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
This time of year is great for getting away in your caravan or motor home and getting into the festive spirit. We have owned a caravan for 5 years now and every year to extend the season we have managed to take in a Christmas Market – Lincoln, Erddig, Cheltenham, Oxford, Birmingham to name a few. This year would be no exception and we had decided to re-visit Birmingham. Around the same time as we were planning this, Andy Harris, the TV presenter, owner of RoadPro and avid motorhome enthusiast had been in touch and had a product he wanted us to try out… and make a video! Continue reading
A few days ago I fitted the Black Vue DR650S-2CH 16GB twin camera dash cam to the Amarok. All in all it was a vey easy install taking me less than two hours to accomplish. The longest part was actually tucking the wires in along the edge of the head liner so they can’t be seen. Helpfully Black View supply a little blue tool that helps you do this without damaging any of the interior trim. I also installed the Black Vue Power Magic PRO that allows permanent connection to the vehicles electrical system and gives you the ability to use “Parking Mode” which records continuously when you are parked with the engine off.
If you have considered a dash-cam but don’t know where to start, one of the best introductory guides to Dash Cams that I have seen is by Techmoan.com. Just click on the link to watch it. There are also dozens of dash-cam reviews on His channel.
I’ve been known as a Land Rover supporter for quite a while now, in fact I started driving Land Rovers 38 years ago back in 1978 and passed my test in one. A lot of people were surprised when I decided to look at something for towing other than a green oval and I have received lots of questions (I mean lots!) about the Amarok.
So far we have done about 1100 miles in ours and I’m still learning about some of its capabilities. One thing that has really impressed me is the awesome eight speed gearbox. One thing that taking any vehicle off-road and sometimes towing on loose or slick surfaces requires is to hold a set RPM while the tyres find traction. With Auto gearboxes normally the gearbox doesn’t like this and shifts up a gear to reduce RPM taking you out of the power band. However, flick the gearbox into manual tiptronic mode and the gearbox will just simply sit in the gear selected until you change. The other thing I found out too was that on slick or icy surfaces, you can select second gear and pull away from stationary to reduce any chance of wheel spin. Do you really need a vehicle that can go off roading with the best… well lets just say you will never have any issues on that sloping grassy CL/CS site!
It would take me far too long to answer all the questions I have been asked and quite frankly it would be flipping boring… akin to reading pi to 20,000 decimal places, so I’ve put together a small collection of YouTube video’s that hope fully will answer a lot of the questions. The first four are courtesy of Miles Continental VW dealers in New Zealand and the first features well-known 4WD professional Pete Ritchie. The fifth video is the inimitable Andrew St.Pierre White of
And finally….. if there was any doubt about pulling power……
So after all the spreadsheets, test drives, sorting insurance and towing electrics, emails and telephone calls, the end was in sight. We had a collection date, the 28th July. Apart from our very first brand new car… a racing red MG Metro back in the early 80’s, Sue had always been the one to collect our cars from the showroom, however this time, it was Sue that was working so I was on my own. It took around half an hour to go through all the paperwork and sign on the dotted line several times. Despite the Manchester drizzle the walk round was in-depth and covered all sorts. Inside, Jessica went through all the systems and paired my iPhone to the audio system, even storing some of my most often used radio stations in the memory.
Handover done, everything explained I said goodbye to Jessica who had been so helpful through the whole process, I turned the key, slipped it into drive and pulled out of the forecourt. The odometer showed exactly 48 miles as I turned “Project Wolf” on to Village Way.
My experience with a Commercial Vehicle Dealer
I have mentioned this before, one of the things a few people expressed concern about was actually dealing with a commercial vehicle dealer. Well having dealt with Manchester Van Centre VW I can only comment on my experience. The customer service on first contact was excellent. The whole buying process was handled by one person, Jessica, who did everything. We weren’t passed off from one person to another through different stages of the buying process. I know we are not (well me actually) easy customers… I like to know the in’s-and-out’s of everything and do like getting into the details and asking awkward questions. Through our initial contact with Manchester Van Centre VW to driving out of the forecourt with our new vehicle took a total of 10 days and I either spoke to Jessica or exchanged emails nearly every day over that period and we were kept fully informed throughout the process. My dealings over a few months with VW UK while doing all the research was not as good, emails often going unanswered. Dealing with VW GmbH in Germany was excellent however and they went the extra mile (or kilometre!) to provide information requested.
Are all VW Commercial Dealers the same? I can’t answer that one. Can I recommend Manchester Van Centre VW? Based on my dealings with them, yes. I’ll let you know how it all goes at the first service and if I need to change my views.
On the way back home I had to call in to the North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. When they originally fitted the tow bar, they were two terminals missing and needed to order them from Westfailia. They did contact me directly to let me know before I picked up the Amarok and I arranged to drop in.
While they were fitting the missing terminals, I had another chat with the guys there. I had already had a look underneath at the tow bar and the standard of fitting… you can tell a lot by the way cables are routed and fixed into place, and these guys had done a good job. Everything was routed away from anything that could chafe the loom, the loom was enclosed in a flexible PVC conduit and secured firmly to the vehicle.
While I was there I also checked out the fittings I’d need for the bike racks. They have a full display of Thule products and I was able to check exactly what bits I’d need. Heading home, I called in to fill up with diesel… 52 miles on the clock and 65.74 litres to fill up. I can now start another spread sheet to record mileage and fuel.
So What’s Next?
Well we have a few bits to fit:-
- Roll N Lock cover for the pickup bed.
- Antec Sliding Bed Tray.
- Thule Bike Racks.
- Charging station for the two-way radios.
- Fire Extinguisher.
- Additional truck bed lighting.
… and of course I need to get the thing weighed on a VOSA weigh-bridge.
The figures given on the V5C are a Mass In Service of 2197 Kgs and a Maximum Permissible Mass of 3170 Kgs. On paper, based on a MIS of 2197 Kgs, the 85% ratio is a trailer MTPLM of 1867 Kgs. Our current caravan calculates at 68%. All that is subject to what it weighs on the scales though.
Our first trip towing will be in a few days and I’ll let you know how we get on and my thoughts. I’ll also show you some of the bit’s that we have added.
If you haven’t read “Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt 1…” you might want to start there first.
So what happened to scupper all my spreadsheet deliberations in the early hours of the morning while driving to work?
I was on the M60 heading towards the airport thinking about what aircraft were due out… as you do, when a large pickup passed me. Not with one of these truck tops on the rear but a hard cover over the pickup bed and 4 bikes mounted on a rack above the bed. I hadn’t a clue as to what make it was as I wasn’t into pickup’s really but it did look really neat and by the time my brain got into gear to see if I could identify the make, it was gone.
All that morning I was thinking about pickup’s…. maybe I was missing a trick here and a SUV type vehicle wasn’t the way forward, but a pickup was. They seem to be one of the vehicles of choice in the USA for people towing travel trailers, but that’s a whole different market. There are a lot of caravaners in the UK using them too. What was I missing?
A couple of days later I saw what I thought was the same vehicle again on the M60, this time with no bikes on the back. It had a VW badge on the tailgate. I thought VW didn’t make pickup’s. But this got me thinking again, was a pickup the way to go… lots of people use 4 x 4 pickups to tow with, they seem to have plenty of room, be practical, have seating for five and are generally built tough as they are usually designed for commercial use.
A chance conversation about caravans at work with someone who had recently changed his Discovery for a pickup… a VW pickup.
A few days later I started searching on the internet for information about pickups… there is more out there than I thought. My original spreadsheet got a bit of a re-write over the course of a weekend.
A day or so later we were staying down at Plough Lane Caravan Site and we saw another Amarok on the road which was the first time Sue had seen one and it renewed our interest again, and as luck would have it we were near to a VW Commercial Dealership (have a read here https://caravanchronicles.com/2015/09/20/wiltshire-wanderings/) so we dropped in. It was ticking all the boxes, but more research was still required about 4 x 4 pickup’s. My spreadsheet grew.
Now, I’m not going to give you a long list of the ones we looked at and the reasons for dismissing them in our particular case, some people might have chosen them and for them, they tick all the boxes which is great. The others didn’t tick enough of our (well my) boxes and the Amarok did. So “Project Wolf” was born.
I did not know what to call this series of blog posts when I was making my notes, I read that an amarok, or amaroq, is a gigantic gray wolf in Inuit mythology, said to stalk and devour any person foolish enough to hunt alone at night. Unlike real wolves who hunt in packs, amaroks hunt alone. This kind of stuck in my brain and I started scribbling “Project Wolf” at the top of the pages I had in my note-book where I’d written about stuff for the Amarok.
After my first conversation with the dealer in Swindon, I needed lots of questions answering and fired off an email to VW UK. And got a quick reply telling me nothing of what I really wanted to know. So I tried again, this time to VW in Germany. Not telling me much more… but in lots of detail of course. Thankfully the Australians came to the rescue, although the specs are a little different, it helped fill in the blanks.
Searching on the internet it seems that the Amarok is going down a storm down under in Australia and there are lots of videos and information on Australian 4 x 4 forums about the Amarok… as well as quite a bit of stuff from southern Africa and south America. I spent the next couple of months gathering information and adding even more columns to my spread sheet, then going back visiting other manufacturers web sites filling in blank bits for their particular 4 x 4 pickup’s to keep things on a level playing field.
OK… So why choose a pickup?
Glad you asked. Well these are OUR reasons and thoughts. They may not coincide with your particular circumstances, but here’s why… for us.
The loading and storage capacity are huge when compared to most SUV 4 x 4’s. The weight capacity is around 1000 Kg’s and most can take a standard Euro-pallet footprint. That’s a lot of caravanning extras. A lot of pickups can be fitted with a van style top that will allow wet dogs, bikes and other stuff that you wouldn’t put inside a vehicle. Although we don’t particularly want a cab style top but would prefer a flat lid with a bike rack on top. And we don’t have a wet dog. We may have a wet awning though. The tailgate can apparently support 250 Kgs… handy for tailgate BBQ’s! It also makes it easy for me to throw in a big snap-on tool chest and use it as a work bench when tinkering with aircraft electrics.
A lot of pickups are still built on a ladder chassis (like the old Land Rovers) for strength and generally have a longer wheelbase which for towing increases stability. The hitch nose weight limit is generally higher – 150 Kg upwards and generally they are heavier so a lower towing weight ratio can be achieved.
Comparing our Freelander to the Amarok I got:-
Freelander Mass In Service=1723 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 86.5%
Amarok Mass In Service=2093 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 71.1%
The Amarok 85% figure is a caravan with a MTPLM of 1779 Kgs and 90% comes in at 1884 Kg’s. The maximum rated towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3200 Kgs.
The other factor for me is the build. Most pick-up’s are built for commercial use and things tend to be a bit beefier. The seats are a bit tougher, the springs, brakes, switches…. everything is designed and made with heavy use in mind. OK this can make them a bit more utilitarian in their design and look inside, but I wanted something that would still look good after 100,000 miles.
The mechanics too tend to be a bit more industrial. The vehicles are not built to a minimum weight just to get good MPG or performance. They are designed for a working life with minimal down time and servicing costs. With all this In mind and much more we (well I) settled on the VW Amarok as the main contender.
OK… so what’s hot about the Amarok?
Here’s a few things I like… mainly taken from the VW literature and I guess is similar to other offerings.
ABS and EBD – Anti-lock Brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution. ABS is pretty standard now but the Amarok ABS also has Off Road ABS as well and is linked to something called EBD which essentially helps prevent lockup of the rear wheels when under less load (i.e. lightly loaded in the back) or when the vehicle’s weight is transferred to the front wheels when braking. Handy for those wet grass campsites.
Hill Hold Assist – handy for hill starts when towing and Hill Descent Control – Available on a lot of 4 x 4’s but the big one for me was unlike the Land Rover version (which is great by the way!) it operates in off-road mode at any speed below 18 MPH when the vehicles ABS is being used. It controls the braking automatically to prevent unintentional acceleration going down hill even in slippery conditions.
Brake Assist – senses how fast you apply the brakes and if it senses you are doing an emergency stop automatically applies the maximum braking effort available.
The 2.0 Litre BiTDI Engine produces 180 PS (132Kw) or 180 Hp in old money which is similar to some larger engines in other makes. The two turbos help the engine give a huge 420 Nm of torque when mated to the 8 speed automatic gearbox, which has first gear optimised for off-road and pulling away when towing heavy trailers. 8th gear is designed as an overdrive to reduce revs and maximise fuel efficiency.
Here’s one from the F1 world…. regenerative braking. When you brake the energy recuperation system uses momentum to turn the alternator and charge the battery, making the most of the energy when you brake.
Permanent “4 motion” four-wheel drive. All wheel drive is permanent on the automatic no matter if you are in on or off-road mode. The Torsen differential splits the power 40:60 between front and rear wheels, but when off-road the system automatically distributes power to the wheels with most grip… and works with hill start and hill descent control.
There were a few other things that I liked… for example you can put a 32Gb SD card in the radio with all your music from your iPod on and the hands free system seemed quite easy to use too. There were more 12 volt power points than you could shake a stick at, including one in the pickup bed, handy for your cool box!
It has all the usual stuff too, leather interior, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, cup holders everywhere, storage draws under the front seats, inbuilt sat-nav.
It’s not small – 5254 mm long (excluding tow bar) and 2228 wide at the mirrors. With our caravan hitched it will be a total length of around 12.54 metres or about 41′ 2″ in real money.
The MPG figures were OK too…. but that with VW has to be seen in perspective of course.
So with all my geeky and techie boxes ticked…. all we had to do was go and prod one in real life and take it for a wiz round the block!
Now I think VW have missed a trick here, VW Car Dealerships don’t sell Amarok’s, you have to go to a VW Commercial Dealer, and after talking to a few people, this seems to be a bit daunting as a lot have people have never stepped into a commercial dealership before. Our nearest VW Commercial Dealership is Manchester Van Centre VW in Trafford Park where we met the lovely Jessica… but more about that in Part 3.
Here is a sneaky preview of an Amarok from Down Under….
Our Freelander is now becoming a grand old lady of 10 years vintage, we have owned her from new and she’s just passed the 90,000 miles mark so we thought it might be time to retire her from towing duty. However we intend keeping her and started to look round for a suitable replacement to take on the task of towing the caravan. As at some point in the future we hope to move up to a twin axle, twin bed caravan I started looking for a vehicle that would be capable of towing what we hope to move towards in the future.
Now, this is my (our) thoughts and the rational for our eventual choice. It may not be perfect for you or even close to perfect, but this is what we considered in our choices and hopefully going through the process will help you now or in the future when you come to start thinking about a new tow vehicle.
There are lots of options and styles and we needed to narrow down the list quite a bit before getting into the detail. I did read all the reviews from the last “Tow Car of The Year Awards” to see what was being considered by the industry as the top performers, but in some respects the awards are slightly tilted in my opinion as they only review vehicles that have been put forward by the various manufacturers…. which I guess is a marketing tool for them. So there are some vehicles that are not in the awards that should be considered.
We have always had 4 x 4’s as our main vehicle, with an eclectic mix of second vehicles, sports cars, saloon cars etc. Personally we don’t think a saloon or estate type vehicle, even a 4 x 4 version would be right for us. This narrowed it down to SUV type 4 x 4’s and 4 x 4 pickups.
We have nearly always had a Land Rover in the family, I passed my test in one back in 1978 and was quite used to them. Sue had been driving one for longer than she will admit to… both Discovery’s and Freelander’s. The only thing neither of us had any experience of owning was a pickup style vehicle.
4 x 4’s – Choosing a body type
So we are now down to SUV’s and Pickup’s. We very seriously looked at what we needed or thought we might need.
Currently we have a roll out Fiamma Awning, but this might change so we thought about what we would do with a wet awning when packing up… not wanting to put it in the caravan. We also thought about our bikes, we don’t take them with us on every trip, but on some occasions that we hadn’t we wished we had. The ability to take them easily on every trip was a requirement. We didn’t want to carry them on the roof though, so a rear mount on the vehicle was a must. Currently they hang off the back of the Freelander’s spare wheel and it didn’t interfere with towing the caravan and was fairly easy to load and unload. The idea of lifting them on and off a roof mount didn’t appeal to me.
We have a few things that live in the caravan – levelling blocks, corner steady blocks etc that I’d like to carry in the vehicle, and the Cadac, sometimes we don’t take it due to lack of space in our current vehicle (I hate carrying things on the back seat).
Ease of loading – it’s an art loading up any tow vehicle packing everything in so it doesn’t rattle or move about and is safe, so a rear load area that is bigger than our Freelander was a must. We actually think we are pretty slick when it comes to loading as everything is in stackable “Really Useful Box Company’ boxes.
We naturally started looking at 4 x 4 SUV type vehicles – it’s what we know most about and again being big users and fans of the Green Oval, started looking at Landy’s. Now here’s the thing, at the Land Rover dealers…. as we got out of the Freelander… my wallet went off on its own ordered a coffee and a Panini, sat down and said “no way dude”. The wallet was right. The cost of purchasing, yearly servicing and maintenance of one of the Green Oval products was giving my wallet cardiac arrhythmia. Although it may have topped the tow awards for years, it wasn’t an option for us cost wise.
OK, so what else was there similar to a Land Rover? I listed on a spreadsheet all the alternatives and proceeded to wade through them over the next couple of months.
What you have to be aware of is we started this process over 12 months ago, so I’m compressing the time scale down quite a bit.
From the spreadsheet I whittled it down to engine size, towing capacity, Gross Train Weight, Hitch weight limits, braked trailer limits, serving costs, purchase price, wheel base and rear axle to tow ball length, width, height, cost of tower and electrics…. you name it, it was included on the spread sheet. Eventually I came out with the top three contenders… well on paper at least.
Automatic or Manual Transmission
The final choice was whether to go manual or automatic for the transmission. As much as I like manual transmission for 4 x 4 off road capabilities, we weren’t going to be doing a lot of green lane off roading and automatic was the obvious sensible choice.
So with my spreadsheet stuffed full of info, boxes ticked, lists of suppliers for racks and odds and ends then next task was to visit dealers to push, pull, prod, open, shut, question and test drive my (our) top choices.
A few days later, while driving to work at silly o’clock in the morning (about 4:45 am actually, I do remember it well ) my careful cogitations unravelled in spectacular fashion.