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This is really a follow-up to my previous post – Smart Alternators: how they affect Caravans and Motorhomes….

While at the NEC show one of my big tasks was to get a number of technical questions answered by the industry players. One of my first stops was to Westfalia and to meet up with Rick Sykes and his colleague on the Westfalia stand. Rick is the national training manager for Westfalia and I was able to get answers to a number of questions that you have asked me and I’d not been able to answer fully.

Please note, for liability reasons I am not going to name any vehicle types or manufacturers.

One of Caravan Chronicles readers had emailed me to say he had recently picked up a brand new tow vehicle. He had used it for one short towing trip, which due to the short duration didn’t show any issues. His next outing was via a ferry to the continent. When the ferry docked he tried to start his car and the starter battery was flat, which involved getting a roadside recovery service out to come and jump-start the vehicle. I exchanged a number of emails with the gentleman concerned and to cut a long story short, the vehicle had keyless entry. When the you got out of the vehicle and the key fob went out of range the doors locked, however the canbus remains live for quite a long period… and this action resulted in pin 10 remaining live therefore powering the fridge. However the vehicle did turn off pin 9.

After running through this problem with Rick it was thought that it might be a possibility that in the programming of the vehicles ECU the instruction to turn off pin 10 unless the vehicle’s’ engine was running might have been missed. Rick showed me the Westfalia handset used for uploading the towing software that could be used on multiple vehicles  and manufacturers and we came to the conclusion that maybe the installation was done by a specialist installer and the main dealer performed the software upgrade using the dealer software system missing out some key instructions.

Something that I discovered with some vehicles is they don’t immediately switch off completely when you turn the engine off and take the key out. I order to “enhance customer experience” the vehicle remains in a semi-shutdown state so that if you jump back in again it ‘wakes up’ quicker when you come to start it. I have noticed with my Amarok, sometimes when you turn the key, it takes a few seconds before the starter motor comes to life… other times it’s near instantaneous. This is all due to the vehicle being in shutdown mode or sleep mode.

Your havin’ a larf mate…

Something that Rick touched on that it would seem is becoming prevalent over the past few months as new generation of cars were now getting their first service.

When you return your vehicle to the main dealer for a service one of the first things they do is plug-in their diagnostic unit to download any fault codes, following this they then upload the latest version of the vehicle software. This seems to be overwriting the tow package software. The first you know of this is when you hitch up and the caravan electrics do not work correctly. Owners are then contacting their main dealer in a panic as they are usually due to go away. After a brief investigation (chargeable of course) the dealer announces the tow package software needs uploading to the vehicle and charges you… in some cases reported to Rick, as much as £120. So the dealer makes you pay again for something that you have already paid for when having the towing pack installed in the first place. If you are taking your new car in for a service make sure you remind the dealer that you have towing electrics and get them to write in on the  invoice  that the towing pack software will be re-installed after service FOC.

Another little gem revolves around auto stop/start. In some vehicles, this is disabled when you hitch up a caravan. In others it continues to operate as it would when running solo. However, on some vehicles if the engine stops due to stop/start activating and you turn the key and get out of the vehicle in this mode, pin 10 remains live as the stop/start bit of the software is still active although the engine will not start and is not recycled until you start the vehicle’s engine with the key (or push button).

All charged Up…

A bit of background…. Since changing over to the VW Amarok with its re-gen braking, smart alternator and Euro 6 engine I have noticed that the caravan battery was not receiving it’s fair share of electrons… and the wine in the fridge wasn’t as chilled. In fact with the Freelander our fridge could make Ice cubes on a 4 hour journey. When buying the Amarok I want to a lot of trouble (read the posts) to ensure that the towing electrics were top-notch and went for the Westfalia system as it was the only one that the technical bods at Wolfsburg recommended. I started to look for solutions and options and came to the conclusion that a battery to battery charger was the answer.

sterling-power-wildsideMy next stop was to see William Wofford over on the Sterling Power stand. Will talked me through all the options and I seriously looked at going down the same route as our cousins down under and installing a 16mm pair of cables from the vehicle battery to an Anderson connector on the tow bar and a set of leads to a B 2 B charger in the caravan. Now someone who has a lot more money than me once said “Work smarter not harder” (Bill Gates if you didn’t know) and Will introduced me to a new product that would be coming to the market around May this year that addresses all of the issues related to Euro6 engines, smart alternators and re-gen features.

The huge advantage of this new unit is it uses the existing 13 pin connections and if you use a company, fleet or lease vehicle you don’t have to make any changes to it. Hot off the press, here’s Charles Sterling explaining the problem…

The new unit installed in the caravan basically connects between the vehicle and caravan electrics and sorts out all the Euro6, smart alternator and re-gen problems. Now hopefully I’ll be able to bring you a step by step install and review of the unit in the not too distant future before product release. Watch this space!

As the problem is not just related to caravans but motorhomes as well, here’s two PDF documents that cover the essential points of both and give you some background information: caravanwildside and  camperwildside.

…and on a final note

If any of you have read my technical ramblings you will know I am not a fan of split charge relays/voltage sensitive relays and anyone that is still recommending or installing them should, in my opinion, have their tools taken off them and be sent for re-training as ferret wranglers. Here’s a simple explanation…

I’m indebted to Rick Sykes of Westfalia who spent quite a while with me at the show going through lots of questions and techie stuff and to Charles Sterling of Sterling Power who has spent huge amounts of time exchanging emails with me over the last couple of weeks.