A few weeks ago Andy Harris (yes that Andy… him off the TV) and of Road Pro fame called me to tell me about a new gadget that Dutch caravanners were getting all excited about. Now not one to turn down the chance to test a gadget or two, when Andy asked if I’d like one of the units to test I of course said in true reserved fashion said “Well I suppose I can take a look at it”. Who wouldn’t pass the chance to check out the latest piece of tech gadgetry being made by those clever Dutch people at e-Trailer. A few days later a large brown box arrived. Continue reading
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.
Planning the Install
Remember the Six P’s… “Proper Planning Prevents Piddling Poor Performance”… or something along those lines! Before we start hacking away at the multitude of cables (and my email inbox fills up with help requests) we need to pull out the relevant electrical schematics from the handbook. Our caravan is a ‘dealer special’ based on a 2011 Swift Europa 550 fitted with a Sargent PSU. Continue reading
If you are a regular reader you may remember a couple of posts I wrote about leisure battery charging in caravans and motorhomes (Smart Alternators: how they affect Caravans and Motorhomes…. and NEC Show Roundup – it’s all technical…) and I linked to a few videos that Charles Sterling from Sterling Power has produced covering charging topics and Euro6 engines. At the recent NEC show Sterling Power were featuring a new product that would soon be available that would solve all the issues for caravan owners that were experiancing towing with vehicles that had “smart alternators” which were are standard on Euro5 and Euro6 engines and the issues around regenerative braking on Euro6 engines. Charles promised to send me one of the first pre-production “Wildside” Battery to Battery chargers specifically designed for caravans. Continue reading
It’s been a few months since we bought our VW Amarok and I hadn’t originally intended it to take this long to install a bike rack or carrier. What slowed us down was sorting out the bits needed for mounting a bike carrier above the bed of the Amarok. In the USA, pickups are plentiful and there are various companies that make carrier systems and mounts for pickups. My initial thoughts it would be fairly easy and started perusing the Thule website. Unfortunately they did not sell the correct mounting hardware for where I wanted to mount the rack.. on the side rails for the Roll-N-Lock cover.
Searching the internet found plenty of results for the type of mounting I wanted… all in America and the most promising system was produced by Yakimar. Continue reading
We hadn’t originally set off to visit Manchester Van Centre VW originally, but had gone to Costco to pick up some supplies. However we were early, the queues to check out non-existent and we found ourselves back in the Freelander quicker than expected. It’s not so often that both our time off coincides so neatly so it was a bit of an opportunity to go and have a look at an Amarok. We parked up and walked towards the showroom entrance, Sue said “I like that colour” as we walked past a new Amarok Atacama parked outside. Sue, by now was a dab hand at spotting Amaroks from a wide range of distances!
The choice of vehicle colour is a funny thing, we have had black vehicles for years and I wanted a change. The original Amarok I had seen was all white, with chrome, and I’d got it in the back of my mind as down to either white or silver. But Sue was right, it was a rather nice blue, a colour I’d never even considered. In fact I don’t think we have ever owned a blue vehicle.
Once inside the receptionist introduced us to Jessica, the sales person. Now at this point I have to admit… I am the customer from hell. I know I am. I don’t like sales people in general. You just have this feeling that one half of their brain is working out if they have or will make their sales target and the other half is calculating their commission if they sell you something. What’s left is dealing with you. I asked Jessica a few basic questions and went with both barrels into towing electrics.. and rather than looking like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights, calmly said “I don’t know I’ll go and ask someone” not the usual sales technique of waffling round the subject… a bit like a politician does.
I think I mentioned it in a previous post that a number of people had said that they are unsure about commercial dealers, mainly because they don’t have any experience of them I guess, but my experience in all the dealings we have had with Manchester Van Centre is that they are really friendly and they do know their product range. If you are in the market for a VW Camper, they happen to have a really neat white van set up in the showroom and these things are in big demand. Apparently a couple of the staff also have them and are active campervanners.
Although they didn’t have an Amarok demonstrator available – it was already out and booked up for quite a while, Jessica arranged a test drive in one of the managers cars, so we went off for a drive round in a blue Atacama… big mistake…. I had originally worked everything out on a Trendline, not the special edition Atacama. I now wanted the Atacama, damn, I fell for the classic sales trick!
The test drive was successful, so figures were exchanged…. several times and a couple of days later we placed our order for a shiny blue – the blue Sue said she liked, Amarok Atacama BiTurbo Blue Motion.
The Tow Bar Tango
The next thing was to sort out the tow bar. I wanted a fixed bar… no problem as VW do one, ad 13 pin electrics. Again no problem VW can do this but the fridge and leisure battery charging circuits are not included and VW don’t have a kit for doing this. Ok, not a problem as Jessica said she could arrange for this to be done before we pick up the vehicle. A day or so later in a chance phone conversation with Jessica I asked what type of relay would be fitted, knowing that it needed to be linked into the vehicle electrics and fully integrated with the auto stop start and energy recovery system on the alternator and not a voltage sensitive type. Jessica suggested that I talk directly to the company that would be doing the final bit of the wiring.
After two hours of trying to get through to speak to the right person on the phone I eventually spoke to someone who was supposed to be the contact given to me. The conversation did not inspire me with confidence. I asked about the relay and was told it was a voltage sensitive type. When I asked about integrating with the stop start and energy recovery, the person didn’t have a clue and said they had been fitting these for years without problems. I also asked about the size of the cable and was told the always use 2.5mm. Long story short… I emailed Jessica and said don’t let this company anywhere near the vehicle. Fit the VW side of it and I’d arrange for the remaining two services to be completed after I’d taken delivery.
This got me thinking, there must be a OEM kit for the vehicle. A quick email to my contact in Germany soon elicited a result. Westfaillia do an approved kit. A quick search on the Westfailia website for my nearest supplier came back with North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. Now there was a name I had heard of. They had been given a big thumbs up by a few of the Caravan Chronicle subscribers and I’d also recommended them to a couple of people who had experienced issues and they reported back had their problems resolved successfully. A quick phone call to them confirmed they did have the correct Westfallia kit and they could do the job and it was a switching relay, not voltage sensing.
As it was now late, I fired an email back to Jessica to tell her to cancel the VW tow bar and electrics, I’d get the North West Towbar Centre to do the job after I’d taken delivery. The following morning Jessica rang me. She had been in touch with the guys at North West Towbar Centre and arranged for Manchester Van Centre VW to take our vehicle down on Monday to get it all fitted out ready for us to collect it on Thursday and If I paid them directly, it would be cheaper. Now how’s that for a bit of top dealer service.
The Insurance Waltz
I’d just finished a twelve hour night stint at the airport and arrived home about eight on the Monday morning. Time to arrange the insurance. I’d already arranged to cancel the Mini Cooper insurance arranged through the Caravan Club the previous week and received a shock as I’d expected to just transfer it over to the Amarok. Unfortunately the Caravan Club insurance doesn’t insure pick-up’s. For the life of me I can’t understand why…. or couldn’t at the time.
I started with the well know comparison web sites and immediately got re-directed to their commercial vehicle sections… Pick-up’s are designated as commercial, even if they are privately owned. I filled in the various sections and eventually got some quotes back.
Now you might want to brew up and get yourself comfortable.
As our vehicle was having one of our old registrations transferred on to it, it hadn’t rattled through the DVLA system at this point, so I could not enter the registration, but had to find the exact vehicle description, which I did on all the sites. To actually arrange the insurance I had to ring the various companies. So I started with a quote that seemed reasonable, it had no claims protection, legal cover, a minimum excess, all the usual bits and seemed like good value. I rang the company giving the quote reference number on the screen.
The person on the other end of the phone ran through the details of the information with me. Everything was OK and they could use the registration number I gave them even though it was not on the DVLA system yet. So far, so good. He then asked would I be using the vehicle to commute to a fixed place of work… well yes. Ahh, you only have social and domestic cover ticked, not Social, domestic and commuting. I didn’t see a box to tick for that I said, just social and domestic and I assumed that as it was private use only… a box which I had ticked, would include cover for travelling to work. No, that’s not covered. OK, I need that, so how much does that add… £100. I nearly fell off my chair. So that covers me and my wife for travelling to work then? No… just you. I snorted coffee (which I needed having been awake by now for over 24 hours) over my keyboard. What! If you want your wife adding we can do that…. it will be another £50. This was getting expensive very quickly.
Right, so I’m covered for social, domestic and travelling to a fixed place of work for both myself and my wife then and towing our caravan. Err…. not towing a caravan… that will be extra and we only do third-party fire and theft on that… for another £120. What use is TPF&T on a caravan when I’m towing it… I want fully comprehensive. We don’t do it. I thanked the person and hung up. I was imagining what else would be an extra… Ahh you didn’t mention you wanted to breath in the vehicle… that will be another £50. It’s a bit like the scenes from Carry on Camping… everything was £10 extra.
Right, I’ll ring someone else… and the conversation went in a similar vein. However this person suggested I try ticking the “Carry Own Goods” box instead of “Private Use” box as it might come back with better quotes. I went back to the comparison websites and edited my original information. On checking the “Carry Own Goods” box it then started asking for a trading name… I entered Caravan Chronicles…. although this could lead me into a whole new dark place.. never mind, I continued. ‘Please state the radius of delivery for your own goods’…. well Caravan Chronicles is read in Australia so I guess 20,000 miles would cover it…. it didn’t like that and suggested I try again. I tried various distances and…. well it was crap to say the least. I had now been awake for about 26 hours.
I tried ringing a third company…. this time they person understood my plight and said they would have a word with the underwriters and see if there was anything they could do. They would call me back.
While I was ingesting the last of the caffeine I hadn’t snorted all over the place, I started to flick through a copy of Land Rover Owner magazine that I’d received a few days earlier through the post and as luck would have it I flicked on to a full-page advert for Adrian Flux…. now there was a name that I knew. They specialise in covering all sorts of 4 x 4 and specialist and modified vehicles. Kettle on, fresh coffee in my mug, I sat down for the long haul and gave them a call. I spoke to a very nice gentleman in Norfolk and he understood my situation, took some details and within 15 minutes we were fully insured, with all the bits I wanted and by the time I had finished on the telephone to him, my email inbox had dinged and there were my policy documents and insurance certificate.
The insurance company that said they would call me back….. well I’m still waiting.
So after 4 hours of being on the phone, I now had a sweaty ear from the telephoneium and had been on the go for 28 hours. All I had to do now was hi-tail it over to see Jessica to sign the paperwork and let her have a copy of my driving licence.
On the way back, I decided to drop into the North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. The Amarok had been taken over to them that morning to have the tow bar fitted. It was the first time I had been there and it was great to actually see a shop – quite a big one too – stuffed full of actual products that you can touch, pickup and feel the heft of their construction rather than one of these dinky show shops full of nothing and posters.
I introduced myself and spent half an hour or so chatting to one of the guys there. They do know their stuff when it comes to electrics and we talked about some of the problems with modern vehicles and fitting aftermarket equipment to them.
Time to head home…. I had one last task to do, and that was to order the Roll N Lock rear cover, but that’s going to be for another day.
Next time: Picking up the Amarok and starting to fit some kit.
Our Freelander is now becoming a grand old lady of 10 years vintage, we have owned her from new and she’s just passed the 90,000 miles mark so we thought it might be time to retire her from towing duty. However we intend keeping her and started to look round for a suitable replacement to take on the task of towing the caravan. As at some point in the future we hope to move up to a twin axle, twin bed caravan I started looking for a vehicle that would be capable of towing what we hope to move towards in the future.
Now, this is my (our) thoughts and the rational for our eventual choice. It may not be perfect for you or even close to perfect, but this is what we considered in our choices and hopefully going through the process will help you now or in the future when you come to start thinking about a new tow vehicle.
There are lots of options and styles and we needed to narrow down the list quite a bit before getting into the detail. I did read all the reviews from the last “Tow Car of The Year Awards” to see what was being considered by the industry as the top performers, but in some respects the awards are slightly tilted in my opinion as they only review vehicles that have been put forward by the various manufacturers…. which I guess is a marketing tool for them. So there are some vehicles that are not in the awards that should be considered.
We have always had 4 x 4’s as our main vehicle, with an eclectic mix of second vehicles, sports cars, saloon cars etc. Personally we don’t think a saloon or estate type vehicle, even a 4 x 4 version would be right for us. This narrowed it down to SUV type 4 x 4’s and 4 x 4 pickups.
We have nearly always had a Land Rover in the family, I passed my test in one back in 1978 and was quite used to them. Sue had been driving one for longer than she will admit to… both Discovery’s and Freelander’s. The only thing neither of us had any experience of owning was a pickup style vehicle.
4 x 4’s – Choosing a body type
So we are now down to SUV’s and Pickup’s. We very seriously looked at what we needed or thought we might need.
Currently we have a roll out Fiamma Awning, but this might change so we thought about what we would do with a wet awning when packing up… not wanting to put it in the caravan. We also thought about our bikes, we don’t take them with us on every trip, but on some occasions that we hadn’t we wished we had. The ability to take them easily on every trip was a requirement. We didn’t want to carry them on the roof though, so a rear mount on the vehicle was a must. Currently they hang off the back of the Freelander’s spare wheel and it didn’t interfere with towing the caravan and was fairly easy to load and unload. The idea of lifting them on and off a roof mount didn’t appeal to me.
We have a few things that live in the caravan – levelling blocks, corner steady blocks etc that I’d like to carry in the vehicle, and the Cadac, sometimes we don’t take it due to lack of space in our current vehicle (I hate carrying things on the back seat).
Ease of loading – it’s an art loading up any tow vehicle packing everything in so it doesn’t rattle or move about and is safe, so a rear load area that is bigger than our Freelander was a must. We actually think we are pretty slick when it comes to loading as everything is in stackable “Really Useful Box Company’ boxes.
We naturally started looking at 4 x 4 SUV type vehicles – it’s what we know most about and again being big users and fans of the Green Oval, started looking at Landy’s. Now here’s the thing, at the Land Rover dealers…. as we got out of the Freelander… my wallet went off on its own ordered a coffee and a Panini, sat down and said “no way dude”. The wallet was right. The cost of purchasing, yearly servicing and maintenance of one of the Green Oval products was giving my wallet cardiac arrhythmia. Although it may have topped the tow awards for years, it wasn’t an option for us cost wise.
OK, so what else was there similar to a Land Rover? I listed on a spreadsheet all the alternatives and proceeded to wade through them over the next couple of months.
What you have to be aware of is we started this process over 12 months ago, so I’m compressing the time scale down quite a bit.
From the spreadsheet I whittled it down to engine size, towing capacity, Gross Train Weight, Hitch weight limits, braked trailer limits, serving costs, purchase price, wheel base and rear axle to tow ball length, width, height, cost of tower and electrics…. you name it, it was included on the spread sheet. Eventually I came out with the top three contenders… well on paper at least.
Automatic or Manual Transmission
The final choice was whether to go manual or automatic for the transmission. As much as I like manual transmission for 4 x 4 off road capabilities, we weren’t going to be doing a lot of green lane off roading and automatic was the obvious sensible choice.
So with my spreadsheet stuffed full of info, boxes ticked, lists of suppliers for racks and odds and ends then next task was to visit dealers to push, pull, prod, open, shut, question and test drive my (our) top choices.
A few days later, while driving to work at silly o’clock in the morning (about 4:45 am actually, I do remember it well ) my careful cogitations unravelled in spectacular fashion.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for Caravan Chronicles.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed over 1,200,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 52 days for that many people to see it.
Just finding time to catch up on a few things that I haven’t had time to write about over the past few months.
One of the things we bought a while ago – sometime last year I think, was a cheap de-humidifier from ALDI. I was a little sceptical about the performance of such a small and low priced device initially but it seems to work as advertised. We haven’t been leaving it plugged 24 hours a day but just using it when we are out for the day and in the evening. Usually we just plug it in when we get up are and leave it running stood on in the bedroom area on a low shelf near the bathroom door and in the evening move it into the bathroom and put it on the floor. We don’t leave it running overnight.
Each day it averages just over two cups of water. Now that doesn’t seem much, but that water was in the air and it has to go somewhere, usually in the form of condensation. One thing we have noticed is that in the morning when we open the blinds, even when it’s down to a few degrees above freezing outside there isn’t any condensation on the lower edge of the windows or window frame. In the colder months usually we put the towels used from showering over the heated towel rail in the bathroom to dry and I’ve always worried about condensation forming in the caravan, but I think this little unit might have eased my concerns somewhat. I don’t think a de-humidifier is worth running 24 x 7 in a caravan as there are so many vents, but taking the moisture out of the ‘van from day to day living can’t be a bad thing!