Tragic accident puts van solar panels in spotlight

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Solar panel safety
Travellers are urged to check how their solar panels are fixed. PIC: Graeme Twine / ABC

The recent death of three people in a multi-vehicle collision which occurred after a solar panel flew off a caravan sent shockwaves through the grey nomad community.

The accident a few weeks ago certainly caused a lot of travellers to have a look at just how well their own panels were fixed to their rigs. Three people died and four more were hospitalised after the accident near Ross in Tasmania’s Midlands. Police believe the tragedy occurred after a driver lost control when trying to avoid a solar panel that became dislodged from a caravan. It’s not clear from the initial report how the solar panel had been fixed to the caravan.

Tasmanian Graeme Twine was one of those spurred into action by news of the tragedy and, when he checked the solar panel mount brackets on his camper trailer, he was shocked by what he discovered.

“When I sort of looked at the panel, I was expecting to see some screws fixed to the roof and couldn’t see any – and it just appeared on the outside of it that it was glued, for want of better words, to the roof,” Mr Twine told the ABC.

He then carefully exerted upward pressure on a corner of the solar panel, which lifted.

“I proceeded to lift the other corner, and with very light pressure – an eight-year-old could have done what I was doing,” Mr Twin said. “And the whole thing just popped off the roof virtually.”

His research showed that much of the advice around the issue was to just to ‘glue’ solar panels onto caravans, but it was clear that there should be a ‘glue and screw’ approach to the fitting of panels.

“I reckon there would be a lot of caravans and campervans out there with just glued-on solar panels – and that’s a real worry,” he said.

Mr. Twine told the ABC that if a home handyman was to install solar panels on a caravan and just purchased a normal silicone sealant for the job, that might only last three years – and even a high-end ‘sikaflex’ type construction adhesive product wasn’t sufficient. In the case of his camper trailer, it only lasted four years.

“They don’t last forever and the only way to guarantee the panel to stay on the roof is to mechanically fix it with screws and adhesive sealant,” he said. “And that way you’ve got peace of mind.”

Mr. Twine believes anyone with a solar panel on the roof of their caravan – even if the caravan is brand new – should confirm it has a mechanical fixing and, if in doubt, they should consult a specialist.

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6 Responses to Tragic accident puts van solar panels in spotlight

  1. Screws can work loose. My panels are sikaflex glued because screwing into a roof can cause leaks. For safety they have a bar that the panels are bolted to which in turn is bolted to the side of the poptop roof where leaks are not a problem. Impossible to come off but I check the bolts regularly.

  2. Will be checking mine today after this story

  3. Better look at your whole motorhome or van.
    You’d be very surprised if not disgusted how cheap and flimsy they are made considering the price they sell for.
    Quality of build is pathetic compared to cars, trucks, motorbikes earthmoving machinery.

  4. I would not trust screws into a caravan roof. The aluminium is so thin it adds no strength and so many contractors use an impact driver to insert the screws they just end up striping the hole. I used Sikaflex 291 marine adhesive to hold my panels to the roof and even three years later the panel was a secure as the day I installed it. I’m not in favour of drilling multiple holes in the body because you do not know what’s under there. I removed all the cheap Chinese connectors which came with the panels and then stuck them to the roof. I am 100% confident they’ll not come off. As for factory fitted, or local handyman, I’d be very cautious because their approach is for haste, not quality. I feel so much for those who came to grief as a result of this situation. Life on the road can be fragile at the best of times but it never hurts to check the entire outside of your rig on a regular basis and if in doubt, seek help from a competent source. Travel safe. Peta

  5. Don’t forget the satelite dish,all the crap on the pack rack,bikes on the flimsy racks,large metal trunks mounted on the rear of the van to store more crap.carrying gas bottle tools boxes and jerry cans should not be carried on pack racks.People are over loading vans and vehicles.

  6. A lot of people don’t realise that Sikaflex requires an expensive primer to gain optimum bonding, or in many cases simply didn’t want to part with their money. I worked in the marine industry where Sikaflex was the industry standard and worked very well … provided that the correct combination was used for the application. However, like all things, nothing lasts for ever!

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