I hope you all had a great Christmas and the big guy brought you some wonderful gadgets for the RV… yep I’ve been watching way too much stuff from across the pond.
This month Caravan Chronicles celebrates ten years of irrelevant blogging and I designed an eye catching logo… and you can see from it, that I’m not very good at designing logo’s.
I have been asked if we have any “merch” with the Caravan Chronicles logo and….. no. I really can’t see why anyone would want a mug or tee shirt or even a sticker with Caravan Chronicles emblazoned on it. I can’t see my eye catching 10 years of CC logo being any different so there won’t be any mugs, pens or stickers with that on it either. Sue and I did have a couple of shirts with a logo embroidered on for wearing at the caravan shows… but they are now used as coveralls when we are doing a bit of DIY and they are really good for that.
Well I guess I could tell you that in ten years we have had over 42.3 million page views and been read in almost every country in the world…. the one that amazes me is somone in the Marshall Islands reads it… I had to look that up on a map!
Over 2400 of you have left nearly 4000 comments and I have received over 44,000 emails of which about half weren’t trying to sell me something or asking me to help out a recently deceased Nigerian business man’s widow.
In the ten years I have stuck to my ‘no paid content’ through out and have turned down requests for paid reviews. I have been sent a few things to review… some have been returned and some given away… which reminds me the first person to say “Hi” at the next camp site can have an Eco Camel Shower Head.
I do however have an “Amazon Associates” thingy which is great, Amazon pays me and it doesn’t cost you a penny… it all comes from Big Jeff… and as he can afford to go into space I think he can afford to shell out a few pennies to allow me to pay the wonderful people at WordPress to keep this blog up and running. So if you want to encourage Big Jeff to pay me a bit more… use any of the Amazon links in the Caravan Chronicles shop… and buy anything you like.
What’s planned for the future?
Well I am thinking about some sort of smart Q & A system on the blog. I spend quite a bit of time answering technical emails and quite a few cries for help and maybe a searchable Q & A system would work. Only thing is I don’t know how to do it in WordPress so some research needed along those lines. If you have any thoughts on anything that would improve the blog or would like to see let me know in the comments.
So I’d just like to offer a genuine big thank you all for ten amazing years of support and both Sue and I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and safe travels.
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”
I guess this is going to be a bit of a catch up! It’s been about 16 months since I posted anything, I kinda guessed that with everything going on my blog was not on the top of peoples reading lists. That said, I have been pleasantly surprised that the daily and weekly page hits have stayed fairly constant all the way through this and the number of comments and emails has over the last few months started to increase as more people are finding the blog and asking techie questions or trying to problem solve issues. While some you-tube channels have struggled producing the usual relevant quality content that the you-tube algorithm demands to keep them in the ratings… we seemed to have faired OK.
…And a big thanks to everyone that has used links in the Caravan Chronicles Amazon Shop page… you have covered last year and this year’s WordPress costs for hosting the blog and also allows me to increase the amount of space I have available for all the drawings and pictures… I was starting to get close to my limit!
While we are on the subject of emails… thanks to everyone just simply checking in to see if we were OK as I hadn’t posted anything. We are both fine, both had our infusion of Pfizer…. twice and have shown no symptoms of anything. We do mask up and probably will continue to do so for the moment.
On a sad note, on the first of March our chief safety officer Oscar (19/10/09-1/3/21) passed away. Oscar was a quiet cat and always happy to let his brother be the one to get into trouble first while he watched on… with those blue eyes.
Henry his brother from the same litter misses him even now. Oscar was always the one to settle down for a nap first and Henry would go and snuggle down with Oscar. Now if you open a door or cupboard Henry is there just to see if Oscar was trapped and we have found him and very vocal when he discovers Oscar isn’t there.
We decided that rather than leave Henry on his own with a cat-sitter (our usual cat sitter has retired too, so that made this decision for us really) when we are away in the caravan we are now going to bring Henry with us. This is going to be a whole new adventure for us all… the only journeys Henry has done in a car have been the usual check-up’s at the V… E… T… so getting him into a carrier for a journey is going to be interesting… along with how he’s going to react to the caravan. We tried him on a harness for the first time today and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. At least he walked round and went outside and didn’t just collapse as an immovable furry blob on the floor.
A number of people have asked the same thing….
Over the last 12 months a number of people have had similar thoughts but more recently some friends of ours asked the same question…. “What do you know about setting up a storage site?“
This has generally gone along the lines of me chipping in a bit of info that generally starts with “Not much really…..” and after passing on my 15 seconds of knowledge remembering much later that I might have missed telling them something vital. So when a friend of ours was asking, I decided to commit my vast knowledge of information on the subject to a web page and you can find it on the drop down menu link above… hover your mouse over “Help Guides” and it should appear… or you can always click on this: Storage Sites and have a read. You won’t need to put the kettle on as it won’t take long but at least now I have somewhere to point people to when they start out with ” I have been thinking of setting up a caravan storage site… what do you know about it?“
So what’s next?
Well a major service on the caravan which will include new tyres and probably a new leisure battery. I’m just looking at options for going over to lithium, there are some ‘drop in’ replacements that include battery management and the price is starting to get within reach. One other thing I’d like to look at is maybe replacing the fridge for a compressor type… if we go the lithium route. Not sure if it will be 12 volt or 230 volt via a small inverter. I’m working on the options and costs.
What have I been up to?
Well answering a LOT of emails. There is obviously a lot of new people taking up caravanning, camper vanning and motor homing which is absolutely fantastic for the industry although reports of fully booked sites and on the horizon long delays on new caravans and motorhome delivery…. not so good.
I’ve also been using something called EZ Hot Spot extender from EZ WiFi. Simply calling it a hot spot extender is not doing it justice… it is much much more and allows me to have a full WiFi routing internet, TV and network storage from a simple box that connects to an existing WiFi network or as I have done via a MiFi unit. I can even connect my printer to it and have network printing all from a small box that can be powered directly from a 12 volt socket. It’s that good… you could have a zoom meeting from the back of your motorhome while someone is driving it down the road! Now that is what I call a mobile office! I’m going to do a full review in the next couple of days.
We have both been fine and getting a lot of DIY projects completed and hopefully after the school holidays have finished will be back on the road again… this time with a very loud Siamese cat…. apologies now incase you are on a pitch within earshot.
Number One. We were supposed to go to York a few days ago for a five-day break. However that got scuppered at the last-minute by one of our Siamese cats. Polo who is 14 years old suddenly decided he was not very well and it looked like it could have been touch and go and would have warranted that sad last trip to the vet. Something we absolutely could not ask our long-term cat sitter (and house minder) to make. However as it was the sunniest week we have had so far (just our luck) he decided rally round and he’s now fine.. or as fine as a 14-year-old Siamese can be.
Number Two. Last night while clearing up after our evening meal, I was finishing the washing up and Sue took out the kitchen rubbish to the bin. I watched her pass the kitchen window en-route to the bins which are the far side of the vehicles and out of view. After about five minutes or so She hadn’t returned and I guessed She might have been giving our next door neighbours cat a bit of a polish as it does drop in to our garden from time to time to say hello. I sat down in the lounge and thought Sue was being a particularly long time and went out to check. Continue reading →
Back in December last year I did a write up and little video with Andy Harris from RoadPro about the Fit2Go tyre pressure monitoring system. In the video he promised to send me one of the new Fit2Go Tyre Pressure Checker units as soon as they were released. Well Andy kept his word and yesterday I received a little package from Road Pro.
I had seen a sneak preview of one of the first early production units available at the NEC show in February and managed to have a quick run through of it very simple operation.
The unit comes neatly packaged and isn’t contained on one of those damn near impossible to open blister packs thankfully. It arrive complete with a set of AAA size batteries, a holder which has a pad of 3M VHB tape to allow it to be attached and stowed securely inside the vehicle. VHB if you don’t know stands for Very High Bond, so choose your storage location wisely… it might be a bit of a do-dah to move!
Operation is really simple. Press and hold the on button for five seconds and the unit will power up and display the status of the units own batteries.
To obtain a pressure reading, simply place the unit’s logo over the tyre pressure sensor and you will feel a slight pull as the internal magnet pulls it towards the sensor, it’s this magnet that ‘wakes up’ the sensor.
29 PSI is correct for the Amarok running light, and this sensor is showing 3 battery bars.
After a few seconds the Pressure Checker will beep and you can read the pressure for that wheel… and cleverly, you can also check on the battery level in the sensor. The display is in good old PSI, however if you don’t work in PSI and much prefer BAR, while the Pressure Checker is turned on, simply press the on/off button five times in quick succession and it will beep and the reading will now be in BAR. To change it back, simply do the same again to revert to PSI. To turn the Pressure Checker off, simply hold down the power button for 3 seconds and it will beep and turn off.
That is about as complicated as it gets.. really. The only real challenge is to find a spot to stick the holder!
I have tried a few different TPMS ‘solutions’ over the past couple of years and all have plus points and minus points. As I am one of these people who likes to do walk rounds before setting off (throw back to my flying days I guess) I really didn’t want Formula 1 type information thrown at me all the time. I wanted a simple warning system and a simple way to check the pressure without having to remove any sensors. Fit2Go ticks these boxes.
If I did have a negative point about the Fit2Go system it would be the fact that the batteries in the sensors are not user replaceable. At least I do have a way to check the status of them now. The sensors are not too expensive when they need replacing, but will be more expensive that replacing just a battery. Part of my brain is shouting “recycling” at me… and I do wonder why the manufacturer hasn’t come up with a recycling scheme… exchange your old sensors for new for a few pounds less than buying new and we will recycle them. Or maybe a discount voucher scheme when you recycle?
The Fit2Go Tyre Pressure Checker is available from RoadProfor just under £40 (exc shipping) or you can always find it on Amazon.
It doesn’t seem like 12 months since we were last here, how time flies! Each year the show seems to break the previous years attendance record (last year it was over 33,900 visitors over the four days) and I hope this year the trend continues. Held again at Event City next to the Trafford Centre its the North West’s only big caravan and motorhome show and is the opportunity for some of the biggest caravan dealers to kick the new year off with a deal or two to get the market moving. Although by all accounts this year is going to be a ‘staycation’ bonanza with more and more people choosing to holiday in the UK rather than travelling abroad.
The Caravan & Motorhome Show is on at the same time as the Travel Destinations show, but I do wonder if it might be time to split these as the two shows seem to be getting very busy and competing for space. This year the organisers have decided to open at 9:30AM on both Saturday & Sunday in order to help ease the weekend congestion.
All the main North West dealers had stands…. and all were offering show special pricing.
So what caught my eye at this show?
Well back in October last year we dithered about replacing our caravan… and decided to continue for a while with our current one as it did everything we needed it too, so I wasn’t particularly looking at caravans.
I did however want to drop by the Duvalay stand to get a couple of questions answered. We recently saw Dan Trudgian’s video about their experiences with making up beads and they had settled on a Duvalay solution, and although we have a fixed bed wondered if we could use two single’s on a fixed double bed. I managed to speak to a very busy Liz Colleran, sales and marketing director, about our options and wanted to know if two single toppers would ‘creep apart’ or generally move around. Liz told me that once put in place they tend to stay put. I did have a few other questions and Liz answered these with ease. So, the next thing is to choose the colour and get them ordered!
My next stop was P F Jones. As many of you know I’m still in the process of fitting out our new tow vehicle and the last thing is a bike rack for our two bikes. My initial thoughts ware a simple rack over the Amarok’s Roll-N-Lock bed cover. However as the Amarok is so wide, it wasn’t as simple as I thought. Options for Pick-Up trucks in the UK are somewhat limited. The problem was not only the span, but the mounting points. As I wanted to mount the cross bars across the bed, the only point the bars would mount was the flat surface at the side of the Roll-N-Lock track. There were two manufacturers that made racks and bars that would fit… Yakima and Thule. Yakima manufacture a huge range of roof racks and bike carriers, unfortunately the available range is limited in Europe and although they had a solution, it meant importing it from the USA and that would prove very costly given the current exchange rate and import duty. This left Thule, however the correct mounting foot, although available in the USA (made for the Jeep Wrangler) was not available in Europe. Even contacting Thule directly, I could not buy a set in Europe. I have had to import them from the USA.
Back to the story! Looking at photos of all the bits is fine, and checking tables to confirm size is OK… but there is nothing like a hands on, pull it, push it, slide it, will it, won’t it, get up close look at something which is exactly what I could do on the P F Jones stand. I managed to talk to a young chap that works in the racks and accessories section who spent the time going through the options and how everything could be adjusted round the sports bars fitted to the Amarok. He did suggest I could take the Amarok down to their shop in Trafford Park and they could go through and check everything would fit and be in the right place before I ordered. I’ll be taking them up on that offer in the near future!
My last stop was to put my head in one of our choices for a replacement caravan… It ticked most of our boxes back in October at the NEC but we were looking for a twin bed version. Unfortunately no one seems to make a twin axle, mid bath, rear twin bed caravan. Except Vanmaster of course!
So that’s my little show roundup done. Nothing exciting really, it was more an intel gathering mission for me.
The show is on until Sunday 22nd January and remember it opens from 9:30AM on Saturday and Sunday. There is plenty of parking both at Event City and across the road… or you can park in the Trafford Centre.
A couple of weeks ago while we were at the Chapel Lane Caravan Club site Andy Harris from RoadPro came over and brought a new product for us to try. It had been launched to the caravan and motor home market at the NEC show in October and while talking to Andy at the show he introduced me to a couple of people from Fit2Go to chat about the product. I really liked the idea of it as there were no wires involved, little set-up or programming and more importantly it was easy to install the dash display in any vehicle as the unit fitted on the windscreen and was the same size as the old tax disc. No suckers…. no bean bag thingy…. no screwing mounts to the dash or finding a space to install the display. Continue reading →
You know there are times when I think the service industry is going down the pan.
Right… the prologue
We had driven down to Chapel Lane caravan site to do a bit of partaking of the Christmas Markets in Birmingham and to do a bit of filming with the Venerable Andy Harris of motorhome fame (more about that in the next post though!). We had set up and I was pottering round outside sorting the guy ropes for the awning or the Christmas lights, I can’t remember which, when Sue popped her head out of the door and announced with some consternation… “The toilet won’t flush”
I went in and pushed the button… yep it wouldn’t flush, no pump noise, nothing. I emerged from the bathroom and announced “The toilet won’t flush” at which point Sue gave me the “did you think I was pushing the button wrong or something” look.
Right… check the fuses first, all OK. Out came the tool bag and the multimeter. Voltage going to the loo OK… check the fuse in the bottom of the loo behind the cassette. That was OK too.
Now I don’t believe in coincidences and it just so happened a couple of weeks before the caravan had been in to Glossop Caravans to have a spot of damp sorted and they had replaced the wall board that the loo backs onto. It’s got to be that I thought and said to Sue “I’ll bet it’s when they did the damp and took the loo out”
“Give them a ring now while they are still open”
I spoke to one of the service centre receptionists and they said they would get the workshop manager to ring me back and in due course he did. After a brief conversation he assured me it was nothing they had done and if the loo was getting voltage and the fuse in the loo was OK it must be the circuit board. While he was on the phone I managed one handed to peel back the Thetford sticker on the top of the loo and extract the circuit board. A quick voltage check of the pins that connect to the motor revealed that it was zero volts when the button was pushed.
“It defiantly the circuit board then” he said.
The old circuit board top, with the new one below.
I thanked him and started thinking about our next move while answering an email from the afore mentioned Andy Harris. I just happened to say “loos not working need a new circuit board” and Andy emailed back “Try Jonathan at CAK Tanks” A quick phone call and they did have one in stock… just one. I asked them to reserve it and would pop over mid morning. CAK Tanks was only about 18 miles away and took us 30 minutes to get there. After some double checking to make sure it was the right board… Thetford had very usefully changed the part number and not told many people about it. Handily the new part number was a lot cheaper and it cost £19.36 including the non voluntary contribution to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Now, you remember when I said I don’t believe in coincidences. For some reason I thought I’d just check the connections that Glossop Caravans service people would have disconnected.
Its easy to extract the connector through the hole in the floor of the cassette compartment and check the connections….
On checking the connections it was apparent that they had been connected the wrong way…. i.e reverse polarity!
The plug that was fitted by Thetford is designed to be connected one way, but the wiring harness in the caravan used two spade connectors that could be connected in any orientation and this time the person re-fitting the loo had a 50/50 chance of being right or wrong and in this case got it wrong. I re-connected the two space connectors the right way and went and fitted our old circuit board. It worked!
So the morel of this story is there are no such thing as coincidences and before setting out on a round trip of 36 miles and spending £19.36 on a new circuit board… check the polarity!
I think I’ll go a flush the loo again…. just because I can.
One of the little things that has been on my “must do something about that” list for a while is to address the problem we have with not enough places to plug things in and charge them. When we are in the caravan in the evening the front looks like a tech gadget table top sale… Macbook Pro, WiFi router/MiFi device, two iPhones, camera battery chargers, Fitbit charger and all these needed plugging in. The 4 way surge protected power strip I put there just wasn’t cutting it any more.
It was time to do something about it. A couple of years ago Swift supplied a kit to modify the drop down TV system that was installed in a range of their caravans. Our caravan already had the upgrade, however they did supply a new piece of wood to replace the installed piece as some of the holes had moved when they upgraded the latches. Always wanting to repurpose things I thought that this could be the basis of an upgrade… not to the TV drop down but to the rear of the draw unit. I wanted to install USB charging ports but still required a couple of 240 volt sockets and a brief search on Amazon I came across what I needed. The other thing I wanted was a couple of 12 volt sockets so that I could use our 12 volt plug-in USB chargers if we were pitched off grid.
To The Bat Cave…
The build was fairly simple. I had already converted the draw top from a slide and swing open operation to a pull out so the addition was straight forward.
The top being assembled in the workshop
It was a simple matter of cutting out the two rectangular holes for the 240 volt face plates and opening up the two existing holes intended for the new latches to the right size for the 12 volt sockets. I did intend to use the same electrical fittings as are already installed in the caravan but pricing everything up it came out at nearly four times the cost of what I eventually used here.
The two 240 volt sockets are wired with 2.5mm multi-strand cable and have slim line back boxes to protect them and the 12 volt cabling is all done with crimp connections and protected with heat shrink tubing.
The whole project including installation only took me a couple of hours and made me wonder why I’d been putting it off for so long!
I didn’t want to fasten anything to the structure of the caravan so the piece seems to ‘float’ above the front sill. The wiring was all pre done in the workshop and was easy to connect up to the caravan services as we had a 240 volt and 12 volt outlets nearby in the base of the draw unit.
Plenty of room even with the blind down.
The upgrade now gives me 3 x 240 volt sockets and 6 x USB charging points plus 2 x 12 volt sockets. The space under the sockets can be used to tidy any excess charging cable away while in use.