I’ve had quite a few people email me asking for more information about the Victron system for a caravan that I was planning mentioned in the previous post. As this seems to have generated a number of questions, rather than give detailed answers to each one I thought I’d post the drawings. For the moment it’s on hold but here are the drawings.
While Victron would seem the obvious choice, there are a number of recent new products from Sterling Power that have rekindled my interest in the project…. watch this space.
After our recent trip to Meathop Fell it was time to say goodbye to an old friend. We have had our leisure battery since 2011 and for 11 years it has given us great service. For the last year or so I have thought hard about converting over to Lithium and drew up plans for a high capacity charging link between the tow vehicle and caravan and converting the caravan over to a Victron based system. However I think that for this caravan it would not be worth it.
We had bought a 120Ah Numax battery (left one above) from ABS and it had worked well, even now it still hold a charge and is sitting in my workshop on trickle charge waiting for a project to come along. I went back to Advanced Battery Supplies and opted to go for a 120Ah AGM. It wasn’t too expensive and hopefully it will give us years of service like it’s predecessor. I’ve used ABS for batteries a number of times over the past 12 or so years and can recommend them. I’m not sponsored by them and I paid for the battery but I have found that for me they give sensible advice and great service. That’s why I’m happy to mention them. You can call in personally or they do ship overnight ordering from their website – https://advancedbatterysupplies.co.uk
Battery taken care of now it was time to head into the workshop for a bit of construction….
Henry’s Conveyance Contrivance…
If you have read any of my posts over the last few years you will know that we have Siamese cats…. well sadly Oscar our health and safety officer passed away a while ago leaving us with just his brother Henry. Up to this point we have always had a cat sitter whenever we were away but June has now retired and honestly we could not face the thought of leaving Henry in a cattery or on his own with another cat sitter. So, a couple of exploratory trips up to the caravan for an hour just to let him sit in it and explore round lead us to a two night stay at Burrs Country Park…. only about thirty minutes away from home, that went well and so did the next trip to Meathop Fell. It was now time to build Henry a suitable transport platform for the vehicle.
After a bit of head scratching I came up with this….
I built it out of 12mm Ply and painted it grey. I used an off cut of black car carpet to cover the top and sides and a couple of lengths of pipe insulation on the edges where it comes into contact with the car seat and door. To secure it I used the ISO FIX points and it takes less than 30 seconds to remove or install. Without Henrys carrying cage it’s a handy place to put things and the space underneath come in super handy for all my bits that I normally have rolling around on the floor behind the drivers seat. It’s high enough for Henry to be able to see out around in all directions and there is still enough space for two people to sit on the back seat and use the seatbelts if required.
We have used it for two trips now and Henry seems to like it. The rear windows are heavily tinted in our Amarok which will cut the heat from the sun and we can open the rear window for fresh air as required. We are looking round for one of the stick on baby sun screen thingy’s if we think the sun is going to be too strong. Of course we would never leave Henry in the vehicle unattended for more than a couple of minutes… the only time we have done this is while we were hitching up the caravan. If you know Siamese then you know they can be noisy talkative beings…. so far he’s not had anything to say about it. Is that a good sign?
In the eleven years we have been at our storage site we have never had any break-ins but it’s aways in the back of your mind…. and couple that with us sometimes leaving Henry in the caravan while on site I decided a little security upgrade was required (there are others but I’m not going to tell you about them!) I’d looked at the various offerings of additional door locks and after some thinking… and several coffee’s decided to go for the Milenco Door Frame Lock Version 2 offering that allowed us to operate it from inside as well.
I ordered it via Amazon ( https://amzn.to/3sHywnd )and it arrived within two days. It was easy enough to install but I ‘upgraded’ the interior fitting with a custom stainless steel strengthening plate…
The stainless I used was 1.4mm tooled finish, cut to size and drilled using the template provided with the Milenco lock. After measuring the location, I bent the stainless on my sheet bender in the workshop. I chose the location as this was the strongest part of the door frame where the existing door lock was located and would help protect the original lock so a small extent. Ideally I would have liked the arm to have been a bit longer so it covered up the keyhole for the original lock. But I’m happy with it.
Down the drain…
Long time readers will remember that several years ago I wrote a post about how we solved our connection to the drain while on serviced pitches. After ten years of use It was time for an upgrade and I had seen the COLAPZ products and thought it was a rather nifty idea. Having a mooch round the web I ordered directly from the website https://colapz.co.uk/?ref=yjXJSsLdBkh5d and opted for the Flexi waste pipe kit – 8 pipes for £55.
The first use was great and easy to set up. No modification was needed to my original manifold that connects to the caravan and it seems to drain OK….
However you can alway improve on things…. and if you have ever watched any Youtube videos about American RV’s then you will know that for their ‘stinky slinky’s’ they have a few upgrades…. I ordered one from Amazon….
Camco 43041 15′ Sidewinder Plastic Sewer Hose Support – https://amzn.to/3Fp2elM it cost £44 and came all the way from the great state of New Jersey. It comes with a carrying handle and honestly is really easy to use. I just stretched it out and lifted the pipe on to it. It is designed for a 4 inch sewer pipe… but as I was using basically a 2 inch version it would allow the hose support to stretch even further… I bought the 15 feet version and I recon it would stretch to 20 feet without any problems.
When we were packing up, I ran all the remaining hot water down the sink to flush the pipework out… including the Colapz pipework and honestly when disconnecting everything it really wasn’t that dirty, but breaking it down into individual lengths makes it easy if it does need a brush through it (which you get by the way in the kit).
Again we are not sponsored by either of these two companies but the links above will earn us a few pennies that will help provide biscuits for Henry. You wouldn’t want Henry to mis out on biscuit treats would you….
After all he can’t survive on just belly rubs…. I know it’s blackmail but EVERYONE said you need a cute kitty to get more views!
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”
Our first visit to the caravan storage site in quite a while to check on the caravan was undertaken with some apprehension. It had been over twelve months since we had checked on it and we expected that we were going to be in for a shock.
The caravan was very dirty on the outside but it was the inside we most feared. Opening the door….. it didn’t smell musty…. we couldn’t see any mould… and nothing felt damp. In fact inside was in really good shape. Leaving all the cupboard doors open, the bed partly raised and the roof vents cracked open a touch seemed to have worked. OK, now a list of jobs that needed doing. The leisure battery is now 10 years old and given us good service. It needs replacing… more on that later. The tyres also need replacing and the outside needs a good clean and polish.
I removed the leisure battery which was showing as dead… less then 10 volts, put it in the back of the Amarok and we headed back home to come up with a plan of action. A couple of days later we returned with cleaning supplies…
We hitched up the caravan and pulled it forward out of it’s parking spot and set to work. Over the years I’ve tried all the different products for washing the caravan (and cars) ranging from mid priced to the “how bloody much” brands, but in all honesty I have found Morrisons own Wash and Wax Shampoo (It’s bright green) to be really good and it has given me really good results on our 15 year old Freelander, the Amarok and the caravan. A long handled brush for the sides and some small detail brushes for the awning rails and tight places made easy work of the sides. It was all hosed down using one of those pump up pressure washer thingy’s
To rinse I used Car Plan’s Demon Shine (the pink stuff…. also stocked in Morrisons) diluted down in the yellow pump up spray do-hicky. Which works quite effectively. The two products – Morrisons Wash and Wax shampoo and the Demon Shine seem to work together really well and I certainly found that using the two as a shampoo and then as a diluted rinse leave a good water shedding layer on the Amarok that lasts quite a while.
One thing we don’t have at our storage compound is running water. So I have three 25 litre containers that I fill up at home and throw into the back of the Amarok. To save lifting them up to fill buckets…. I fitted a hosepipe connector to one of the lids and all I need to do now is tip the container and open the tap. As there is no venting the sides collapsed inwards a little so tipping it back onto its side from time to time to let air back in means that when the tap is shut nothing can slosh out a vent while travelling.
On this trip we only cleaned and polished the sides… the roof would have to wait for a return visit. Putting the caravan back in it’s spot lead to the next task…. jack it up and remove the wheels. The caravan was fitted with Hankook 185×80 R14 and inspecting them closely revealed no cracks, bulges or damage of any kind. These tyres were now 10 years old it was defiantly time to replace them. We got 8 years use and just over a year standing out of them and I consider that a win. Realistically they should have been replaced at 5 years…. 7 max at a push, so getting 8 out of them with close inspections each trip I’ll consider we got our money’s worth out of them. After much searching on line and checking out the discount with National Tyre via the Caravan and Motorhome Club I called in to my local National Tyre could fit replacements and beat the price even that C & M Club discount gave us with National Tyres on line. As the Hankook’s had given us really good service and long life I replaced them with another set of Hankook’s. National Tyres also fitted new valve stems, valves and balanced the wheels. I know there is a lot of debate about balancing caravan wheels…. well the engineering bit of my brain thinks that anything rotating should be in balance, so I’m going to balance my wheels. We picked the newly re-shod wheels up the following day and returned to the compound to fit them. As it was raining, cleaning the roof was put off until we had better weather.
OK…. I know… you are all saying “Why did he clean the sides before the roof….. that’s bass acwards” OK here is my thinking…. the roof is going to take a few hours to do properly and when you have done that you then have no choice but to do the sides straight away as they are going to be really filthy with all the run off. It’s going to be a really long day to do everything. By doing the sides first, we could get a good layer of wax protection on them and as said earlier, the combination of products give a really good beading coat. So when it comes to washing the roof a simple rinse down would restore the sides back to their pristine finish we had a few days earlier.
As I worked round the roof scrubbing and rinsing, Sue followed me with a squirt bottle and microfibre cloths… using the Car Plan Demon Shine neat finished off the sides and gave another layer of buffed waxy finish.
A few other jobs were completed too. All the window and door rubbers were given a good coating of Sonax Silicon… this stops the windows sticking to the rubber and keeps the rubber seals soft and supple. Some of the aluminium awning rail needed cleaning. Rather than use a metal polish (Solvol-Autosol is my normal preference as a metal polish) I used a simple rubbing compound so as not to polish the aluminium too much but brighten it’s brushed finish. And finally waterproof silicone grease for the moving and interlocking parts of the 13 pin plug.
I mentioned earlier that our leisure battery had died… well after some tender loving care in the workshop… It’s alive! Well it’s OK for light duty. So the next project is to go lithium. I have planned out a course of action and the first step is to install on the Amarok a 50 Amp feed to the rear of the vehicle and terminate in an Anderson connector. This will allow me to use the full capability of the Amarok’s large alternator to charge Lithium batteries in the caravan via a dedicated DC to DC charger. Next stage will be installing a solar regulator and panels followed up by an inverter and changing the on board charger for a dedicated lithium charger. I also want to remove the inbuilt charger to save weight and make room as I won’t be installing any lithium batteries in the existing battery box.
I’m still in the process of doing my due diligence on equipment for this so watch this space. I’ll go through my thought processes in a later post.
The other change is going to be the rear lights on the caravan. The reversing lights are not very useful when reversing on to a pitch in the dark so I’m going to install two LED wide beam lights just out board of the rear steadies. That leaves me with the existing reversing lights. A quick search on the internet led me to replacement Hella lenses for the existing reversing lights that would allow me to convert them into fog lights with a simple lens change and a wiring change at the fuse block. Swop the reversing light cable with the fog light cable and use the old fog light as a connection point for the new reversing lights… after removing the bulb of course!
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 →
While at the NEC show one of my big tasks was to get a number of technical questions answered by the industry players. One of my first stops was to Westfalia and to meet up with Rick Sykes and his colleague on the Westfalia stand. Rick is the national training manager for Westfalia and I was able to get answers to a number of questions that you have asked me and I’d not been able to answer fully. Continue reading →
I have been receiving a lot of emails over the last two or three months from people reporting issues around charging their leisure batteries after changing tow vehicles and a similar number from people who are having problems with performance of the installation of the electrical harness on their new vehicle tow bar.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time answering emails and thought I’d try to sum up what is happening. A lot of this is also going to apply to Motor Homes, especially if they have a new Euro 6 engine. Continue reading →
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.