Tradie grey nomad gets more adventure than he bargained for to prove his points about budget RV conversions

Jay King and daughter Julia relax in the open space of Queensland where they ended up staying for six weeks because of the Covid pandemic

An Australian manufacturer and tradesman, who is himself a grey nomad, is demonstrating to the world that family life on the road doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun and comfortable.

Jay King, MD of Aus J convenience hot water and RV products, has converted a humble workhorse van, a $5,500 2001 Toyota HiAce 2.4 litre petrol 4-speed automatic with 369,000km on the clock, as a test bed for his latest Duoetto 12v-240v water heater for caravans, RVs and boats. With over 335,000 sales in Australia since its arrival in 1971 (and total of more than 6.3 million globally), the HiAce dominates the mid-size van segment (2.5-3.5-tonne GVM), and has done so for years, with good reliable models available second hand. Jay’s refurbished conversion gets 8km to the litre.

The all-up cost of under $A20,000 for his DIY compares with current examples of van conversions in the US costing hundreds of thousands of US dollars – for example, new Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter vehicles converted to custom "escape vessels" costing between $75,000 and $300,000, not including the price of the vehicle. Business for the conversion company involved is up by at least 100%, with orders now taking up to 12 months to complete.

“Originally my wife and I just wanted a vehicle we could put the Duoetto underneath without a protective enclosure to prove how tough it was. But building the van became too much fun – it turned into a project that shows people they don’t always have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to enjoy reliable vehicles with modest but solid fit-outs that many people could do themselves. There are a lot of tradies, former tradies and adventurous people of all ages out there who could do it,” said Mr King, 68, a former automotive upholsterer whose Aussie engineering has earned tens of thousands of local and global sales with its water heater products.

The unenclosed Duoetto, deliberately exposed to the elements outside of its usual housing, to prove its robustness in service in aggressive environments.

In a spare-time project extending over three months, Jay first of all ensured that his base vehicle was in optimum mechanical condition for its age. This first step – including replacing exhaust headers that were showing their age and the three serpentine belts– later proved its worth when he found himself in totally unexpected situations that could confront any RV traveller.

Having ensured brakes, steering and transmission were properly serviced – “Toyota parts are cheap as chips,” he says – he began the conversion programme to provide a fit-out that was well engineered to run quietly, even over rough outback roads, while providing all the mod cons needed by a family on the move.

Nests of MDF models were used to produce the final RV ply panels (example left) used to produce a neat and integrated interior for the van, in which three people lived for six weeks in its first outing.

First he drew up and cut a jigsaw of MDF sheets to use as pattens to ensure fit and strength of the layout before proceeding to the cutting and fitting of the more expensive light but strong RV ply panels forming the walls, benches, seats and convertible beds. Then he installed creature comforts tailored into the fully lined cabin, including Dometic Coolmatic CRX 80-litre fridge, LG 23-litres Neo Chef smart inverter microwave, 2000wat inverter to run the oven, MAXXFAN Deluxe ventilator, Redarc 50 Amp DC to DC in-vehicle charger , FIRST ALERT JARDEN digital 10yr carbon dioxide alarm, (“to make sure we stay alive”) , RV-Link WF-CON LTE Internet Extender, external shower and hot water provided by the Duoetto, drawing on a 50-litre storage tank.

The Duoetto was deliberately located under the vehicle (instead of protected within it) to show how it would stand up to thousands of kilometres of rough roads.

“A good supply of hot water was not negotiable for my wife and daughter,” he said. “They love the adventure, but they also love a good shower after riding horses or going to the beach – and having hot water on tap for washing and covid hygiene precautions.”

Jay fitted two 130-amp AGM batteries to ensure continuity of electricity supply to the van’s creature comforts, including the Max Air roof fan he installed, as well as a high-gain aerial to enable him to use his computer and internet on the road to direct his local and international business while he travelled.

Unexpected adventure

Office under the stars – in touch with the world from the outback of Queensland

It was when he travelled that the trial turned into more of an adventure than he bargained for, with the arrival of the Covid pandemic that closed the borders with Queensland while he was up in the mid-north of the State enjoying the sun.

“Instead of it being a stay of a couple of weeks, the van got a real workout over more than six weeks before we could come back. We lived nearly all of that time in the van, travelling all sorts of roads and bush trails around the River Run Camping farm where we were based.

“There was miles of room for the three of us in the van, plus under the retractable awning we installed, and then we had more than 30 hectares of space (80 acres) around us on the farm

“We had our meals outside usually, using the microwave when needed, or just a $20 Bunnings butane burner. We did get a $200 overseas butane camp oven to start with, but it melted the first time we used it, so we stuck with the cheap but highly effective local product. We would sleep and travel in the van, but live outside, under the awning if required. I would sit in the back comfortably running the business when we weren’t busy having a good time.”

“The van conversion drove well, especially for a total project costing well under $20,000. It ran as smoothly as a sewing machine after we did the mechanical basics. You are not going to set any speed records in a HiAce. They are ok downhill, and a lot slower uphill. But it was reliable and quiet and comfortable, which was the aim

“The only time we had any trouble was because of driver error. I got so confident with it that I took it down some bush tracks where it had no right to be.I got a real fright on one when we were going downhill in the rain – it kept getting narrower and narrower and wetter and wetter and there was no place to turn. It was an ugly feeling. My hands were sweaty when we eventually found a place we could turn around. It wasn’t much fun going back up the track either.

“I can guarantee after that the HiAce is no FWD, but it did the job it was built for just great, got us out of trouble, and motored back to Sydney happily when the borders reopened.”

“We not only proved that our water heater could stand all the muck and grit thrown at it – much more than it would normally have to stand in a proper compartment – but it also showed with the HiAce what it is possible to do on a limited budget with one of the world’s most popular and proven vehicles.”

Footnote : Australia’s Aus J Hot Water Solutions – which has already sold tens of thousands of its home and portable water heaters in Australia, NZ and globally – has just introduced its latest 12v/240v Duoetto MK2 water heater as demand steps up for local holidays with Covid restrictions easing. The latest Duoettos – which typically retail for $A444.00 (approx. $US319, $NZ475, 246 UK pounds, 269 Euros) – feature a digital temperature control on the side for local and export markets that like their controls clear and simple, including the Middle East and Asia, North America, Africa and Europe, including the UK.

Automatic sensors allow switching to 12V when mains power is not available, enabling the Duoetto to deliver ample hot water in remote areas such as campsites or on boats where mains power is unavailable, which it often is in large areas of major RV, marine and work vehicle markets,” says Mr King, who designs the water heaters himself and ensures production to Australian standards of toughness and quality .

Duoetto MK2 Product features Duoetto MK2 features include:

(For a full list of features, specifications and helpful information, visit the Duoetto page of the Aus J website .)

Aus J Hot Water Solutions ( ) offers a range of innovative gas and electric water heaters with models for domestic, commercial and recreational applications, including a 240v 10-litre Aqueous water heater designed to provide homes with near-instant hot water and reduce the wastage by having the heater located under the sink.

For further information, please call Jay King on +61 419 993 042 or email ABN 30 114 298 627

Issued by Whyte Public Relations Pty Ltd, ph (02) 9901 4306,