Category Archives: Bits & bobs

The hair is important

Nice title – but if you’ve seen the pics of my head you will know this is not about me!
I love the idea of going off-grid and using less of the hook-ups. Not because I’m a meany but I’m trying to save the planet in my own little way (see Solar Panel Installation) and use nature’s resources. Now that might sound a little cheesy when I’ve got a 2.8td engine doing 24 miles per gallon but did you know that Batteries are the most recycled product IN THE WORLD at 98%! No – nor did I, so you see we motorhomers are doing our bit for the environment.
The problem with not using hook-ups is my good lady Janette struggles to get the beauty look that is much needed when tramping across the field to the washrooms! I suggested a short back and sides but was met with a cold (and I mean cold) stare – only one thing for it – fit an inverter. Some might argue that the ‘essence’ of camping / motorhoming is to leave our home comforts behind and get back to basics – I do think there is an element in me that supports that – but I’m not 18 any more and neither am I doing a Duke of Edinburgh award!
In my (current) line of work I’m selling small off-grid hybrid DC power systems primarily for small power loads so I do have a little experience in this field. We use and recommend a lot of Victron Energy kit and so it was a no brainer for me to install a product I know will work.
Fitting looks easy (famous last words) – however it was not too troublesome. I had previously downloaded the manual, bought the necessary cable (10mm² it said if the cable run was over 1.5m), fuses and cable protector tubing. I wanted it as close to the batteries as possible but the two 12v 105Ah batteries (connected in parallel to give 210Ah) are under the front passenger seat and driver seat respectively. This meant at least one of the cables would have to be longer than the other (not ideal but we are not using huge loads). Out of the box and it was clear that the inverter could not be fitted flush to the floor – the UK outlet is fitted in such a way that the cable coming from the plug would foul on whatever it was mounted on.

Cable on the plug would foul if mounted on the floor and you could not plug anything in (why not mount the socket sideways?)


OK – first hurdle to get over – idea – mount it on 2 blocks of wood to give it ground clearance.
Hurdle 2 – where to fit it? I originally though we could hide it in one of the seat storage cupboards and have a socket outlet on the outside. I quickly realised I was going to run out of time if I attempted that and my DIY skills would be severely tested. Decision time – behind the drivers seat.
Cracking on, apart from the slight tight space (‘twas ever thus in a motorhome when DIY’ing) it all went relatively smoothly. The supply was going to come direct from the batteries so I needed an inline fuse on the positive cable (I decided on 60Amp). Cables measured (twice) and cut, terminal connectors crimped on (boy this was going well) cable protector cut, wooden blocks screwed to floor (a bit dodgy but no real weight on them and they won’t be kicked), holes drilled for the inverter mounting and bob’s your uncle before anything disastrous can happen I’m ready to connect up. Janette will be so pleased and oh so proud, dreaming of flowing locks in the wind when she goes to the toilet block, oh how jealous all the other campers will be!

Inverter in position behind driver seat – passenger seat removed for battery access


Connection time – all done, fused ready to go. Computer ready to connect the VE Direct cable to find out what the Inverter is doing and make any adjustments (low battery cut off, etc.). Computer say NO! it can’t see my beloved inverter. Not to worry, let’s see if it works – radio connected – yippee, on comes the cricket, let’s try a light – yep, no issues there, what about the laptop – yep again all OK.
The all important hair styler for Janette, a 300W affair – 500VA inverter copes with 400W (at 25°C) and a 900W initial power draw – oooopps – overload. Try again – ooopps – overload. Clearly this was not going to work. I tried to get the computer to see it again but it was having none of it. I referred to the Victron site and found I needed to download some drivers – duly done, it still wouldn’t see the inverter (I refer the reader back to my “fitting looks easy statement”). It was at this point that even the lights on the inverter refused to come on – I tested the input voltage – 13.5V – no problem with the supply the inline fuse had not blown. Time ran out, I had to get Hilma back in to storage and leave this for another day. I disconnected said (no not so beloved) inverter and the next day referred the issues to the supplier. Time to tell Janette.
1 week later and I had a replacement – slightly nervous I fitted the new inverter – tested the computer connection – yippee – I could see what it was doing this time. Connected various low wattage items as before but was not about to connect the dreaded 300W hair styler. Bought a 25W heated brush instead, tried that – oooooopps – overload!! How can that be? I’m starting to get annoyed with ‘hair’ things now – the manufacturers need to start telling the truth – my guess is anything heated with or without a fan motor is just not going to cut it with this inverter size. Bigger is better – hey ho, maybe I’ll sell it on ebay and move up a size?
It is staying on for our forthcoming trip to France as it does a wonderful job of charging phones, laptops, radios, etc. and we can stay off-grid a bit longer, but Janette’s hair will have to wait for the beauty treatment for the time being – hair scrunches it is then! Very 80’s student look.

Boiling Battery

Leisure Battry

A boiling battery is not a good thing


Well, what a mess. Hilma had been in storage for a about 6 weeks and feeling very left out of our life. That would soon be remedied as we were off to our nieces wedding, Janette was arranging all the flowers in the church so we would be with Hilma for 4 days – whooppee 🙂
The day before we were to set for the off for the long awaited wedding (and flower arranging fest) I collected Hilma from storage. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it but something didn’t ‘smell’ right. You know that feeling, you know something is going to go wrong, your just waiting for the little blighter to rear it’s ugly head and show you what. By the time I got her home I was pretty convinced that the time would be close and I would find out. Sure enough the next day when packing the smell was there again, I knew the smell – battery acid. ‘Don’t panic Mr Mannering, don’t panic’ (for those of us over 50 you’ll know what all that is about). My highly tuned earholes by now knew every sound that Hilma threw at me, I could hear something faintly bubbling, putting 2 and 2 together (I usually get 5) along with the battery acid smell I had narrowed it down to – yes you guessed it the leisure battery. Later the next day Janette mentioned she had heard an alarm going off – now I don’t know if that was the built in alarm on the battery panel or our CO2 alarm.
So we are 1 day off going to (the long awaited) wedding and flower arranging fest, not an awful lot of time to get this sorted, yes OK easy enough to find a battery but I had no idea how to get at them (one battery under each front seat). I remembered an ‘Our Tour‘ post where Jay had some battery problem and saw that the whole seat had to come out!
Not being an electrician and rapidly running out of time I did not have time to track down ‘why?’ – just needed to sort it quickly. The plan was to order a new battery and collect it first thing in the morning before zooming off too (the long awaited wedding) – Janette would be going ahead to start on the church flowers with me (support crew, sweeper upper of leaves and general flower arranging debris picker upper) following on in Hilma.
Battery ordered, now tackle the passenger seat and get the battery out – duly armed with spanners I removed all the bolts I thought and voila – my god it was heavy. I made sure I had disconnected the solar panel fuse, there was also a huge 50 amp fuse next to the battery – so I thought it prudent to remove that as well. Job done, smelly noisy battery removed. Of course having bought it second hand we had no idea how old these batteries were – they looked good but who knows.
Next day, collected new battery and also ordered another one (105 Ah) so that when we returned I could fit another one that would both be of the same age.
Battery fitted, seat replaced (yes, still blooming heavy) – all packed up, ready to roll with a smug smile on my face, off I tootle to the CL site which was 200yds from the church where wonderwoman florist Janette would be making the tiny church (90 seats max) into what would look like a miniature Chelsea Flower Show.
My afternoon spent sweeping, watering, misting and generally doing flowery type things that I didn’t have a clue about getting the church ready for ……….. the wedding.

Broken Shower Tray

Hah – just when you think you have this motorhoming malarkey cracked, the travel gods will poke you with a big stick. “Not so fast sonny boy, we’re just going to throw you a curved ball because you had such an easy time of it in Scotland”
We arrived back from our NC500 trip with barely a glitch whilst we were away, apart from a blown fuse which we managed to sort within a few minutes. Already we were talking about where to go next, a few weekends in the UK, some catching up with family and then off to France later in the year for our first foray abroad. Easy, peasy. We were literally on the last bit of cleaning and ‘plop’ (and a scream from Janette) one of the plug holes in the shower tray literally broke away all the way round. We were not happy bunnies, when things like this happen the brain goes numb and you wonder how the heck a) it can happen and b) how the heck are we going to get it fixed.

motorhome shower tray

The offending plug hole

The break was all the way round and on closer inspection it seemed pretty clean, apart from one small jagged bit. Time to start fiddling around and see what’s what underneath. Easier said than done – a german built motorhome is a thing of beauty – it is also very well put together and a devil to take apart. I tried taking the front lower cover yet despite undoing the holding screws it seemed to be locked in place by the shower tray itself. It was then that the enormity of the possible task ahead of removing the whole shower tray was beginning to dawn on me.
I managed to remove all the shelving in the cupboard next to the shower to see the pipe run and check there was no other leakage occurring, fortunately it was dry as far as I could see. The break point seemed very thin, perhaps about 1mm – the probable cause was just age (but don’t tell Hilma), uv deterioration and and perhaps many years of using bleach like substances for cleaning.

broken shower tray

The break point was very thin

Daunted by the whole thing I decided it was time to accept fate and ring Brownhills of Nottingham to get a price for a new shower tray. Fortunately I was sitting down – £498 plus delivery and there were 7 in Germany and could be with us in 14 days. Now it wasn’t necessarily just the shower tray price that I was worried about, it was how much someone would charge to fit it if I failed miserably (which was quite a high probability). Quick calculation in my head was starting to get close to the £900 – £1,000 mark (ouch). Whilst talking to the nice man at Brownhills I found out that every Hymer has a unique ‘build code’ and once you have that trying to source parts is so much easier.
I digress.
Brownhills man (as opposed to Piltdown man) was very helpful and sympathetic, he mentioned a possible repair service but, didn’t know where they were based but remembered they were called ‘Speedcoat‘. Nothing to lose then, a quick search on Google revealed a company called Speedcoateuro, logging on to their site they were easily within driving distance so I gave them a quick call, sounded positive , said they could probably fix it but if I could e-mail some photo’s that would help. The reply back was in the positive, I asked for a quote (holding my breath) – £360. I must admit at that point I wanted to get Hilma over there straight away but we had to wait a few days. I was still wondering if this could be done or not. Anyway off I popped with Hilma the following week, turned up, Dave had a quick look and said “Yep, no problem – should be done today, but just in case allow for an extra day”.
Dave talked me through what they were going to do – ‘hot stitch’ the 2 pieces together and then spray a flexible 2mm coating all over the tray base. Nothing would need to be removed, they would ‘build’ a plastic tunnel sealing the rest of the shower and extending out to the door which conveniently was opposite the shower which would then seal off the rest of Hilma. All sounded good, proof of the pudding would be on collection.
I rang later that day and was informed it was ready for collection at 5:00pm (sigh of relief). Fantastic job – looks the business – all we needed to do was wait 24hrs before trying out the shower. It came with a lifetime guarantee (lots of clauses obviously) but I was happy to see the tray all back together in one piece without having to attempt a complete re-fit of a new one.
In my eyes these guys saved me a whole heap of trouble and money.

Speedcoat shower tray

The finished article – mended and looking like new

Speedcoat shower tray

A close-up view of the fixed plug hole

MiFi personal WiFi

So – we went the Caravan Camping & Motorhome show on Saturday. We had a couple of purchases in mind but the main one was to be a 3G/4G internet connection pack from motorhomewifi.com. I had e-mailed Adam a couple of weeks ago and said we were going to the show and could we have a chat with him about our requirements at the show. Well it didn’t take long (we were the first on the stand!) and we quickly established we needed the 4G Roof Antenna & E5577 MiFi package.
MiFi pack
Having gone through the pro’s and con’s with Adam this certainly certainly looks like it will do the job for us. Adam kindly threw in a 12v cigar connector at the same time (used to power the HUAWEI Mobile WiFi unit).
Basically, what the kit does is allow you to use a 3G or 4G mobile network signal and translate that into a personal WiFi network in the motorhome. We need it for business reasons but also we will be using it for searching t’internet for sites and place to stay.
All I needed to do now was fit it! For someone who was told he had hands like pig’s trotters (thanks Dad :-)) these kind of DIY jobs are always a bit of a challenge for me – something usually goes wrong, knowing this I had to read everything twice to make sure I did it right. For that I also have to thank Jason of ourtour.co.uk (a fantastic site I can’t recommend enough) as he and Julie had already fitted on to their B544 – Zagan. So off to the garage I trot, ladders, cleaning equipment, drill and bit (25mm hole saw) and all the kit bits. I took my time and surprisingly for me the kit was fitted in 90 mins with no errors (apart from not taping the wood when I drilled so the rear of it split a little (sorry Dad).
I determined the best way to tackle this was to put the aerial on the roof first. Drilling my first hole in the roof of Hilma felt very daunting. Making a hole in an object that is meant to keep you warm and dry does not come naturally, but once done, no going back. Fitted like a glove, the sticky panel did it’s job.

4G antenna

The MiFi antenna safely installed on the roof

The next job was to drill the holes between the clothes cupboard and the old TV locker. This is where I made my first error – I remember as a kid helping my father with DIY (and that’s probably what put me off doing it in adulthood) – he always put some tape where he was drilling thin wood to stop it splitting. Anyway, measuring where the cables should enter, I duly drilled (10mm) and split the wood. Still, I suppose not many people other than ourselves look in the cupboard.

MiFi antenna fitting

Cable from the roof antenna into the wardrobe and then into the TV cupboard

Once the cables were put through it was then a simple job to attach the magnetic MiFi unit holder to the side of the locker, hook up the 12v feed from the cigar lighter.

Cables into the TV cupboard and magnetic holder in place

From then on in it was simply connecting the aerial cables and the 12v power supply to the unit, placing the unit in place and switching on. Eh voila! Job done. All that remains now is to actually try it out. As Hilma was going back into storage that will have to wait for another post to see how my ‘aged’ brain can cope with the technology side!

The MiFi unit all hooked up with cables and 12v supply (no SiM card inserted yet).

Add-on’s

Add-on’s for a motorhome – there is actually no end to what you can buy for a motorhome. One starts with a small list of necessaries when you first own one. Then you go away for the first time in it. Hmmm – why didn’t I think of that. So you buy it. Then you go away again – ah, I see THEY have one of those, that’s a good idea. Next you go to a Motorhome and Caravan show, the wallet takes another hit (thank goodness we took our own sandwiches). List, upon list, upon list – it’s never ending – but it’s great fun 🙂

So what’s next on our list? Well we are currently looking at a solar panel. Ha, dead simple, and then one starts reading about all the ins and outs about what can and can’t be done. I could go on forever about MPPT v PWM solar charge contollers, readout panels, Schaudt elektroblok’s, battery temperature sensors, flexible solar panels v solid and many, many, many more little things that could trip anyone up at any time. I’ve probably spent more time researching this than it warrants – and then I’ll probably have to get someone else to fit it!

So will it be worth it? I’ll tell you when we are in darkest Scotland in May!

solar-panels