Adventure Truck

Nissan Frontier (Navara) On-Board Freshwater Shower System

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Benefits of an On-Board Freshwater Shower

What's not fantastic about a little running water? And on an adventure vehicle to boot? Cleanliness in the outback. Bliss in the wilderness.

Cleaning camp dishes, washing hands, taking showers, and hosing down a baby who's diaper exploded with gooey green poo seem to be enough reasons for me. Poo happens.

It also happens to be hilariously damned fun to shoot water at campmates.

Have I mentioned that we really like finding our way to remote Mexican beaches of Northern Sonora? A shower after a day in the salty sea and playing frisbee in the sand ranks just shy of a really really good orgasm. Then again, I don't care if I'm camping just 50 miles from home - a shower is always welcome.

Everything's easier. Most importantly, it makes my wife extremely happy. And if the whole family can go out for three weeks, or three days, living out of the truck . . . and be comfortable . . . that's fun. That's the whole point.

Downsides?

Added weight: a full 14-gallon tank weighs 115 pounds. This obviously decreases the fuel economy of the Nissan Frontier and means some suspension enhancements might be wise (perhaps new leaf springs, improved shocks, and/or air bags). Also, the electric pump adds complexity to the rig as a whole - it's another component that can fail and one that draws electricity. And the tank, due to the location, needs to have a custom fitted skid plate.

The current water system does not have controlled heat, either. This is a problem in Winter, or when we get out of the desert. However, even on a 70-degree day, ambient heat from the road keeps the water surprisingly warm. Showers are best taken at the end of the day then. This brings up another point: we have to carry around a changing/privacy/shower tent - this means a few pounds added to payload, space taken up in cargo, and additional cost. The first tent I bought was a Paha-Que from Adventure Trailers for about $200. It's a very nice tent, but after losing it in a wind storm, I've moved to a $50 thing from Bass Pro Shops.

The on-board freshwater system is a solution for vehicle-based backcountry traveling (outback touring as they say down under), and improves our level of comfort while camping. It's the sort of modification that's not for everybody. However, a few other choices are listed at the bottom.

Project Cost

About $300 total, depending on the varous components. A good tank is around $100, Shurflo pump is close to $80, and the fittings/hardware/hose/raw materials took the complete project to over $300. A boat deck shower (discussed below) will be about $130.00, but the kitchen sink sprayer is $6.00, but you'll want a valve and some hardware, etc. And where do you buy this stuff? Tanks and pumps come from RV supply stores, and the hardware/fittings are easily found at your local hardware store.

System on this Nissan Frontier D40:

14-gallon water tank mounted under the bed (spare tire position), with a 2.8 GPM pump feeding a quick-connect spray port. A trigger sprayer attaches to the port with a 7' long hose for showering, washing, and cleaning.

System Components:

  • Tank - 14 gallons, 24" x 14" x 10". Poly tank is IAPMO approved, food grade, and UV stabilized. Comes with 4 fittings (fill, drain, supply, and breather), 3/8" pipe thread.
  • Pump - Shurflo 2.8 GPM, 12VDC, 7 amp
  • Dispenser/sprayer - Kitchen sink trigger spray on a 7' long hose and quick connect fitting. Previously had a boat shower that lacked the trigger action and took up much space. Replaced with the kitchen sprayer.
  • Deck filler neck - Stainless steel with a screw cap, commonly found on boats.
  • Quick Connect Spray Port - Features twist valves and a nice quick connect (similar to an air chuck) fitting. Helps make the system compact by allowing me to stow the hose/trigger spray anywhere on the vehicle.
  • Assorted Hardware, Fittings, and Raw Materials - Includes barbs, high-pressure hose, hose clamps, screws, nuts, bolts, steel tubing for the tank brackets, and zip ties.

First Impression

This woman expresses it all: a camp shower is wonderful.

There are a number of ways to skin this cat of on-board water and/or a camp shower, and I chose a fully custom set up on the grounds that it seemed like a fun and moderately challenging project to tackle.

Even though the whole project cost more than I anticipated, I was pleased with the initial result, and quality of most products used.

Thus, five stars overall. It's really a pretty simple thing to add on to the truck.

Helton, Zodi, and a few other companies provide turnkey systems with controlled hot water and are worth checking out if you are looking to do a similar addition to your Frontier (or any vehicle, really). While this on-board water system is fully custom, it's quite basic: tank, pump, and sprayer. Bada bing.

Tank, Pump, Dispenser:

The freshwater poly tank - a standard rectangular 14-gallon tank for fresh water as used in RVs - is widely available in dozens of sizes, often in peculiar shapes, too. You can also have a custom tank made and specify where you want each fitting. RV stores, boat stores, and some online outlets can help.

The natural white color tank is food-grade and UV stabilized. It also features a wall thickness of 1/8" and comes with four fittings in place: one 1.25" barb for the fill line, and three 3/8" female pipe threaded fittings for your drain, supply, and breather lines. This kind of tank should be kept out of direct sunlight to prevent algae growth or possible breakdown (even though it is UV stabilized).

Shurflo Classic Water Pump is a 2.8 GPM (gallons per minute) unit, 12VDC power with draw of 7 amps. Part number 2088-422-144. The intermittent duty pump comes with rubber mounting feet/harness to help isolate the vibration - an excellet feature. The connections for inbound and outbound water use 3/8" pipe thread (and come with barbs for connecting the hoses)so no adapters are needed to connect the pump to the supply line.

The pump also self-primes up to 6 vertical feet, so it doesn't need to be submersed in the tank or near the tank.

It's also small, 7" long on the largest dimension. I knew this would be easy to mount. Paperwork indicated that the pump has a 40 PSI shut off pressure, which means you can close off the supply valve and the pump will also turn off when the line fills with water, creating 40 PSI of back pressure. Nice feature. Definitely a five star product.


Boat deck shower

Kitchen sink sprayer

I've gone through the two dispensers above: the deck shower was the first item, but required a lot of space to mount it and also to make adequate space behind it for the 6' hose to retract. On the Nissan Frontier (inside the crossover tool box), the deck shower was just too large. I knew that going into this project but didn't have any other ideas. Three stars only because I knew it was not appropriate for my needs. However, it's a nice shower. This too comes with 3/8" pipe fittings, a 7' hose, adjustable spray pattern, and a hot/cold valve control.

It took some time to realize that a dispenser with a trigger control was what I really needed. A six-dollar kitchen sprayer made a hell of a lot of sense. It's cheap, common, and takes up very little space. One problem: doesn't fit well to the 1/2" ID hose that was being used with the 3/8" pipe fittings. An adaptor or two solved the problem. Being flimsy plastic, I suspect that this will need repacing from time to time. But it's inexpensive.

My trip to the boat store cost me quite a few dollars, and one of those items that cost dearly was the stainless steel deck fill. Very cool indeed. Very overkill, too. The cap uses a spring loaded catch: when depressed, it pops out and allows you to unscrew the cap, which is leashed to the entire device with a stainless chain. Screw the cap on again, then press in the catch and it rests flush with the rest of the assembly. It's a very nice piece of hardware, but required a large hole for mounting - I foolishly elected to put it in the fender.

And it also features a 1.5" barb, so it doesn't mate with one piece of hose to the tank's 1.25" barb. I needed two lengths of differing diameter hose and a reducer. More money in fittings, and more time on the project. (This project is filled with similar mishaps).


Down the road, when I elected to change to the trigger spray, I found this awesome spray quick connect port from dwincorp.com:

Damned cool, right? Hot and cold twist valves and a chuck similar to an air chuck. The box is about 6" square, and 5" deep with a nice little hatch door and hasp. I modified this for my own purposes, by removing the good stuff from the box; but as usual, I should have used it as it came. More below.

Installation

Putting the water system onto the Nissan Frontier went in this order:

  1. Mount tank so that it's protected, out of direct sunlight, and held securely
  2. Affix pump to vehicle; it's an in-line, self-priming unit and therefore best to have it as close to the tank as possible, but it does prime for up to 6 vertical feet. It can be mounted in nearly any orientation (vertical or horizontal). If mounting vertically, do so with the motor upward and water connections downward.
  3. Decide where to install the sprayer quick connect (or faucet, shower head, etc. Whatever the case may be) and execute. Drill holes, mount, silicone mating edges as needed, etc.
  4. Decide where to install the switch for the pump, and prepare by drilling the appropriate hole. I've put the switch next to the quick connect port; this swtich is also weatherproof with a rubber boot.
  5. Choose the fill port and install where you'd like. This needs to be above the tank to allow gravity to send water to the tank.
  6. Connnect hoses. This is where you'll need to have the right hose barbs (these connect hoses to the fittings in the tank, at the spray port, and the pump) and hose clamps. Use high-pressure hose on the supply lines. Breather line should be 1/4" hose and affixed somewhere high and protected - I've put it up inside the fender next to the deck filler neck. Note: plastic pipe fittings do not require white plumbing tape.
  7. Modify sprayer hose with an adapters, hardware and 1/2" ID hose to fit in the quick connect port
  8. One supply barb to one valve on the port needs to be capped off. We're only using one twist valve, not both. It's designed for hot and cold water supply, but I onlly have one water supply.
  9. Wire the pump switch. Low amp draw doesn't require the use of a relay.
  10. Fill the tank, inspect for leaks at the tank fittings. Test the pump and inspect for leaks at the valves, pump, and sprayer.

That's the quick and dirty version of a process that took me about a full weekend including numerous trips to the hardware store.

* * * Notes * * *

Plastic (hdpe) pipe fittings do not require plumbing tape on the threads like brass fittings do. That's nice.

Custom fabrication of the water tank mounts/brackets and skid plate made the most difficult portion of the install. Tank is mounted with two 1" steel cross bars across the bottom of the tank, with long threaded rods going the the bed. The skid plate, then, is simply bolted to the bottom of the threaded rods poking through the steel cross bars. Photo of the tank after install without the plate.

I've mounted the pump to the inside of the custom bumper, then the supply line runs form the pump upward through the bottom of the truck bed to the custom bed cover. The spray port is situated in the corner of the cap, almost under the Eezi-Awn tent but not quite so it's accessible.

A very committing item to install is this fresh water deck filler neck. I elected to put this right in the rear fender sheetmetal on the driver's side.

I thought that was clever. Now I believe that was stupid. It's over with now, eh?

Oh alright, the filler is at least cleanly installed and high quality, but there's got to be a more discreet place for it.

Performance

All dialed in and rockin', the water system is fantastic with the trigger sprayer. Prior, with the deck shower, I wasn't happy with not having control of the water flow at my finger tips. The shower head was great for showering but it moved alot of water. We'd only get 3 (fast) showers out of 14 gallons. Now we get 6 plus basic camp washing.

The trigger spray helps control the flow and makes it easy to clean dishes, wash hands, etc.

Since installing this in the summer of 2006, I've never had a leak or pump failure. However, the deck shower handle seams did start to break down at the time I was swapping it out. Water would leak out when pressurized.

More importantly, though, a quick shower while camping on the beach or rolling into camp after a day on the trail is worth every smile it creates. My wife simply loved having running water available at any time while we were on the road for several weeks in Mexico. Since then, camping and multi-day off highway trips are a lot more fun and relaxing.

Value

I'd do this mod again, definitely. It works better than I'd planned, and works flawlessly. Well, sort of.  I've cooked through 2 pumps already, by that was my fault.  Poor placement.

My eagerness to complete the water system on our Nissan Frontier did make me foggy headed at times. For instance, the boat deck shower wasn't a smart buy. And those things cost about $150 retail.

Even though this cost more than I anticipated, making backcountry travel more comfortable for my wife is worth it.

And I fully expect this to pay off with our daughter, too.

Bottom line: everyone loves running water.

So, What Do I Think of it?

Turn on the pump through a handy switch, open the valve, and aim the sprayer, press the trigger.

Switch: spend the money (about $20 with a rubber boot) on a weatherproof switch if it will be exposed. I fried a general automotive switch (plastic, unsealed casing) already, thinking I could get away with it. Since the switch is next to the spray port, it simply got wet a few times and fried. Lasted about two weeks there.

Here is something you need with an on-board shower:

Shower/Privacy Tent:

The tent above is made by Paha Que - $200.00 retail. It's a very nice unit; spacious, a floor that separates, zippered openings in each side to pass your towel and shower hose, decent set up, etc. I made a grave mistake while camping at Goosenecks State Park in Utah, overlooking the San Juan River gorge. I set up the Paha Que, the left to go tour Monument Valley (about a half hour away).

A wind storm blew in. When I came back to camp, the tent had been yanked from the stakes and launched in the heavy winds to gift the lovely San Juan River with its presence. There went $200. Bummer.  Must have been a fantastic sight.

I replaced it with a TravelJohn privacy tent, and two joints in the poles failed during her maiden voyage (Baja Mexico). A short phone call to TravelJohn, and they indicated that they had a bad batch of tents and offered to send me a replacement tent after sending them my broken unit. Nearly a year later, I still don't have the replacement. Bummer #2.

Now? I've made my own fold-out awning that has drop sides for a full private enclosure.  Dual purpose.  I've dubbed it "the back porch." You'll see.

Problems/failures

As mentioned above the boat deck shower handle seams started to leak after a year of service. They're kind of cool, but I'm not impressed that the seams lasted only a year.

Once, the pump ceased to operate in the middle of a washing session. I checked the fuse and voltage (which were fine), then decided to unscrew the inbound water hose from the pump. That flushed out a little dirt of calcium that was clogging things. This happened a few more times until the pump totally failed - funny, just outside of Lake City, Colorado.  We finished that leg of the trip and walked into a RV supply store in Cortez, bought a new pump, and installed it that day in camp.  Using a Shurflo pump means you can get a replacement virtually anywhere in the U.S.  Keep that in mind.  I've since moved up to the Shuflo Whisper King series for maximum protection.

Maintenance?

Here's a good page about maintaining a freshwater system:
www.tank-depot.com/shopping/installation-sanatizing.aspx

In case the information ever goes away, here is what the page says:

Sanitizing RV & Marine Water Tanks

To assure complete sanitation of your potable water tanks, it is recommended that the following procedures be used. This applies to new systems, tanks that have not been used for a period of time or tanks that may have become contaminated.

  1. Prepare chlorine solution using one gallon of water and a 1/4 cup of Clorox or Purex household bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite). With water tank empty, pour chlorine solution into tank. Use one gallon of solution for each 15 gallons of tank capacity.
  2. Complete filling of tank with fresh water. Open each faucet and drain cock until all air has been released and entire system is filled.
  3. Allow to stand for three hours. -- Drain and flush with potable water. (Important)
  4. To remove excess chlorine taste or odor which might remain, prepare a solution of one quart vinegar to five gallons of water and allow this solution to agitate in tank for several days by vehicle motion.-- Drain and flush with potable water. (Important).

The above recommendations conform to Section 10.8 in the A119.2 code covering electrical, plumbing and heating of a recreational vehicle.

Is this for drinking water and washing water, and what about re-filling on the road?
Washing only. I used to use this for drinking water, too, and filled up at a "Water-n-Ice" store that offers RV fill ups of reverse osmosis water. In Mexico, we'd buy a 5 gallon jug of R/O water to re-fill the tank with potable water. Now, I don't recommend using this source for both drinking and washing. It's just easier to bring a 20-liter Scepter water can for the drinking water, and fill the tank with hose water from the house.

Nevertheless, you can refill water tanks at RV camps or by siphoning from a jug. In North America, you can even get it filled witih reverse osmosis water at a store that - holy cow! - sells water.

Plastic taste in the water? Well, we don't seem too concerned about that sort of thing when we buy a bottle of Dasani or Aquafina do we?

 

Other shower / water options:

Vehicle mounted and heated, take your pick from:

These all use a heat exchanger spliced into your vehicle's heating system so you can actually control the water temperature with the knobs on your dash. Pretty slick. Most (maybe all three) come with a 12 volt pump and a shower head as demonstrated by the Glind girl on the right. You still have to come up with a water source, but that could be a 5 gallon bucket, and poly tank, or a nearby lake or river.

Very cool, but the initial install is obviously a little bit involved.

For something less permanent, try the Zodi Extreme camp shower, as pictured on the left.

The photo probably says it all: metal canister that you manually pump to acheive working pressure. And it heats with a small canister of propane.

And if you want to get even more low-key, get a metal bug sprayer from the home improvement store and heat it on your stove. Same concept, maybe less money invested.

Comments   

 
Garrett
0 / 0
# Garrett 2009-11-10 21:14
What do you do to the water tank when it gets below freezing? Hahaha. Nevermind, you live in AZ.

Have you had any issues with the water boiling?
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Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2009-11-11 08:04
LOL I only remember two occasions when the water froze. Once in Death Valley. It got to 19 degrees by 9:00 PM. But only the water in the hose froze solid. Actually happened again a couple of weeks ago in Northern Arizona.

Motorhome/RV users also have to address water tanks (or plumbing lines more realistically) that can potentially freeze, so it's not totally uncommon.
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Dave
0 / 0
# Dave 2011-04-29 11:38
Mark,

I had to bookmark your incredible page of ideas and mods. I own a 2010 Nissan Pro4X Frontier. I love the truck. It hadles winter here with ease. Thank you for so many great ideas, and keep them coming if you have more.

Dave
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Mark
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# Mark 2011-05-05 17:26
Thanks for checking it out, Dave. Much appreciated.
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Brandon
0 / 0
# Brandon 2011-08-16 17:33
Very nice system, im going to hook this up in my Xterra. I will have a heat exchanger thou lol. That will come in handy washing the mud off in the winter. Could always use salt to keep the water from freezing couldnt you? Just make sure u have a pump that can handle it.
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Steve
0 / 0
# Steve 2013-08-23 01:21
I've had problems with the shower situation as well until I came across a shower unit called "The Big Kahuna". I've got the 13 gallon model; has the 12-volt pump unit sprayer.(cost, I think it was around $100.00 S&H included) The draw back would be heating the water to put into the tank. Oh well, I can live with that, I mean, that's what campfires are for aren't they?!
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