Camper Trailers Tech Tips

DIY electric actuator camper trailer install




diy electric actuators install
to open & close a camper trailer tent


As I get older, I am finding it harder and harder to setup my camper. At this stage I was thinking it maybe time to change over to a caravan or hardtop as camper trailer owners call them, but there is still something special about sleeping under a tent in the bush, so I purchased another camper, thinking that this is the best of both worlds, meaning that I have a tent with a kitchen and storage and a comfy bed on wheels.

After setting up the new camper and pulling it down a couple of times I realise that camping is, putting it simply, hard work and I'm not getting younger. How can I make it easier on myself? If I can make the tent set itself up, then half the work is done, so I started thinking on how I could do this. The following is my solution to making camping easier.

my solution for setting up a camper tent

This is the solution I came up with to my problem is the use of 12volt actuators, however others reading this may be able to come up with other methods or improvements for setting up the tent of your camper trailer. Please feel free to improve on this method, come up with better ways and most importantly share your changes with us. I am not interested in making money from these things and find I enjoy doing them for the challenge (I wonder if I can), so please develop and share is what I would like to see everyone do.

My camper is an MDC Explorer 10th anniversary 2017 edition, however the same method will work for other style of campers, you will just need different length actuators and time to experiment with the setup. The whole thing cost me about $700 for the hardware and electronics.

actuator length

Measuring the poles extended and retracted – this may seem self explanatory, but it takes a bit of thinking out. You need to setup the tent and measure the poles fully extended and fully retracted to work out the length of actuator you need. I ended up with 450mm actuator for the front poles, 350mm for the centre and 200mm for the rear poles.

The front and centre poles are direct inline pushes, where the rear poles are in a 90 degree swinging pole on my camper.

When measuring the extended length it is important to remember that the tent should not be pulled tight and should have a little slack in it, not a lot, but the tent needs to sit nice and comfortable and not pulled tight like a drum.

buying the actuator

I went to ebay and selected a brand that had a rating of 150kg with a force of 1500 newtons. I found these able to lift the tent with the awning over the top as well. This brand also came with a remote control unit you can buy as an option. These actuators also have built in limit switch that stop the actuator at both extremes of fully out and fully in, this will be important when mounting the actuators.

mounting the actuator

The actuators came with mounting brackets, however they did not suit mounting to the tent poles, so I had a friend (who can weld) modify them so they will mount to the poles using a u-bolt. I found a 8 to 13mm zenith u-bolt that would fit the pole. You will need a lot of them, twenty to be exact. I found that you can get a discount for buying in bulk so ask the sales person.

attaching the actuator

Now that we have the actuators and the brackets its time to mount them. I will do this frame by frame, so you can see the differences between their mounting.

Now just a little reminder about the power of these actuators, they are very powerful and if you let them they will either rip the tent or bend the poles before they stop, so watch everything until you have them fitted right. Trust me I found out the hard way and ripped the stitching in my tent.

centre frame

This is the easiest to setup. When mounting the actuator you will need to have the bottom bracket mounted so the actuator can be fully retract (on the limit switch) without the frame bottoming out and extended to full length with the tent is at the right height. This will take a bit of fiddling but you will find the sweet spot with a little experimenting.

front frame

Do the same with this pole as the centre pole except that you will find the 450mm actuator is a bit short, this is because I really needed a longer actuator, but could not get one in the brand I used, this is not a big problem. I found that the 450mm actuator was able to pull the frame down so it all lay flat and the camper could be closed up. Yet again make sure the actuator reaches both limit switches without hitting anything.

I found when the frames were out fully the tent was still sagging and did not sit right, so I added some gas struts to lift the frame into place as it pushed out. This will take a bit of getting right too. I used a 700mm 650 newton strut. The strut does not collapse and is used as a lever to lift the pole, however if something was to go wrong and the pole did not lift then the gas strut would act as a safety and collapse as the actuator extended (remember the actuator has 1500 newtons force).

The pivot bracket (centre bracket where the frames all mount too) on the camper will need modifying to allow the centre pole to sit flat when folding the camper up.

rear folding frame

By far this was the most challenging to set up. On the MDC, this frame is a 90 degree folding frame and not an in line push and pull arrangement like the centre or front frames.

I had to use my CAD program to help me work out the angles and mounting locations for the actuator as it has to move in an ark from collapsed to standing upright (a bit tricky for an old fella), but with a bit of experimenting I got it to work.

The rear poles are suppose to collapse shorter too, however I found that you can lock it into the right length and it will still fold up flat. The rear frame is velcro to the top of the canvas & needs to be detached so the tent can move freely.

The mounting of the actuator to the floor of the camper was achieved with the aid of some “nut rivets”. You can use other methods for mounting but nut rivets are fantastic.

Now this is where I ripped a hole in the stitching of the tent, so be warmed. I set up the actuator and as it was lowering it ripped about 200mm of stitching open on the back corner of the tent. This was because the actuator is mounted about 300mm lower that the tent canvas and as the actuator came down it stretched the tent until it ripped a hole.


I mounted all the electrical stuff in a box, including the radio remote control with a selector switch. When I tested the actuators I found the current was about 6amp at full load for two actuators so a full load of 18 amp was too large to have it all work at the same time, so I used a front, centre and rear selector switch.

I also fitted a power switch so the controller can be turned off all together. I intend to change this for a key operated switch, why you ask, simple really. We are Australians and that makes us all jokers. We all have the friend that would think it was funny to retract the tent on you while you were asleep over night, am I right or not.

more electronics

I bridged out the internal fuse in the controller and installed an external circuit breaker. This will void the warranty so get a mate who is good with electronics so you can blame them when it stops working (only kidding) but be mindful you wont be able to get warranty on the controller.

Its best to use a rotary switch or some other switch so you can only select one frame at a time. The switch will need to be a double pole so it switches both positive and negative. I also extended the manual override switch so it can be used externally too.

When wiring up the actuators to the control box, you will have to think about the best route that wont get in the way of the camper opening and closing as well as pinch points around the actuator. I used about 30 metres of twin core cable and wired all the actuators back to the control box. This is for future modifications like making it full automatic

Be sure to wire all the actuators the same way so positive is on the red wire, otherwise you may have one actuator going up while the other is going down.

For soldering the wires in the control box, I recommend you get or borrow a good temperature controlled soldering station, it will cost you a bit more than a standard iron, but you will not regret it.

I located the control box in the power cabinet by removing the battery charger and putting it in its place. I put an anderson plug on the charger and use it as a free standing unit. Just plug it into the trailer anderson plug to charge the battery by mains power.





centre frame


front frame


front frame


rear frame








When testing the actuators you will find each side may travel at a different speed and reach the limit switches at different times. This does not matter and is why it is important to set the actuator to work to their internal limit switches.

Make sure that the frames slide without jamming.

I found it best to retract the rear frame first, then the centre and finally the front, but always close the rear first.

When retracting the rear frame, make sure it does not catch in the corners of the tent as it goes down. Just pull the corner over as it moved down.

Now for the folding and closing up the camper test. Lower all the frames (poles) and close it up. If it all fits then its been a successful installation, congratulations. If however you are like me you will still be finding pinch points, but a little bit of fine adjustments and you will have it working. I found with the MDC, if I removed the thin mattress and now use an airbed (much better than the mattress) giving the camper more room when closed.

field test

The field was over Easter during the Australian CamperTrailers Group get together at Old Bara near Mudgee NSW. I'm pleased to say everything was a success and the tent erected just as planned. Now I have a heap of other ideas to work on after chatting and looking at other campers. Will the improvements ever end, I hope not.

one last thing

Leave the frame adjusting lock screws in the frames. If for some reason your tent stops working. You will still be able to stand the tent by removing one of the pins on the actuators and lift the tent manually.

Happy camping and I hope to see you out camping.

components used

Eco-Worthy Window Actuators

Eco-Worthy Window Actuator Controller

8 to 13mm zenith u-bolt (Mitre 10)

Jaycar Electronics for all the electrical bits and pieces

Special thanks to Bruce Day who helped me with the brackets.


Thanks to Ross for sharing his actuator install with us



april 2018