Season’s Greetings…

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Original Artwork (c) Lee Fernley

As Christmas draws ever closer, both Sue and I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas… or Happy Holiday….. or Happy Hanukkah, or what ever festival you celebrate this time of year.

Whether you are away in your caravan or motorhome celebrating the season or at home planning family memories to be made next year we both wish you safe travels.

We will next be out and about for the Caravan & Motorhome Show 2020 at Event City. I will be there on Thursday 16th January for the opening – hopefully with Sue too, and the show is on through to Sunday 19th January 2020. Don’t be shy and say “Hello”…. it doesn’t have to be an Andrew Ditton “Hellooo”…. honest.

Cheers

The problem with information from the internet…

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

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

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

Case 1

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

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

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

What was going on?

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Case 2

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

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

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

What was going on?

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

Conclusion

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

My two cent’s….

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

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

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

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

I can’t think of a snappy title…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignore the idiot on the right!

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

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

2020 Elddis reveal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just to prove Karen survived the “Kiwi Curry Incident”

How good is this…

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

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

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

Saying goodbye…

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

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

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

Epilogue…

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

Euro 6 Engines, Smart Alternators and Your Leisure Battery…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Going On?

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

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

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

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

What Next?

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

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

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

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

EDIT:…

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

For Anyone Restoring A Vintage Caravan…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Time Is The Shop Open?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Easy Fix…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

Setting Up the Garmin Camper 770 LMT-D…

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

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

Before the unit arrived, I downloaded Garmin Basecamp – there are downloads available for both Windows and Mac platforms. I also downloaded Garmin Express. Installing on a Mac was straight forward as usual. I can’t comment on the Windows version as we have not owned a Microsoft platformed device for over 13 years.

While writing this I found out what the LMT-D stands for… LMT is Lifetime Maps & Traffic and the D is DAB Radio reception.. it receives traffic updated via the inbuilt DAB radio receiver. No it can’t play DAB radio stations before you ask.

Garmin Basecamp

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When you first install Basecamp is comes with a default Global Map….

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It is not until you connect your GPS and download the updated map from it does it have all the fine detail and pre installed POI’s.

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I have zoomed in to Holyhead here….

All the pre installed POI’s from the GPS show up and it makes it easy to have a mooch round the area from your desk when planning a route. I’m not going to go into too much detail about setting up your own POI’s (although they are really waypoints in Garmin’s world) or setting up Routs, tracks etc. I did find it really easy to follow Garmin’s on line video tutorial. However it took me a couple of go’s to get the information I wanted in the right fields.

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Here I set up a waypoint for Southport C & M Club. Really easy and only took less than a minute. By installing Garmin Basecamp before actually receiving the 770, it gave me a chance to sit and play about with the software before getting too distracted by the new gadget. I set up about 50 waypoints, sorting them into various categories – C & M Club, Museums, Ports, Friends etc. As I was unsure what actually came pre-installed I thought it might be best to get a head start on the most common ones.

What’s installed on the Camper 770?

Really I need not have bothered too much. The Garmin Camper 770 comes with ASCI, MHF, Campercontact as well as Trip Advisor & Foursquare databases already pre-installed. As it connects to WiFi and via a phone App to the internet, you can pretty much search for any location or attraction. I’ve set ours up so it connects to the Amarok’s WiFi system for permanent internet access. You can also install Archie’s database too if you think that you need all the bases covering.

First Job – Update the 770

First job was to update the Garmin 770 with the latest maps and databases. To do this you need to install Garmin Express. Once installed, simply connect the GPS with the supplied USB lead and follow the on screen prompts. To get to the point where it starts to update only took a minute or two… inputting an email address really and naming the unit so if you have multiple Garmin products you can easily identify which GPS you have connected. It estimated that it would take around 2 hours to perform the download and all the updates, in reality it took less than 30 minutes.

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Setting up the vehicle and vehicle options came next. Again really simple to do. I found the menu system is quite simple to navigate through, and it didn’t take too long to set up our rig…

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You may notice the “80” Kmh sign in the top right corner. As you can input the weights of the vehicle, caravan, motorhome into the unit. It will keep an eye on the speed limits on roads. In europe where a lot of countries have lower limits for vehicles or towing combinations above certain weights…. France for example has a 3.5t cut off, above this weight and you have a lower speed limit that say a car and caravan under 3.5t on the same road. I’m sure motorhome owners who regularly travel in Europe will be more aware of these rules.

I could have got away with just the standard CAR setup for the Amarok when not towing, but as the Amarok has a body width of  1954mm (6’5″) and maximum of mirror to mirror with of 2228mm (7’3.5″) (5321mm or 17’5.5″ long if you are playing top trumps!) sometimes on a couple of width restricted roads I have had to really squeeze through, so I thought I’d set up a motorhome setting with the Amarok’s size just so I wouldn’t get caught out. And yes… that weight is correct. The MTPLM of the caravan and MPM of the  Amarok totals 4770 Kgs and there are a couple of  bridges in the UK I can’t legally tow over!

The Installation…

I’m a bit of a…. well I don’t know, when it comes to getting things right. I sat in the truck and moved the 770 around… placing it almost everywhere. I wanted it so it could be reached from either the driver or passenger seats, but not too close as it might fall into that focal length area where it’s just outside the range of either part of my bi-focal’s. I wasn’t happy with all the options available. So I thought tomorrow might bring inspiration. However all tomorrow brought was the same ‘Umm….” and “Nope…..”. The third day however did bring fourth a result….

I still wanted access to the top tray, but placing the GPS on the windscreen with the suppled mount was not an option. One, I hate things stuck to the windscreen and two, neither Sue or I could reach the screen from our normal seating position. So off to the bat cave to come up with a cunning contrivance. Half an hour later after shaping and bending some 1.5mm thick aircraft aluminium and a quick application of anti glare black… (I also followed that up with some anti glare cloth tape we used in aircraft cockpits)

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It still uses the Garmin quick release mount and has the flexibility to adjust fully either way and tilt down to minimise glare if the sun is reflecting directly on it (the screen is super bright though max and hopefully this won’t be a problem). We can both still reach it and the tray in front as well as being fully accessible is a convenient place to wrest your wrist while inputting info into the GPS. I have found though the Voice Command understands a “Manc” accent really well and i haven’t had any issues using voice command.

What I like…

I do like Basecamp. I’ve found out that I can overlay OS Landranger maps which makes plotting very accurate walking routes and printing them out easy. I can also create accurate Green Lane routes for off road 4 x 4 treks and import them into the 770. You can also convert Google Map routing and import it into Basecamp and your GPS. Now this is really useful. For example… setting off from Manchester about 04:00 going to Dover to catch the 10:00 ferry sailing, however I need to fill with LPG en route. I set my departure point, arrival point and search for LPG closest to my route. I can then pick one see the estimated arrival time at that point (check that the LPG station is open) and adjust my route to take in the LPG waypoint or choose the next LPG station if I am going to arrive too early.  This can then be uploaded to the 770 as a route and will adjust around traffic still directing you first to the LPG station then to your destination.

Within Basecamp you have an option to upload your waypoints to either the 770’s internal memory or the Memory Card. You can also update the memory card by removing it from the 770 and connecting it directly to your desktop device. I’ve chosen to install all my info on to the memory card rather than the 770’s internal memory… did I really need a memory card? At this point probably not but it has allowed me a bit more flexibility and when I ordered the 770 I didn’t know just how much space I’d be left with, at the moment I’ve used about 10Gb of the 15Gb internal memory. You do have the option to install additional maps on to the memory card, so for example if I wanted North America I could install it onto the removable card. There is security built in to stop maps downloaded on one device being transferred to another device.

I found the updating of the 770 using Garmin Express to be really easy too. I have been checking it every day so far just to get a fell of how often the updates come through. So far I’ve had three updates after my initial first download. I tend to suspect that maybe Garmin have a more frequent update policy, which could be a reflection of the aviation side of the business where updates are tightly scheduled and frequent to reflect any airspace and NOTAM updates. I did note that one or two things and functions in route planning within Basecamp seemed strangely familiar… until it clicked…. I’d seen and used them before in flight planning applications.

There is a couple of other features that I’ve not had before. The Garmin 770 records all your tracks… now this is really handy so when Sue say’s “Do you remember we passed such and such the other day… can we go back?” Well, I can usually remember the vague details… but being able to bring up the route we drove and doing a bit of investigation using Garmin Basecamps opens up the possibility of being able to find it again without having to resort to a darkened room, angle poise light and an impression of Herr Flick.

The other is the ability take a snapshot of the screen. I used it for a few screen shots ( like the one above showing the vehicle set up) and a few I’ve taken for a full review. I don’t know if this is a ‘feature’ that is not really a feature as it’s noever gets used…. or if it’s something I might use in the future. Might be handy for quick maps of trips or places, there again it might not. Jury’s out on that one.

I’m not able to give a full review… as we haven’t been anywhere with it yet so I can’t comment on traffic updates, turn by turn instructions, general usability or function. we are off in the next few days for five days so I’ll let you know how we get on.

… and for all those pilots out there the classic ATC…. “Resume own navigation”