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!
Something that caught my eye a couple of days ago really got me excited…. no not a new caravan ( I wish) but a Kickstarter project that I think is one of those simple ideas that has countless applications in all sorts of areas. In fact I keep thinking of more uses for it… and it’s not even my idea!
OK, so what has got me all worked up then? Well imagine getting messages direct to your email or phone telling you the voltage of your leisure battery, motorhome starter battery, canal boat battery, ATV battery, bike battery, solar powered shed battery, aircraft battery, golf cart battery, horse box battery or trailer winch battery. All from a little device that can simply be clipped on or permanently installed. Got you curious?
The company has recently been at the Scottish Caravan and Motorhome Show where they received lots of interest and loads of positive feedback. Still curious?
OK here the disclaimer thingy bit for Caravan Chronicles: I have no connection to these guys except I decided to back the project on Kickstarter. I have taken all the text and images below from IonOT’s kickstarter project page…
If you want to see the full project, follow the link toBatbot and see what you think.
Invented in Scotland by David Richie, Batbot came about from wearing two hats – one, from a career working in the technology sector, and the other, as a livery yard owner. With horse lorries stored on site in between use, he noticed a regular problem occurring. On the day of an outing, more often than not, there would be an early morning knock at the door from liveries needing help… their vehicle battery was indeed… flat.
They had walked past their lorry every day, but had no idea that the battery was running low. This sparked an idea. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a device that could avoid this problem?! Batbot was born. After many hours, days, weeks and months developing the concept and prototypes, here we are today, with a brand new product that will ensure flat batteries (and early morning wake up calls) are a thing of the past.
Batbot is a device that every equestrian, marine enthusiast, motorhome or vehicle owner has missed… until now.
This clever product monitors your vehicle’s battery and sends alerts to your mobile device or email when the battery requires charging.
How it works
Batbot simply hooks up via two croc clips (provided) to the battery points under your vehicles bonet and can be secured in place with a cable tie.
Once installed the device then sends your battery’s data to the cloud where alerts are generated and then sent to your mobile device or email address. Unlike other products, Batbot uses the Sigfox or LoRaWAN radio networks to send this data, so no bluetooth connection is required.
Key Benefits of Batbot:
Quick and easy to use
Keeps track of your battery state
Alerts you when action is required
Saves destroying batteries with deep discharge
Regular daily “All Ok” status for peace of mind
No monthly SIM contract
First year subscription included
Low further yearly subscription (£7 ~ £10)
Chose Sigfox or LoRaWAN version of product
LoRaWAN has Home Gateway option to provide cover in remote areas
Helps identify when your battery or vehicle has an electrical fault.
Avoids the vehicle not starting when needed for emergency or planned use
Save’s garage call out charges to jump start your vehicle
24V lorries can be difficult to find a suitable jump start source for, or require a garage call out. Batbot helps you avoid this problem
For all the details and to see the full project go and visit the Batbot Kickstarter page and maybe you too might want to invest a few beer tokens.
My email box tends to get a wide variety of questions covering all sorts of subjects. The most frequent one is to do with wiring and electrically related problems. Sometimes trying to diagnose issues via email and a few photos is a bit of a challenge, but hey who doesn’t like a challenge! One thing that I do see a lot of is electrical work that is…. well, quite frankly not up to scratch in my opinion. So here is my attempt at a basic guide.
You have to have a plan.
So many projects start by adding one or two things… extra 12 volt outlet here… maybe another light and then something else comes along that needs adding in. Before you know it you have a mess of spaghetti that the local Italian restaurant would be ashamed of. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of adding circuits to existing fuses…. or installing a new fuse and a few weeks later adding another circuit to it as it’s easier than installing another fuse.
You can download these and other drawings from the Electrical Drawings page in the drop down menu under “Document Library”
You need to draw out how the major elements are going to connect together – leisure batteries, solar charger, DC to DC charger, inverter and include all the big fuses, buss bars and fuse box. Don’t think about where any of this goes for the moment just get the basic layout and how everything interconnects worked out. It might take a few goes but paper is usually cheaper and less frustrating than sorting out the mess afterwards.
Once you have all that figured out you can start working on the details… just how many fuses will be needed… and what ever number you come up with add half as many again as a minimum. Having a few spare fuse positions that maybe never used is way cheaper than in twelve months time having to install an additional fuse box. A this point you can start adding details…. what size cable is needed for each link, what sort of fuse box do you need.
You can also now start to think about specific facilities you might need. For example, many overlander vehicles will have a button on the dash that when pressed and held down activates a high current relay that links the house batteries to the engine cranking battery. Very handy to have… jump leads are not much use if you are 200Km from the nearest vehicle. If your only trip ‘off road’ however is the muddy car park at the local car boot sale than maybe not a priority.
Don’t use the vehicle chassis as a ground.
Modern vehicles are constructed using different materials and quite often panels and sub frames are glued together. Back when virtually all the panels were spot or seam welded steel, using the body and chassis as a ‘ground’…. which really isn’t a ground but the neutral return path… this was acceptable. However now, sections can be glued together and are often sub assemblies of aluminium and other light weight materials bonded together. Just because you see a neutral bonding point (earth terminal) don’t assume this is is capable of being a suitable point to bond the neutral side of a circuit or accessory you are installing. Modern vehicles often have small bonding straps between sections that can carry the current that the vehicle manufacturer rated the bonding point for. Adding additional equipment and accessories might exceed the original design spec.
I did see a spectacular failure due to a 3000W inverter having it’s neutral lead ‘grounded’ in the rear of a vehicle. Running at about 2000W the neutral side was trying to ‘return’ a current of about 170 amps through the body of the vehicle, which lead to serious damage to some of the vehicles wiring and a number of vehicle components… and a ‘repair’ bill of nearly £1500.Putting a riv-nut in a body panel that is mastic bonded to the body is not a suitable negative bonding point!
Additionally a number of vehicle circuits are now negative switching or operation and installing additional equipment or accessories could have unforeseen issues. Always from any accessory or piece of equipment you install, add the neutral return path back to a suitable single common point or buss bar you install for the purpose and connect this directly back to the leisure battery.
Ideally all the ancillary leisure circuits should never rely on any of the vehicle wiring and the negative side of the leisure wiring should only ever connect to the negative side of the leisure battery.
Don’t use battery terminals as a junction post.
Both the leisure battery and engine battery should only have connections that lead to either in the case of the positive terminal a master fuse /circuit breaker and isolator switch. The negative terminal should only have the connection to a master negative terminal point or buss bar.
If you want to install any sort of battery monitoring, it is convention to install the shunt on the negative return to the battery between the negative buss bar and the negative battery terminal. If you have multiple circuits terminated on the battery terminal it makes future changes and upgrades, including installing a battery monitor very difficult.
Using the battery terminals as connection points for multiple services also makes fault finding very difficult. Each circuit may or may not have it’s own fuse and it’s difficult to isolate circuits….. plus I’ve had enough sparks flying round when trying to disconnect a battery because someone did not install an isolator to know that it’s only a matter of time before one goes ‘pop’.
Please, just don’t do it.
Have a think on this. If you had to go to an auto electrician to get a fault traced and corrected, they would immediately put at least an hours time on the invoice just to figure out what was going on with all the cables on the battery. Also, If you don’t have a battery master isolator installed, get one installed now. It’s a safety item that must not be missed out. Having the ability to quickly turn off all the leisure circuits in an emergency might just save you from the unthinkable happening.
Every cable should be terminated. Period. There shouldn’t be any cables in an installation that don’t have a crimped (or soldered) termination. Even if it’s a screw terminal such as those found in joining blocks or 13 pin plugs.
If you are embarking on a wiring project, its always best to start building up your stock of terminals. I usually buy selection boxes of terminals on line and supplement these with bags of single type connectors for the more commonly used ones. To keep everything organised tote organiser boxes are my preferred option.
There is nothing more annoying than running out of the something and its always just as you want to finish a project off so you end up cutting corners.
For some of the larger cables, if you don’t feel up to making your own terminations there is usually a local auto electrician available that will terminate them for you for a small charge. However, a crimping tool that will terminate up to 50mm cable is not that expensive – around £27 and will probably work out cheaper in the long run. I’ve a link to the one I bought via Amazon and regularly use in the SHOP page.
Get the size right…
Selecting the right size or gauge of cable is critical. There are two factors that determine what gauge of cable to use for a installing any particular circuit. The maximum current that’s going to be drawn and the length of the cable. Once you have selected the right size cable then means you can select the right size fuse for the circuit. Never fuse a circuit greater than the current capacity of the cable.
You can download these and other drawings from the Electrical Drawings page in the drop down menu under “Document Library”
I generally tend to list what is going to be installed, then work out all the gauge for the cables for the circuits. From there it’s easy to see which is going to be the most popular gauge and rather than buy several different gauges of cable try to select a limited selection of gauges.
Always go for the safe option of over specifying the gauge of cable for any particular circuit. If it’s a 10 amp circuit and you have used cable suitable for a 16 amp circuit, it doesn’t mean however you need to use a fuse greater than the 10 Amp circuit requires.
Something else to consider too. Most 12 volt cables are copper, however if you are installing them in a less than ideal environment, such as a boat, you may want to opt for tinned copper cables. These are far less susceptible to cable corrosion. Even in the best marine installations I’ve seen copper cables corrode through in less than a couple of years.
Cardinal Sin! – Never ever use two smaller cables to make up the equivalent of one larger capacity cable. You would be surprised how many times I’ve seen this… sometimes done by “professional” tow-bar installers when reported poor leisure battery charing or poor fridge performance is reported and the voltage drop is too great.
Wiring Looms – wrapping it up properly!
Dressing cables into looms is not difficult nowadays. There are many options available on the market to help you produce a professional looking finished product. I personally like for looms within the vehicle using a felt finished looming tape. You don’t wrap it so it overlaps but at a sharp enough angle so as it spirals round the cable bunch it leaves some of the cables exposed.
Felt is good as not only does it keep the loom together, it allows quite a bit of flexibility and prevents cables from rubbing or banging on flat surfaces making a noise.
For any cables outside the vehicle body there are two options depending on use. In the main I’d go for split tube conduit. It’s available in various sizes and can be bought in either cut lengths or rolls. The other option is to use self amalgamating tape. It looks like ordinary PVC tape but as you wrap it round you stretch it and it releases a chemical which when overlapped onto its self becomes a permanent bond, effectively making a sealed tube. It is generally however fairly inflexible. Both have their place.
Anything in the engine bay or underneath the vehicle I use split tube and generally only resort to self amalgamating tape to seal inline joints.
Relays….. yes or no?
For me its Yes. I much prefer locating all the relays in one place therefore minimising the amount of heavy cable. By using relays to do the heavy switching you can use smaller and sometimes more attractive switches. I have in the past used 7 core trailer cable to connect 4 switches including LED indicators back to a relay bank rather than make up a custom wrapped loom.
You can download these and other drawings from the Electrical Drawings page in the drop down menu under “Document Library”
It also makes tracing faults easier, as it’s simple to test if a switch is working, you can hear or sometimes feel the relay operating as you operate the switch. Its unusual to have a fault with a relay but quite simple to test… just unplug and swop over with a known working relay. If all the relays are located together it makes this task and testing the feed to the relays so much simpler. From that point all you need to check are the two wires going out to the device and the device itself.
Obviously some circuits don’t require a relay or if it’s designed to be turned on for a long period… such as a diesel heater, then adding a relay will just increase current draw, albeit small, on the leisure battery. A bit of common sense can easily determine if you should opt for a relay or not.
Grommet?…(no not Wallace’s friend!)
Whenever a cable or cables pass through anything solid you should use a grommet. You would be surprised at the amount of damage I’ve seen to cables due to either not installing a grommet to an insufficiently sized (too small usually) grommet.
When ever I pass either a cable or loom through a bulkhead for example I like to supplement a grommet with a bit of heat shrink sleeving over the cable as well. Even passing a cable through an existing grommet from the engine compartment to the interior, adding a length of heat shrink sleeve won’t do any harm.
Having a handy selection of grommets available before you start threading wires through is far better than trying to install protection afterwards. You’d also be surprised at how many cables I come across that have been damaged while pulling through holes in metal and wood panels. Always better to start with a grommet or two! Where a cable or loom passes through a grommet, it’s aways best practice to try and anchor the cable or loom either side of the grommet to something solid using “P” clips. This will reduce the chances of ‘fretting’ with the movement of the vehicle.
While we are on grommets…. a quick note about cable-ties (zip-ties). Stop doing them up so tight! I’ve come across cables cable-tied to a chassis rail so tight that the cable-tie has cut into the insulation and is fretting the conductor inside. Cable-ties are generally made out of a harder plastic than the cable insulation so will over time wear away at the insulation.
Get yourself a cable-tie tool that not only allows you to precisely control how much tension you put on the tie but also cut the end off so that there isn’t a wrist slashing booby trap lying in wait for some unsuspecting person. I use a fairly cheap pair (left). I think they were around £8. So not really expensive. But they make a nice neat job of installing multiple cable ties with the correct tension and the ends cut cleanly off level with the lock tab. You can buy ones that have a tension dial built in so you can set them to a pre-tension, but I find after a bit you know just how much to squeeze the handles to get the correct tension.
So what is the correct tension… well if you are doing them up so tight an elephant could dangle on the cables then that is too tight. They should be tight enough so as not to slip but you should be able to spin them round the cable(s).
Cable-ties really should not be used to make looms or anchor cables or looms to anything solid. If you want to make a loom, wrap it in specialist loom tape. If you want to anchor cable or a loom to something solid use a “P” clip. If required… use a length of heat shrink to make the loom a tighter fit in the ‘P’ clip.
I know you are dying to ask…. when do I use cable-ties? Well generally at the installation stage to get things to stay in place before installing P clips or if I have to run a new loom along the same path as an existing loom, I generally opt for cable-ties to hold them both together (as long as the original is suitably anchored to support both)
While we are talking abut cable-ties… I have seen the worst kind of mistakes in the use of them. It is not OK to cable-tie anything to brake lines, fuel lines, vacuum lines, hydraulic hoses, coolant hoses or steering components (yep one bright spark cable-tied his front LED light bar wires to some of the steering components!)
Heat Shrink Tubing
An absolute must have in my opinion. There are two main types – plain and pre glued. The plain are the main one you would use, while the pre glued are great if you have to over sleeve a connection to make it waterproof. As you heat up the pre-glued type, the glue softens as the tube strings and bonds to the cable as everything cools. They can be a little more rigid when installed, so make a service loop in the cable. The finished covering is usually waterproof enough for brief submersion if done correctly.
Having a selection of sizes and colours is handy and assortment boxes of multiple sizes and colours can be bought on line cheaply enough. In the workshop I use an old paint stripper heat gun on low power as I find that is more controllable than a flame.
Bridging the gap… something in the future?
Although not so common in the UK, in Australia and the USA wild camping (boon docking) is probably as popular as campsites. To this end trailers and caravans usually have much larger battery capacities than anything found in Europe. It’s not uncommon to find outfits with 600 to 800Ah battery banks recharged mainly be solar, buy increasingly (especially in Australia) an additional bridge between tow vehicle and trailer is made using heavy duty “Anderson” connectors and cables capable of supplying upwards of 60 Amps from the vehicle to the leisure battery bank.
With the cost of lithium batteries reducing almost daily, I can foresee very soon that light weight lithium batteries will be installed in caravans. The down side of this currently and trying to retrofit Lithium is the existing charging setup of current European vans is not really suitable for looking after these type of batteries. We have a Sterling Power Wildside unit installed in our caravan which allows us to charge any type of battery chemistry, including lithium when connected to the tow vehicle. The draw back is the caravan’s inbuilt charger is only capable of wet lead acid or AGM. I think that a high capacity DC to DC charger installed in the vehicle and an additional cable to supply the caravans battery banks may not be too far away. It’s something you might want to keep in mind for the future. It’s something I’m looking into currently.
Well, that’s a bit longer than I anticipated and there is still a few things to cover. If you made it this far…. take a toffee out of the jar… well done! If you think I missed something or would like me to cover something specific, drop me a comment below.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
A light squirt of silicone designed for rubber window seals and a quick polish with a microfibre cloth finished the job off nicely.
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!
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)
As many of you know I don’t really do reviews… I occasionally buy things and put my thoughts on the product in a post. Companies do contact me and ask if I’d review their ‘Do-Hicky Mark 4’ on the blog and most of the time I decline. Why? Well a lot of them stipulate that they want to see anything I write before it’s posted, we’ll sorry no. If I think it’s crap, I want to be able to say so. There are a couple of companies that I deal with that say “We are thinking of importing/manufacturing/marketing the ‘Functionvardle Mark 9’ we would like to send one for your feedback and not for reviewing on your blog.” They do get an honest feedback and I never mention the company or the product in my blog…. Even if the “Functionvardle Mark 9” makes it to market.
This was slightly different. The PR department simply said “We’d like to send you a Bosch Fontus for review” No requests for editorial control, previews before publishing, promises of ‘it’s yours to keep’ if we like the review. What made me say “Yes” to this particular request?
Well, for a while I’d been procrastinating on coming up with a contrivance of my own that did a similar job. I’d bought one of those bright yellow overgrown pump up spray things when they were on offer for rinsing down the caravan after cleaning… we have no water or electricity at the storage site we use. I’d already got three of those 25 litre water containers that I’d throw in the trailer along with the buckets, brushes, ladders… everything for a cleaning mission down at the caravan storage yard… and I thought it wasn’t beyond the realms of reality (and my awesomeness) to throw a 12 volt pump…. some hose…. a couple of hose connectors…. length of cable…. fuse & fuse holder…… suction pipe… board or box to hold it all… you see where this is going? By the time I’d assembled all the bits found I’d got half of them wrong and moved the goal posts half a dozen times. Apathy set in and I resigned myself to keep pumping the big yellow spray thing. The nice Lady from Bosch PR hit me in a weak moment and I thought “Hmmmmm.”
OK why “Fontus” and not “Rechargeable Battery Powered Portable Water Reservoir and Spray“? Fontus, I had to Google it – In ancient Roman religion, Fontus or Fons (plural Fontes, “Font” or “Source”) was a god of wells and springs. So that answers that question. Now you know why I don’t work in product marketing! The box arrived and I was surprised at the heft of the box. The actual unit itself weighs in at just under 10 Kgs…. and has a water reservoir capacity of 15 litres.
So what is it… well basically it’s a Rechargeable Battery Powered Portable Water Reservoir and Spray Unit. You fill it up with water, insert the rechargeable battery, connect the included hose and spray head, push the ON button and squeeze the trigger. Is it a jet wash? No, it runs at a max of around 1.5 MPa that’s 15 Bar or 217 PSI to you or me or if you are really old 14.8 Atmospheres. So it’s not a jet washer.
Now here is the thing that has me fascinated. On the top there is a three position power switch. While testing (read playing around) I could tell it changed the power… but also it seemed to change the amount of water without affecting the spray pattern or distance it should spray the jet of water I could do the same width ‘fan’ of water on each of the three power settings but with three volumes of water. (OK I know the physics behind it… no need to comment.)
When washing the car when it comes to rinsing off I normally have my hosepipe rose set on ‘rain’ so its a constant rain shower and proceed to go round the whole vehicle rinsing off the shampoo (yes I shampoo my vehicles… get over it) Now with the Fontus I used the horizontal fan setting not he trigger and could literal have a line of water that I just moved down the body panel pushing the shampoo suds down as it went. I was amazed I could do the whole of the VW Amarok.. Which isn’t small… on less than 15 litres on the lowest power setting. That is some serious water saving there.
The battery duration is unknown at the moment. It comes complete with a 18 volt 2.5 Ah battery and charger, that are as far as I know the same Bosch fitting as used on many of their power tools. SO if you already have Bosch power tools it’s Billy Bonus time… another charger and battery for your tools and spare batteries for your Fontus. (Curse my early lifestyle choices for going with Makita and DeWalt.) I believe there are also 4.0Ah and 6.0Ah batteries available in the range.
Toy or Tool?
After first thinking what a great idea…. I had a look at the price… an eye watering mahhosive amount… list price. However as everyone knows “Google is you friend” a quick Google later and John Lewis & Partners have it down to £209* (*at the time of writing) Now that is not a small amount so the question is… expensive toy or tool? Well, After my initial “testing [read playing about again] I’d been jet washing in the front garden over Easter… around five hours worth of jet washing in fact and the front door and windows were to say the least showing the dried on signs of mud splattering. Now Sue is understanding, but waiting for the window cleaner to deal with it was not an excuse I was going to get away with! Not wanting to drag the hosepipe round to the front of the house again, I had a “Ha.. I have just the tool for that” moment and having already recharged the battery and topped off the water tank I wheeled the Bosch Fontus out of the garage and round to the front of the house. A quick light spray to wet each window and door, wipe down with a soapy sponge and rinse off with the Fontus. Done in ten minutes. It’s also completed several other little tasks around the home now too.
Would I take it with me on a caravan trip?…. If we were taking the bikes, yes. I have used a dog wash station in the past (I know I wasn’t supposed to) and as long as I don’t use a chemical on the bikes, just rely on pure water and the included brush I should be OK washing the bikes on the grass. I wouldn’t use the brush on a vehicle’s bodywork (but I’m a bit OCD about things like that) nor would I wash the vehicle or caravan for that matter, on a pitch.
A few Q and A’s…
Can it be carried full of water? – Yep, I also tried it on its back, the filler cap seems to have an air admittance valve that stops water from leaking out. I wouldn’t do it for long periods though on it’s back… just the ten minute trip to the caravan storage yard. Upright shouldn’t be a problem I would have thought.
Can you spray anything else? – Nope… fresh water only.
Can you see how much water is in the tank?– Yes the tank has a site gauge in each side.
Can you store it full of water? – I did for few days, however it cautions you not to do so in the instructions.
How big is the filler cap?– It’s about the same size as an Aquarol filler cap and has a removable mesh filter trap… I could get a Hoselock fitting on the end of my hosepipe to fit through the opening and wedge in the filter when filling it. It’s also easy to poor water in from a container.
How heavy is it full? – 9.8 Kgs empty and 24.8 Kg’s full… so about two bags of sugar heavier than your airline baggage allowance.
How long does the battery last? – well I certainly got through 30 litres of water (2 tanks) on the low power setting (which was all I needed for rinsing off) and looking at the battery indicator maybe I could have made inroads to a third tank. I don’t know if the battery indicator is liner or not.
How long does it take the battery to recharge? – From battery empty indicator to full with the supplied AL1830 CV charger 60 minutes… or about 1 cup of tea, two digestives and a quick catchup with your neighbour.
Is it easy to move? – When full it trundles around just like one of the wheeled over head locker type pieces of luggage. If you can drive one of those… you can handle this.
Will 15 litres be enough to rinse a caravan? – Yes I could do it with 15 litres. But it’s easy just to have a container with a bit more water.
What fittings connect the hose, can I use a garden hose? – The fittings are a twist lock type.. not seen them before but I did like the fit and function of them. They seem quite suitable for the task. Why would you want to use a garden hose… just wheel it to where you need it.
What else can it be used for? – Washing off salt water from wet suits, boat trailer, outboard engines, muddy dogs, muddy bikes, wellies, washing windows, washing the beach off anything…. making sure your BBQ is properly extinguished (as I write this I keep getting the smell of burning moorland wafting in through the open windows into the office).
Only two things… do they make a 12 volt ‘in car’ charger for that battery? That would be really cool and…. nope I got nothing else. That will be one thing then.
If I already had a couple of Bosh power tools that used the same battery pattern and was thinking about an additional battery and charger… then the price makes it a good deal. An extra tool that gives you an extra battery and charger into your Bosch ensemble of kit.
The hose is not as pliable as I’d have personally liked, but then again looking at it it’s not going to get damaged easily.
It is a bit of a ‘luxury’ bit of kit… but then again once you start using it… I’ll stop there, Sue might be reading this.
Do I want one? Well I don’t really want to give this one back.
I seem to have had an increase over the last few weeks of emails from people involved in building, modifying or upgrading Overland Expedition type vehicles. I think some of my posts must have been quoted or referenced in related forums. A lot of questions are related to roughly the same group of topics so I thought I’d produce three drawings to help answer the bulk of the questions. If you read down the comments on some posts I have answered a lot of specifics that might help. I’ve merged a lot of the questions into a paraphrased ones…
“How can I get my LED light bar and spotlights to come on when I use my main beam switch but I want to disable them when on the highway?”
The questions were from a number of 4 x 4 Off Road enthusiasts and Overland vehicle people. Simplest way I could come up with was using a couple of diodes (details on the drawing) Three switches… one for LED Light Bar, One for Driving Lights and one that allows you to sync the LED Light Bar and Driving Lights to the operation of the main beam in the vehicle. Flash the main beam and with the Sink Switch ON… all the lights will flash. Note… this may be illegal in some countries, so having the option to turn off the facility when on the roads ‘should’ keep you within the law…. don’t quote me on it!!!
“Whats the best layout for connecting a solar controller / inverter / isolation switch to my battery bank?”
The best schematic I could come up with that is flexible for most situations. I’ve put a few notes on the drawing. The various components I’ve drawn generically…. all can be found at your preferred supplier.
“What’s the basic layout of the vehicle fridge and leisure battery charing circuit?
This I think has come from a few on-line discussions relating to poor performance of the fridge and leisure battery charing in older 4 x 4 vehicles. I was receiving for a while a number of questions related to upgrading older installations. I also receive a number of emails asking how to add the facility of fridge and leisure battery charging to older vehicles and upgrade the 7 pin tow socket or old military lights socket.
You can download the PDF’s and are free to use for personal use. If you post them on other forums I’d appreciate a link back to this page and/or an acknowledgement.
I’d appreciate any feed back in the comments below.
A few weeks ago I posted a blog post called “A Quick Fault Finding Tip…” and that generated quite a few emails regarding electrical testing and how to trace faults. In fact a lot of the other electrical posts I’ve done over the years still generate emails and comments (it’s always worth checkingback on some of th eolder posts to read the comments) I’m going to try to explain a technique that’s really handy to have in your tool box for general fault-finding.
Earth Side Testing
Most people who perform general maintenance on their vehicle, motor home or caravan will be familiar with checking the voltage of the vehicle or leisure battery using a multimeter. Great little things to have and personally I think everyone should be able to do the basics with one. So as a bit of a refresher I’ll go through this scenario with you. Checking the lights on your tow vehicle you notice one of the brake lights is a lot dimmer than the other. Let’s find out why. I’m going to simplify the circuit a bit it should give you the idea behind the principle.
Depending on the device you re reading this on the drawings might be small. If you want to see the drawing full size just click on it to open it up full size.
In the drawing above you can see the basic circuit. The positive lead from the battery goes through the ignition switch and on to a fuse. From there through a connector to the brake pedal switch and on to another wiring loom connector to the back of the vehicle. It passes through another connector before arriving at the brake bulb holder. The holder is connected to the vehicle chassis via another wiring loom connector. The vehicle chassis is connected back to the battery in the engine bay. You can see we’ve checked the battery voltage with out meter and it reads 12.68 volts… so not a flat battery. We’ll make a note of the battery voltage.
OK… so the problem is this bulb is not at full brightness.. so it’s got to be a loss of voltage supplying it somewhere in the circuit. We need to check the voltage along the circuit with the bulb lit (circuit live) and the black negative lead of our multimeter attached the battery negative terminal. (I’ll explain how to do this later).
Probably the next place to check it would be the fuse… 12.66 volts, not too bad only 0.02 or 20 mV loss… lets keep going….
..next is a wiring loom connector, back probing it gives a 10 Mv drop (loss) normally these modern connectors are pretty good.
Brake light switch… Hmm a bit more of a drop… maybe a quick spritz with contact cleaner will sort that…
Back probing the next connector gives a bit more of a loss… I’ll come back and check the brake light switch connector.
OK, now at the back of the vehicle and a bit more of a drop at that connector but nothing too much…
Well 12.13 volts on the bulb contact… so between the battery and bulb positive tip a total loss of 0.55 V or 550 mV…. that’s about within limits as I would not expect to see much more than a 500 mV… half a volt drop on a typical circuit like that. So what’s going on? A 500 mV drop can’t account for the dim bulb?
However, if we keep going and measure the voltage on the earth side of the bulb holder….
Hang on we see a reading of 2.67 volts. How can that be? We are connected to ground at both ends of the meters test leads? A circuit has two sides, the positive side to the load – in this case the bulb and the return or negative side back to the battery.
Just because the negative wire on the bulb holder is only short and goes to a bolt securing it and maybe many others to the chassis doesn’t mean we can assume it is the same as being clamped to the negative battery terminal.
A few things to ponder…. vehicles are made of steel… steel is not as good conductor of electricity as copper… nether is aluminium that some vehicles have in their construction. At one time steel panels were all spot welded together… now a lot are bonded on with specialist adhesives. The earth point may well be in the boot or under the floor and will be subject to corrosion as will the main battery neutral cable in the engine bay. All this can compromise an electrical path back to the battery.
If we look at the voltage drop on both sides of the circuit we have 0.55 volts on the supply added to 2.67 volts on the neutral side…. 3.22 volts in total, so we are trying to light our bulb with only 9.46 volts.
Could we have got there quicker?
One of the checks I always do first with the ignition on is the battery voltage check to get a reference to work with and then simply move my red positive test lead over to some main point on the engine block….
If I get a reading of more than 0.4 volts (400 mV) obviously my negative return path from the vehicle chassis is compromised. Time to turn everything off and undo the main earth cables to the chassis and engine and give them and the mounting points a good clean with scotch bright or fine emery and a dab of specialist grease (see “Shopping” below) to protect them from further corrosion.
In the scenario we have just gone through, I’ll bet a wet weekend in Blackpool that cleaning both the earth terminal at the back of the vehicle and the battery earth to the chassis would have sorted the problem. I’d also have a look at the brake pedal switch as there is a bit more of a voltage drop than I’d like. Most likely it’s the connector rather than the switch itself.
For those that tow…
Nearly all tow bar wiring looms will ground to the same point in the back of the vehicle with some of the other assorted vehicle earth cables…. installers take the easy route and if there are already cables earthed there … then another couple won’t make a difference.
This can and will have an effect on the performance of your caravan electrics. Both the leisure battery charging circuit and fridge circuit will probably be earthed at that point.. So in the case of the fault above, each of those circuits will have a voltage drop of 2.67 volts. Therefore if you have leisure battery charing or fridge issues its possibly not the wiring in the caravan, it could be the wiring in the vehicle. Check the ground path first.
One quick check is with lights and ignition turned on, do a volt drop test between the battery negative terminal and one of the cable secured under the earth point at the rear of the vehicle where the tow pack electrics are terminated. If it’s above 0.5 V (500 mV) then give the earth points a clean.
One bit of advice I’ve given to people in the past is to run a 4mm or 6mm cable directly from the negative battery terminal to the back of the vehicle and terminate it at the earth point where all the rear lights and tow electrics terminate. Makes a heck of a difference.
Right…. Franky Howard fans stop it now! Back Probing, you might have heard of it and really it’s nothing special. It’s a simple technique used when fault-finding and involves using a fine probe to get into the back of the connector where the cable enters to test the voltage without disconnecting the connector. Sometimes you can get away with a straightened paperclip wound round the tip of the multimeter test lead. You can buy test lead accessory packs that have various attachments or ‘caps’ that fit on the end of your test leads to make the task easier.
How do I test between the battery and some other point on the vehicle or caravan?
I have made a few of these over the years… basically it’s a long length of wire, about 20 feet with a battery terminal sized crocodile clip at one end and a small crocodile clip at the other… and I don’t know how many I’ve given away to people. I have a couple, one long enough to get tot he back of the vehicle and one long enough to get to the back of the caravan when its hooked up to the vehicle. SImply clip one end to the battery negative terminal and the other to the negative lead on your multimeter. Often its an idea to tie a loose knot in the two leads to stop them coming apart. Caution though, this lead is connected to the ground side of the battery – don’t let it dangle where it might touch something… put a bit of tape for protection around the connection if required.
Multimeters…. a person can never have enough multimeters…. and since the demise of Maplin a couple of great places to keep an eye on is Aldi and Lidl. I got a couple of great general purpose multimeters from Aldi for £9 each. Not always available as they generally come up as special buy’s. However if you are an Amazon shopper then this https://amzn.to/2I91q91 seems like a great little multimeter with a lot of positive reviews for £12
I use Liqui Moli 3140 Battery Clamp Grease – https://amzn.to/2Vn0qSo for battery and chassis terminals. It’s a small tube but does last a while.
If you want to make your own long test lead this box of crocodile clipshttps://amzn.to/2VedU32 for about £4.50 is always handy.
A dream test tool…
If you are into testing or it’s part of your job then there has been something on the market for a while called “Power Probe” Now while the original is obscenely expensive and there are a number of copies out there. The Auto Power scan PS100 is priced at about £80 and does the job in one simple instrument – https://amzn.to/2OJHYAW (Any sponsors out there… hello….hello…) This is on my “I really want one of those” list!
As always when working on anything electrical think safety. Oscar our Health & Safety Cat would like to remind you that working on vehicle electrics can be just as dangerous as working on house electrics. If you are unsure then DON’T…. get in touch with someone who is qualified. Find the right person and they will usually help you to do it safely. Be like Oscar – Be Safe.