Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Problem - does not start!

Next morning the car engine does not start. The battery is fine, but it seems that it does not get any fuel. Must be the cold, at night it was -20 C. Since I do not need the car, I just leave it parked.

A few days later I tell my hosts in the Albergo, they call the car repair shop, and the Fiat Doblo is being picked up and taken into the garage down in the valley.

Next day it is ready. This is the very first time that I go down a slope by skis to pick up a car from a garage...
There had been ice and dirt in the fuel filter, which then prevented the fuel to come to the engine. Is now fixed.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Into the Mountains

From Iphofen I depart between 6 and 7am, so that I avoid traffic congestion which might come later in the day. As I approach München, there is some light snow fall, and after passing München there is a bot of a slow-down. But snow is no problem for the all-year-tyres which I put on. A short stop before the border to Austria, taking some pictures of the snowy landscape.

Well, since this is a blog solely about the campervan, it will be featured in each picture here. The landscape-only pictures are on my Facebook page, and I might have them later also on Flickr.

In Val Gardena I stop at a station with a car wash, and I spray the car to remove all the grit and the salt it has picked up from the driving so far. Then up to the passes, then arriving in the afternoon at the destination.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Big Travel - to the continent - and a technical problem

In the morning I am leaving Leeds between 5 and 6am. The roads are empty. Long drive as usual to London. I take the A1, which is 30 min shorter than the M1. But it has worse lighting, and smaller rest stations along the way. Also its lanes are more narrow than on the M1, and there are some curves which require full attention when driving at 70 mph.

This is the first real long-distance drive for this Fiat Doblo. I had it in the shop for a service a few days earlier, to make it winterproof. Also the brakes were done, as they had been worn down quite a bit. No more work has been done regarding the conversion, since I am not planning to use the van as a camper for this trip.

Arrived ok at 11am, one hour time to wait and board the ferry at Dover.

No problems during most of the drive. But then after a rest stop between Köln and Frankfurt it seems as if at the left front wheel there is some noise. It seems to come from the wheel itself and gets louder when I accelerate or decelerate. I keep the speed down at around 120 km/h for the rest of the drive. The noise seems to get louder. I think it might be a ball bearing - had something similar once at my Mitsubishi Space Wagon. I keep the speed further down, am not too worried about it.

I arrive in Iphofen shortly after midnight. The first thing is having a look at that front left wheel. And what do I see: one of the wheel nuts is missing! And the remaining three are not very tight...

Next morning after sun rise I put a spare nut in, which I had with me. Try tightening the other nuts, but after a short while the noise is there again. So I bring the car to a shop. They have a look. Measure the balance of the wheels - both front tyres were out of balance. This might have been the reason. But also could have been that after the brake repair I should have tightened the nuts, about after 100 miles of driving. These are alloy wheels, and they do require this re-tightening.

Next time I will be more careful! This could have ended badly, with the front left wheel falling off on the motorway...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Insulation of rear doors

For staying in the car while it is not moving, it is essential to put in a good insulation everywhere. I had begun to put alu-air-bubble foil on the inside of the ceiling, and I did purchase a 5x10m roll of VelTrim (silver). Now I wanted to try out the VelTrim. The first object of my lining attempts were the read doors. First I put a layer of the alu bubble foil, to create an insulating layer. Then on top of that, I affixed a layer of VelTrim. It is a thick material, 500g per square meter, and is not easy to mold. So I had to resort to cutting and stitching around those edges of the doors and the rear windows.

The right door closes now a bit harder, needs to be pushed with force during the closing; the added padding appears to add some resistance somewhere where it bulges up too thickly for a smooth closing.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Fridge repair - by WRS Refrigeration Services Leeds

Already on Saturday afternoon I did call around to fridge services which I found through a web search. There was one guy who was listed as fixing fridges in Leeds, but who was actually in York. There also was a nationwide service with a local office, but they were closed.

So on Monday morning I searched for more and found some repair services. One would only do large commercial refrigeration systems, another could only do this next week. I did leave a message for another service engineer, but he never called back. I also left an email for that nation-wide service. Their phone number only went to a call centre, and my call was somewhere in a queue, so I gave up on that.

Then I found WRS Refrigeration Services. David was on the phone, and he competently described what would need to be done. So I arranged for a repair for Wednesday morning. He would come with his van and equipment and would repair the fridge right there.

He and his colleague came then today in the morning. The weather was miserable, it was raining, and I had just installed the electric 240V connector so that I could have electricity in the camper, to power an electric space heater, and to be able to connect equipment for the repair.

Basically what needed to be done was: repair the broken pipe, install a service valve / port, evacuate the system, and then refill it with the coolant R134a. In order to do this, they actually had to cut the steel pipe of that condensor grid which enclosed the whole compressor unit, to get better access to the other pipes. The team of two removed two of the original pipe connections from the compressor by using a solder gun. I was a bit worried to have that naked hot flame from the torch in the car with its flammable seats and plastic moldings, but David was careful in using that torch. The connections were newly soldered, and a more smoothly bent piece of copper pipe was used instead of that original damaged part. The new service port now allows refilling the system, in case it would leak.

The whole work took 1 1/2 hours. I was very impressed with their work, and I was so glad to see the refrigerator working again after they completed all the soldering and refilling. There is a 12 month warranty on this repair, but it looks like all the pipes are tightly sealed, and this fridge will now be working fine from now on.

I am very grateful for the professional work that WRS Refrigeration Services have done with that repair, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them for any similar repair, if such one is needed!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The fridge is broken!

For a while the refrigerator was standing in the rear of the vehicle, kept in place by bungee cords in order to avoid it falling over when driving. I had removed the compressor unit from the rear, which is one of the specific features of this Waeco CRP-40 refrigerator. It sat there stable, with the compressor / evaporator cage sitting next to it and attached to the vehicle wall so it would not move.

I already noticed that very little provision has been made by the manufacturers for a SAFE removal of that compressor. The compressor unit is mounted on a metal structure which is hinged into the back of the fridge and can be unmounted, so that this unit can be mounted up to 1.5 m away from the actual refrigerator box. This is very useful in situations where there is very little space, as in my micro camper, for example. That was the main reason for choosing this refrigerator.

But removing this unit was more difficult than I had thought. Some of the screws which needed to be unlocked were very difficult to access. And the main connecting pipe that connects the coolant to the fridge was dangling in the back without any stress relief support from the compressor. The pipe (aluminum) just was spirally wound up and could be bent so that the compressor unit could be mounted away form the fridge. But the full stress of any motion action was transferred to the copper part of the pipe directly at the compressor, and that pipe was already strangely bent, apparently during the manufacturing process.

So when I proceeded to put the compressor in its final place in the car and wanted to affix the refrigerator more permanently, I suddenly heard a hissing sound, and I saw that the copper pipe at the compressor had a hole in that section of pipe which was bent very strangely already from the very beginning. So here it was, a brand-new fridge, just 2 weeks old, and already broken now, not usable. I was quite pissed...

In the picture one can see the pent pipe. This was NOT my doing, the pipe had been squeezed and bent before I removed the compressor unit from the fridge. I should have taken pictures right when I installed the fridge to proof that and possible get a warranty repair. Apparently, the stress from moving that unit away from the fridge, with the tension and stress directly being transferred to the pipe, was too overwhelming for that weak spot.

I hereby need to warn all those who buy this refrigerator and are considering removing that compressor unit: take pictures before you do this, and document the state of the compressor pipes. Also, try to build some kind of mechanical stress relief, with some wood structural enforcement, to keep the pipe at this compressor cage in place and to make sure that it does not move in the vicinity of the compressor unit, when the whole unit is moved. I should have done that right away, but did not...

After the damage was done I continued to work on the mechanical structure for tightly putting refrigerator and compressor unit in place. I built a small shelf for the compressor, attached the flush mounting frame to the refrigerator, and built a structure with wooden beams to be fixed to the vehicle. First I thought of building a whole cabinet from bottom to top, hence I placed a vertical pillar in the rear. But then I decided that this would take away valuable space, as I thought of using the vertical space more for a bed that could sit on top of the whole fridge / electronics structure. So I cut that beam and added a more rigid horizontal structure. I was even able to use one of the panel mounting holes in the side of the vehicle where the original cover panel had been mounted. This allowed to rigidly attach one of the beams to the vehicle. In the pictures below one can see the little shelf for the compressor unit, which is attached to the panel covering the rear right seat belt, and which is also supported by a vertical beam. The compressor cage is held in place by those rigid slide-in mountings that were also in the back of the fridge. It stands on rubber feet on that shelf. I may bind it also down with some straps to ensure it does not move when I go over potholes and bumps in the road.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Refrigerator is installed!

On Wednesday the Waeco CRP-40 fridge arrived. Compressor, the smallest size model, with removable compressor which can be mounted up to 1.5 m away. I wired it up, and it is running fine, cooling down to 4 C. And with a small freezer compartment.

Somewhat no thrills, no light inside, no cover door for the freezer section. But very space efficient.

I also got a frame, which will make the fridge flush with the cabinet I am going to build around it. At the moment, it just stands in the rear of the vehicle, affixed with a few bunjee coords so that it does not turn over in tight fast curves.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

External Electricity Port

In order to operate electric devices which require 240V, this electric power needs to be led into the vehicle. I had purchased a mains inlet, grey, a "motorhome hook up socket". This has the usual UK motorhome connection with the three round prongs. I do have adaptors for standard UK plugs and also for Central European plugs. Now all I had to do is to cut an opening into the vehicle and affix this mains inlet.

First I drilled a pilot hole from the outside. I had identified the approximate location from looking at the inside, where a side panel had been removed and was showing which area would be best accessible. After the first small pilot hole had been drilled, I used a larger drill to enlarge it. Then I used a jigsaw and started to make the straight cuts. Made lots of noise, but worked very smoothly. I had used masking tape to indicate the exact cutting location. After the rectangular opening had been cut, I used primer to cover the blank metal regions to avoid rusting. Then I used silicon gel to cover the boundary of the inlet box, before pushing it into the opening.

I also added some foam padding to ensure that a tight fit would seal the opening. 4 self-taping screws were used for affixing the box tightly to the vehicle.

This was the very first time that I cut an opening into a vehicle. Feels first as if this means doing damage... but when looking at the completed mains inlet with its flush closing watertight door, then it is clear that I actually added some value to this vehicle.

The next step will be to add the actual power cable. Need to study which of the pins in the socket/plug is to be the Load and which the Neutral.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Interior insulation

I did now remove all the interior mouldings. The interior roof is now bare metal.

The solar panel on the roof had been affixed with 6 screws which were screwed directly into the roof metal. This was not very water tight, and during the rain storms in the last few days some water came into the car. No visible drops were at the ceiling, but one of the rear seats felt wet. I did now redo all the screws on the ceiling and added clear silicon. Hopefully this is going to remain tight and sealed.

I also did then add the aluminium foil with air bubbles and attached it over the interior ceiling as a first insulation layer. Then I used the opportunity to place LED strips right over the window.

Finally I affixed the fire extinguisher under the front seat, where there had apparently been another one, as the mounting still was there.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Floor insulation

The rear part of the cargo area hs its own floor already installed. There is a underfloor, and on top is a blue vinyl. But that part ends where the rear seating area begins. If these seats are folded, then there is a sudden transition from that solid floor to the carpeted area which normally is under the rear seats. I want to have this all as one single area. So I started thinking how to do this. Best would be to remove the rear floor and make one common underfloor. But I was not able to remove that floor with easy means: after removing a few screws from those metal tracks (for attaching apparently loosely moving things, such as a wheel chair) I saw that the floor did not move at all, and those tracks / rails appeared to be glued tightly to the vehicle. So I decided that I would just cover it with another layer of underfloor and place my final floor on top of that.

The area under the rear seats is carpeted. I could remove this carpet, but I decided to leave it in as part of the insulation. I got a pack of Selitac floor underlay and placed it onto the carpet area, cutting out parts where hooks and installations (wrench, seat belt bolt) were protruding. Even though it said on the instructions that no adhesive was required, I put adhesive onto the carpet to ensure that this underlay would not move around. I also removed the door entrance floor panels, laid the underlay, and placed the panels back with those underlays pressed under them. The result is not very sturdy, as this foam underlay is a bit flexible. But it is a first basis for whatever comes on top.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Installing a New DAB Radio

The built-in radio is actually not too bad: RDS, DC, and a reasonable sound. Also it has a built-in timer which keeps it on for a while after switching off the engine, before it automatically shuts down. This is quite convenient. But a major drawback is the volume regulation by key only. It takes me forever to set the proper volume. Also, after switching it on, it is at a low volume level of 20 - I have then to bring it up to 40 to have a decent sound level. And the two up/down keys are a bit fiddly to handle while driving, with slow reaction. I prefer a rotating wheel, which nowadays almost all radios have. So I was looking for a replacement, and found the Sony CDX DAB700U. This is a DAB radio, which is absolutely appropriate for a car: no hiss anymore, clear sound, and all those fine sound details which are a bit lost in the digital compression are not noticeable because of the general car noise anyway. A great feature set, and not too expensive: £ 115 + shipping.

I had no trouble getting the old radio out. Two of these special prongs were needed for pulling it out, which I already had. Installation of the new radio was also easy, although at the DIN opening in the dashboard there were two little plastic nudges which I had to remove, as they were in the way when I slid the metal frame into the opening. I also had to drill a hole into the top cover of the dashboard, for the additional digital antenna. DAB reception requires a separate antenna, as this is in a different frequency. I had to make the hole quite large, to fit the connector through. The cable itself is not very thick.

One small issue after the radio was wired up: Sony and Fiat seem to have different opinions on proper coloring the cables. Sony has the convention to use red for the 12V+ from the ignition and yellow for the constant 12V+. Fiat has it the other way round. So when directly connecting the out-of-the-box wire harness, the radio switched off completely after the ignition was turned off, and when switching the ignition on again, all the settings had been lost, indicating that the main power had been disconnected. This could be corrected by swapping the red and yellow connectors, as also shown in the instruction sheet. Fortunately, Sony had been very thoughtful in having separate plugs and sockets on these, so one could just unplug and replug these in the proper positions.

A better option would have been to guide the DAB antenna cable somewhere behind the dashboard, but I did not want to begin messing with opening the dashboard.

The antenna is to be attached to the front window, with self-adhesive surfaces. I did try to find in the manual some information about in which direction the antenna needs to be mounted (horizontally or vertically), but was unable to find the instructions. So I thought, since it is a dipole, I might put it up horizontally on the top edge of the window. This turned out to be a mistake, as I realised shortly later, when I found the small picture of the antenna mounting instructions on the foldable "first steps" flyer that was part of the instruction set. The antenna should have been mounted ad the side of the window, vertically. Now, that it is already attached, it is virtually impossible to remove it without damaging it. Well, I did drive with the radio on, and the reception with that wrongly mounted antenna was ok. In tunnels it was reduced to 0, but that was to be expected - is the same with the regular FM. So at the moment I will keep this antenna as it is, but I did already order a replacement antenna to be mounted in the proper position. Then I will compare which one is better, and will then be able to tell if this makes indeed a difference.

One criterion for choosing this radio was actually the fact that it had a remote control and therefore could be used as the main entertainment center for the campervan. The only thing I would have to do is to bring the power from the leisure battery to the radio, instead of from the vehicle battery. I could simply put a manual switch in, but I am thinking of putting an 8-pin relay in which would re-route the two power inputs to the leisure battery, once a voltage from that battery would be provided.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Roof panel removed - bright LED Light installed


The roof panel is now off, and I will get high-temperature - heavy duty adhesive to attach the insulation. I also used the opportunity to place temporarily the bright LED light strip into the rear roof area, as a replacement of that dim light which was under the rear left panel in the trunk space. Now, when opening the rear door, the whole car is illuminated with a very pleasant cool light - which also is more efficient than the old lightbulb.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Rear Panels Removed

I did remove the rear panels, in order to see what I would need to do regarding the insulation. There is much hollow space, which will need to be filled. I also removed the speakers and plan to replace them with other 4x6 speakers: On eBay I got Fusion replacement speakers which would fit exactly in the existing 4x6 space of the old panels. But I may actually remove the panels altogether and put my own "furniture" there, so I might have bought other speakers. Never mind, these new ones look like an improvement over the previous built-in ones. I may also replace the front speakers at some point.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Fuel Consumption - not as good as expected

After the first time of filling up the Diesel tank, I am a bit disappointed. The on-board computer had constantly promised me a consumption of 55 miles per gallon, the actual consumption was 37 mpg. Which is not bad, but just worse than the vehicle told me.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Connecting the solar controller

The solar controller arrived in the mail on Tuesday. It is a 20A controller, which has a nice informative display, showing battery loading status and currents from solar panel to battery and from battery to the consumer.

Seems to work fine, as an initial connection shows.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Window tinting and cable from vehicle battery

In recent days a few of the items which I had ordered, arrived by mail: cables, the solar controller, battery clamps. One of the important cables it to get the 12V+ from the vehicle battery to the leisure battery, so that the alternator can charge the leisure battery. This is only the fallback option, in case there is no sun. I was able to drill a hole from the passenger compartment into the engine compartment, and I guided the thick red power cable through after securing the two holes with appropriate grommets. All that is missing is now the fuse, and then the relay for switching the two batteries together.

I did order a TEC2M relay, but then realised that this is linked to the ignition. This is not what I wanted. I rather would have one that automatically switches itself when the engine is running, that is when the alternator charges the vehicle battery. Therefore I did also order a TEC3M relay which does exactly this.

I will further install two switches: one for enabling the charge by vehicle alternator, and another for manually overriding the relay in case a connection is explicitly wanted (e.g. for recharging both batteries by the solar panel).

Today I also added window tinting to the two rear windows. The side windows in the back are actually all tinted; so to complete the privacy screen I did use the tinting foil that I got in Germany in summer. My tinting job for these two windows is, I must admit, not very professionally done. There are still bubbles, as I was not able to get rid of all the wrinkles. I guess that is because the foil appears not to be very flexible and does not stretch to the curvature of the windows.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Affixing the Solar Panel

The 150W solar panel that I got is one of these semi-flexible ones, which is waterproof and can be slightly bent to fit a curved surface. It has 6 holes for mounting it. I removed the inner ceiling moulding in the vehicle, then drilled 6 holes from the outside top of the vehicle roof. That steel of the Fiat seems to be very hard - the drills seemed to have some problems getting the holes in!

Originally I wanted to use screws and nuts to fix the panel, but then I decided to use self-taping screws, as it was difficult to tighten the nuts.

I put some foam insulating tape around the edges of the panel, to avoid that it scratches the roof surface and to dampen possible vibrations.

Did a quick test drive with a few minutes of 60 mph, and the panel held fine. The two cables with the power I fed through the roof with two rubber grommets.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Electrics and Solar Power

Since I decided to convert this vehicle into a micro-camper, I needed a leisure battery. Online a 110Ah battery can be bought for around £60. But Halfords had a sale, and so I got my battery there, even it was still more expensive than the online offers. But the advantage was that I did not have to worry about delivery of this heavy item. Also I could return that old leisure battery which could not hold the charge anymore.

I also ordered a solar panel, which I wanted to mount onto the roof. I went for the 150W version, because this would almost cover the roof completely and hereby bring the most power. When the shipper DX wanted to deliver it, they told me that their truck is too large to drive towards my house... (did they come with a semi?). So I went there in the evening at 8pm to their business location. They were very busy loading and unloading their huge trucks with all kind of shipments, and then one brought me the large package with the panel. It barely fit into the cargo area of the Fiat.

Fitting all-year tyres

For my planned travels around Europe I need tyres which are legal to be driven in winter. Therefore I got a set of 4 all-year tyres from MyTyres.co.uk. I decided to go for a low-cost Chinese tyre: MAXXIS. Price per tyre: £44. During the fitting process I had a chance to look at the wheel arches and the breaks. The front disks will need to be changes soon.

Fitting a towbar

The Fiat did not have a towbar. So I called a local towbar fitter who 2 days later fitted a single-electric bar.

Monday, 8 September 2014

First purchases and upgrades

Due to the high-crime area in which I live (a total of 5 car bread-ins in my cars in recent years), the first thing I installed is an alarm. I got one at Maplin for about £30. A set of new foot mats. Then I did some rough cleaning of the inside; foaming the fabric of the seats and of the side panels.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Buying a new car

For quite a while I have been looking to buy a new car. My 1997 Mitsubishi drove well, but I did rarely use it after I got that Peugeot Expert camper van conversion. But the Peugeot Expert ("MrPercy") does have a few flaws which prompted my search for something different: the engine keeps to let out traces of oil through its breathers, and then the smell of burning hot oil surrounds you when the window is open. This flaw had almost been away during my summer travel to Europe; it seemed that the long-distance motorway driving helped to consolidate this somewhat. But after a few days of travel in urban traffic the smell was back. Also, the whole spatial arrangement of the van conversion amenities appeared to me very space-wasteful. It is difficult to travel in this Peugeot Expert with lots of luggage and still use it as a camper. So it is basically an either-or - either using it as a camper with only little luggage, or use it as a van with giving up staying overnight in it.

So I kept my eyes open for an alternative, which also could be used as a daily driver. I had decided that the Citroen Berlingo would be a good choice. Alternatively the Renault Kangoo or the Peugeot Partner. My main requirements were: air-conditioning, CD-player (some older vehicles still had cassette players, and the radio/cassette is integrated with the vehicle and difficult to change), sunroof (even though these Berlingo/Kangoo/Partner roofs are only fixed and cannot be opened. In spring 2014 there were several reasonable Berlingos on Autotrader, which conformed to my specifications, but I was not ready to buy yet. Then in summer, there were suddenly only fewer models with my specs, and so I kept widening my search and included Fiat Doblo.

And then, after returning from my summer trip, I saw the ad for that 2005 Fiat Doblo JTD. It had been converted for wheelchair use, and did have a ramp in the back. Fortunately the body had not been modified for this, and all original seats were still in it. This was the high-roof version, with an additional sunroof window in the front. Silver, reasonable price and specifications. 88k miles. It was a big far from home to travel there twice, for looking at it and then picking it up later in case I liked it. So I got £2000 in cash from my bank account and travelled on the earliest morning train to Luton.

I had spoken to the seller on the phone, but he was still surprised when I rang him at 9:00 and threw him out of bed. He came to the station with the car, I drove it to his home, and decided that I would take it. MOT was new; it just had to be taxed, then I could go.

So the first travel of this vehicle was the 3 hour long journey back home, mostly on motorway. The car drove fine, no problems at all.