The problem with information from the internet…

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The problem with information on the internet is that although there is some great advice to be found there is also some less than great…. poor… really really poor advice and sorting out the good from the bad is sometimes not easy.

We are currently pitched on the Caravan & Motorhome club site Beechwood Grange near York and I decided to sit down and pen this post as for the last few months I seem to have been sorting out a number of problems via emails and phone conversations that really should not have arisen.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples of what’s been dropping in my inbox. To protect the inoccent I’m not going to name anyone or the channels. I do have the OK to relate these issues.

Case 1

“Hope you can help, I’m converting a VW Transporter into a camper van and have been following a number of YouTube channels for information on how to do it. It’s nearly complete but I have a problem when I go to use my inverter off grid. The base of the seat starts to warm up and a get a funny smell in the front of the van”

After an exchange of emails and a few photos were sent I eventually worked out what was going on. The 2000W Pure Sine Wave inverter was floor mounted in a cupboard towards the rear of the van where it was convenient for the mains sockets on the inverter to be reached. A suitable size Positive (+ve) lead ran back to the two 100Ah AGM batteries located under the front seat. A suitably sized Negative (-ve) lead also ran back to the batteries and was bolted to the chassis under the seat along with a number of other smaller -ve leads. The batteries were mounted on a wooden platform above this connection. The +ve lead from the inverter went to one battery +ve terminal and a link wire to the second battery +ve tied the two together. The size and rating of this tie wire was a lot less than it should have been.

The -ve posts of each battery had a very short 10mm2 cable going to a threaded stud mounted on the base of the seat and were helpful on to the stud by a star washer and nut. The seat base was a 3rd party metal fabrication hat had been powder coated and bolted to the vehicle floor by 4 bolts and ‘penny’ washers.

What was going on?

When the inverter was operated, it drew current from the battery down the +ve lead. Apart from the fact there wasn’t a fuse between the battery and inverter this side of the circuit was OK. The return path however was a different story. The inverter -ve lead was connected to the vehicle chassis under the seat – not at one of the seat mounting points. The -ve of the two batteries was connected to a stud that was a press fit into the seat base. It didn’t have a hexagonal head just a mushroom head. It was also way under size for the terminals that were fastened to it. The oversize star washer stopped the nut pulling through the terminals. The return current path therefore had to flow into the vehicle chassis, up the four bolts holding the seat to the floor and through the seat base to the push fit stud and finally into the two short leads connecting the battery -ve terminals. The relative high current drawn by the inverter through the single undersized push fit stud and the four floor bolts that were securing a powder coated frame with penny washers presented enough resistance for 60 or 70 Amps of current to start to heat things up a bit and burning off some of the powder coating. 70 Amps passing through a 0.1 ohm resistance will generate 490 watts of heat (calculated using R x I2 = P) this is why it’s critical to get any cabling correctly crimped with the right terminals for the job.

Conclusion

Don’t rely on the vehicle chassis as a return path. install cables for both ‘legs’ of the circuit from source to destination and back again.

There wasn’t a fuse installed near the battery. Any cable coming from a battery MUST have a fuse close to the battery before it goes off anywhere to supply anything else.

If a cable terminal requires an M4 nut and bolt…. use an M4 bolt nothing smaller will do.

If you are ‘grounding’ to anything metal, clean the surface, use a dab of protective dielectric grease (there are different ones for steel and aluminium!) and make sure any washers used work correctly. Flat clean washers for electrical contact and a star washer as a mechanical anti vibration measure to stop the nut loosening.

Case 2

“When ever we have been away for a few days off grid on the return trip there always seems to be a strange smell coming from the engine compartment. We have a self converted T6 camper and 400Ah of AGM leisure batteries with 240 watts of solar on the roof. After watching a couple of YouTube installations of DC to DC chargers I recently installed a Redarc DC to DC charger to help keep the leisure batteries in good condition and fix some issues I was having with the smart alternator”.

OK again after several email exchanges and a couple of video clips I got to the bottom of this one as well. The RedArc unit is capable of charing at 50 Amps and to do this pulls around 55 to 60 amps from the vehicles alternator. However there are a couple of issues in doing this. One of the first things that the Car Audio guys always recommend before installing any of the mahoosive bass pumping amps in vehicles is to replace and upgrade three essential cables. The first is the cable from the alternator output to the battery, the second which might not seem so obvious is the ‘earth strap’ as it is sometimes called from the engine to the vehicle chassis. This need either replacing completely with a larger cross section and also where it terminates on the vehicle needs altering. Usually the Audio boys install a new cable from the alternator mounting bolt directly back to the negative battery terminal*. Why” Well quite often the engine earth strap is just a simple copper braid strip sized just big enough so the starter motor current won’t burn it out for the 5 to 10 sends the starter is operated. You start trying to push the engine battery charing current and the additional 60 amps for the DC to DC charger through it, it starts to get warm. Not a problem as usually it’s not covered in a PVC jacket and hanging down in a bit of air flow under the engine. So the Audio guys change or upgrade it and they pull more current than we do. The third and last one that is upgraded is the short stubby battery negative lead going to the vehicle chassis. For our purposes, not really a necessity but hey ho.

*A note of caution. On most vehicles now there is a shunt between the large negative cable going to the battery and the negative terminal of the battery. This allows the vehicle ECU to determine the current flow in and out of the battery. It is important that you only connect any ancillary equipment to the cable side of this shunt and not to the battery side. However some DC to DC chargers specify you connect to the battery side of the shunt. Please refer back to the instructions with your particular unit.

What was going on?

Well basically the negative side of the circuit was getting a bit warm and the lead from the alternator was running at virtually it’s maximum rating. What you have to remember is that the vehicles electrical system is really designed down to a price and to do just the job of keeping the vehicle running. As soon as you start to ask a bit more of it you are stressing some elements and you have to consider all aspects and upgrade parts sometimes.

Conclusion

Adding an additional earth strap from the alternator mount directly to the chassis side of the shunt on the negative post of the engine battery and upgrading the alternator positive cable made a big difference and there is no longer any smell after a couple of hours of charging from the engine. Apparently starting the diesel engine has been improved with the report: “it seems to turn over a lot faster when starting” so maybe there was an underlying issue with engine earthing somewhere?

My two cent’s….

  • Don’t use the vehicle chassis as a neutral return path for any additional equipment you install. Modern vehicles are not so much welded as bonded together and some have aluminium or plastic body panels. Additionally even the steel they are made from is not as good a conductor of electricity as copper. Leave the vehicle electrics to the vehicle body and install your own neutrals.
  • Don’t ‘ground’ the leisure battery to the vehicle body. Keep the leisure battery circuits isolated from the vehicle body. Run a suitably sized neutral cable directly from the leisure battery to the vehicle battery.
  • Don’t use leisure battery terminals as a place to connect everything. Use a proper terminal bus bar block for live and neutral connections. The only connection on your battery terminal should be the main conductor going to either a second battery or a bus bar terminal block. The only exception to this is for battery monitors!
  • Don’t assume the vehicle electrics are up to the job. Most vehicle electrics do the job they were designed to do and not much more. As soon as you start asking the alternator to charge another one or two 100Ah batteries you are ‘stressing the system’ to a greater or lesser extent. Some big 4 x 4’s can handle this, some smaller vans might not be able to. Consider what you are installing and think about how the vehicle will handle this and look to see if anything needs upgrading.
  • Know what cable terminations to use and where. Also don’t cheap out on the correct terminal installation tool. If you are building or converting a camper van is it worth saving £25 on a proper ratchet crimp tool?

Don’t watch someone on YouTube do something and assume that if you do it exactly the same way it’s going to be right. It’s interesting on how many times people make a video on wiring or installing equipment and follow it up with “if you want to know more go and watch so and so’s video about it. He produces really good videos how to do this” Just because someone produces really good videos doesn’t mean the videos show how to do something correctly. It’s only how they did it, not an installation bible. You have to do your own research and learn to sort out the good guides from the bad.

I have watched an awful lot of YouTube motorhome refits, camper van, step van and bus conversions etc and a lot of the electrical installation – especially on the 12 volt side is poor in my opinion. I’m not an expert however and I’ll only ever say how I’d so something and the rational behind why I’d do it that way.

Just throwing this out there to see if there is any interest….. I was thinking about doing either a small forum on the blog or a Q & A page as a resource for some of the electrical ramblings. Would that be of interest/use to anyone? I do know that quite a few of the electrical drawings I have done have been downloaded and again wondered if specific drawings for equipment would be useful. Let me know in the comments below.

I can’t think of a snappy title…

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Back at the start of July we had an invitation to travel up north to visit Erwin Hymer Group at their manufacturing facility in Consett, County Durham for the first look at the 2020 caravans and motorhomes.

By coincidence a young lady that I had been ‘chatting’ with via email for several months was visiting from the far off land of a thousand landscapes. We had provisionally planned to meet up in Derbyshire but after realising we would both be staying at the same site – C&MC Teesdale Barnard Castle for the Erwin Hymer event we could catch up there and travel to the event together, woo hoo… go us, saving the planet.

The last time Sue and I were at Barnard Castle was back in 2011 or 12 (link here) I think and we were staying at the C&CC site a little further along the road. We drove past the C & MC site and both remarked at the time that it looks either new or recently redone, as you could see all the pitches from the road and the planting was nothing more than two foot tall twigs with a few leaves. What a difference a few years and careful ground maintenance makes.

As the event was scheduled for the Monday, we opted to travel to the Barnard Castle site on the Sunday. This would hopefully allow us to traverse the Pennines when the traffic was the lightest on the M62. Usual prep saw us hitched up and ready to roll by 11:20. Selecting the Barnard Castle site in the Garmin GPS gave us the option of two routes – east ofer the M62, then north uptimes he A1M or North M61, M6 and east via the A66. Now two things at this point… one, my own internal navigation had never considered north than east… I’d always thought of the north east as a M62 – M1 route. The second was being given the option of two routes with an overview map with distances and timings on the Garmin, our previous TomTom GPS just gave us a route.

A stop around 12:45 for coffee saw us arriving at Teesdale Barnard Castle after 128 miles of towing around 14:45. The traffic being light all the way.

I flirted off a text message to say we had arrived and shortly after received one back.. a few minutes later a familiar, yet never met person came wandering up.

Ignore the idiot on the right!

It was course Karen, from the great YouTube channel “Travelling K“. Karen was over travelling around the UK meeting up with some of her followers and some of the people she follows.

We sat outside for around three or four hours chatting about all sorts including caravanning (duh that’s a given) and New Zealand and everything else in-between. I’d previously offered a lift to Karen with Sue and myself over to the Erwin Hymer Group preview of the 2020 Elddis Caravans & Motorhomes and we confirmed details. It was about a 50 minute run from the C & MC Barnard Castle site to Consett through some spectacular countryside.

2020 Elddis reveal…

Nope… not going to see it. At the time of rising there is still an embargo on any release of info or photos. That’s why you haven’t seen Karen’s video about it yet and I’ve not posted some of my usual trivial scribblings on the subject. Save to say…”Hmm, that’s new”.

We did meet up with Karina & Jules (Here We Tow) , Stephen and Karla (Adventure Wheels Blog) to name a few (well I don’t want to drive my google stats crazy by name dropping too many!)

So no photos or comments about the reveal for now. It is fairly new territory for many caravan and motorhome manufacturers to invite the great unwashed bloggers and vloggers to their events. Traditionally it’s been members of the esteemed market sector press, dealers and suppliers. However over the last couple of years most of the manufacturers are catching up (I think Bailey were one of the first) realising that the traditional outlets for marketing are changing. For instance the ABC figures (Audit Bureau of Circulations) for Practical Caravan Magazine shows issue sales around 18,000 copies per month Practical Motorhome 12,300 per month, Caravan Magazine 7,500 per month and Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly (MMM) around 28,000 per month. If you look at those figures, revenue for the publishing house has to come from advertisers, the cover charge cannot cover the printing and publication costs alone, therefore advertising brings in the main source of income and this brings the marketing budget into focus for a lot of manufacturers. Now I don’t know what the figures are for other blogs and vlogs but Caravan Chronicles gets around 200,000 page hits per week. At some point I probably get more people reading something I’ve written than an article in one of the magazines. Same goes for video blogs on YouTube. At some point more people will watch something about caravanning than will read about it.

This has not been lost on marketing departments. It’s now becoming easier (read cheaper) to invite a number of social media “commentators” for want of a better word, to launch and reveal events that it is for a printed press campaign and get a far wider reach across to people that may not buy printed publications.

Don’t have a problem with it… we might get a freebie buffet now and again but as I’m not being paid for it I can basically ramble on as I like. However there are a couple of rules, one being you don’t break ‘publication embargo’ dates, the other is if you are in a position to take photos or videos of something and the company requests not to publish as its privilege or proprietary then you don’t. Not difficult rules really.

We ( well I ) had promised Karen an evening meal after the Elddis event and that boring I’d put all the ingredients for a Rogan Josh curry into the slow cooker.

I might have set Anglo-Kiwi relations back fifty years…

Unfortunately the recipe was untried although from a reliable source. It smelt good and the nan bread was placed int he over for a quick warm up. Wine was opened, the smell form the slow cooker was enticing. Rice was microwaved, plates laid with associated ironwork and finally the slow cooker brought to the table. OK insert screening to a halt sound.

It was awful… no flavour, no bite, no heat, not enough seasoning and watery, not thick. It couldn’t cling to a wall if you threw it. Karen was very diplomatic and said bugger all… mind you that might have been something to do with the…. ‘would you like another glass of wine” tactic to divert attention from the curry. This night may have done bugger all for Anglo-Kiwi relations.

Just to prove Karen survived the “Kiwi Curry Incident”

How good is this…

If you have ever watched Martin “The Caravan Nut” you might have seen his video “3M Cutting Compound & Wax Trial“… (if not go and watch it now then come back here). He tries out the 3M cutting compound and wax… bit like the title of his video come to think about it…

Well I had ordered some and in the aftermath of ‘the curry incident’ I decided to work off the excess “argh” and give it a try. Well what can I say, but what a fantastic product. It took a couple of hours of work but the first results on the fibreglass front cap are amazing. It’s has removed that powder feel coating and actually started to put some shine back into the gel coat. (a subsequent second go improved things again). I’m not saying it should used every time you wash you caravan but two or three times a year should restore and maintain the gel cote on your fibreglass front cap.

PS.. f you haven’t watched any of Martins videos, go ahead and give them a go “The Caravan Nut“. I like videos about doing stuff, repairing stuff, installing stuff, making stuff and inventing stuff. Martins videos have stuff.

Saying goodbye…

Wednesday saw Karen heading off in the general direction of Hull. We had talked about maybe trying to meet up at Dusseldorf for the Caravan Salon however it may not be an option as Sue is a bit limited in the time she can take around then. I did think about going on my own, but if you look at the cost and logistics it wasn’t really worth it. Been trying to get there for the past three years but for one reason or another never made it. However there is always next year!! If you want to catch up on Karen’s video for Barnard Castle you can find it here just ignore the idiot part way through… I’m He’s only on for a few seconds thankfully!

We didn’t have to head back until Thursday and took the opportunity to catch up on a few other chores around the caravan. I still need to finish off the window edges that I started in Betws-y-coed, but I did manage to stick some of the top cupboard door edging strips that were coming adrift.

Thursday morning the weather wasn’t so good. It was dry but rain and strong wind were forecast for the East coast, so rather than head count down the A1M and west over the M62 Pennine route I opted to take our Garmin SatNav’s other offering, west over the A66 to meet up with the M6 then turn south for the M61 and M60 around Manchester. All in all the milage worked out the same but the route was far more scenic, especially coming westbound over the A66.

Epilogue…

” The Kiwi Curry Incident” as it shall henceforth be referred to…. I re-created the curry… same slow cooker, same recipe, same everything – except slightly shorter cooking time. The result? The same… it was awful. That recipe now banished and shall never be cooked or spoken of again. In other news I can do a mean chilli in the slow cooker, and my slow cooker slow cooked spicy chicken casserole with chorizo and rice is a bit of a hit too.

Euro 6 Engines, Smart Alternators and Your Leisure Battery…

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About 12 months ago I wrote a blog post “Is A Euro 6 Engine Killing Your Leisure Battery?” and it got a few comments and generated a number of emails. However 12 months on I’m getting a lot more questions relating to problems around smart alternators and I’ve brought forward this blog post by quite a few months from my planned posting date following a couple of long email exchanges with two readers and a few others.

Right, I think the best way to explain this is to set the stage so to speak.

Bob stores his brand new caravan at home and it is regularly plugged in to the house to run the internal battery charger and a dehumidifier. It’s got a new 110Ah AGM leisure battery and a new motor-mover fitted. The caravan is plugged in at least 24 hours before any trip to get the fridge down to temp prior to stocking it up. Bob also has a brand new car, Euro 6 diesel with a smart alternator. The car is a few months younger than the caravan and he’s never towed a caravan with this car. The tow bar and tow electrics were all fitted by the dealer (or dealers agents) prior to it being purchased. He did tow this caravan on 4 trips with his previous car, same make but 6 years older.

The caravan suitably prepped, fridge down to temperature and stocked. An early morning departure and six hour journey with a couple of stops to catch the Euro Shuttle over to France followed by a couple of hours driving in France to their first destination. On arriving, Bob sited the caravan on to the pitch not using the motor-mover and went about setting up. Mrs Bob knowing a request for a cup of tea was imminent went inside to put the kettle on where she discovered everything in the freezer had defrosted. Bob checked the fridge, it was still set for travelling. For what ever reason he also checked the leisure battery on the caravan’s system… 12.1 volts.

Over the next few days there was a couple of phone calls to their caravan dealer along with a number of emails. For the next three weeks and 2 other camp sites the fridge worked perfectly. On the return trip a similar distance and travelling time to the outward journey ended up when Bob returned home he only managed to get the caravan part way up the drive using the motor mover. He had to plug the caravan into his house overnight to charge the leisure battery enough to allow him to use the motor mover to finally put the caravan into its ‘home’ at the rear of the house.

Within a couple of weeks the caravan was returned to the dealer for extensive checking and the dealer could not find any issues with it or the fridge. They put forward the idea it must be an issue with the car. Bob tended to agree with this as he had taken this caravan on four trips towing with is old car and never had any issues. Three relatively short trips, the other a longer two week trip from the North East down to Cornwall, a similar 8 or 9 hour journey and everything seemed fine.

After a conversation with the main dealer who agreed to have the vehicle towing electrics checked over the next couple of days. The verdict from the main dealer was they could find nothing wrong with the vehicle, everything was working as expected.

Now, this is where I got involved. The above is actually an amalgamation of two very similar emails asking for thoughts and advice. The people involved had vehicles from different manufacturers and the caravans were also from different manufacturers. The only common element was the vehicles were new and had Euro 6 engines with smart alternators. I am not going to mention the vehicle or caravan manufacturers for a couple of reasons…. one, I don’t want to end up on the wrong end of a legal letter and two, I don’t actually think the manufacturer of either is relevant.

What’s Going On?

Luckily for me Bob is recently retired but knows his way round an AVO 8 being an apprentice TV repair man for Redifusion back in the day when valves were king. (Just as an aside, I bought my first AVO 8 back in 1976 and paid £8 for it. It was Ex REME in a leather case. I purchased it from MAZEL RADIO on London Rd in Manchester. Anyone from Manchester of a certain age will know Mazel Radio).

To cut a long story short over a period of a couple of weeks we proved that when hitched up, as soon as the smart alternator went into eco mode, there was a current flow up to about 4.5 to 5 amps FROM the leisure battery TO the car. This only stopped and reversed when the electrical load in the car caused the vehicles ECU to turn on the alternator’s output. Furthermore we determined that with the caravan hitched up, the period the alternator was in eco mode was also longer than when unhitched. Although we could not prove this with definitive evidence, this would also support the reverse current flow from the caravan to the vehicle that we were seeing as the caravan leisure battery was now supporting the vehicle battery.

Now there were a few questions that were buzzing round my brain….

  • Why didn’t the caravan habitation relay drop out when the smart alternator went into eco mode to stop this reverse flow?
  • Why didn’t the dedicated tow electrics strop this reverse flow?
  • Why didn’t the vehicle ECU knowing a trailer was hitched stop the alternator going into ECO mode?
  • If the ECU put the alternator into eco mode why didn’t it drop the fridge supply and by default release the habitation relay?
  • Why did the fridge defrost/not work even though in theory there was a voltage supplied to it?
  • Was this the reason I had seen an increase in emails relating to motor mover issues and batteries not holding their charge?

What Next?

I don’t really know. I don’t know how wide spread an issue it is or its going to become. I also don’t know the details of how specific manufacturers implement eco modes in the ECU programming or how the tow bar electrical interface manufacturers could work round the potential issues while still being able to get their products certified by vehicle manufacturers.

I think it might be down to the caravan manufacturers to come up with a solution. I know that there are a couple of after-market products available that provide a solution – We have one I installed in our caravan and in the short term I think this will be the quickest route. Caravan manufacturers may have a reluctance to respond and they can legitimately say “Well it is designed to work correctly to the relevant standards.” I think that maybe it will require the two main caravan clubs to look further into this and if what I have outlined above is proven by them to be the case, bring pressure to bear on all the parties concerned to come up with a way forward to resolve the issue.

For my part, I have contacted a few manufacturers asking for information and clarification or even acknowledgement of an issue. Unfortunately no one seems to want to talk about it. I do know individuals have emails details of their own problem to manufacturers and have received less than helpful responses.

Let me know in the comments below if you have had anything that might be related to this. I’d like to find out more.

EDIT:…

The thought just crossed my mind…. what affect, if any, will this have on AL-KO ATC (if fitted) when the vehicle is in eco mode and the alternator shut down? Does is mean that there is a possibility that the AK-KO ATC may not work correctly in all circumstances?

For Anyone Restoring A Vintage Caravan…

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A short while ago two people contacted me separately asking if I had any information relating to rewiring restoration caravans so that they could plug into a modern 13 pin electrics tow car and take advantage of leisure battery charging and run a modern fridge or coolbox.

This was followed up be someone asking me how they could upgrade a late 1970’s caravan and still incorporate and use the “CAR-VAN” switch to change between using the leisure battery or vehicle battery.

Wiring diagram showing how to wire a vintage caravan to modern tow vehicle electrics

I came up with a couple of drawings that covered the basics to show how they could be upgraded to modern tow vehicles. The one above is a basic ‘front end’ from 13 pin plug back to a fuse block for the road lights and a habitation relay.

The drawing below add in the option of a “CAR-VAN” switch (sometimes labeled as CAR-CARAVAN) which uses the same 40 Amp relay as the habitation relay rather than a chunky high amp switch found in some models. However installing a CAR-VAN switch does have limitations… for example you could not install an inverter.

Wiring diagram showing how to wire a vintage caravan to modern tow vehicle electrics with the traditional CAR-VAN switch

If you want to download these drawings (or any others I have done recently) they are now in PDF format sized A3 and can all be found on the “Electrical Drawings” sub menu below “Document Library“. I kept getting emails asking where such and such a drawing was, so I decided to put them all into one place.

I don’t normally do electrical drawings for specific projects (unless being paid), however if you have something that you think might be of interest to a wider audience drop me an email.

What Time Is The Shop Open?

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OK a bit of a rhetorical question really. Caravan Chronicles now has a bit of a shop. Well I call it a shop, it’s really just one page of links to stuff I have bought and used throughout the blog from Amazon.

I started a while ago adding a few links here and there at the end of my posts for bit’s and bob’s I’d used in any particular post. I got a few emails asking where I’d got so and so from and it seemed the best place would be a single page to list everything. So here it is… Caravan Chronicles Shop.

It’s not a real shop, I’m an “Amazon Associate” (fancy title!) but all that really means is I get a small… and I mean small percentage if you buy anything via Amazon by clicking on the link. So far this year I think it has paid for a couple of Grande Latte with Extra Shot from Costa.

Fear not, don’t think I’m going to load it up with “Merch” (I think that’s the term) it’s only going to be stuff we have bought and used so no teddy bears wearing tee shirts with the Caravan Chronicles logo emblazoned across their furry chests.

That’s it for now. Off in a few days to meet up with Travelling K (yep all the way from NZ!) for a super secret event… Schhhh.

As usual Henry and Oscar would like to thank you for following along. Here they are checking out their new cat shelf I made from some of the 12mm tube and bending tool left over from the “Mirror Mirror” project. (Links to both can be found in the shop!)

An Easy Fix…

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You know how sometimes those little jobs come along that you put off as you think that it’s going to be a bit of a pain to do…. well this was one of them.

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On all three of the front windows the plastic insert trim for the rubber window surround was slowly pulling out of the corners. The worst was the front lower corners on the big central window. I’d ordered 15 metres of replacement from Leisureshopdirect.com (the part I ordered can be found here) for about 99p per metre. It was one of those jobs I’d been putting off for a while as I thought it was going to be a bit of a nightmare to do.

However on a recent jolly to Riverside Touring Park at Betws-y-Coed, one afternoon sat looking at it I decided I’d sat looking at it far too long and that it just had to be attacked head on.

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Tackling it from outside, releasing the window hardware on one side – marking where the screw holes were on the rubber in pencil first, was easy enough. Two cross head screws held in each window latch and window strut to the frame of the caravan. The join in the old strip was in the centre at the top and getting a small flat blade screwdriver under the edge was easy and the the strip simply pulled out across the top and down one side.

I started by checking the width. When you order there are two widths available and two colour options. I’d previously checked the existing strip and measured it to be about 23mm wide. On the web site it was listed as 23 mm or 25mm and available in grey air white.The replacement was however around 50% thicker making it a lot stiffer to insert.

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However it soon worked out that this additional thickness was to my advantage. I could now push the strip into the recess on the caravan side and simply run a small cross head screwdriver round the outer ‘flange’ (I had to get “flange” in there somewhere… silent nod in the direction of Miranda Hart) and flip it over the edge of the strip. The first corner was a bit tricky but my technique was improving all the time.

Once I’d completed the first section from the top down to the middle of the bottom of the frame, I re-attached the window hardware and removed the opposite side…

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This was all going terribly well! It didn’t take too long to remove the hardware from the other side of the window, pull out the old strip and continue around the frame fitting the new strip in.

I wasn’t sure what caused the original material to pull out of the corners but I guessed there might have been some stretching when it was originally installed and maybe  repeated heating and cooling over the last 8 years caused it to return to it’s original dimensions. With the new strip, I did try to ensure I’d not pulled it tight and used the handle of a large screwdriver to try and massage the strip into the corners as much as possible.

All that remained was to re-install the window hardware on this side and check for fit and finish. Everything seemed OK and Granville was summoned with his cloth…

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A light squirt of silicone designed for rubber window seals and a quick polish with a microfibre cloth finished the job off nicely.

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All totalled the main centre window took about 30 minutes to complete start to finish.  Next trip out up to Barnard Castle in a couple of weeks time…. I’ll get the other two smaller windows done.

Finally, before anyone asks, yes I did choose to do this on the warmest day in North Wales so far this year!

How’ve We Been Getting On With Our Catch Can?

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Back in June 2018 I fitted a Man Hummel ProVent oil catch can to our Amarok. Since then I’ve had a few people asking me how we have been getting on with it and has it actually ‘caught’ anything.

If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about here’s a link to the original two posts…. Catch Me If You Can… and Catch Me If You Can Pt 2

shoppingI fitted the ProVent to our VW Amarok when it had done about 8000 miles (12,800Km) and we have now done just over 13,000 miles (21,000Km) a great deal of it towing. I opted initially to drain the ProVent every 600 Miles (1000Km) and the first three each time I got about half a cup of slightly oily water. It was clear like water but when rubbed between your fingers it felt ‘slippy’ a bit like baby oil. I did notice that one    draining that covered two long tows up to the Lake District what came out was slightly darker, still about the same quantity though. However I did notice on the last draining I had more of a dark oil content as a separate layer in the lighter clear ‘oily water’. Watching the video below I did find out that this is normal. The filter that is in the ProVent takes a few hundred Km to start working properly, first catching the condensate and then once the filter is saturated does it start to catch and drain the heavy oil.

I did recently remove the hoses on the intercooler (inlet and outlet) just out of curiosity and the interior from what I could see was still clean, with only a light covering deposited from the first 8000 miles (13,000Km) of running without a catch can fitted.

So how much have I got out?

Well in the first 5000 miles (8000Km) I have now filled an old 500ml  2 stroke oil container and just started on my second. I’ll continue to drain at the 600 mile mark. Although I must admit I now drain it before a long towing trip and again when I return home. It only takes about a minute and doesn’t require any tools so really is one of those tasks that is easily accomplished with the minimal of effort. Hopefully this will keep our engine in tip-top condition and not start to suffer from the oily carbon build up that saps power and is prevalent in all diesel engines.

4WDaction-logo-1Here’s an excellent video from the guy’s at 4WD Action with probably the best explanation I’ve seen so far on the net… (Video (c) 4WDAction.AU)

Setting Up the Garmin Camper 770 LMT-D…

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Following on from my issues with our TomTom (Why I’m ditching TomTom and moving to Garmin… ) our new Sat Nav arrived a few days ago. I did look a the Snooper option, but there were a few limitations that I personally wasn’t comfortable with, but overall it looked a good product. I have had some great feedback from users of the Snooper and the company seems to have a really good customer service department.

I ordered our Garmin Camper 770LMT-D from Amazon ( https://amzn.to/2Vca1j4 ) for £256 and opted to add a SanDisk Extream 32GB microSDHC Memory Card (https://amzn.to/2Jem1JK ) for £10 which should give me flexibility in the future. That said, the internal memory on the 770 is already quite big at 15Gb. Continue reading

Why I’m ditching TomTom and moving to Garmin…

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This isn’t one of my usual posts, but if you use or are thinking of a TomTom device, I’d urge you to stick with it.

We have used TomTom sat nav products for a number of years. I think it was early 2006 when we bought our first TomTom, a TomTom 760. After we had some questionable routing while towing in France and a number of issues with the unit simply failing  to respond to commands on an early morning departure from a site in France in heavy rain in the dark.  In April 2013 we ‘upgraded’ to the TomTom GoLive Camper & Caravan version to take advantage of the features this offered in navigation and database. Something that at the time was not offered on any other device. I wrote a review of the device Review of the TomTom GO LIVE Camper and Caravan Sat Nav and followed that up with an update some time later when they updated their database update platform from “MyTomTom” to “MyDrive”. This change over was not without issues and resulted in me loosing my subscriptions… which involved a lot of back and forth with their support line until I eventually got my subscriptions back. I did post an update to my review with a new conclusion… UPDATE — Review of the TomTom GO LIVE Camper and Caravan Sat Nav. Creating POI’s off line to upload was not straightforward and I followed that up with a ‘how to’…. Create accurate POI’s for your Sat-Nav…

My ‘investment’ in TomTom was not only time, but I came to realise that it was quite a substantial financial investment too. Back when I did the original reviews I commented that the ongoing costs were around £100 per year for the map, traffic and speed camera updates. It wasn’t until recently It dawned on me how TomTom try to hide this cost.

When you buy the unit, you get 12 months updates free. However at some point they have an “offer” where for a slightly reduced cost you can get and extra two map updates.. or an offer that gives you an extra few months ‘free’ for your traffic updates. What this does is move the subscription dates round so instead of paying a £100 for 12 months in one lump sum you pay £20 here and £30 there over the course of a few months. In effect hiding the real annual cost of subscriptions. So if you work it on £100 per annum  from my original review the unit we have currently has actually cost £600 in subscriptions. Add that to the original purchase price of £330 thats a massive £960 “investment” and I’m not including the cost of two additional vehicle mounts and hard wiring them in!

The Final Straw…

A few weeks ago, just before we were off to Meathop Fell Caravan & Motorhome Club site near Grange-over-Sands, I went through my normal routine of firing up MyDrive to check on the number of updates pending, connecting the TomTom and performing the updates. The MyDrive (and previously MyTomTom) have never been particularly fast on either downloading updates from TomTom and in particular pushing the updates to the device. At home I’m on about a 80Mbps broadband connection and generally never have issues moving large files about either on my own network (1Gbps switched Ethernet) or to and from the internet. We have not had a Microsoft driven PC in the house for over 14 years now, but I do have a number of Mac devices to hand. I digress.

I had a new map update pending and the usual cameras and other bits. The map update used to take about 20 minutes to download and around 45 to 50 to push to the device. I left it all connected and waited patently. No more updates pending, I checked the GPS unit and all seemed well, disconnected the Mac (yes I did do it correctly) and all still seemed well.  Check the entry for Meathop Fell to get an idea of expected travel time and it worked fine. So I switched it off.

Couple of days later Sue was going somewhere and telephone me to say the GPS isn’t working. When she returned home I fired up the TomTom… got the usual splash screen picture of the motorhome on the road….… And waited…… and waited a bit more….. Finally….. black screen with the TomTom logo up the left hand side. “Ah” I thought “It has done a full shutdown” so I waited… and behold the splash screen with the motorhome appeared. “Sorted!” thought I. Wrong was I! Back to the black screen with TomTom up the left hand side followed a few seconds later with the splash screen… and it just kept on with this cycle. Oh bugger.

There is a way of doing a hard reset… turn on the unit and continue holding the power button down and clicking it three times,  wait for the spinning cog and connect to a computer running logged in MyDrive… did that too. Best ‘consult’ Google at this point.

Googling “TomTom keeps resetting” brought up the usual links. However one caught my eye…. On the TomTom help forum dated a few days ago… clicked on it. Yo… other people having the same issues with the camper version after the last map update. Now for copyright reasons I can’t post any screen shots from the forum (I do have them) but there were a number of people with a similar issue to me. There were the usual “Try taking it to the southern hemisphere and turning it on there that cured my problem” type replies and a couple that basically said try the same as I’d already tried.

Initial contact with ‘Help Desk’ was…. “you need a new one” which kind of pee’d me off somewhat and so I tweeted and got a reply…..

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Now that reply from TomTom is intriguing. They must have known there was an issue as ‘HelpDesk’ first response was “You need to buy a new one” and that means they must have been primed with that answer. A point that might indicate this is the fact in the tweeted reply they say serial numbers starting ST are supported but others are not. Also the final bit “…. which is why support offered a new one.” is wrong…. they said I have to BUY a new one.

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At this point TomTom asked me to DM them with a serial number. Which I did.

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… and here is their reply (obviously rating forth bottom tweet upwards)…

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It was at this point TomTom went quiet on the Twitter front. So I Asked a Question on their web site…. here is the exchange in full. (click on the image to open in a new window if you can’t zoom in to read).

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All the way through this there was no hint of “We acknowledge there may be a problem and are looking into it”. I suspect they know there is an issue and are seeing it as an opportunity to sell some more units and make money from continued subscriptions for their services. It is painfully obvious that I’ll not see a refund for the residual of my pre-paid subscriptions (around £70 or £80 in my estimation) or much hope for any other user that has been affected. I counted around ten people on one post in the forum that were reporting issues.  Also at no point was any indication of how much the “discount” on a new unit would be. Plus as the discount would probably be applied to their list price, not the price the unit was generally available for from some on-line stores I suspect it would not be a good deal anyhow.

Why Garmin?

Basically as i understand it there are two other players in this market, Snooper and Garmin. Avetex have a rebadged Garmin. The Snooper I discounted a while ago as back then you could not upload your own POI’s and they didn’t have an update service via a Mac, only a Microsoft PC. This may have changed, but I decided to go for Garmin.

My association with Garmin goes back several years… intact to around 1996 when I bought a hugely expensive (for the time) Garmin 92. The 92 was one of the first hand held aviation GPS units you could clamp to the aircrafts yoke and it came with a database of all the VOR’s, NDB’s, TACAN’s and ground obstacles along with restricted airspace. all displayed on a 2 wide by 3 inch high monochrome LCD display. From that point I’ve always had Garmin GPS in every aircraft I flew and relied on them for RNAV approaches into airports in minimal weather conditions.

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The Garmin system in the Bonanza….. and below the same system showing us flying East (090) from Magadan in Russia to Nome, Alaska approaching the international date line…

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So, I’ve got around 23 years experience of Garmin’s aviation navigation products, time to try their earth based stuff!

Looking forward…

I ordered a Garmin Camper 770LMT-D 6.95 inch sat nav with Full Europe Lifetime Maps, Free Lifetime Digital Traffic, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for £255.27 from Amazon yesterday. Todays Saturday and it’s due to arrive Monday morning. I look forward to testing it out and giving it a bit of a review. I have already downloaded Garmin Basecamp and got the hang of creating way points… really easy in fact. DOn’t quite know the upload to the device process yet!

For those that follow @CaravanChron on Twitter… you may remember that I was offered a Garmin unit by a company to try. Well, I declined. One of the reasons being is I don’t generally like doing reviews or recommendations based on a loaned bit of kit. If I say “yea.. I like it I’d recommend it” and it subsequently turned out to be not as promised, then I’d feel like I’d done you a disservice. If I buy something and say I like it and would recommend it and it turns out to be crap, well I’m in the same boat as you… we both paid for it and we both got stung.

Epilogue

Just as a final ending to this, if perchance TomTom do sacrifice some small fluffy animal and decide the Gods will smile on them again if they sort out my GPS or even offer a refund,  as it is now a point of principle with me about failed customer service, Sue and I agreed any refund will be donated to our local Cat Charity.

I’m sure Oscar and Henry would approve….

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Foot Note

What do I think is wrong. Well I guess in either the map database update or in some additional packet of code that was uploaded designed to update the operating system (OS) of the device [firmware] there was a corruption or error. What is happening with my device (and I can only speak for my device as I’ve not had hands on with any other) is during boot up it is failing some internal OS checksum… which results in a reboot. However it’s now in a loop. This happens before any port is enabled the would allow data transfer. Most system designers build in right at the start of the boot up process a piece of code that states if some ‘condition’ (I.E if this button is held down on start up, boot from external port only) is met. This allows a device to be accessed if it falls into the startup loop. Maybe TomTom have a way of directly connecting at a board level or a number of key presses that allow this interruption to the boot process, but alas I don’t know them. So now it is caught in a loop before any eternal communication from MyDrive can take place and stopped any chance of downloading new firmware or firmware patch.