Our van came with several very useful extras fitted, amongst others:
a small roof-mounted solar panel that charged the two leisure batteries, roof rack bars and ladder for additional carrying capacity, reversing camera and sensors, and blackout/privacy blinds for the cab. In addition, we have made the alterations listed below:
(Please click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image)
Top tips –
Tap connectors – the following tap connectors are about all that is needed for UK and EU travel –
Toilet – do not use Bio-Tabs as recommended by some! The plastic coating does not fully dissolve in cold water and will eventually coat the inside of the cassette with slime that attracts smells. Green chemical in the cassette and Steradent in the flush tank work well – no smells!
Gas bottles – use a fridge magnet to indicate the bottle in use if you have more than one. The Truma Gas Level checker is an easy way to check levels.
Cleaning – use Wet and Forget on the roof to stop green algae from forming and black streaks down the side of the van (avoid prolonged contact with any graphics or they may fade). Fenwicks Bobby Dazzler and Caravan Cleaner are great for cleaning and protecting the rest of the van. Autoglym Super Resin Polish is great for removing small blemishes and giving the bodywork an all-over shine.
Scratched windows – get rid of scratches in the habitation windows by using Brasso. Apply with a clean dry cloth and rub in a circular motion until the scratches disappear, buff until clear and then rinse off. Works for all plastic windows and foggy headlight lenses.
Grey water smells inside – pour 4-5 large bottles of cheap coke into the empty grey water tank, drive around a bit, empty and rinse. Clean waste pipes with a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of white vinegar poured down each plughole. Check that any traps in the waste pipes are clean.
Storage rattles – bubble wrap and non-slip matting make useful ‘dividers’ or wraps, and also stop things sliding on shelves. Put paper plates between your regular plates if stored flat, or use slotted pipe lagging if stored upright. Use non-slip matting cut to size between stackable pans (the Tefal Ingenio sets with removable handles are brilliant to store and even better to cook with)
Storage – use small plastic crates or cut-down 5-litre containers to stop things rolling around in lockers. Mesh/net storage racks are great for small items.
Water filler cap – the two parts of the standard water filler caps have a habit of sticking together so that even when locked they can still be undone. A simple cure is to place the whole filler cap in boiling water for a few minutes and this often works to ‘free’ them up. A quick spray with silicon lubricant between the plastic discs should keep things working.
Potable Water – many people are happy to drink water from their storage tanks, and use Puriclean to keep things sterile (bleach is not recommended and Milton can harm the stainless steel parts of the heater). We prefer to carry 5-litre bottles of filtered water from the tap at home for drinking and cooking because we can never be 100% sure of the purity of water when we fill up at different places.
Bed – the slats on the French bed had become worn over the years allowing the mattress to sink on either side of the central support strut. I have now fitted two additional side struts made from extruded aluminium mouldings, and the bed is much more comfortable again. I bought the angled fixings with the struts and they form a very strong joint to the original outer frame.
I also replaced the two 350 Newton gas struts with 400 Newton struts, and the bed now lifts with only slight help to fully open.
Spare wheel – we were lucky that our van came with a spare wheel in an underslung Alko carrier, not that I look forward to ever using it in anger at the roadside because it weighs the best part of 40kg and is difficult to get out. The carrier comes with spring clips to hold the wheel up, and theft of the spare wheel is quite common. Since this is the lowest part of the van at the rear, traditional padlocks can ‘ground’ very easily. The Abus 9265C Monoblock Shutter Padlock is a perfect fit, but while the lock itself is very secure, the frame can still be easily cut with bolt cutters to remove the wheel, and at best this will only deter the casual opportunist.
Draughty cab – there are many causes of draughts in the Ducato cab which are irritating when the cabs are used for motorhome conversions. When Fiat build the vans, many will be used as sealed cabs, partitioned from the load-carrying area, and as such require additional venting to provide adequate air movement. This venting is not required in a motorhome conversion that has many other built-in vents and gas drops. One issue on some Ducato cabs is the integrated vents in the trailing edges of the doors. We covered these vents with aluminium tape as a temporary measure, and it worked so well that three years later it is still there.
Another source of draughts is from the seat belt casings. Some Ducatos have flap vents fitted into the chassis to prevent air locks when shutting the doors on cab-only vehicles, and to exhaust spent air from the cabs via the seat belt mounts, and these flaps are easily replaced with plastic covers. Ours did not. We found that behind the plastic seat belt covers, there are large holes in the metal fabrication that allow cold air to enter the habitation area from the open chassis sections below. Taping over these gave a temporary solution, but the tape soon peeled away and the problem returned. I have now cut some 1.5mm plastic sheet that I have bonded in place using CT1, completely sealing these obsolete vents and stopping the draughts.
Water Tank Gauge – our onboard clean water tank gauge has never been reliable or accurate, so I fitted this CBE kit during the COVID lockdown and it works brilliantly. The instructions are not very clear but it is quite easy to fit, just make sure that you cut the probes to the water level from the top of the tank at which you want it to change the LED coloured readout (typically, the shortest to reach 1/4 full, the middle one to reach 1/2 full, and the longest two to reach 3/4 full). The lights only come on when the button is pressed so there is very little battery drain.
Removable Gear Knob – we discovered that there is a known fault with the Ducato gear knob falling off! The knob loses grip over time, and the spring for the reverse gate pushes it off the splined shaft. We were unable to get an original Fiat one anywhere in the UK, so took a chance and ordered a pattern one online. Fitting requires ensuring that the spring is in position first, lining up the knob with the splined shaft, covering the top with a folded cloth or similar, and tapping it very firmly with a heavy rubber mallet until it is fully home. While this seems unnecessary force, there is no other way to fit the replacement knob, and so far it has remained in place with no problems.
Shower Head – spending so much time off-grid means we tended to use a lot of our valuable stored water for showers. We have now replaced the original shower head with a Stone Stream one, that claims to use up to 35% less water. It is hard to tell how much water we save, but we do certainly use less and enjoy an equally good, if not better shower. Previously, despite using the shower to wet down, then turning it off to lather up, then back on to rinse, the shower tray would fill up nearly to the top, it no longer does that. The Stone Stream comes with an optional on/off on the shower head and three spray patterns, all of which work well on our 20psi pressurised system. The mineral stone filtration does soften the water making lathering up quicker, and the laser cut holes make rinsing off easy and they are simple to clean.
Tyres – the ETRTO (The European Tyre and Rim Technical Organization) recommend that only camper-rated tyres are fitted to motorhomes. This is not a mandatory requirement by law, but some tyre manufacturers use it as a reason not to offer pressure advice on any tyre that is not camper specific. What may be mandatory, and what may affect insurance if the wrong tyres are fitted, is that the tyre rating for most camper vans or motorhomes is specified in the original Certificate of Conformity. This is often different to the base vehicle specifications which do not allow for the subsequent conversion.
Most Certificates of Conformity will specify C (commercial) or CP (camper) rated tyres because of the high axle loads and long periods of standing for most motorhomes. They will also specify the correct tyre size but not the pressure as this is usually dependent on the actual axle weight. For pressures, you will need to take the laden vehicle to a weighbridge and contact the tyre manufacturer with the axle weights for recommended pressures. A very accurate guide for pressures may also be found at Tyre Safe.
Our Certificate permits either C or CP-rated tyres, and we eventually decided on the Michelin Agilis Crossclimate because of the renowned off-road and winter performance. We also required the high 116 load rating, M&S and 3 Peak symbol for driving in the winter in countries like Italy. Having now covered several hundred miles on these tyres, we are extremely happy with their all round performance, and that they are quieter than the Agilis Campers that were on before.
Note: camper tyres in general must be fitted with high-pressure metal valves. The expected life is 5+ years, in many cases, the tread will still be legal before any annual expert inspection reveals that the rubber compound is starting to fail through age.
Tyre Pressure Monitor System (TPMS) – running your motorhome on correctly inflated tyres is even more important than with the average car given the additional weight (here is a link to calculate the correct pressure for your tyres Tyre Safe). We have fitted this inexpensive TPMS which seems to work very reliably and accurately and means that the tyre pressures can be monitored while sitting in the cab. Tips – make sure to buy a system that will go high enough for motorhome tyres and has sufficient range to reach from the back tyres to the monitor, and throw away the usually alloy locking nuts supplied and replace them with stainless steel ones (the alloy ones will seize on!).
Front grill – the original front plastic grill was showing signs of age and had patches of paint missing. I was tempted to re-paint it until I found new grills being sold on eBay for less than the cost of the paint. They are imported, but delivery time and cost were both excellent, and it is an original Fiat part. It did not come with the central badge so we re-used the old Fiat badge as this was still in good condition. Fitting it has smartened up the front of the van again.
Cooker hob lid – we were fed up with the cooker hob lid bouncing and rattling especially when hitting all the new speed humps in France, so I made this simple plywood lid up with a velcro securing strap that goes around the top oven handle. The glass cooker lid slots into the plastic channel moulding across the front, and four foam pads under the plywood protect the glass underneath. I sealed it all around with a water-based melamine lacquer to give a waterproof, wipeable surface thinking that one day I would tidy it up a bit, but several years later I still have done nothing else to it It not only keeps things quiet but also forms a very handy extra hard-wearing work surface that protects the glass.
Spare cassette – to improve the amount of time we can spend off-grid, we bought a spare toilet cassette for storing under the van when not in use. We can now swap a full one over with it if we happen to be somewhere where emptying is not possible. I made the case by cutting the tops off two plastic containers and found that they slide nicely together to keep the cassette clean while under the van. The prototype shelf works well, and we may not bother to improve on it. The spare cassette is kept primed and ready to go.
Roof repairs – the original non-slip strips on the roof indicating the walkable area had all but disappeared. Even though I do not get onto the roof for routine cleaning, there have been a couple of occasions when it has been necessary, and I found it to be very slippery when wet. Having used Treadmaster before on various boats, I can vouch for its effectiveness and durability, so this was our first choice. The mat itself is quite expensive and it is near impossible to find deals anywhere; the two-part fixing adhesive is also very dear and quite tricky to use but using the two together meant that we are assured a job that will last as long as the van. I cut the Treadmaster to the same shape as the original non-slip and used a roller and weights to keep it flat while the glue hardened.
Our off-road travels often take us under low-hanging branches with cringe-inducing scrapes across our large front rooflight that is unprotected by the roof bars. The rooflight sits just behind a manufacturing seam in the roof and it concerned me that this seam could be stressed by anything touching the roof at this point. Originally, I thought about fitting a flat reinforcing plate but soon realised that if I fitted the Fiamma rooflight spoiler this would reinforce the joint and protect the rooflight at the same time. I had to pack under the spoiler due to differing levels in the roof, but it all fitted quite neatly using Sikaflex 512, masking tape and cleaning off any residue with white spirit.
Sargent EC2000 Control Unit – A couple of times our Sargent control panel has started beeping while we drive, and visual warning alerts that the system has been deactivated while the engine is running. This seems to be an inherent fault and is easily cancelled. Pop off the plastic trim surround, remove the two securing screws and carefully pull the control panel forwards out of the housing. Disconnect the electrical multi-connector for a few seconds, then reconnect and re-fit as before. This simple reboot seems to be all it takes to clear the error code.
Missing Wheel Hub – Somewhere in Greece we lost our aluminium wheel hub. It is more decorative than essential, but for aesthetics, and as a second barrier to stop dirt from getting into the bearing, I wanted a replacement while we were out there. No luck at the dealers, but the bottom cut off a can of Mythos beer fitted perfectly and lasted until we got home again. I have now replaced all of the hubs with genuine Fiat ones off eBay for the price of one from the main dealer, and I carry the remaining old ones as spares. We have since had the wheels refinished in a darker colour, so this would not work so well now.
Vortex Exhaust System – The original manufacturer’s exhaust on our van finally started to give up the ghost at thirteen years old. Part replacement or repair was not viable, so we decided to replace the entire system. Locally we could only source aftermarket bits that would have to be cut and adapted to suit the extended Alko chassis for £350 to £500, and we were advised that this would only last 3-4 years. Since we intend to keep the van for longer, we started looking at stainless steel bespoke systems.
Vortex Exhaust Technology in Essex specialises in performance exhausts for high-powered cars and 4x4s. The Vortex system utilises a patented design to accelerate the exhaust gases thus reducing the back pressure and improving performance, economy and emissions, or so they claim. They have more recently branched out into the motorhome market and quoted very competitively for a bespoke stainless-steel system that comes with a lifetime guarantee. The system is priced at the upper end of the adapted mild steel range making it a very real contender, but they also now offer a full stainless-steel system with the Vortex box and this is the one we had fitted at a little under £700 for a full non-Cat system.
Work took about three hours at their Essex workshop, and unsurprisingly given the state of the old exhaust, I immediately noticed that the van was a lot quieter. Performance wise there is a lot more pull through the rev range, we are not talking Brands Hatch, but the engine feels a lot less restricted and there is no turbo lag. The improved power means fewer gear changes and I can hold fifth for much longer than before when encountering inclines making the entire driving experience far more pleasurable. The comfortable cruising speed on motorways seems to have shifted to just the illegal side of the national speed limit in the UK. I am inclined to think that the MPG is better, albeit not as much as the 10% claims by Vortex. An unexpected difference is the lack of engine braking now, not a problem because it feels a lot smoother when slowing down; this is apparently due to the reduced back pressure on the engine. Another gain is the reduced weight compared with the old mild steel system, thus increasing the payload.
I am pleased with the Vortex system and I hope that the better economy will mean that it pays for itself quite quickly. Regardless, the van is now much nicer to drive, and I know I don’t have to worry about ever replacing the exhaust again because of Vortex’s lifetime guarantee.
Solar Charging System – We often do extended trips abroad and spend a lot of time off-grid, so we decided to upgrade our 100watt panel and old controller. We chose a German-built 310watt monochrystalline panel which is the largest to physically fit onto our roof. We teamed this with a Victron Smart Solar 100/30 MPPT Controller to maximise the amount of solar energy harvested. The Smart range connects to phone apps making them easy to set up and view real-time data. We also fitted a Victron Control/Display as a backup to the phone app. The system was wired with slightly oversized cables throughout to minimise voltage drops, as advised by the excellent suppliers Photonic Universe, who were helpful throughout the whole selection, purchasing and fitting process. Since no two solar systems are likely to be the same, I have not gone into the lengthy technical details of ours here and I would recommend anyone buying one to contact Photonic Universe for their expert advice.
Portable Jump Starter pack – it is all too easy to flatten the vehicle battery on a camper/motorhome, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere. A pair of jump leads long enough to reach the leisure battery might be useful if you have not already flattened that too. We bought one of these jump-start packs some years ago and it is brilliant. We have used it to start a three-litre diesel 4×4 from dead, a tractor, and several cars when they have had flat batteries. This is the one we bought – NOCO BOOST XL GB50 1500amp – and we would recommend this without hesitation. It charges quickly from mains, 12 volts or USB, it can do up to 30 jump starts between charges, and it holds the charge well even when stored. TIP connect the positive to the positive battery or jump/charge terminal, and connect the negative to a good earth point on the vehicle (reverse for positive earth vehicles)
Vehicle driving light failure – our base vehicle is a 2006 Fiat Ducato and we had an intermittent total failure of the rear, dipped, side marker lights and running lights. There is no common circuit for all of these lights, so we ruled out a blown fuse or relay. The main beam still worked so it was unlikely to be an earth fault. We eventually found the fault to be the connector block to the lighting stalk on the steering column. You can ‘prove’ this by reaching behind the top of the plastic cover to the steering column on the left-hand side and you should feel the two connectors, if you waggle these the lights will most likely flicker if this is the problem. To repair, remove both top and bottom plastic cover behind the steering wheel, carefully separate the two long connectors, clean the internal contacts, very carefully split the casing with the female connectors and squeeze each one slightly with pliers to tighten, re-connect and use tape or similar to lock in position. The problem seems to be caused by the locking tabs on the wired connectors ‘relaxing’ with age, replacing the connectors is a major job requiring breaking into the loom. Our repair has now lasted many thousands of miles with no repeat of the original light failure.
Additional cold storage – we wanted to add to our cold storage facilities for longer intervals off-gridding while abroad. Having read good things about the Waeco (now part of Dometic) fridge, we purchased a 34-litre Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-35. This will freeze to -22 C regardless of the ambient temperature, but may also be used as a fridge depending on requirements. The compressor system is virtually silent and runs so economically that it can be used off-grid for extended periods running from the leisure batteries and solar backup.
We positioned the fridge under the bed and wired it through a dedicated switched and fused line direct to the leisure batteries.
Air Assist Suspension – having increased our Revenue Weight (see below), this had also significantly increased our permissible payload and because we travel long haul and freedom camp, often we use pretty much all of it. As a result of this our van drives quite low at the back, and because of uneven weight distribution due to water tanks and batteries, also a little lower on the offside. But the final decision to add air assist suspension was made when we scraped going on and off ferries. After much research, we chose AS Air Suspension for the job, and they provided excellent service throughout. This is a market-leading company near Chester that has specialised in bespoke systems since 2007 when they started importing the components from Holland.
Fitting took about 6 hours, we were talked through the whole job before they started and asked about the placement of components like the pump and controls, and best of all, we could leave the van fully loaded while the work was done.
The result is we can adjust the ride height of the rear of the van, both sides together or individually, and we can make slight adjustments when parked to level the van. We can increase the height even more for manoeuvring on and off ferries to prevent grounding all from within the cab. One additional advantage is that the pump automatically fills the bellows to the same pressure, thus levelling the van when unevenly loaded (individual pressures are achieved by releasing air from one side or the other).
Update – after six thousand miles to Greece and back, being overtaken at speed by Italian lorries (reduced sway), six ferries and an assortment of roads and tracks, we are even more pleased with this system than we were before.
Rodent Repeller – there are many reported horror stories of the damage done by rodents to motorhomes, they can wreak havoc not only in the habitation area but also under the bonnet where they will eat through cables and hoses, and even make nests in air filters leading to nesting material being sucked into the engine. We have been fortunate never to have had such an attack, but we still fitted a 240-volt ultrasonic repeller for when the motorhome is parked up at home as an additional safeguard. We have been very impressed using these devices around our house and in customers’ houses too, and we have found that they are effective against rodents and many insects.
Sticking Wastegate – this was one of those annoying intermittent faults. As we climbed some long hills, usually in third gear, the check engine light would come on occasionally. It would go off again as soon as the accelerator was eased, and there did not appear to be any noticeable loss of power, but it was worrying. After some research, it seemed that a common problem was a sticking wastegate resulting in low or excessive boost that triggers the engine management light. The simplest reliable diagnosis is done by checking the codes, and ours confirmed a low boost error. This is simply, and inexpensively fixed by cleaning and freeing the wastegate plunger and control mechanism pivot assembly, and lubricating to prevent it from seizing in the future.
Storage – the adage, you can never have enough storage space, is never more true than in the confines of a motorhome. Discovering that there is a large void between our wardrobe and the bathroom, and Swift being kind enough to confirm that there were no hidden electrics or plumbing in there, I set about the wardrobe wall with a multi-cutter saw. A few hours later we had a useful little cupboard for those things that it is important not to run out of when camping off-grid for any length of time. The void runs the entire height of the wall, but we are unable to gain access lower down because of the blown air heating/boiler. As it is, the cupboard door is discretely hidden behind the table when it is stored in the wardrobe.
Beam Deflectors – I did not like the idea of sticking the proprietary beam deflectors directly onto the headlamp lens, not just because I was concerned about removing them when back in the UK, but also because there is no clear indication of the correct position to fit them. These headlamp protectors are available online from Motorhome Essentials. They come complete with stick-on deflector tape patches and small marks indicating precisely where to fit them, and the patches are easy to remove when we get back home. Update – we have had two of these broken while the van was being serviced and we now remove them before it goes to the garage.
Keeping the fridge cold – this was one of the more important jobs done, because who likes warm beer? Despite the Dometic fridge being originally fitted well, and every attempt made to seal it into the wooden cabinet, we noticed a draught coming from under the sink above the fridge. Absorption fridges must be correctly room sealed into the cabinet so that cool air is drawn in through the lower outside vent, over the condensing pipes/fins, and then warm air is discharged through the top outside vent. If there are any leaks, the cool air can escape before it does its job causing warm air turbulence around the condenser and poor fridge performance. It can also result in carbon monoxide from the burner getting inside the habitation area. We filled the gap around the base of the sink, and one other small hole that we found, with split pipe insulation siliconed into place. We had always been happy anyway with the fridge’s performance, even in hot weather, with the normal setting about two-thirds of the way around the dial, but after sealing this gap we found that we could turn the dial back to about the halfway mark and the fridge, if anything, is colder. So a great result all round, the fridge is more efficient, we will use less gas, the annoying cold draught has gone, and there is less chance of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Absorption fridges will only reduce the ambient temperature by about 30 degrees, so some seasoned travellers to warmer climes fit small fans to the top outside vent to improve this performance by drawing out the warm air from the cooling fins. In many cases, ensuring that the fridge is correctly fitted (as above) will attain good, or even better results than fitting fans, but since we frequently travel to Greece we decided to fit a fan just in case. I wanted to service the fridge anyway, so I decided to remove it which gave more room to work and meant that I could pick up the 12-volt supply at the connection on top of our Dometic fridge. There are several fan kits available, but none with good reviews that would fit into the space we had available, so I used a good quality PC cooling fan and wired it with a simple on/off switch concealed behind the fridge door. While the fridge was out, I insulated the cabinet walls around it and reduced the excess space of the void behind it to improve airflow over the cooling fins. When re-fitting the fridge, I used a new foam gasket to seal around the back to ensure a gas-tight seal and prevent draughts. The fan is inaudible from inside the van and certainly moves a lot more air over the cooling fins than convection alone. We are pleased with the result, even in 40+ degrees the fridge can happily maintain an internal temperature of 4 degrees, and the contents of the freezer compartment remain frozen.
Mud flaps – few coachbuilts are supplied with mud flaps, which is surprising given the pride that most owners have in trying to keep them clean. But there is a more important reason to fit rear ones, to stop the underside of the wooden floors from constant road spray from the wheels. They are available online but I made ours up using cold galvanised Dexion angle brackets and two pieces of heavy-duty rubberized canvas. They are positioned close to the wheels to prevent as much spray as possible, and long enough not to become trapped when reversing. Fortunately, the holes lined up with existing holes in the Alko chassis cross member, so no drilling was required.
DashCam – there is a multitude of dashcams available, ranging in price from £100 to £400+, but what we wanted was an easy-to-use budget camera that would take good quality images, AND fit behind our interior screens at night. This seemed to be an impossible request until I found the Viofo A119. This is a discreet little camera that fixes directly onto the screen using the detachable flat mount and easily clears our lift-up blinds. The quality of the product and the video images produced are excellent. The camera is easy to set up with an intuitive menu, and everything that might be needed for fixing is included in the box. I ended up using a shorter micro USB lead that I already had and connecting the dashcam to the USB outlet on our reversing camera monitor that is switched by the ignition so the camera comes on automatically each time we set off. There is an option to have GPS, but GPS data can be used against the driver in court in the event of a claim, so we chose the one without. The A119 has now been superseded by the A119S that is supposed to have better night vision, but I did not find this to be the case, and this comes at the expense of the lens that has been reduced from 160o down to 135O, missing important details to either side.
Moisture meters – I checked our motorhome with the pin-type meter that I use for testing timber in my work as a joiner. This confirmed what my eyes and nose already told me, that there was no damp, but to double-check the low results, I used another pinless type Extech M0257 meter. I was shocked to find that with this meter I appeared to have patches of extreme damp in various places including the internal seams of the roof, a random patch on the back wall and one patch inside a locker. Shocked, I investigated the so-called ‘damp’ areas and could find no evidence whatsoever, and no possible places for water ingress anywhere near those areas. I have since used the Extech meter in conjunction with my work and found that it proved inaccurate there as well. I have received a long reply from Extech who explain that it is not a Moisture Meter despite being sold as one, it is a “relative measuring device” and “no two pinless meters will measure the same number on the same material”. They went on to point out that the meter measures to a set depth, approx. 40mm, and as such will measure the ‘relative electromagnetic field’ at that depth, out of sight and therefore possibly a different material with a different electromagnetic field. My readings varied from less than the expected 16% (Extech now claiming that this is not a percentage at all!) to 80+ within 60mm of each other. This turned out to be caused by concealed metal fittings, a metal cross member to the roof for supporting the ceiling joints, a junction box for the reversing camera on the back wall, and an external locker lid retaining catch in the locker. The readings with the pin type meter all confirmed these readings were false.
It seems that it is not necessary to buy expensive pinless type meters for checking moisture in your motorhome unless you understand how to use them. And more importantly, do not blindly trust those engineers who do use them to possibly drum up work or prospective purchasers who use them to reduce the purchase price.
If using a cheaper pin-type meter, be aware that these measure the electrical conductivity at the surface of the material being tested. This means that the readings may be affected by condensation, moisture in the air and even some types of finishes or cleaning products. So these too should be used with care and it is maybe more important to trust your eyes and nose.
Replacement PolyPlastic windows – we had been having problems with our small kitchen window ‘fogging’ between the panes, but it soon cleared and wasn’t an inconvenience so we lived with it, until it finally split across the inside pane. Closer inspection showed that the two sides had partially delaminated, and without the necessary support, the pane had split in the heat. I read that our PolyPlastic type windows cannot be repaired, but with the risk that it would delaminate and the outer section fall off since the fasteners fix to the inner, I cleaned up the surfaces and Superglued them together as a temporary measure. N.B. misted units are quite normal because of condensation formed by temperature changes, and they can usually be cleared by removing the small bungs allowing them to dry out inside. That said, it is always wise to check the outside edge joint because if it is due to delamination, the windows could fall apart while driving.
There are three options available for a permanent fix:
- Use a company such as Eeco who will manufacture copies including colour match
- Order new replacements direct from the manufacturers at Myriad
- Or order through your local dealer
Eeco proved to be the cheapest option but would mean that the van was without two windows (we decided to replace the bedroom window at the same time because of a tiny hairline crack forming) while they made up the replacements which could take up to two weeks. We decided against this because of security issues, and because Eeco could not copy the shaded area around our original windows.
Myriad would not guarantee delivery times, or even that the replacements would exactly match the originals for fastener spacing etc. I think they would have fitted, it was just their poor customer service that put us.
Our local dealer would guarantee an exact match by ordering based on the chassis number. They quoted 7-10 day delivery and they were happy, in their usual helpful way, to help me fit them if required. In the end, the windows only took two days to arrive and came complete with the outer frame and all new fittings which in the event made them the cheapest by far since these fittings are very expensive and it is always handy to carry spares.
Fitting them was simply a question of removing the stays from the van, lifting the old windows to just passed the horizontal, and unclipping the top edge that acts as a hinge. Fitting the new ones is a reversal of this process, but is best done with two people for support even with a small window. I replaced the rubber seal at the same time since this also came with the replacement windows.
We have since found out that most comprehensive insurance policies that include glass cover also include plastic habitation windows and you will not lose your no-claims. It is worth checking before buying replacements.
“Engine Running, System Disabled” fault – all UK-built motorhomes are set up so that the rear habitation electric system is disabled, and the fridge will only run on 12 volts when the engine is started. This is to prevent possible electrical interference with the vehicle safety systems such as the ABS, and the fridge draining the vehicle battery. On some models, including ours, the step will automatically retract and a buzzer sounds as well. Usually, the same fuse/relay turns the 12v power off and brings the step in as does the 12v fridge, and the first that we knew that our system had failed was when we noticed the step was still out after driving several miles down narrow Dorset lanes – a salutary warning if ever to check before moving off. The most usual cause for this to happen is the failure of the 15 amp fuse in the converters fuse box under the bonnet (see image), but our fuse tested OK so we suspected that the relay might be to blame. There are 2 relays in the centre box. The best way to test them is to start the engine, pull the relays out then slowly put them back in. You should feel/hear a click as the relay is refitted. If not, it could either be the relay or the 12v supply to the relay, this is usually a blue wire and would need tracing back in case of a poor connection somewhere or a break. In our case, it turned out to be a sticking relay, and just removing and re-fitting it with the engine running was sufficient to trigger it back into action. Since the relays cost only a couple of pounds each and are readily available, I ordered a couple to carry with our spares.
Cooling Fans – our van does not have air conditioning, either in the cab or the habitation area. In expectation of warmer climes, we wanted a cooling device other than opening the windows and roof vents. We found a USB fan online called the Digoo 10inch, and it is great, very powerful and well-built. It runs off a USB lead or the integrated batteries which recharge when it is switched off and plugged in. It is well made, very adjustable in all directions and gives a worthwhile movement of air.
For hotter days we use an Endless Breeze 12-volt portable fan. This moves a huge amount of air on any of the three settings and works well at keeping the van cool even in Greece, but it is quite noisy compared with the smaller USB fan.
Changing the revenue weight – the revenue weight for our E760 when we bought her was 3500kg, but the plated weight according to the Alko chassis plate under the bonnet is 3850kg. Since we intended to use her fully loaded, and we knew that we would struggle to keep the weight below 3500kg, we decided to increase the revenue weight. We both have grandfather rights on our licences for the C1 category allowing us to drive vehicles up to 7.5tonnes, so this would not be a problem. Changing the revenue weight in this case is a paper exercise that involves writing to the DVLA to request a change of the revenue weight on the vehicle’s V5C document, it may be necessary to fill in a Change of Taxation Class V70 form if the tax is not about to run out. The applicant must provide proof of the vehicle’s plated weight (a photo will suffice), and supporting evidence to prove that the design weight is within the increased amount (specifications downloaded from the converters website). The process is quite straightforward, but best done when the vehicle tax is due because of the change in taxation class from PLG to Private HGV. At the time of writing the tax was reduced from £260 to £165 per annum, and the MOT remains the same since motorhomes are classified as Class 4 (the same as a car).
Despite this upgrade, we found that we were close to the maximum gross weight and decided to upgrade again to 4200kg. We were able to achieve this because of the air-assist rear suspension that we had fitted and by uprating the load specification of the tyres. We then had to get an engineer’s report to submit to DVLA to confirm the maximum permissible gross weight, several companies specialise in these reports, SV Tech being one of the most popular.
Having had the vehicle weighed fully loaded, we now fall comfortably below the maximum axle weights as a result of this change and have spare capacity for more wine.
Alarm system – as the popularity of motorhoming soars, they are increasingly becoming a target for thefts. We already have a variety of security features fitted, which I am obviously not going to detail here, but we also decided to get a sophisticated alarm system fitted too. The system chosen is the ‘Growler’ from Vanbitz, this fully comprehensive and adaptable system gives added protection, and we would have no hesitation in recommending the excellent service offered by Vanbitz. The installation took about half a day at their workshop in Somerset, including a full explanation of how everything works.
Brake fluid change – we’ve just changed the brake fluid in our van because there was no indication that it had ever been changed, and brake fluid deteriorates with age – absorbing moisture from the air, that can boil during extended braking, forming a compressible gas that can cause loss of braking, of simply absorbing air into the sealed system giving the same effect. We sucked out most of the fluid from the main reservoir and topped it up with fresh braking fluid. Then, in turn, we opened the bleed screws at each wheel (two at each wheel on the front) while the brake pedal was pumped to 3/4 down and fresh fluid arrived at each slave cylinder. Care was taken not to push the pedal to the floor because this can cause the pistons to travel further than they do during normal use to a position where they can ‘stick’. After each wheel had been bled we topped up the main reservoir. On completion, we pressed the brake pedal hard towards the floor to check for any leaks and checked the final level of the fluid.
Some air did come out of two of the lines, and two of the bleed screws were tight to loosen because of external corrosion, so even though there was no significant difference in the ‘feel’ of the pedal afterwards, we are happy that this routine maintenance may have avoided problems in the future. Also, we are now confident that we will not suffer from brake fade while descending the Alps later this year.
Replacement MCBs – we seldom use campsites, but when we do we like to take advantage of the mains electric hook-up to charge batteries, run the fridge and heat water or the cabin area in the winter. Twice when doing that, we found that the 6 amp MCB serving the fridge and the charger tripped out. As the MCB would not reset with the fridge and charger switched off, we concluded that the fault lay with the MCB, which we knew can get ‘tired’ as they get older.
The power supply unit in our motorhome is a Sargent PSU 2007. Sargent has proved faultless with their customer services and offered to service it for a reasonable amount, but unfortunately will not supply spares. Since I wanted to replace the faulty MCB and carry a spare for both the 6 and 10 amps, I decided to buy the parts and fit the replacement one myself. The carcase of the PSU 2007 is riveted together and I had to remove it from the van to drill these out. Removal is easy, just four screws and making a note of the correct order for the multiplugs that enter from underneath – as it happens only two are interchangeable so this is very straightforward. With the rivets drilled out, the front casing comes off easily taking care not to strain the wires leading to the charger and heater switches, and the reverse polarity lamp. The MCBs are then easy to get at and it is a simple matter of disconnecting the wires and jumper bars, unclipping the old MCB and fitting the new one and reconnecting. I did not rivet the cover back on but screwed it instead (there is plenty of room without the risk of the screws catching any internal cables etc), this means that should it be necessary to do any other work inside the cabinet, I can leave the PSU in situ. Re-fitting the unit into the van is a simple reversal of removing it. Subsequent tests suggest that the new MCB has cured the problem.
LED Daylight Running lights – We were advised to fit these in preparation for a trip that would take us through Switzerland where they are a legal requirement. The excellent custom-made kit was ordered from http://www.ledcom.co.uk/ . The lights fit into the fog light recesses found on most Ducato base vehicles. The original blanks have to be cut out to the correct size, and the new lights fit from the front and are held by brackets that are unfortunately very difficult to fit (a small design tweak here would make all the difference).
The wiring on the other hand is quite straightforward given the excellent bespoke wiring loom and instructions. The lights come on with the ignition, dim to half brightness when the headlamps are on and remain on for one minute as a ‘see me to the door’ feature when the ignition is switched off. All in all an excellent addition, and one that makes us legal in many foreign countries.
Batteries – The van’s original batteries turned out to be an unmatched pair and poorly wired. They had been wired as in figure 1 instead of the correct method shown in figure 2 of the wiring diagrams shown. Alarmingly the wires had been spliced into the original circuits when the second battery was added. We have since rewired the batteries correctly and changed them for a matched pair of reputable Trojan 27TMH 115AH. (True deep cycle batteries have much thicker plates than starting batteries and are designed to be deeply discharged and recharged repeatedly, as a rule of thumb they are heavier and more expensive than car batteries. Leisure batteries are rated in amp hours (AH) and are rated lower than starting batteries for cold cranking amps (CCA)) The spliced wires have all been removed and quick-release connectors are used so that all circuits can be isolated easily and quickly. We have noticed a vast improvement in the maximum charge facility and subsequently, the number of hours use we now get between charges since carrying out this work.
Update – we have now replaced the original single battery box with a larger box set below the floor of the rear locker to house both batteries. I was unable to find a dedicated box that allowed our two Trojan batteries to fit side by side, and eventually used a modified recycling box which was ideal.
Tow bar – The Bessacarr E760, like so many modern motorhomes and caravans, has a one-piece moulded rear panel with no rear bumper arrangement; this leaves the back very vulnerable to costly damage while parking or in a collision. We decided during the point of sale that the addition of a substantial tow bar would offer reasonable protection and also be useful for using a removable tow ball-mounted bike rack. We negotiated with the dealer to have a TOWtal one fitted before we picked her up and we were very happy with the result. The tow bar gives good protection against rear-end collisions, protects the rear chassis from grounding on uneven ground (and ferry ramps!) and provides useful extra load-carrying facilities.
Update – Towtal’s paint finish lasted barely a couple of years before rusting. We have now removed the towbar, had it sandblasted, etch primed, a coat of chip guard and finally finished with a two-part spray paint before re-fitting. The finish looks better than before and should last as long as the van now.
LED Reversing bulbs – Reversing at night is not easy when the vehicle is so long, even with a good quality camera many details are obscured. The standard reversing bulbs are the usual 21-watt which do not illuminate anywhere near a large enough area for safe reversing in the dark. To get around this, and not wanting to fit additional lights, we have now fitted LED bulbs that seem to have overcome the problem.
The LEDs consume only 4 watts but give the brightness of a traditional 60-watt halogen bulb with little heat output. They have built-in resistors so that bulb failure systems still work correctly, and in most cases will be a direct replacement for the standard bulb. As can be seen from the before and after photographs, they are a vast improvement on the original bulb on the left. The LEDs are available online and we found the best price to be on eBay.
Footnote – these LEDs proved so effective that we have now changed all of the interior lights to LED’s resulting in a much brighter (but also dimmable) look and greatly reduced battery consumption.
Radio – The standard Fiat radio leaves a lot to be desired, lacking Bluetooth connection and having very poor reception. We have fitted a Sony MEXN5000BT which comes complete with remote control, Bluetooth, CD player and many other useful touches. Seemingly lacking from many camper conversions is the ability to listen to the stereo while the ignition is switched off; and as the Fiat does not have an acc position on the ignition, this can easily lead to flat vehicle batteries. I considered a dual supply whereby we can use the stereo to come on and off with the ignition or connect to the leisure batteries when the vehicle is at rest. However, this can theoretically lead to a possible short circuit between the leisure and vehicle batteries and is therefore best avoided. Then it was recommended that I wired the stereo via an inline fuse to the leisure battery, but this means that you lose the convenience of the radio going on and off with the ignition on short runs. In the end, I wired the radio via a two-way switch that allows it to run as normal in the up position with the ignition switched supply, or with the switch in the down position directly from a fused constant supply from the engine battery. In the middle position, it is off, with only a constant supply for the clock and settings memory supply. To avoid flattening the vehicle battery during extended use, I have fitted a Battery Master. This simple device switches the charge from the solar panel or built-in mains charger, from the leisure batteries to the vehicle battery whenever the vehicle battery is more than half a volt less than the leisure batteries. It has been in use now for several months and works perfectly.
Ladder lock – ladders seem to prove an irresistible challenge for passers-by to either climb or hang things off. Most fold up, which does offer some security, but a locking ladder board makes them harder for people to climb when fitted. The only available ladder boards are quite narrow and short, and so still allow relatively easy access to the roof for the more intrepid or determined scoundrel. Mindful that any such device is only ever a deterrent because anyone with serious criminal intent will merely bring a ladder or park another vehicle alongside to get onto the roof, I constructed a custom board that greatly reduces available handholds and footrests. The strengthened board is held in place with metal hooks and a secure combination lock and takes only seconds to remove.
Under-seat locker – It proved to be quite annoying to have to lift the seat swabs off the offside under-seat locker every time we wanted to go to it. A simple but great improvement has been achieved by cutting the front panel and creating a hinged locker door that drops forward. I fitted a continuous piano hinge along the bottom and two press-in catches that match the original catches elsewhere in the van. The space inside around the sealed external gas locker is ideal for shoes, spares and a tool kit. I have since added two small rubber stops to protect the catches when the flap is open and resting on the floor.
Handbrake – We soon discovered that our handbrake was only working on one side, so at the earliest opportunity I stripped it all down to investigate. I found that the sheaved part of the cable was pinched by the folding clip that stops it from rubbing against the inside of the rear wheel, and this was stopping the offside shoes from fully releasing unless adjusted to the point of being useless! It seems that this is a common fault with Alko chassis, and one to watch out for. A new cable was ordered and fitted, a straightforward but incredibly fiddly job given that the shoe assembly is largely hidden by the hub unit. Having to remove the hub to change the shoes is undesirable as bearings are always best left undisturbed if possible, and a special end float tool is required to correctly re-set the bearings after the hub is removed.
Unfortunately, like many of the larger motorhomes built on the extended Alko chassis, the Bessacarr has an inherent flaw when setting up the handbrake. Adjusted too tight and the shoes have a habit of grabbing the drums, adjusted too slack and they do not operate sufficiently to hold the heavy vehicle on an incline as well as being a well-documented MOT failure. The recommended Fiat setting is to wind the handbrake shoe adjuster until it is tight, and then back it off 6 teeth; however, with the cable properly adjusted for handbrake lever travel, this can lead to the shoes locking on while driving and overheating the assembly, or worse! Because of the change in geometry between the standard Fiat chassis and the Alko extended chassis, the correct setting is to wind it back by 10 teeth and not 6, this setting seems to achieve the best results. Another trick is before test driving the vehicle, with the vehicle safely jacked up, spin the wheel to see that the brake shoes do not bind, then apply and release the handbrake and spin the wheel again, if it does lock up, fine-tune the toothed adjuster until the brake remains free every time the wheel is spun in both directions after the handbrake has been applied. Fine-tuning can be as little as one tooth adjustment. Finally, test drive and check for correct operation. Note: this is a parking brake and must never be applied when the vehicle is moving.
Roof repair – we noticed that sometimes there was a slight drip from the main rooflight when we first moved the van off the drive. Oddly it did not leak at all when driving in rain, or even during several storms in the Outer Hebrides and Pembrokeshire. We discovered that when parked on the level drive, rainwater would pool above the driver’s seat, and when we reversed down the slope onto the road, this water was finding its way into the rooflight assembly. The cause turned out to be a hairline crack in the original roof panel that had been covered by a large piece of trim under the rooflight leaving just a few millimetres of the crack showing. This was just enough to let the puddled rainwater in as it ran back down the roof each time we moved off the drive; we never worked out why it did not leak while driving or while parked up away from home in the rain.
Removing the rooflight took a couple of hours, carefully releasing it from the non-setting compound used to seal it. Once that was off and cleaned up, I removed the reinforcing cover plate that had been fitted under it, using the same long-bladed scraper to ease it off the adhesive/sealant. This revealed the crack and an area at each front corner where it had not properly bonded during the original fitting by the makers. I carefully cleaned the crack and opened it slightly into a chamfer so that I could run some epoxy adhesive into it. When this had set, and with the entire area meticulously cleaned up, I re-bedded the cover plate on Sikaflex 512 and clamped it into place using large G clamps and timbers. Once this had set, I re-fitted the rooflight using the Sikaflex 512 again and tidied up the edges using a lint-free cloth dipped in turps. I added an extra bead of Sikaflex over the crack as a belt and braces measure.
All in all the job took nearly eight hours spread over two days to do properly, and I used 5 tubes of sealant. I chose Sikaflex 512 (now called Sikaflex 522) because it is recommended by most motorhome manufacturers for its flexibility, UV stability and weather resistance. Sikaflex EDT is a similar product used in the construction trade but untried on motorhomes where there is likely to be far more movement. I was not concerned that it will be difficult to remove in the future because this is one job that done properly it should not need re-doing, and if for some reason I had to remove the rooflight, I can always use a thin blade to separate it as I had to do this time anyway.
Underseal – we had been advised that many long wheelbase motorhomes rust where the cab chassis meets the galvanised Alko extended chassis, and true to form we found that ours had not been undersealed at this point. Firstly, I got the entire area pressure cleaned to remove any loose mud etc. Then I gave it a thorough wire brush to remove any surface rust, and finally, I sprayed it with Waxoyl. Heating the Waxoyl first gives it the right viscosity for spraying, but it can be brushed as well. I was not bothered about the look, more about getting enough on there to give lasting protection. Old clothes and eye protection are a must!
Additional speakers – the van came equipped with standard Fiat speakers in the cab doors, and some really good quality compact speakers in the back (we cannot find a maker’s name anywhere on them, but the sound is brilliant). The only problem was that when driving the volume had to be very loud to hear properly. Replacing the Fiat speakers with better quality ones would have undoubtedly helped, but having fitted a decent stereo we wanted to get the best sound possible.
The JBL GTO429 4-inch received excellent reviews and would just fit into the small shelf above the front seats, an ideal position for clarity. I carefully cut a hole in the overhead locker bases, fitted the speakers and wired them back to the original rear speakers in parallel. This setup gives ideal balance control through the stereo and now means that the larger door speakers come into their own as base speakers giving great overall sound. To finish off the installation, I made up two small sealed MDF covers to protect the speakers and to give a tighter, more precise sound.