tough Dog shock absorbers. I also immediately had new Dunlop air bellows / air suspension installed. In this article I will take you through the entire process and what preceded it.

Also read:

  1. Want to buy an Offgrid 4×4 overland camper? † Tips and what to watch out for
  2. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Solar panels & Victron bluetooth battery charger
  3. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Tracemaster GPS Tracker Alarm System
  4. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Tough Dog shock absorbers, HD leaf springs and auxiliary air suspension

Why heavy leaf springs and shock absorbers for the motorhome?

During my first 4×4 motorhome trip in Switzerland I found out that the car really steered the spongy, especially on hairpin bends and on roundabouts you really had to be careful. Of course you also carry a lot of weight on the back of the 4×4 pickup: the Dispenser weighs 800 kilograms. However, the spongy steering feel was too much for me, I really had to take it easy and off-roading just wasn't possible with this setup. In addition, it seemed as if the camper on the highway was blown into the guardrail with every fart. Overtaking trucks was exciting every time - the heavy wind catcher of a motorhome unit in combination with spongy springs meant that you really kept 2 hands on the wheel every time. Not really pleasant if you want to enjoy your trip in peace.

Also read: How much does traveling with a motorhome cost? Cost overview + video

De Wereldreizigers.nl offroad 4x4 camper in Switzerland | April 2021
De Wereldreizigers.nl offroad 4×4 camper in Switzerland | April 2021

Help from Overlander expert Pier Kerkstra

On return in The Netherlands So I went looking for advice. I had a number of questions. Is it normal that a 4×4 pickup with demountable unit is so sensitive to wind? Is there something wrong with my suspension and/or suspension? Can I improve the road holding of the 4×4 camper / demountable unit for my next trip?

Determined to get answers to all these questions, I decided to enlist the help of Overlander expert Pier Kerkstra (his website and adventures here) and his colleague Michael. Pier is really seen in the overlander world as an Expedition camper guru. Pier has been building custom expedition camper units on 4×4 vehicles for decades. Below are two example photos of the work that Pier Kerkstra does.

Toyota Hilux custom camper body - Photo Pier Kerkstra
Toyota Hilux custom camper superstructure – Photo Pier Kerkstra
Toyota Hilux custom camper body - Photo Pier Kerkstra
Toyota Hilux custom camper superstructure – Photo Pier Kerkstra

So I knew I was in the right place in that regard. Although I didn't need advice about the camper unit itself, Pier's experience about the overlanding and what it involves is of course worth gold.

Also read: How to: Buy or convert a campervan

4×4 camper roads on the weighbridge

Once we arrived at Pier, we first weighed the 4×4 camper with demounting unit on the weighbridge. Purely to know what we are dealing with, and how much weight is on both axles.

To my surprise, I was already 50 kilos over the maximum weight! No less than 1900 kilos rested on the rear axle and about 980 kilos on the front axle. 2880 Kilo in total, while the car / camper may only weigh 2830 kilo in total. Admittedly the camper was fully loaded including myself + 3 gas bottles + full diesel and water tanks – but it is definitely something to keep in mind for the next trip.

Checking leaf springs and shock absorbers

Now that we knew the load on the vehicle, Pier crawled under the car to take a good look at the leaf springs and shock absorbers. It didn't take long for Pier to come to a clear conclusion: both the springs and shock absorbers were simply too light for this heavy work and also old and worn. The original leaf springs barely did anything more. The original springs and shock absorbers are actually too light for such a setup, let alone when they are old and worn. There may even have been a break in one of the leaf springs at the rear, which also makes it dangerous to continue driving.

The standard shock absorbers of the Mitsubishi L200 still did their job, but were simply too light to absorb all this weight well, especially now that the leaf springs were so bad. Finally, auxiliary air suspension had been installed, but that too needed to be replaced.

The advice: heavy duty leaf springs and Koni HT RAID shock absorbers

Pier strongly advised that I should have the rear suspension and shock absorbers replaced, if possible, as soon as possible. Purely for safety reasons. We talk about the type of springs and shock absorbers that should be underneath and soon arrived at 'OME (Old Man Emu) heavy duty'leaf springs and'Koni Heavy Track RAID Shock Absorbers† These high-end springs and shock absorbers are used on serious vehicles and even in Rallysport. Definitely good enough for my 4×4 camper! The only problem was that Pier didn't have time for it himself, certainly not in the short timeframes I spoke of myself. The next trip was just around the corner a week later, so I had a problem. Who oh who can handle this job in the short term?

Pier and especially colleague Michiel referred me to Saris 4×4. They may have space and they are experts in this field. I thanked Pier and Michel for the free advice. Thank you guys! You are top notch. Hopefully we can do something for each other in the future.

Saris 4×4 in Valburg

So on to Saris 4×4 in Valburg. Saris 4×4 is all about 4×4 cars and builds cars to the extreme for rallies, offroad and overland expedition adventures. While Pier Kerkstra mainly focuses on the custom camper units on the back of the cars, Saris 4×4 mainly focuses on the technology of the car itself. For example, they can raise your 4×4 and install so-called 'Snorkels' on your car so that you can drive through rivers. They actually do everything to strengthen and/or prepare your 4×4 for extreme conditions. Exactly what I need!

Car from Saris 4x4
Saris 4×4 Car – Photo from Facebook Channel Saris 4×4

I therefore decided to drive directly to Saris 4×4 and present my problem. With the challenge that I would leave within a week for the next trip. A very tight schedule.

Delivery time of Koni Heavy Track RAID

Jip van Saris 4×4 also saw a nice challenge in it, so he thought along with me. He probably got the men in the garage to do an extra job. The biggest problem was probably the delivery time of certain parts. After half an hour of searching and calling around, Jip actually came to the conclusion that the Koni HT Raid shock absorbers were not available at short notice. So an alternative had to be chosen. Something just as sturdy, or even sturdier.

I decided to go home while Jip van Saris 4×4 continued the search for heavy duty shock absorbers for my Mitsubishi L200.

Tough Dog Foam Cell Shock Absorbers

A few hours later I already had an email from Jip in my mailbox. 'Cause he hadTough Dog Foam Cell' shock absorbers were found, which correspond in quality to the Koni's. These were quickly available and at least as strong as the Koni HT RAID shock absorbers. I decided to do a quick Googling to see if I could find information about the Touch Dog shock absorbers and quickly came across these YouTube videos.

Tough Dog is an Australian brand that manufactures high-end shock absorbers for the most insanely harsh conditions in Australië† In the video below they go into more detail about the technology of these shock absorbers and you can also see how enormously clumsy and sturdy they are. I immediately thought of my own motorhome: this is exactly what I need! Let's go! I gave Jip the green light and the Tough Dog Foam Cell shock absorbers were ordered.

Heavy duty leaf springs

But we were not there yet with the shock absorbers alone. The leaf springs also needed to be replaced. The main question was actually which new leaf springs would come underneath. I could choose to place new, original leaf springs, or to immediately weight them down as well. This was a fairly difficult choice, because when you weigh everything down, it also affects the driving comfort.

As soon as you disconnect the demounting unit, you will notice very well that your suspension and shock absorbers are very sturdy at the back. This is anything but comfortable. The question I asked myself was the following: will I often use the Mitsubishi L200 4×4 pickup without the motorhome demounting unit? The answer was 'No', so comfort without a demountable unit was a lot less important than the driving comfort, safety and off-road capabilities of the 4×4 camper with the demountable unit on it. So it became OME (Old Man Emu) Heavy Duty leaf springs!

Dunlop air suspension / air bellows

And while we're at it and everything comes off, I immediately decided to have the air springs / air suspension replaced. Air-assisted suspension was already installed on the Mitsubishi L200, but the air bellows were also old and already showed hairline cracks in the rubber. Replacing the air suspension with decent Dunlop air springs would only cost a few hundred euros extra, so I decided to have that done right away.

Why auxiliary air suspension?

With the heavy leaf springs and Tough Dog shock absorbers, I no longer necessarily need the auxiliary air suspension. Air-assisted suspension can still be useful to level the 4×4 camper when you are standing still, or when you start driving. For example, if you have loaded one side of the motorhome more heavily than the other side, you can compensate for that with the air suspension and thus level it again for more stability. Useful! You can also use the air suspension to make the rear stiffer and higher for even tighter handling on the highways. You really notice this on the road and I can therefore recommend it to everyone. Install that auxiliary air suspension!

Before and after photos of the camper upgrades

Now that several decisions have been made and the parts have been delivered, Saris 4×4 was able to get started with my 4×4 Mitsubishi L200. They kept me well informed about the process along the way and I received a number of photos (at my request) in the meantime. Below are two photos of how Saris 4×4 found the car before they started the work.

Genuine Mitsubishi L200 shock absorbers and leaf springs
Genuine Mitsubishi L200 shock absorbers and leaf springs
The old air bellows
The old air bellows

I wanted the photos as proof for a potential buyer of the motorhome (in the future), but also for myself and for your readers to see exactly what this upgrade entails. To start with, I want to show you the huge difference between the original shock absorber of the Mitsubishi L200, and the Tough Dog Foam Cell shock absorber. What a bizarre difference! Speaking of an upgrade…

Tough Dog Foam Cell Shock Absorber vs Original Mitsubishi L200 Shock Absorber
Tough Dog Foam Cell Shock Absorber vs Original Mitsubishi L200 Shock Absorber

So that's a promise. Saris 4×4, meanwhile, continued to remove all the old parts, which you can see below. All this old, rusty junk came from under the Mitsubishi L200. It was indeed high time to replace everything, you can see that right away.

The old fasteners and bushes
The old fasteners and bushes
The old leaf springs, shock absorbers and air bellows
The old leaf springs, shock absorbers and air bellows

Now that all old parts have been removed, you can start installing the upgrades. Below you can see some pictures of the installation of the new air bellows, the heavy duty leaf springs and the Tough Dog Foam Cell shock absorbers.

Install new Dunlop air suspension / air springs | Mitsubishi L200
Dunlop's new auxiliary air suspension / air bellows | Mitsubishi L200
Install new Heavy Duty leaf springs | Mitsubishi L200
Install new Heavy Duty leaf springs | Mitsubishi L200
Installing Tough Dog Foam Cell Shock Absorbers | Mitsubishi L200
Installing Tough Dog Foam Cell Shock Absorbers | Mitsubishi L200

Finally, the end result below, what a craftsmanship! And again the old photo of the original parts for comparison. The difference is clearly visible!

Genuine Mitsubishi L200 shock absorbers and leaf springs
FRONT: Genuine Mitsubishi L200 shock absorbers and leaf springs
End result of upgrades to the 4x4 off road camper. New Tough Dog shock absorbers, heavy duty leaf springs and Dunlop air bellows
AFTER: New Tough Dog shock absorbers, heavy duty leaf springs and Dunlop air bellows

Cost of the upgrades

Now you may be wondering: how much did all this cost? Below is a clear overview of the total costs incurred for these upgrades.

Invoice 4x4 camper upgrades part 1 (click to enlarge)
Invoice 4×4 camper upgrades part 1 (click to enlarge)
Invoice 4x4 camper upgrades part 2 (click to enlarge)
Invoice 4×4 camper upgrades part 2 (click to enlarge)

Note: What has not been discussed in the blog and what you should not include in the above total price is the subsequent alignment and replacement of the gearbox oil. That has nothing to do with the upgrades. The total amount including VAT minus +- 340,- euros is what you then spend approximately for installing Heavy Duty leaf springs in combination with Tough Dog shock absorbers and Dunlop auxiliary air suspension. So about 2575 euros.

Contact details Saris 4×4

Would you like to change or upgrade your 4×4 vehicle yourself? Whether it's an off-road camper, an overland expedition vehicle or a 'regular' 4×4, Saris 4×4 can definitely help you with it. Consider having this done by Saris 4×4. In any case, they have helped me tremendously with good advice and customization. Thank you for that!

Kerkstraat 30 – 6675 BS Valburg
www.saris4x4.nl
[email protected]
+31 (0)488-431422

The upgrades and the driving behavior

Now that the upgrades have been under 4×4 for a few weeks and I have been able to make some kilometers, I can conclude that the difference is huge. When the demounting unit is not on the 4×4 pickup, the suspension is indeed rock hard, it looks like a go-kart! And that for a vehicle that already weighs almost 2000 kilos.

When the demounting unit is on it, it bounces again as you would expect. The handling has improved a lot and I am now much less afraid to take a short and sharp turn. Also on the highway I notice that the car reacts much less violently to wind, ruts and trucks. Of course you still notice that you have a large camper unit on the back and you will still have to be careful and take it easy. But the difference is clearly there, the upgrades definitely do their job. I am satisfied!

Off road with the Wereldreizigers.nl Mitsubishi L200 4x4 motorhome
Off road with the Wereldreizigers.nl Mitsubishi L200 4×4 motorhome

Until the next blog!

Also read:

  1. Want to buy an Offgrid 4×4 overland camper? † Tips and what to watch out for
  2. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Solar panels & Victron bluetooth battery charger
  3. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Tracemaster GPS Tracker Alarm System
  4. Off-grid 4×4 camper upgrade | Tough Dog shock absorbers, HD leaf springs and auxiliary air suspension
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Chris

Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!

– Travel 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
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0 comments

  • Just discovered, and thanks for the informative blog.
    I see that a lot of effort has been made to make the car safe and drivable due to the weight and size of the camper.
    I therefore wonder whether it would not be better to use an American 1-tonne truck.
    After all, if you tour a lot in other distant countries, you are no longer subject to the NL tax authorities.

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Chris

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