Little Things….

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One of the little things that has been on my “must do something about that” list for a while is to address the problem we have with not enough places to plug things in and charge them. When we are in the caravan in the evening the front looks like a tech gadget table top sale… Macbook Pro, WiFi router/MiFi device, two iPhones, camera battery chargers, Fitbit charger and all these needed plugging in. The 4 way surge protected power strip I put there just wasn’t cutting it any more.

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BlackVue Dash-Cam Fitted…

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A few days ago I fitted the Black Vue DR650S-2CH 16GB twin camera dash cam to the Amarok. All in all it was a vey easy install taking me less than two hours to accomplish. The longest part was actually tucking the wires in along the edge of the head liner so they can’t be seen. Helpfully Black View supply a little blue tool that helps you do this without damaging any of the interior trim. I also installed the Black Vue Power Magic PRO that allows permanent connection to the vehicles electrical system and gives you the ability to use “Parking Mode” which records continuously when you are parked with the engine off.

If you have considered a dash-cam but don’t know where to start, one of the best introductory guides to Dash Cams that I have seen is by Techmoan.com. Just click on the link to watch it. There are also dozens of dash-cam reviews on His channel.

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NEC Show, Caravan Designs and Looking For A Caravan…

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A bit of a belated post about our trip down to the NEC show and looking round at the possibilities of a new caravan and a catch up on the damp situation (thanks to everyone that emailed me about it!)

This year was our first time taking the caravan down to the show, and after some initial over thinking about actually staying on a car park, it turned out really quite a fun experience.

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I actually spotted someone taking a photo of the Amarok!

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Ecocamel Shower Head…

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A few weeks ago Abigail from Ecocamel contacted me asking if we’d like to test out the Ecocamel water saving shower head. I’d seen adverts for these and noted that some caravans were now having them installed but I never really gave them a second thought until Abigail contacted me.

The shower heads arrived just in time for me to fit one of the Ecocamel Jetstorm shower head to the caravan for our trip to Leek.

Now, sometimes you subconsciously prejudge things and I really wasn’t that excited about a new shower head, after all what amazing things can you do spraying water about. The first time I went to use it I turned on the shower in the caravan as normal and adjusted the temperature by swivelling the tap into the position I normally use and lift it for the flow. What surprised me was the water seemed much hotter than I’d thought it would be. I re-adjusted the tap, and as the shower head had a better spray pattern (who thought that adding air to water would make that much difference!) I could reduce the flow and this meant I had to adjust the temperature down a bit. So what does this all mean?

Well, reduced flow saves water and as you are not using as much hot water for a similar spray pattern your hot water lasts longer. This was borne out by the fact Sue could have a shower straight after me without waiting for the hot water tank to come back up to temperature as it filled up with cold. Admittedly they were ‘navy’ showers but it took away that early morning decision…. whether to dig out all the shower stuff… brew a cup of coffee… stare out the window for a bit and pluck up the energy to schlep over to the site facilities or just hop out of bed straight into the shower.

Home again, I decided to replace our rather expensive and heavy shower head in the upstairs bathroom. Again, I was a bit taken back by the improvement a simple device could have. We have a combi-boiler and when the old shower was turned on max flow, it did struggle to keep up temperature wise. The water was hot but not really skin reddening hot. What a difference, as we could now turn down the flow a bit, the water was HOT and I had to adjust the temperature knob down on the tap from almost max to about half way.

So why has it taken a few weeks for me to pen this review? Well I like testing things and I wanted to know just how much water/energy we were saving so over the course of a few weeks I did some measuring and recording… not good enough for detailed analysis but just enough to satisfy me we were indeed saving water and that should mean energy too as we are not heating up as much water per shower. As long as you can turn the flow down a bit from your normal setting with your old shower head and  you get the same spray/deluge you will save water and hence energy.

Are there any downsides? Well they are a bit noisy as the head sucks in air and mixes it with the water, however its only as noisy as one of these power shower do-hickys.

Are we happy with them… you bet Ecocamel is the only way to go now!

If you are going to the NEC show this week, stop by Ecocamel for a chat, they are on Stand 11.03 or checkout there website Ecocamel.com

Keep an eye out on the blog, as I have TWO of the Jetstorm shower heads to give away. I’ll post the details after we come back from the NEC!

 

A Few Questions Answered About the Amarok…

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I’ve been known as a Land Rover supporter for quite a while now, in fact I started driving Land Rovers 38 years ago back in 1978 and passed my test in one. A lot of people were surprised when I decided to look at something for towing other than a green oval and I have received lots of questions (I mean lots!) about the Amarok.

So far we have done about 1100 miles in ours and I’m still learning about some of its capabilities. One thing that has really impressed me is the awesome eight speed gearbox. One thing that taking any vehicle off-road and sometimes towing on loose or slick surfaces requires is to hold a set RPM while the tyres find traction. With Auto gearboxes normally the gearbox doesn’t like this and shifts up a gear to reduce RPM taking you out of the power band. However, flick the gearbox into manual tiptronic mode and the gearbox will just simply sit in the gear selected until you change. The other thing I found out too was that on slick or icy surfaces, you can select second gear and pull away from stationary to reduce any chance of wheel spin. Do you really need a vehicle that can go off roading with the best… well lets just say you will never have any issues on that sloping grassy CL/CS site!

It would take me far too long to answer all the questions I have been asked and quite frankly it would be flipping boring… akin to reading pi to 20,000 decimal places, so I’ve put together a small collection of YouTube video’s that hope fully will answer a lot of the questions. The first four are courtesy of Miles Continental VW dealers in New Zealand and the first features well-known 4WD professional Pete Ritchie. The fifth video is the inimitable Andrew St.Pierre White of 4xOverland.com (and yes Andrew, they have sorted bluetooth connectivity out) and finally, if nothing else watch the last video… can a two litre engine and auto gearbox pull a road train?

 

 

 

 

And finally….. if there was any doubt about pulling power……

A Place for Everything…

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The additions to the Wolf continue, despite the recent news from Glossop Caravans at our last service, that we have damp in the caravan. Hopefully we will hear soon whether or not its covered by the warranty. So, moving on, a couple of additions to the  VW Amarok. After installing the sliding bed, I noticed that there was some space available between the end of the bed and the truck bed at the cab end. It was only 70 mm, but I thought with a bit of creative construction, I could come up with a contrivance to hold some of the stuff and tools that we normally schlep about with us. Using 18mm birch ply phenol finished board I came up with a storage box that is fitted to the bed and projects forward right up to the truck bed front wall… Continue reading

Oh Phooey, Bad News From Glossop Caravans…

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We went to pick up our caravan yesterday from Glossop Caravans after it has had its annual service. Unfortunately we received some bad news… we have damp.

It’s at the rear in the top offside corner. Glossop Caravans have been pro-active and already submitted a warranty claim. This is why it’s so important to get your caravan serviced in line with the manufacturers guidelines.

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It appears we have a crack at the top of the rear end cap. While we were there, they positioned a ladder platform next to the caravan so we could both go up and have a look, and indeed there is a crack right on the radius of the corner, about 75mm long and when you pass your finger across it you can feel a slight step, which to me indicates something is causing one side to be pushed out… either something underneath or a slight twisting pressure on the corner.

I’m not sure how long the warranty claim will take to be accepted (or rejected… but that’s a potential nightmare) but the work apparently will take around three to four weeks.

So, hopefully we will still be going to the NEC in October with the caravan and I’ll keep you updated on progress.

Towing With The Amarok…

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Our recent trip to the Caravan Club’s Blackshaw Moor site near Leek gave us our first chance to tow with the Amarok.

The Amarok I found has an excellent driving position giving a good all round visibility despite being a large vehicle, 5554 mm long including tow bar and 2228 mm wide. This was brought home when a Discovery Sport pulled up next to me and I was looking down into it! In normal solo driving, the 8 speed automatic gearbox keeps the engine rpm low, not often going above 1800 rpm. Even pushing it quite hard the rpm remains low, showing just how much torque the 2 litre BiTurbo engine has (420 Nm of torque at 1750 rpm). First gear in the automatic box has been designed for off road use and pulling away towing a 3200Kg trailer. Although the rear end is a classic leaf spring suspension although unconventionally the springs are mounted outside the chassis rails to give less roll for a given spring rate, the clever design of the front suspension and the long 3095mm wheelbase keeps everything smooth and even speed humps don’t cause bounce from the rear end and as soon as any load is introduced on the rear bed (and you can put just over a tonne in there!) everything is really quite relaxed and the standard shock absorbers work well. Even in the wet and on roundabouts with no load in the back, everything is under control and so far I’ve not had the Electronic Stability Program kick in. All wheel drive is permanent on the automatic no matter if you are in on-road or off-road mode. The Torsen differential splits the power 40:60 between front and rear wheels and this reduced understeer on wet corners to zero if you are being slightly over enthusiastic. One thing that did surprise me is just how spritely the wolf is.

The Amarok stands on 19 inch rims fitted with 255×55 Continental Crosscontact Extra Load tyres with a load rating of 1090 Kgs which which give it a great footing. We are trying running with the standard pressure of 29 PSI all round for the moment, although the rear tyres can be run at 44 PSI for a maximum load of 5 people and 1000 Kgs load in the rear bed.

Inside everything is functional and seems well laid out. Road and engine noise are minimal even on motorways, especially when the gearbox drops into 8th gear which is classed as overdrive, and at 60 mph the engine is just ticking over at a shade over 1200 rpm. As there is loads of torque available even at this rpm, putting your foot down to accelerate doesn’t always require a downshift to 7th. The brakes are impressive and surprisingly have a lot of feel to them despite the Wolf being a truck. The Amarok is fitted with VW’s brake assist and if you jab on the brakes in an emergency stop situation, it detects how fast you apply the brakes then automatically applies maximum braking effort… it also then starts flashing the brake lights to bring attention to the fact you have just done a full brake emergency stop and then turns the hazard lights on.

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When we purchased the Amarok we opted for the Whitter tow bar, which while not the slimmest fitting tow bar available does give us options for adjusting the tow ball height over three settings when required. It’s equipped with an Alko machined head tow ball.

To keep everything secure in the rear bed, we opted for an American made Roll N Lock cover supplied by Up-Country Autoproducts. It arrived in a huge box with a good set of instructions, but if you go onto Roll N Lock’s website there are a couple of good installation instruction videos and after watching them a few times, it took me about two hours to fit on my own and that included removing and refitting the sports bars. Roll N Lock provide an optional fitting kit so you can install the OEM sports bars (as far as I know it’s the only retracting cover that can accommodate the OEM sports bars). The Roll N Lock adds about 30 Kgs to the weight of the Wolf.

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As I did’t fancy leaping on and off the tailgate every time I wanted something from the back of the pickup bed, I opted to install a German made Antec Sliding Cargo Tray also from Up-Country Autoproducts. When retracted the bed can support 550Kgs in the driving position and when pulled out to about 75% of the bed length can still support 250Kg in standard form fully extended out and can be upgraded to 350Kg by replacing the bearings. It took just over an hour to fit on my own and again, watching the manufacturers video’s on U-Tube a couple of times filled in a few steps that were not clear in the instructions.

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It incorporates tie down rails on all four sides, although I might install a couple of cargo rails that allow you to install multiple anchor rings (the same type as used in aircraft holds). The sliding bed adds another 65Kgs to the weight. I’m still playing about with loading configurations for the bed. We currently use a number of Really Useful Box Company boxes to store everything and these work out well. The only thing I might do over winter is build a custom storage box that fits semi-perminantly at the rear of the slide under the Roll N Lock cover to store all the off road recovery bits, straps, shackles, air compressor etc.

Towing…

Coupled up the whole outfit with our current caravan is 41 feet 6 inches long. Reading through the Wolf’s manual there is quite a big section on towing. One interesting feature I noted is when the caravan is plugged into the Amarok’s 13 pin socket, the alarm system covers the caravan, so if you leave the Amarok and lock the doors turning the alarm on, if anyone tries to unplug the caravan or cuts the cable it will set off the Amarok’s alarm.

VW recommend turning off the engine autostop feature. Although the caravan towing electrics are set up so that if the engine stops, the fridge circuit is switched off until the engine restarts. I’m not sure why they recommend this but I’ll try to find out. While towing, I followed VW’s advice and turned it off.

As soon as you connect the caravan electrics up to the Amarok, the vehicle detects the presence of a trailer and a number of parameters are changed. The rear parking sensors are turned off (and you see a trailer on the sensor display) and the rear vehicle fog light is disabled so the front of the caravan is not lit up bright red in low visibility situations. The other changes are to do with the electronic stability system, ABS, off road and gearbox modes. The handbook recommends shifting the gearbox into sport mode for towing, which extends the rev range in each gear before an upshift is commanded. You can also use the gearbox in manual mode shifting up and down manually between each gear.

With the caravan hitched, sitting in the drivers seat I didn’t feel as though I’d need towing mirrors as I could clearly see down both sides of the caravan. I did opt to fit our towing mirrors however, and I did adjust them so as they were quite close in. This still gave me a great view down both sides of the caravan to the extent I could easily see each of the orange side marker lights in the caravan. I also thought having them fitted would reduce the chance of VOSA and the Police pulling me in for not having them.

100_3402cWhere we store the caravan, pulling out from our spot requires a 270 degree right  turn. I didn’t measure it but to felt like the turn was tighter than I could have achieved with the Freelander, despite the Amarok’s greater length. Stopping to double check all the road lights and fridge were functioning correctly, I wasn’t disappointed and the guys at North West Towbars had done a great job of getting everything wired correctly. We pulled out of the storage facility into the centre of Stockport and I’d opted to go via the A6 and then the A523 through Macclesfield to Leek, which is a bit of a mixed road with plenty of bends and some hill climbs. To be honest, and this is probably an over used statement, but after a couple of miles through Stockport and down the A6 I didn’t really notice the caravan. The width of the Amarok meant that after a couple of hundred miles solo I was already use to placing the vehicle the right distance from the kerb and the caravan width meant it was nicely in line all the time. Through Macclesfield there was a section where a lorry was unloading and the road became a single carriageway. The oncoming vehicle flashed me to come through and I put my foot down and the Amarok caught me by surprise, it dropped a gear and took off like a scalded cat. I was used to putting in a lot more accelerator in the Freelander for a similar manoeuvre.

During the journey, the engine temperature remains nailed on 90 degrees and the oil temperature varied between 85 degrees and 99 degrees so I don’t think the engine was working too hard. The gearbox didn’t surprise me with any odd changes (except for my enthusiastic manoeuvre above!) and on a couple of long down hill sections, I flipped the leaver into manual mode and dropped a gear and the Amarok held it’s speed nicely with only minimal use of the brakes. I certainly didn’t have to ride the brakes as you have to with some automatic vehicles when being pushed downhill by 1500 Kgs of trailer. I’m not sure, but I think that sport mode on the automatic gearbox with a trailer attached is different than without a trailer attached.

Arriving at the site, you do realise just how long the unit is and it required a bigger reversing area to get the caravan located on the pitch aligned with the peg, but the good all round visibility helped, especially having the caravan so far away from the rear window, there were no blind spots and I could see the caravan clearly…. and Sue did a good job of guiding me in via the two way radios.

There are a couple of things that I don’t like. The reversing light (yes ‘light’ not ‘lights’) is very poor. VW have thought it only needed one reversing light, and for that matter one rear fog light. The reversing light is on the near side and would not attract a moth at night when its turned on. So one of the mods will be to install two under bumper LED lights via a suitable fused relay. Looking at some of the Amarok forum posts, this seems to be a common mod. The other mod is then to convert the normal reversing light into a near side fog light by replacing the LED unit and changing the wiring over. I’ve already ordered and had delivered the LED units for the reversing lights and will be tackling this job soon.

The second thing is the GPS unit. I guess I have got used to the TomTom unit and programming my own POI’s. The actual map display on the unit is great and the display of the map is really clear. However, the navigational aspect is not a good as our TomTom in my opinion. The other thing I would have thought is as it’s a commercial vehicle, the GPS unit should be able to be programmed with size and weight… and details of a trailer, but alas, no. I think it is the same software that is used in the VW range of cars. Why can’t manufacturers team up with the guys that know about navigation and offer inbuilt TomTom or Garmin products.

I have however recently discovered a web site that allows you to store POI’s on the memory card and access them through the GPS…. apparently you can also set some navigational parameters too. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Cross Country Solo…

Friday gave us chance to have a run out solo across the back roads of the Peak District over to the National Tramway Museum at Crich. I set the TomTom for the shortest route and it directed us up and over some spectacular scenery on B roads and a couple of single lane tracks. A road closed diversion added another eight miles to our trip. The Amarok performed well, most of the milage gained solo so far was on a short motorway commute to the airport so having a chance to throw it a round a bit gave me an insight into its abilities, and I wasn’t disappointed. At no time did I feel it was lacking power and the two litre engine performed like a bigger unit. We came back via the A6 and Buxton which is a bit of a fast twisty road in places and despite its size and weight handled really well, feeling extremely sure footed… well enough for me anyway. I don’t do excitement while driving anymore! The climate control and aircon are great, with Sue being able to adjust her side exactly to her preference and leaving me to do my own thing. I can’t wait for winter now when we could never agree on the setting in the Freelander.

100_3403cReturning home, the sat-nav wanted us to turn right out of the site and head towards Buxton, then cut across back towards Stockport I opted to return the way we had come through Leek and Macclesfield. The return trip was exactly an hour and the towing again was easy with the Amarok and it feels just as sure footed when making good progress towing through twisty sections of road. I wasn’t going to do the ‘Elk Test’ but I feel that it would not give me any nasty surprises especially as the Electronic Stability Programme works with the ABS when towing. I really think VW should enter this for the tow car of the year awards.

In conclusion, it’s everything I hoped it would be and it has so far exceeded my expectations. It’s comfortable, roomy and has lots of storage inside the cab. The Atacama version is fully featured and I don’t think it misses anything we would need. We are both really please with our choice. I’m looking forward to the motorway tow down to the NEC for the Motorhome & Caravan show in October (unless we get away before then!). If you see us there and would like to have a look round an Amarok or just say Hi, do stop by.

If you think that you might like to try one, go and visit your nearest Commercial VW Centre and if you are anywhere around Manchester, drop in and see Jessica at the Manchester Van Centre VW in Trafford Park and tell her I sent you, she won’t run away… promise!

Still to come…

We have still to fit a few other bits of equipment to source and fit…

  • Vehicle Tracking System
  • HD Dash Cam.
  • Led Reversing Lights.
  • Thule Bike Rack Mounting System.

For the vehicle tracking system, I’ll be talking to a few of the exhibitors down at the Caravan & Motorhome Show at the NEC in October to see what options there are. The HD Dash Cam is a little easier, There is an excellent website called “TECHMOAN” and the video reviews on there are straightforward and honest and I’m my opinion some of the best reviews on tech equipment. I think I’ll be choosing the DDPai M6+ unit with a battery pack to use the parking features.

I’ll keep you updated on how we go on.

Choosing A New Tow Vehicle – The Finale

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So after all the spreadsheets, test drives, sorting insurance and towing electrics, emails and telephone calls, the end was in sight. We had a collection date, the 28th July. Apart from our very first brand new car… a racing red MG Metro back in the early 80’s, Sue had always been the one to collect our cars from the showroom, however this time, it was Sue that was working so I was on my own. It took around half an hour to go through all the paperwork and sign on the dotted line several times. Despite the Manchester drizzle the walk round was in-depth and covered all sorts. Inside, Jessica went through all the systems and paired my iPhone to the audio system, even storing some of my most often used radio stations in the memory.

Jessica waiting to give me the grand tour and hand over the keys.

Jessica waiting to give me the grand tour and hand over the keys.

Handover done, everything explained I said goodbye to Jessica who had been so helpful through the whole process, I turned the key, slipped it into drive and pulled out of the forecourt. The odometer showed exactly 48 miles as I turned “Project Wolf” on to Village Way.

My experience with a Commercial Vehicle Dealer

I have mentioned this before, one of the things a few people expressed concern about was actually dealing with a commercial vehicle dealer. Well having dealt with Manchester Van Centre VW I can only comment on my experience. The customer service on first contact was excellent. The whole buying process was handled by one person, Jessica, who did everything. We weren’t passed off from one person to another through different stages of the buying process. I know we are not (well me actually) easy customers… I like to know the in’s-and-out’s of everything and do like getting into the details and asking awkward questions. Through our initial contact with Manchester Van Centre VW to driving out of the forecourt with our new vehicle took a total of 10 days and I either spoke to Jessica or exchanged emails nearly every day over that period and we were kept fully informed throughout the process. My dealings over a few months with VW UK while doing all the research was not as good, emails often going unanswered. Dealing with VW GmbH in Germany was excellent however and they went the extra mile (or kilometre!) to provide information requested.

Are all VW Commercial Dealers the same? I can’t answer that one. Can I recommend Manchester Van Centre VW? Based on my dealings with them, yes. I’ll let you know how it all goes at the first service and if I need to change my views.

North West Towbar CentreOn the way back home I had to call in to the North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. When they originally fitted the tow bar, they were two terminals missing and needed to order them from Westfailia. They did contact me directly to let me know before I picked up the Amarok and I arranged to drop in.

While they were fitting the missing terminals, I had another chat with the guys there. I had already had a look underneath at the tow bar and the standard of fitting… you can tell a lot by the way cables are routed and fixed into place, and these guys had done a good job. Everything was routed away from anything that could chafe the loom, the loom was enclosed in a flexible PVC conduit and secured firmly to the vehicle.

While I was there I also checked out the fittings I’d need for the bike racks. They have a full display of Thule products and I was able to check exactly what bits I’d need. Heading home, I called in to fill up with diesel… 52 miles on the clock and 65.74 litres to fill up. I can now start another spread sheet to record mileage and fuel.

So What’s Next?

Well we have a few bits to fit:-

  • Roll N Lock cover for the pickup bed.
  • Antec Sliding Bed Tray.
  • Thule Bike Racks.
  • Charging station for the two-way radios.
  • Fire Extinguisher.
  • Additional truck bed lighting.

… and of course I need to get the thing weighed on a VOSA weigh-bridge.

The figures given on the V5C are a Mass In Service of 2197 Kgs and a Maximum Permissible Mass of 3170 Kgs. On paper, based on a MIS of 2197 Kgs, the 85% ratio is a trailer MTPLM of 1867 Kgs. Our current caravan calculates at 68%. All that is subject to what it weighs on the scales though.

Our first trip towing will be in a few days and I’ll let you know how we get on and my thoughts. I’ll also show you some of the bit’s that we have added.