How many of you have driven behind a vehicle in less than ideal conditions… going dark, raining or foggy… and uttered those immortal words “Put you lights on mate” in the vein hope it will do some good only to approach a bit closer to find that the lights are on and are less effective as a couple of Ikea tea lights in jam jars. That is the feeling I get with a lot of caravans. In my opinion a lot for rear lights are less than ideal. In this day and age some of the drivers out there need all the help they can get as they even struggle to notice a big white box in front of them in bright sunshine let alone in inclement weather or in the dark.
Our caravan like a lot of other Swift caravans looks great from the rear with nice big lights and reflectors. Reflectors are good if the following driver has turned his headlights on and not been too busy texting and simply relying on the DRL’s to light the way. The big reversing lights will surly let the driver and anyone else behind know you are reversing… but about as useless as the aforementioned Ikea tea light in a jam jar when reversing at an angle into a pitch at night. The rear fog light however deserves a special mention… the single rear fog light…. can you see it… the tiny Lego brick sized rear fog light… the red thing in the middle down low… difficult to spot on a stationary caravan in daylight let alone from a distance on a road in fog. Mind you when that bit of wire in the bulb warms up it will blind you… honestly it will…. eventually… when you get so close because you didn’t see it from ten metres away.
Its time for a change. An upgrade if you will… to allow me to shine a beacon of light towards all that follow. But… and here’s a the big thing… I have to keep it looking nice. Everyone likes a nice rear don’t they.
OK, I searched for all the replacement options. Swift don’t make it easy. The two panels that the lights are mounted in don’t come out, well not easily and I was cautioned about even attempting to remove them. Changing to smart round LED lights was out. Then it struck me… the reversing lights could become fog lights and I would install new reversing lights. I’d towed a trailer a while ago that had football stadium sized reversing lights and wow what a difference it made. One of the first things I did with the Amarok when we got it was to install LED work lights under the rear bumper as reversing lights and that was a huge improvement so I ordered another set from the same company as I’d fitted to the Amarok.
A bit more searching I found the exact lenses for the existing lights in red to turn the reversing lights into fog lights.. it was actually cheaper to order a pair of complete lights than it was to order two replacement red lenses… I’ll never work that one out.
Ok how was I going to wire this lot up. I made a couple of brackets that fitted under the caravan allowing me to mount the reversing lights up close just inboard of the rear steady jacks. This would offer a modicum of protection from road debris thrown up by the tyres. These could be wired to run off the old fog light which would now become a junction box and the reverse lights would become the fog lights, so simply switching the reverse light and fog light cables over at the road light fuse box in the front of the caravan would have everything working correctly.
I also angled the reversing lights out slightly. I wanted the centre of their light pool to be along an extended side line of the caravan so that looking through my mirrors down each side of the caravan would be the centre of the lit area. This hopefully would provide the best angle of illumination when reversing and performing a reversing turn onto a pitch.
“Hang on lads… I’ve got an idea”
Cue the music… no, no doors were blown off during this mod. Right what if the new rear fog lights could be my brake lights when they weren’t being used as fog lights?
A simple diode blocking bridge using two diodes could do this quite easily. Routing through my electronics spares I found a bag of 10 Amp diodes which would easily cope with the task.
For a quick solution I used two strips of terminal block and built a quick blocking bridge. What happens now is applying the brakes powers up the brake light circuit and the fog lights. The diode in the fog light circuit stops me back feeding current to the tow vehicle fog light circuit.
Turning on the fog lights powers up the fog lights and the diode in the bridge stops it powering the brake lights in either the caravan or back feeding to the tow vehicle. Really simple and when testing I didn’t have any canbus or other errors thrown up by the VW Amarok’s management system. The existing (and original) brake and tail lights work as normal.
I’ll have a look at coming up with a better solution than using two lengths of terminal strip and probably build something in a small electrical project box so it can be mounted securely.
As far as I can tell the changes I’ve made all fall in line with the lighting regs for trailers. While I’m 99% sure, there is always the possibility that I could be corrected and shown the error of my ways and point out I have missed something in my reading of the regs. I’ll let you know.
The next thing…
I’m trying to find some good quality bright LED replacement bulbs for all the rear road lights. I have some, but I suspect they are not correctly marked. If anyone has any recommendations for replacement 25W and 5/25W bulbs that they deem are good options to look at, especially if they are correctly marked, please let me know in the comments. If you are a company that sells LED replacement bulbs and think they are the good enough to pass the Caravan Chronicles testing department (we don’t actually have a testing department… its just me) then challenge me to break them!
Safe travels everyone… and “PUT YOUR LIGHTS ON MATE”
Our first visit to the caravan storage site in quite a while to check on the caravan was undertaken with some apprehension. It had been over twelve months since we had checked on it and we expected that we were going to be in for a shock.
The caravan was very dirty on the outside but it was the inside we most feared. Opening the door….. it didn’t smell musty…. we couldn’t see any mould… and nothing felt damp. In fact inside was in really good shape. Leaving all the cupboard doors open, the bed partly raised and the roof vents cracked open a touch seemed to have worked. OK, now a list of jobs that needed doing. The leisure battery is now 10 years old and given us good service. It needs replacing… more on that later. The tyres also need replacing and the outside needs a good clean and polish.
I removed the leisure battery which was showing as dead… less then 10 volts, put it in the back of the Amarok and we headed back home to come up with a plan of action. A couple of days later we returned with cleaning supplies…
We hitched up the caravan and pulled it forward out of it’s parking spot and set to work. Over the years I’ve tried all the different products for washing the caravan (and cars) ranging from mid priced to the “how bloody much” brands, but in all honesty I have found Morrisons own Wash and Wax Shampoo (It’s bright green) to be really good and it has given me really good results on our 15 year old Freelander, the Amarok and the caravan. A long handled brush for the sides and some small detail brushes for the awning rails and tight places made easy work of the sides. It was all hosed down using one of those pump up pressure washer thingy’s
To rinse I used Car Plan’s Demon Shine (the pink stuff…. also stocked in Morrisons) diluted down in the yellow pump up spray do-hicky. Which works quite effectively. The two products – Morrisons Wash and Wax shampoo and the Demon Shine seem to work together really well and I certainly found that using the two as a shampoo and then as a diluted rinse leave a good water shedding layer on the Amarok that lasts quite a while.
One thing we don’t have at our storage compound is running water. So I have three 25 litre containers that I fill up at home and throw into the back of the Amarok. To save lifting them up to fill buckets…. I fitted a hosepipe connector to one of the lids and all I need to do now is tip the container and open the tap. As there is no venting the sides collapsed inwards a little so tipping it back onto its side from time to time to let air back in means that when the tap is shut nothing can slosh out a vent while travelling.
On this trip we only cleaned and polished the sides… the roof would have to wait for a return visit. Putting the caravan back in it’s spot lead to the next task…. jack it up and remove the wheels. The caravan was fitted with Hankook 185×80 R14 and inspecting them closely revealed no cracks, bulges or damage of any kind. These tyres were now 10 years old it was defiantly time to replace them. We got 8 years use and just over a year standing out of them and I consider that a win. Realistically they should have been replaced at 5 years…. 7 max at a push, so getting 8 out of them with close inspections each trip I’ll consider we got our money’s worth out of them. After much searching on line and checking out the discount with National Tyre via the Caravan and Motorhome Club I called in to my local National Tyre could fit replacements and beat the price even that C & M Club discount gave us with National Tyres on line. As the Hankook’s had given us really good service and long life I replaced them with another set of Hankook’s. National Tyres also fitted new valve stems, valves and balanced the wheels. I know there is a lot of debate about balancing caravan wheels…. well the engineering bit of my brain thinks that anything rotating should be in balance, so I’m going to balance my wheels. We picked the newly re-shod wheels up the following day and returned to the compound to fit them. As it was raining, cleaning the roof was put off until we had better weather.
OK…. I know… you are all saying “Why did he clean the sides before the roof….. that’s bass acwards” OK here is my thinking…. the roof is going to take a few hours to do properly and when you have done that you then have no choice but to do the sides straight away as they are going to be really filthy with all the run off. It’s going to be a really long day to do everything. By doing the sides first, we could get a good layer of wax protection on them and as said earlier, the combination of products give a really good beading coat. So when it comes to washing the roof a simple rinse down would restore the sides back to their pristine finish we had a few days earlier.
As I worked round the roof scrubbing and rinsing, Sue followed me with a squirt bottle and microfibre cloths… using the Car Plan Demon Shine neat finished off the sides and gave another layer of buffed waxy finish.
A few other jobs were completed too. All the window and door rubbers were given a good coating of Sonax Silicon… this stops the windows sticking to the rubber and keeps the rubber seals soft and supple. Some of the aluminium awning rail needed cleaning. Rather than use a metal polish (Solvol-Autosol is my normal preference as a metal polish) I used a simple rubbing compound so as not to polish the aluminium too much but brighten it’s brushed finish. And finally waterproof silicone grease for the moving and interlocking parts of the 13 pin plug.
I mentioned earlier that our leisure battery had died… well after some tender loving care in the workshop… It’s alive! Well it’s OK for light duty. So the next project is to go lithium. I have planned out a course of action and the first step is to install on the Amarok a 50 Amp feed to the rear of the vehicle and terminate in an Anderson connector. This will allow me to use the full capability of the Amarok’s large alternator to charge Lithium batteries in the caravan via a dedicated DC to DC charger. Next stage will be installing a solar regulator and panels followed up by an inverter and changing the on board charger for a dedicated lithium charger. I also want to remove the inbuilt charger to save weight and make room as I won’t be installing any lithium batteries in the existing battery box.
I’m still in the process of doing my due diligence on equipment for this so watch this space. I’ll go through my thought processes in a later post.
The other change is going to be the rear lights on the caravan. The reversing lights are not very useful when reversing on to a pitch in the dark so I’m going to install two LED wide beam lights just out board of the rear steadies. That leaves me with the existing reversing lights. A quick search on the internet led me to replacement Hella lenses for the existing reversing lights that would allow me to convert them into fog lights with a simple lens change and a wiring change at the fuse block. Swop the reversing light cable with the fog light cable and use the old fog light as a connection point for the new reversing lights… after removing the bulb of course!
I 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.
Here’s an excellent video from the guy’s at 4WD Actionwith probably the best explanation I’ve seen so far on the net… (Video (c) 4WDAction.AU)
A couple of eagle-eyed mirror aficionados have spotted that we use Milenco Grand Aero 3 towing mirrors… but they also spotted that there was something different about the mounts. OK I’ll have to admit you are an eagle eyed bunch!
On the Amarok, the mirrors are quite big and if I get them adjusted about right I can just see down both sides of the caravan… we’re not 8 foot wide. However, driving without mirrors is more likely to attract attention and it’s easier and safer just to fit a pair. I first went for a brand that I’d used on the Land Rover Freelander, however the Amarok’s mirrors are quite deep and it wasn’t till I tried them that I realised how much of an issue that was….
The other issue I had… I didn’t particularly like the fitting….. it was about on the limits of extension and about 25% of the mirror was obscured by the Amarok’s door mirror… just at the point the would allow you to see the wheels of the caravan. Not ideal.
So I looked round for a mirror that would move the face of the mirror rearwards in about the same plane as the normal Amarok mirror. The added depth of the Milenco Grand Aero looked as though it would do the job perfectly.
Actually it was a little too much. As the mounting for the mirror was now on the door mirror plane, not as the previous mirror the back of the mirror housing it shifted the face of the Grand Aero too far rearwards. I liked the vision the Grand Aero gave and the mounting.
To the Bat Cave…
I just happened to have some lengths of 12mm steel tubing and a bending tool. Maybe I could solve the problem without searching round for other products.
I used a welding rod to hand bend a profile that seemed to put the mirror into the right position. I worked out I’d only need two bends to get the mirror in the right position.
I installed the two mounting brackets on the door mirror in the final position I wanted them and slid a length of tube into them. Marking where I wanted the first bend to be and using an angle finder to approximate the angle that would move the mirror far enough forward so the face was in line with the door mirror face… this then gave me the point to start the bend upwards to get the mirror at the correct height.
Ok before I get a lot of comments asking why installed the mounts on the lower edge of the mirror… two reasons…. if they do move about or squish down on a bit of grit any scratches won’t be seen in the painted area of the door mirrors and from the driving position they don’t obscure my view if I have to look past the top of the door mirrors. I’ve also noticed when its raining I don’t get nearly as much water running down the face of the door mirror. And another reason…. the bottom of the door mirror on the Amarok is not quite as curved and the clamps fitted more securely. I’ve got everything dialed in now to the point where I don’t actually need to adjust the mirrors each time I fit them.
At this point I hadn’t cut the tube to length on the vertical section so I had the chance to adjust the height of the Grand Aero. After a bit of trial and error that involved a clamp and running round to the driver’s seat… and back again to adjust I got what I thought was the right height for me.
As you can see in the photo above, the reflective face of both mirrors is in near perfect alignment… and for me that makes it easy when driving as I don’t have any perceived shift in focus. The picture below is from the drivers position… I put the camera as close as I could to where my eyes are and I get a great view rearwards. Note that installing the mounting clamps on the bottom edge of the door mirror does not block the forward side view over the door mirror.
The driver’s side was bent the same… just opposite ‘handed’ and the length worked out right for the height too.
When seen from the front… even though I’m not quite ‘square on’ to the caravan, I’m angled slightly to the left when sat in the drivers seat, the mirror is fully outside the extended side line of the caravan giving me a great view.
I gave the now bent and drilled tubes a light emery and de-grease followed by couple of coats of grey acid etch primer. This was topped off a few days later with a fine bed liner spray. This game the arms a durable coating plus the bed liner finish is quite ‘grippy’ and allowed the clamps the hold fast without too much yanking on the knobs.
We have been using these now for about two years and for me they work out just fine.
I had all this stuff in the Bat Cave as it was purchased for other projects, so the mirror arms didn’t really cost me anything. Both arms were made out of one 1 metre length of 12mm steel tube.
The tube bender I paid less than £30 for it about 12 months ago from Amazon. The 12mm Steel tube, again from Amazon was around £4 for a 1 metre length and the Truck Bed Liner paint was around £8.
Its been quite a while since I did my first review of a TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) back in September 2015 in fact, on a Tyre Pal system sent to me for review. I did like it but it did give me a few things to think about. Later on I got to test out the Fit2Go TPMS and I ran with that for about 12 months. However I still wasn’t convinced this was the one for me.
With the Tyre Pal I did like the information, but on a screen that size I would have liked to be able to see all the pressures and temps altogether rather than scrolling through each wheel. Although it did cross my mind at the time “do I really need all this info” and that’s why I liked the Fit2Go unit. It sat there quietly monitoring the wheels and just occasionally flashed at me to say everything was OK…. or beeped if there was something wrong. I did eventually miss not being able to see the pressure and temp of each wheel and started to think my earlier statement was flawed.
I had an issue with the Fit2Go unit at around nine months of using it. The batteries in one of the wheel sensors failed… and a couple of weeks later a second battery went down. This was a bit of an issue as the sensors on this unit were sealed and the batteries weren’t replaceable (a plus point for the TyrePal here!) Credit to guys at Fit2Go… now re-branded as Michelin – they sent me out a complete new unit and four sensors. I installed the replacement unit and sensors and ran with that for a while.
Going into work at around 04:45 in the morning, I pulled off our drive the unit started beeping, indicating a low pressure tyre. I pulled over and checked the small LED on each sensor… no flashing red indication. Tyres looked good, checked the pressure with the Fit2Go hand-held unit and all as they should be. I carried on. The beeping stopped. A few days later as I had just got onto the motorway it went off again, pulled onto the hard shoulder, checked each sensor and wheel… no flashing LED and all wheels looked OK. I also took the time to check the pressures again, all OK. On the fourth or fifth time this happened I gave up checking. It only seemed to happen with an early morning start and I started to doubt the info I was getting from the unit.
I started looking around for alternatives… mainly in the US for RV TPMS systems as they seemed to have a greater number of options. It wasn’t long after this that I got the e-Trailer unit to test. Which as well as checking the leisure battery voltage, monitoring the fridge temp and a host of other things had TPMS monitoring for your caravan wheels and sent alerts directly to your phone. With this fitted I had at least covered off the important wheels when towing. I just needed something for the truck. Looking around at what was available on Amazon.Com in the USA made me realise how much we are actually paying in the UK for this stuff. There were units branded for the American market that were identical to those in the UK for a lot less even with the poor exchange rate.
This set me thinking… could a cheap TPMS available in the UK be as good… were we paying too much? I found a unit on Amazon.co.uk for £50 and ordered one. https://amzn.to/2wv49TS
The unit had a couple of options for mounting. The sensors had replaceable batteries and were pre-coded to the unit. Each was marked with the correct location… FL, FR, RL and RR.
After much procrastination about where to put the display (it’s a man thing) I could not make my mind up so for the time being it sits on top of the steering column….
In the few weeks since I installed it.. which was really easy, it’s worked well. I can set the upper and lower limits for pressure and temp for each wheel and it is fairly accurate on pressure. To test it I used my digital tyre gauge fitted to my compressor in the work shop and checked with a standalone digital check gauge I used to use for aircraft tyres. It always matched the same PSI as both my digital gauges showed and as it didn’t decimal point readings on the PSI setting (you can change it to BAR, as well as from C to F for temp) it seemed to round-up from about .6 which seems acceptable to me. (32.4 PSI would be displayed as 32 and 32.6PSI would be shown as 33)
It comes complete with a small spanner for the lock nuts, a do-hicky for replacing the battery in the sensors and for £50 it seems like reasonable quality. It does what it states on the box, it’s small enough to put almost anywhere (and that’s my problem… where!) and if you have amazing eyesight… it even has a vehicle battery voltage display right in the centre! And if that didn’t clinch the deal… it even alarms when the batteries are low in the sensors.
So was my £50 well spent? Well at the moment I think so. (I reserve the right to change my mind in the future) You know me by now and if I thought it was a jockey wheel with out a handle…. I’d tell you!
So if you don’t yet have TPMS and don’t want to spend a fortune on one this might be a suitable option. If you want one… go on you know you do, here’s my affiliate* link on Amazon UK – https://amzn.to/2PX6a3a
*It won’t cost you any more but you will get that warm fuzzy feeling knowing Amazon are going to give Caravan Chronicles some of their profit.
After a quick four-day break at the Caravan & Motorhome Club’s site at Wirral Country Park (excellent by the way… already trying to work out when we can go back!!) and a bit of work getting in the way it was time to get going again not he catch can… really it should be called the “Air Oil Separator” Install.
Last time, I’d decided if IKB would have been shaking his head… then it wasn’t right. I decided to make a new bracket out of 1.8mm aluminium sheet and go into full on origami mode. (ps.. after the last post someone emailed me asking what IKB was…. Mr Brunel was not pleased).
I wanted to make a bracket that passed under the air con pipe and bonnet cable release fitting so that it cleared everything and gave good access at the same time. As a test I did a trial bend if some 1mm thick steel I had just to get the shape…
Once I’d got the angles and size sorted it was time to move on to the aluminium sheet. My press brake… well I call it a press brake, in reality its a cheap basic hand folding machine but it works very well as long as you know its limits and don’t get daft trying to fold big stuff. It was all about the angles…
The first two were easy and I could form the lip with two folds, the second was less than 90 degrees so I just about got away with enough clearance. However folding the return that would lip over the front cross brace which was also less than 90 degrees also meant that I’d have a problem fitting it in the folder.
However, a little lateral thinking and taking the blade off the folding machine, inserting my workpiece and re-installing the blade meant I could fold in the opposite direction (downward)… result!
A quick trim and rounding off the edges gave me a rough folded bracket. A quick file of the edges and work-over with some fine emery removed all the tool marks… quickly followed up with a coat of etch prime to protect it.
I now had to work out how to mount the plastic housing the bonnet release cables were located in. On the rear of the fitting were two plastic tabs that locked into two square holes punched into the vehicles cross member.
So a few minutes spent with a dremmel and a couple of suitable sized swiss files later…
… and the piece was ready for a final rub over with scotch bright a second coat of etch primer and two coats of black.
All went a bit easy actually… which is flipping’ unusual for me. I released the bonnet (or ‘hood’ for my American friends) cable fitting and simply clipped it back in to the two new holes I’d made.
The Provent was installed next…
… again without any issues. Next was to sort out the plumbing.
I’d done a bit of research and asking around and the guys at ASH… AutoSiliconHose.comhad come highly recommended. So a road trip over the Pennines to Mirfield (just east of Brighouse in West Yorkshire) was scheduled.
I had a basic list of what I thought I’d need and the chap behind the counter hooked me up with everything… including the alloy couplers he cut to size while I waited. Great service from ASH and I can definitely recommend them.
Back home with my shopping, it was time to start on the plumbing.
For securing pipes, I personally prefer spring clips… the type you install with special pillars, however the silicon hose OD was slightly too large for may normal stock of clamps so I had to opt for using the wire type. I’ll order some of the correct size and replace the wire clamps as soon as they arrive.
It was really simple now to just assemble the bits, cutting the silicon pipe to length as required. I used a pair of plastic conduit cutters to easily slice through the pipe.
Before I made the final connections to the crank case breather port or the turbo inlet port I blew the pipes clear using a high pressure air line.
All that was left to do was install the drain hose, one way valve and drain tap. I used normal 20mm oil line for the drain, inserting the one way valve about three inches below the outlet of the Provent catch can. The remainder of the hose was dropped down to chassis level and the drain tap added and secured with a couple of zip ties.
I secured the pipes in a couple of places with zip ties, now I know the route I can make a small stand-off bracket with two rubber lines “P” clips to mount on the engine to hold the pipes, although they are self-supporting because of the short length.
In the photographs above it looks like the piping is tight across the engine, I did do a pull and push test and there is plenty of movement at the 90 degree bends to allow the torque twist of the engine without pulling or pushing on the pipes at the catch can end.
The current mileage is 11,750 or there abouts, so I’ll check the drain and filter in 100 miles and each 100 miles after that so I can get an idea of how the setup is going. I’m not sure how long the filter is designed to last, but Ill put it on the schedule to replace ever main service. The other thing that is an unknown is how much oil I’ll get. I have been watching some YouTube videos made by Berrima Diesel in Australia (if you watch any of the Australian 4 x 4 or off-road channels you will recognise the name). I only found out about their catch can experience when one of the guys from one of the 4 x 4 adventure channels got in touch… even if you don’t think you need a catch can but drive a big diesel their videos are well worth watching.
Ok… I was saying I don’t know how much oil to expect… but it did surprise me that Berrima Diesels posted a video showing a new 4 x 4 with about 6000Km on the clock had produced about 300ml’s of oil using the same Provent catch can. It’s also worth taking look at what the have to say about the current oil specified in diesel engines.
The other thing I noticed was when I left the engine ticking over for about ten minutes. Bearing in mind I had just come back from West Yorkshire via the M62 and M60 and started the pipe install as soon as I got back so the engine was still hot, the difference in temperature between the short length of pipe exiting the crankcase vent and the inlet pipe of the turbo. The pipe exiting the crankcase vent port was almost at the temperature I could not keep my fingers on it, while the inlet pipe I’d connected too was still cool. I’ll have to get my thermomiterbob laser do-hicky out and get some readings… but anything that helps cool gasses going into the turbo has to be of benefit right?
That’s it for now, I know it’s not caravanning related that much… unless you want to get the best out of your diesel while towing. I promise the next one will be caravan related, honest!
As in part one I’d also like to give a shout out to Charles at HumbleMechanic.com for all the information and videos he produces about VW vehicles. Charles has been an absolute gold mine of information for all things VW and if you drive any of VW’s vehicles please be sure to drop in on his YouTube channel and take a look.
I’m installing a “Catch Can” can on our VW Amarok and this little posting is all about it, but first a bit of history on why I’m installing one.
If you look at modern high performance diesel engines one of the things that they do to reduce emissions is have a number of systems to reduce the harmful emissions. EGR or Exhaust Gas Re-circulation wich is feeding part of the engines exhaust back into the intake but probably the most widely known is the DPF… or Diesel Particulate Filter which captures fine soot particles from exiting the exhaust. The DPF needs to be cleaned regularly, through a process called regeneration. Either active, passive or forced, the accumulated soot is burnt off at high temperature (around 600°c) to leave only a residue of ash, effectively renewing or regenerating the filter, ready to take on more pollution from the engine. To regenerate, the vehicle electronics adjust the timing of the engine to increase the exhaust gas temperatures or commonly it can be achieved by passive regeneration usually on the motorway when exhaust gasses are generally hotter.
In city driving or short trips the regeneration my not take place fully, leading to blocking of the filter. This can lead to higher fuel consumption and a visit to the mechanic for cleaning or replacement.
If the DPF become blocked you will get an engine warning light and/or a DPF warning light to let you know that a regeneration or cleaning is required. If the vehicle continues to be driven and the engine load is not enough for the automatic process to be initiated you will get a second stage DPF warning. When your vehicle displays second stage DPF warning lights it will usually go in to ‘limp mode’ and should be taken to the dealer to ascertain the extent of the problem.
A forced regeneration involves the garage using a computer program to run the car, initiating a regeneration of the DPF. This will also usually require changing the engine oil & oil filter.
Why does my Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) block
Problems arise around town with stop start driving where the regeneration process might not complete or the engine never get hot enough for a long period. A warning light will illuminate or a message indicating the DPF is full displays on the dash. If you continue to drive in the same manner, the soot build up will increase until other warning lights illuminate and the vehicle will go into ‘limp’ mode, where driving speed is restricted.
In all piston engines a certain amount of ‘blow by’ happens, this is some of the hot gasses treated in the cylinder combustion leaking past the piston rings.. or ‘blowing by’ and entering the crank case in the sump area. This pressure needs to be released and twenty years ago the engine oil filler cap used to have e vent in it. However in modern emission controlled vehicles this is not acceptable and the excess pressure is vented into the air intake of the engine where it passes through the engine cycle and exits through the exhaust. These hot gasses passing through the sump on their way out pickup fine mist of oil from the sump which is carried through to the intake of the engine and this creates three problems. The first is a sticky residue build up on the intake valves that hardens with temperature – especially on direct injected engines. Secondly the intake pathway gets coated in oil from the engine. If you have a turbo charged engine with an intercooler, this can become an issue as it reduces the heat exchanging effects of the intercooler. Thirdly, when the oil is burnt in the engine it creates a heavy soot that increases the build up in the DPF.
When towing, you generally use more power for accelerating and maintaining speed which is great in one respect for the DPF. The downside though is the piston blow by is more and therefore the crank case pressure is increased.. picking up more of that fine oil mist from the sump.
Now the diesel engine tuning guys and the 4 x 4 guys in Australia have known about this for a number of years and they have a solution to the problem.
Cleaning up the crank cases gasses – “Catch Can’ or Air Oil Separator?
There is a difference. a ‘Catch Can’ is usually just that. A can that the gasses are fed into with an outlet that is fed back into the turbo inlet. Some do have some form of baffle but a lot don’t. More expensive ones may have a gauze wad inside for the oil droplets to form on. A lot don’t have a drain, you have to remove the bottom of the can to empty it. If you look on auction sites you can find nice looking anodised aluminium ones for £20 or £30 but for that sort of money all you are really paying for is the nice looking anodised aluminium. Not for an efficient effective unit.
On the other hand, a true Air Oil separator will have multiple traps in the form of differing size materials making up membranes for droplets to form on. A number of them are designed to swirl the gasses around first before exiting through the centre after passing through the filter membranes.
I wanted to get as much oil out of the gasses before they enter the engine inlet. So I opted for an Air Oil separator with replaceable membrane filter rather than a cheap ‘catch can’. Seems like a simple device really, but there are a few more things to take into consideration…
I’ve opted to use the Mann-Hummel ProVent 200 on our VW Amarok. It’s been used all over the world with hundreds of installations on Toyota’s, VW’s, Mitsubishi’s, Land Rover’s and not just on 4 x 4’s.
My hope is that I’ll reduce the emissions through the engine while prolonging the life of the DPF, keeping the inlet clean and oil free and importantly preventing that soot and carbon buildup in the inlet ports and valves while maintaining the efficiency of the intercooler.
I did look at the kits available for the VW Amarok and all were sourced in Australia. However I could buy all the individual components in the UK a lot cheaper than importing a kit. Bit’s ordered, the first decision was where to locate the unit…
In the Amarok’s engine bay there is only two real places viable for the location of the ProVent. The first is on the back wall next to the engine ECU which seems to be the place of choice for most of the kits I’d found, and the second is in the front right hand corner in front of the battery.
Installing it on the rear firewall next to the ECU would mean partially covering up the Air Con gassing ports and I just knew that would be asking for trouble in the future…
So the location that in my mind seemed the most logical would be to mount it in front of the battery, manufacturing a suitable bracket to hang it off the front top cross-piece where there seemed plenty of room and easy access.
This would also allow the two pipes… one from the crank case pressure release port (left below) and the return to one of the turbo inlet ports (right below) could take a short route from the ProVent across the front of the engine and would give me a couple of suitable points to mount supports for the pipes.
I needed to manufacture a bracket that mounted to the top cross rail and went over the air-con hose and bonnet release cable just below it. As luck would have it in my scrap metal bin I had the chassis from on old bit of electrical kit that was made out of aluminium and looked like it would do the job.
Cutting a section off, filing down the edges and drilling mounting holes didn’t take too long and that was followed up by a coat of etch primer and a couple of coats of high temperature gloss black (I only used that as I had a spare can from a previous job!)
Fitting was fairly easy…. and no, they will not be the final bolts!
Marking and drilling three holes, followed by a couple of coats of metal protector to stop the edges of the holes rusting soon had the bracket in place. If you are wondering why the shape… well it came like that when I cut it off the scrap chassis, but quite by chance it allowed access to the hole which is access to the headlight adjuster screw.
Mounting the ProVent was now simple enough…
It was at this point I stopped. I didn’t like the way it covered the air-con pipe. There was little chance of it rubbing, the pipe already had a big rubber ring on it to stop chafing against the front cross beam or the bonnet release cable. I also now could not get to the bonnet release cable. The mount covered the point where there was a lubrication and connection block for it. It just wasn’t good engineering design. IKB would be shaking his head and wafting his cigar around in dissatisfaction..
Back to the bat cave. Time for a rethink and to hone my skills in sheet metal origami.
I would like to thank Charles at HumbleMechanic.com for all the information and videos he produces about VW vehicles. Charles has been an absolute gold mine of information for all things VW and if you drive any of VW’s vehicles please be sure to drop in on his YouTube channel and take a look.
Wow… it’s been quite a while since our last posting, and many thanks to all those of you who have emailed asking if we are OK. We are both fine, thanks.
Back in October we were due to go to the Caravan & Motorhome show and we had booked in to the campsite at the NEC for 4 days. However, the day before, we actually wondered why we were going. Plenty of other bloggers and video bloggers would be going and posting on YouTube. I guess the plethora of video bloggers filming each other meeting other video bloggers wasn’t what we were about…. so we went to the C & M Club site at Southport instead.
The weather played ball and we had a great few days in the October sunshine getting some cycling and walking in. This was also a bit of a try out for the bike rack on the Amarok and a change in how we pack. Although I’d done a couple of check-runs to make sure everything was stable with the bikes, this was the first real run with the caravan in tow and I’m pleased to report that the rack was stable and didn’t affect the towing in any way.
The bikes were fairly easy to load and unload thanks to the drop down step I’d previously fitted to the rear of the Amarok and all things considered, I think we will now be taking the bikes on more trips. The other change was to how we pack. We now have ‘pre-loaded’ more of the items we take away with us and this makes things a lot easier having a stacking system with boxes for specific things. We are lucky that I have a “bat cave” at home. It’s a workshop really that allows us to store our packing boxes (check out the Really Useful Storage Box Company ) and get them stocked up ready for the next trip over a period of time. It now takes about 10 minutes to load the Amarok and all thats left is to load the clothes.
The other bit of kit that we are long-term testing is the Sterling Power Wildside unit. I’ve written a couple of things in the past about this unit and so far the only thing I can really add is that it has exceeded my expectations of its performance. After not using the caravan for a couple of months and having a parasitic current draw from the alarm (the small charging circuit and 12 volt battery in the alarm has failed yet again!) by the time we had towed from Manchester to Southport our battery was fully charged and the fridge was cold as expected.
Many of you will know in December we like to kick off the festive season with a Christmas Market or two. For the past couple of years we had gone down to Birmingham but this year we fancied trying something different. We booked a couple of sites to give us the chance to try somewhere different.
The first was Durham Grange C & M Club site just off the A1M. This would put us very close to Beamish Museum and Durham. Although Durham Grange is really close to the A1M Junction 62 you can’t really hear the traffic and is a great little site. The general site and facilities were up to standard and the wardens very helpful.
We were on a fully serviced pitch and my standard ‘kit’ of parts allowed connection to the grey water drain without any head scratching.
Again we were lucky with the weather, mainly dry but turning much colder. Beamish is only about a 20 minute drive away and it meant that we could have a full day at the museum without having a silly o’clock morning start. If you have never visited Beamish, I would recommend you put it on your “must do” list, especially if you have children/grand children. One thing you must do while there… go and see the dentist and have a chat and then visit the fish and chip shop with the coal-fired frying range. Standing outside smelling fish and chips frying mixed with the smell of coal fires really takes me back to my early childhood.
Durham Grange is also a great base for a trip into Durham. The Cathedral and Castle are worth a visit and there are plenty of shops to explore in the tiny streets in the city centre. Getting into the centre from the caravan site is easy. On the other side of the A1M to the site is a park and ride that takes you right into the city centre. However a word of caution….. if you walk you have to cross two-three lane slip roads to the A1M and it’s busy even out of peak periods. Trying to walk back to the site in rush hour has to be avoided. We got the park and ride bus in but decided that it would be safer getting a taxi back. In summer however, if you ask the wardens they have a map with the details of a riverside walk into the town centre.
Three days at Durham Grange really didn’t give us chance to explore further, it has been added to the long list of “must go back so we can see….” collection.
Next stop…. York
York has to be on everyone’s list of favourite cities. We had chosen a Tranquil Touring site – York Caravan Park for the second part of our festive tour. Despite the weather forecast of strong winds for the next 24 hours and an increasing chance of light snow the further south we got, the drive down from Durham was an easy tow and the sat nav directed us round Yorks outer ring roads. The only real traffic we saw was around the ring road. As York is a bit of a no go for visiting by car the ring road and feeder roads to the various park and ride points can be a bit congested, but a bit of patience and we were only around 15 minutes late based on what our sat-nav had predicted when setting off. The temperature by now was also dropping and hadn’t risen above four degrees for the whole journey.
York Caravan park is only a couple of miles outside York and right outside is a convenient bus stop with a bus that will whisk you right into the centre in about ten minutes. It had been several years since we had both been to York and one of the stops Sue wanted to do was Jorvik viking centre. The bus dropped us off and we headed in the general direction of Jorvik through all the Christmas Market stalls. At one end of the market was a large teepee that had a log fire burning in the centre and a bar serving all manner of festive spirits. While Sue opted for Mulled Wine, I decided on a mug of hot chocolate with Baileys… well it was only three degrees with a bit of a wind chill.
We really enjoyed Jorvik and it seemed bigger than we remembered it… which I don’t think it was unless they dug a bit more up. Unusually I didn’t see a restriction on taking photos… so I managed to sneak a few… without flash of course (just in case… and I hope I’m not in breach of copyright!).
While mooching round the shops we came across The Cat Gallery (45 Low Petergate) and couldn’t resist a visit…. emerging with a rather fitting mug for Sue “…everything tastes better with cat hair in it”. We headed back towards the station to catch the bus back to the site. As it was Sue’s birthday today, a bit of a tradition to mark the start of our Christmas is the annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Nothing better than sitting in a toasty caravan with frost forming outside, a satisfied fullness from an enjoyable meal and a couple of drinks watching a favourite movie.
National Railway Museum…
A visit to York cannot be called complete without a visit to the NRM. The cold weather had now really arrived and far to our west in the Pennine hills snow was forecast. We however had a cloudy but bright frosty morning.
We caught the bus again and this time stayed on all the way to the railway station. You can cut through the station over the foot bridge to the railway museum.. which if it’s raining can be handy. Over the past few years we have done quite a few railway trips on heritage lines and visited a few of the museums but the last time we were here was 32 years ago. A lot of the exhibits had changed of course and the site has expanded.
By mid morning we were part way round it was time of a coffee and we stopped by The Dining Car Restaurant and Sue tried out one of their speciality teas with a sausage sandwich and I can say their coffee was up-to-standard and so was their bacon sandwich. A huge improvement on the old BR offerings!
One of the things that I personally think is a “must see” at the museum if you have any interest in railways is hidden round the back of the Flying Scotsman in the store-room. The museum has opened up its stores so you can wander the shelves and see some of their collection that they haven’t got room to put on display and in here you will find the layout used to train signalmen. Each day (check timings) a number of retired signalmen put on a live demonstration on the layout of how signaling works and that is followed up by what can only be described as a re-enactment of a rail disaster. The one we watched saw 7 signalmen going through the sequence of events and demonstrating on the layout with running trains what happened. Very thought-provoking. It’s a must see but please check the timings so you don’t miss it.
It seems that these breaks are over all too soon. The temperature was hovering around one degree and the water hose had frozen overnight as we started to pack up. Snow was forecast later that day and the Pennines had already had an inch or two of snow and it was falling over the M62 west of the Pennines for the run back to Manchester. Thankfully towing our caravan with the Amarok is quite easy and we have a towing ratio of about 65% which really makes things easy and stress free in difficult weather conditions.
The snow wasn’t too bad and not as much as was forecast and we arrived back at the storage facility at the time the sat nav predicted when setting off. Last trip of 2017 done and planning for 2018 can commence.
Some other bits…
As I write this Caravan Chronicles this year has had over 7.8 million page hits – around 14.5 million since I started the blog (I’m still amazed!). This year has basically doubled the number of the previous years total. A lot of this is due in part to links from other blogs and forums, to some of the technical pages. I did look at some of the links into the site and saw that how to connect batteries for example were linked to off grid housing forums, boating, canal boat, sailing, RV, eco and everything in-between. I now find that I receive emails containing questions from all over the world about all sorts of subjects. How many emails?…. well this year it’s been over a thousand that I’ve answered. As a consequence it now takes me a bit longer to respond.
I have found out though that folks that follow links to Caravan Chronicles from some forum or other that they don’t really know about Caravan Chronicles and simply assume that there is a highly paid team in the background answering questions and have a specialised knowledge of their particular field of enquiry and get quite upset when I tell them I haven’t a clue about the house batteries on a Fairhaven 32 foot motor launch and how they are connected (totally made up question of course).
I remember the late (and great) John Wickersham once telling me “Once you have answered a question in print that will be your life”.
The other question that pops up now and again are about ‘merch’ as the Americans refer to it. Do I have a shop with stickers, mugs branded paraphernalia etc. Nope, nada. So far I have resisted the temptation to commercialise, product place or have adverts on the blog. I don’t really want to go that route.
I do however do the occasional review of products that manufacturers send me and try to attempt to be as honest as I can with what I write. I do also work with a couple of manufacturers on products that they are developing or ideas that they have but these don’t get written about.
What’s happening in Caravan Chronicles in 2018…
Well there will be some trips of course and we will be visiting our “local” caravan show at Event City in January.
We are in two minds whether to get a new caravan… we would like a twin axle, twin bed, mid bathroom layout, but we keep thinking there is nothing wrong with the one we have… decision decisions!
There are a few things that are going to be changing on the blog. I have been procrastinating on starting a searchable Q & A page. I’m not sure if this is possible in a WordPress blog and it might mean having to change how the site is hosted. I also want to link up to an interactive travel map. I’m still researching this one though. I’ve also been thinking about the blog’s style and look…. it’s over five years old now and does it need an update?
OK, so now I have a question for you….. I’m a bit undecided about getting a towing cover. They seem to be gaining popularity and after our trip, the front of the caravan could have done with some protection from all the road salt and grime thrown up. As we have never had a cover of any sorts, I’m looking for a bit of feedback on features to look out for and things to avoid. I’d be grateful for any pointers.
Sue and I hope you have a very Happy New Year and safe travels in 2018.
PS… as I sometimes do, a few arty photos…. (proper engineering in monochrome!)
About 12 months ago I ditched using Adobe Photoshop which had been my go-to photo editor for over 10 years in favour of the free Polarr Photo Editor… which I do like for it’s speed and ease of use. I’ve been playing about trying to reproduce the varoius classic postcard looks from the turn of the 19th centtury and mid 20th century…
OK… so that title was a bit dramatic! However here’s the thing… I don’t think everything is peachy with Euro 6 engines and charging leisure batteries.
If you are a regular reader, you know I have recently installed one of Sterling Power’s Wildside units (and so far I’m super happy with it!) but I did get an email from someone who had read all my postings about it and asked me if it might cure his problem. Here’s the gist of his email….
Note: I have edited this down a bit…. and withheld the name of the person and vehicle.
“I have recently changed my car to a new 2017 xxxxxxxxxxxx and after several trips with it, on arriving home there is never enough charge in the motor mover to manoeuvre our caravan up our drive (which is on an incline) and park the caravan round the back of the garage. I have to plug the caravan in overnight before I can use the mover.
This only seems to have started happening since we changed to the xxxxxxxxxx. I had the caravan’s battery tested at two garages and they said it is OK and it is only 2 years old. The local caravan service man said he could not find anything wrong with the motor mover.
As we are on mains at the caravan sites we visit for a few days the caravan battery should be fully charged.
Can you help?”
This did have me stumped for a bit. Battery tested OK, no issues with the mover, so what was going on?
While doing some of the prep work for writing about my installation of the Wildside unit, I had spent a few days prodding about our VW Amarok with a multimeter and making a few notes about voltages etc. One thing that I did cotton on to was the cyclic way the vehicles ECU seemed to turn off the alternator…. well I should really say put the alternator into “idle” mode. Now with the caravan attached (pre Wildside unit install) I did notice that at the start it seemed to take longer for the vehicle’s alternator to go into idle mode but also it seemed to stay in idle for a lot longer and I was in the process of trying to work out why as initially I’d have thought it would have been less as it was running the fridge and charging the leisure battery.
A picture is worth… you know the rest. Here’s one of my excellent drawings!
Right, here we go… The drawing shows a caravan plugged into a tow vehicle that has the engine-turned off. Pin 9 is live as it should be, and the habitation relay in the caravan is effectively off allowing the caravan’s leisure battery to connect and power the caravan’s internal 12 volt systems. As the vehicle engine is off, there is no power on Pin 10 the fridge circuit, as this is controlled by the vehicle’s ECU.
Really this could be any vehicle with any engine. Now let’s have a look at what happens with the engine running…
Pin 10 is live, turned on by the vehicles ECU and this powers the caravans fridge. It also operates the caravan’s habitation relay which now disconnects the leisure battery from the caravan’s 12 volt systems and connects it to Pin 9 so that the vehicle can start to charge it.
Again, this could be any vehicle with any engine. This is how our Land Rover Freelander works with our caravan. All straight forward.
Now lets look at what happens when the Euro 6 engine puts the alternator into “idle” (or Eco mode etc.)
This is where it starts to get interesting. I have taken a few liberties here and made a few assumptions. I have shown the vehicle’s alternator disconnected. In practice the ECU doesn’t disconnect the alternator, it will reduce the field voltage and hence the output, not really disconnecting it but reducing the output to a negligible amount.
The ECU will also monitor the vehicle’s battery voltage and continue to allow the vehicles general electrical system to drain the battery to somewhere around 75% charge (this may be a bit of an arbitrary figure) The ECU will then turn on (or up) the alternators output to recharge the vehicle’s battery to about 80%. Why 80% well it needs the remaining 20% ‘free capacity’ so that when you brake, the excess energy of engine braking (regen) can be dissipated into the vehicle battery. Remember that on a Euro 6 engine the alternator is capable of generating round about 2Kw.
Now at this point it dawned on me that something could be happening here, but the idea was a bit ridiculous…. guys with far more agile grey cells than mine must have worked this out and I dismissed the idea. I must have missed a trick somewhere.
I did a bit more checking. I was using two 17Ah sealed lead acid batteries as my “leisure” battery simply because it was quicker to charge or discharge them than a 120Ah battery. For a fridge load I was using 3 x 50 watt light bulbs and it was all jury rigged to a 13 pin plug so I could just plug it in to either the Freelander or the Amarok to make comparisons. I was using a trusty old AVO 8 meter, a couple of digital multimeters and a clamp meter to measure current so really the whole set up was super sketchy for anything that I could write about. I thought that I must have been missing something somewhere and I actually kind of put it to the back of my mind. I just got on with installing the Wildside unit and writing it up.
“DING” You have mail……
I received an email from Charles Sterling with some very interesting information. During testing he had come across exactly the same issue I was pondering over but had put off further testing. I guess by now you have worked it out. Quite simply you can get current flow in the opposite direction… from caravan leisure battery to vehicle battery. In testing Charles had measured a current of around 6 Amps.
It dawned on me that maybe during my initial testing with my jury rigged set up I hadn’t missed something and the readings I had seen were correct. Both Charles and I quite separately had (in my case ‘stumbled’) on a potential issue with Euro 6 engines and caravans.
Back to the original email earlier. It now made sense. The sender of the email was setting off from their campsite to travel home with a fully charged battery (being on EHU while they were on site) and during the course of the drive home, the vehicles ECU was actually reducing the fully charged leisure battery down to 80% charge as it actually thought that the ‘vehicle’ battery was at 100% charge. Hence when he arrived home, the caravan’s leisure battery didn’t have enough charge to run the motor mover long enough to put the caravan away.
So what does this mean in practice?
Well effectively (give or take a bit of loss due to cabling) the caravan’s leisure battery will only get charged to about 80%. You can now think of the vehicle battery and caravan leisure battery as being one battery bank because that is how the vehicle sees it. If the leisure battery is fully charged its voltage will be higher than the vehicle battery so the vehicle will turn off (or down) the alternator so that the vehicles electrical system can drain it to about 75% ready for accepting the excess energy from regen braking. The caravan’s fridge helps the vehicle by draining the battery bank that bit quicker.
This also answers another question. While I was testing, sometimes I’d plug-in my jury rigged setup and if my two little 17Ah batteries were fully charged I’d get a low current drain indicated on my clamp meter. I’d dismissed this to a certain extent, but now I realise that as my two 17Ah batteries were fully charged and the vehicle battery would be at about 80% charge, there would be enough of a voltage difference for a short while, that the two 17Ah batteries would try to equalise with the vehicle battery by recharging it slightly..
Whats the answer?
Well thankfully I solved my problem when I installed the Wildside unit a few weeks ago.
If you have had any electrical issues with a Euro 6 engine and towing please drop a comment below. I’ll try to help.
As an aside, I am trying to arrange attending a tow bar installers electrical course with a couple of the OEM electrical equipment manufacturers and one of the approved bodies so I can hopefully increase my knowledge base and widen the number of vehicles I can cover. It’s a bit up-in-the-air at the moment as it would appear its going to cost a small fortune! (Sponsorship deals gratefully received!)