Another yellow toy

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It wasn’t so much as a White Christmas for me last year but more of a “Yellow” one.

Another two Dewalt Powertools were added to my toy collection at Christmas and one of them is already proving it’s worth on our current tour. The Dewalt 18V XR Air Inflator.

It uses the same 18V batteries as my drill which accompanies us for dealing with the corner steadies and it made ultra light weight of inflating our bike tyres. It’s just a bit too big to fit in with the puncture repair kit though!

Dewalt air inflator
Dewalt air inflator

It has a multitude of adapters and whilst we are using our poled awning on this trip, I reckon it will inflate our porch air awning in no time at all.

I shall report back later in the year!

Awning Light replacement

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Job number two on the first trip of 2022 was to sort out the awning light. The current one has been on the van since new and been shipping water for several years. At first we thought it was just a little condensation but it wasn’t – this is a common fault on the Swift caravans.

And now the light has pretty much totally failed and there are no replaceable parts. It’s a new unit only. We didn’t want to install the same product again so we decided upon one of the “wrap-around” lights. The first challenge was how to get one shipped over to Spain (we spent countless hours trying to find one in Spain but couldn’t locate a supplier) – previously we have had all kinds of products shipped over from suppliers directly and indirectly, via eBay and Amazon. Even Electric bike kits costing hundreds of pounds would arrive in 4 or 5 working days.

Not any more. Seems like most of the suppliers don’t like all the paperwork involved in sending out to the EU any more. We did find one supplier, after a tortuous hunt around eBay and placed the order. A reasonable £35 became inflated to £60 after the addition of £12 freight and £13 customs duty.

It took three weeks to arrive. I guess someone got a Brexit bonus from the large freight cost and customs charge… Considering the charges, packaging itself was on the light side!

Awning light poorly packaged

As well as no replaceable parts, the existing light had been bonded to the caravan with a mixture of VHB tape and a silicone adhesive such as Bostik Simson STR-360. It was a pig to remove, achieved with:

  • Heat – very important
  • Stanley knife
  • Fishing Line to effectively “cheese cut” under the lamp

Eventually it was freed from the side of the caravan.

Removal of the old awning light

The connection block was then teased out through the hole in the sidewall, disconnected and then the wires held in place with a small clamp. Note there are 4 wires here – two are for the light and two are for the alarm indicator. The alarm indictor is a small red led which flashes when the alarm is set. On a dark night, it’s like some kind of emergency beacon shining across the campsite.

We had already disconnected the source of those wires so the new lamp not having the red LED would be no problem.

Awning Light bonding
Water damaged light unit
Side of caravan cleaned-up

Ideally I would have had a new replacement connector but I clearly wasn’t going to be able to find one of these in Spain so I carefully teased out the metal inner pins, un-picked the old wires and re-used. Finally sealing the wires into the male part of the connector with a silicon adhesive (see below).

To bond the new lamp, I would use a mixture of VHB tape and Sikaflex 522, which is a very strong silicone adhesive which can only be removed mechanically once it has cured. Full curing takes 48 hours.

Various adhesives to bond the new light

I now made a right mess of sticking the lamp on. There are several things which need to happen at the same time and I thought I could manage this. The VHB double-sided tape had already been stuck on the back of the lamp and I needed to remove the sticky backing. Then I chose to apply a bead of silicon adhesive all around the edge of the lamp. Then I would connect up the lamp and simultaneously fill the hole in the side of the van with clear waterproof silicone.

This proved impossible. By the time I’d connected the wires together and filled the hole with silicone, I’d got adhesive everywhere. On my hands, on the side of the van, on the awning. Eventually I bailed out of this idea and cleaned off the Sikaflex adhesive.

That is what I should have done from the start. It was over-ambitious to think I could manage with a bead of silicone around the lamp. Eventually I got the lamp in place, stuck down with the VHB tape and then I ran the Sikaflex around the edge of the light.

Final result looks good and the bond seems strong. Lets hope it lasts and we don’t see the light dangling from the side of the van as we travel along a motorway!

New light in place
New Awning lamp

Toilet Flush repair – Thetford C260

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It’s always the same at the start of a towing season. Some things just don’t make it through the winter. Our first issue is with the electric flush on the Thetford C260 toilet. It doesn’t work.

A quick look around the internet and there’s a few possibilities:

  • Fuse failure
  • Corrosion on the controller circuit board
  • Pump impellor stuck
  • Pump failure

Our first challenge was to find out the model number. It seems the older version is the Thetford 250 and this has it’s own fuse at the back of the cassette enclosure. There should also be evidence of the pump showing as on this older model, the pump is accessed and replaced from the toilet cassette void.

We found no evidence of either of these so concluded we have the later Thetford 260 unit. This should be easier to troubleshoot…

The fuse on our main 12v board serves both the toilet flush and water pump. The water pump is working ok so we probably have power to the toilet. A multi-meter would have been handy but we don’t have one with us.

There’s apparently a technique to tell if the toilet has power – switch on the caravan 12v internal lights and press the flush button. If they dim slightly then that would indicate power is at the control panel. Our 12v LED lights gave no indication whatsoever that power was being drawn. I still suspected though that the unit did have power and it’s just an artefact of 12v LED lights.

I think another way to tell would be to raise the float inside the toilet cassette and see if the red led lights up but I didn’t have any gloves so I gave that a miss and started to dismantle the unit.

Thetford 260 control panel access

Access is under the silver sticker. In this instance it was easily removed with my fingernails and no damage to it whatsoever. I’ll be able to re-use.

Control board removal

Once the cover is removed, the circuit board “pops” off, revealing two screws and access to the pump below.

First impressions are that this compartment is bone dry. I was expecting some condensation and possible damp damage but absolutely none. Everything looks pristine.

Removing the pump

Having disconnected the pump from the control board, the two screws were undone and the pump unit can be teased out.

Toilet flush pump released

Again everything looks in order so time to check the impeller.

Impellor – plastic cog-like structure

It turned out the impellor was frozen and needed releasing with a screwdriver. It was possible to free the mechanism and apply some dry silicon lubricant. Whilst it’s called a dry lubricant, it is a spray and in liquid form!

Success! Now the impellor is free, newly lubricated and the pump spins up. It all goes back together in reverse of the dis-assembly

I can also fit the sticky cover on straight and properly aligned with the recess.

That’s the first item fixed…

VW Transporter – Preview

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We have been toying for a while about using a converted VW Transporter as a towcar. This would allow us to pull the caravan and then when on-site, stay overnight at nearby places using the van as its own accommodation. It would also be useful for short trips around Blighty.

We feel this could offer the best of all combinations – Campervan & Caravan versus Car & Caravan versus Motorhome & Towcar.

The VW Transporter should fit inside a standard car parking space and the pop-top roof should nullify height barriers.

It’s probably not something we would want to reside in for more than few days or the odd week, but who knows?

Tomorrow our Caravan goes to Swindon for its annual service. We have hired a VW converted campervan for the week. We will be heading to the artic tundra of North Yorkshire, my birthplace long abandoned for the warmer climate of the South coast.

Follow our experiences with the campervan over the next week…

The Kampa Legerra 260 Air

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We bought the Kampa Legerra 260 Air Awning last year as somewhere to keep our shoes and coats along with the Dometic freezer we acquired a few years ago. This is now the fourth awning currently in our possession.

The Kampa Leggera Air 260

This has become our “go to” awning based upon how easy and quick it is to put up. In fact its so fast that we don’t feel the need to start packing things away the day before when we change sites.

It now takes longer to fold and pack the awning and put away the pegs than it does to erect this Kampa porch awning.

The awning itself is very lightweight and whilst it clearly isn’t going to last as long as our Isabella Magnum 390, it was competitively priced and given the ease of use, I image it will serve us well.

We use a couple of awning stoppers to enable accurate positioning of the awning. The right hand one stays permanently in place and we move the left hand one out of the way to thread the awning through the rail via the upper rail entry point.

Awning Stoppers

Then it’s a case of inflate the air beam, pop down the custom carpet to help align the awning correctly and maybe a dozen pegs, two guide ropes and two storm straps. It also comes with its own awning skirt.

Kampa Leggera 260 Air

It’s a reverse of the process to take it down and in transit, we stuff it in a plastic bag without folding and transport it in the car. It’s then ready to pop up at the next site.

Ideally this awning would be around half a metre wider and that would allow us to miss the rear window and locker with the side panel. We also found two new folding chairs which will replace our current ones. They were bought from Broad Lane leisure and the brand is “Liberty Leisure”. These aren’t the lightest folding chairs I’ve ever come across but they are the strongest. They are also a very comfor

Liberty Leisure folding chairs

They also fit the Kampa Leggera awning perfectly alongside one of the Kampa slotted tables. So for short trips, the Isabella Thor chairs will remain in the under-bed storage, again improving put-up and pack-away times.

Finally, this Kampa Awning hasn’t leaked or had an excess of condensation so apart from wishing it were slightly bigger, this suites our purpose extremely well.

Ruby Front Bulkhead rectification

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The problem was reported to Swift and Swindon Caravans and whilst the dealer was quite happy to take responsibility for the repair (under the 10-year body shell warranty) neither wanted to either a) Approve the van as safe to tow or b) Provide transport of the caravan back to Swindon caravans.

I wasn’t happy to tow the van, fearing that we would cause yet more damage as the front end oscillated up and down, slowly detaching further from the chassis – so initially decided to proceed with a DIY repair. That way we could salvage many of our early trips – although given the persistent cold and wet weather which has blighted the UK this year, maybe that wasn’t the greatest of plans! This bulkhead detachment is a known problem and there’s a very clear Swift procedure about how to rectify it, along with a full menu of products required.

For information, the Swift procedure is attached below.

The items were all available on eBay but it would take a few days before they all arrived. The most important item, the specialist construction adhesive / sealant never arrived. Apparently the Hermes driver couldn’t find Sainsburys in Paignton (click and collect) so presumably tossed it into the nearest field.

Anyhow, whilst waiting for products, Swindon Caravans called and the Service agent had escalated the issue internally and with Swift and they conculded that Swift would collect and Swindon Caravans would repair. Collection took place on the final day of our 3 week stay at Ramslade – all very professional and courteous.

Collection was handled by CADS Caravan Transport from Wigan and if I needed caravan transport in the future, I’d be sure to give them a call.

Return to base…

Aware that caravan dealers are extremely busy post Covid-19, our repair slot at the end of June seemed acceptable. We booked a Static caravan in the New Forest for 10 days (in fact, not much more expensive than at pitch with the Caravan and Motorhome club!) and on day Two, recieved a call from the Service Manager at Swindon Caravans to say Ruby was fixed and ready to go!

The service we have received from Swindon Caravans has just been fantastic over the 6 years we’ve owned this van. Yet another great result turned around super-quick.

Thursday 27th May 2021 was the earliest date we were able to collect the van. Everything appears to be in order with all the conrner steadies properly aligned and it’s also clear that the repair has been performed on both the nearside and offside front bulkhead.

Other than that, there really isn’t anything much to see.

Repaired Front Bottom End

Ruby Front Bulkhead problem identification

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First trip of 2021 and only nine months since our Sterling Eccles Ruby SE had a replacement rear panel and there’s a problem with the front bulkhead.

Arriving on-site, Moe noticed the front nearside winding nut had drop and it was difficult to locate the winder onto it. Also, there appeared some damage to the trim as if there had been vertical movement of the front end as we travelled down from East Devon to Stoke Gabriel.

As I keep a close eye on the various caravanning forums this movement alerted me to the front bulkhead problem with some Swift Caravans. The same problem as the caravans recalled from manufacturing year 2017 but the cause slightly different (allegedly).

Mis-aligned wheel nut

Next was to examine the angle bracket securing the caravan sidewall to the bulkhead. On our 2015 Sterling Eccles this is hidden behind two cosmetic panels which have been stuck to the side wall of the caravan. These are glued with mastic and were easy tease away from the side panels.

Angle bracket securing front bulkhead – or not…

You can see the cosmetic cover lying flat in the picture. Difficult to see in the image but EVERY single screw in the sidewall has sheared off.

Sheared sidewall screws

In the inside of the van, the securing screws between the front shelf and vertical panels were also loose. In the case of the nearside screw, this had completely fallen out, the offside screw just loose.

Loose shelf attachment

On the offside of the van, the decorative panel within the gas locker was also removed and this revealed all screws were loose to varying degrees. However, non had sheared off and damage seems very limited in this area.

I haven’t got any pictures from underneath the caravan but there is movement between the sidewall and the floor. This is highly suggestive of that a number of the screws securing the sidewall to the floor have also loosened and sheared off.

This nearside will require the full attention of the Swift procedure on rectifying this problem (see next post).

Ruby Repaired – New back panel

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Discovered during her last service in January, a large 150mm crack in the ABS back panel. The crack originated from under the seal between the roof and the back panel around a third of the way across the panel.

Rear Panel crack

The fault looked significant and given only minor water staining on the bathroom ceiling board, we concluded that we had caught the problem early on. In fact it must have split during our Christmas and New Year visit to Hillhead CMC site.

Staining to the ceiling board

The mobile tech was not expecting the van to be in warranty and was already preparing a quote in excess of 3k to rectify and replace the back panel.

The van is a 2015 Sterling Eccles Ruby, purchased from Swindon caravans at new but since we have now moved to East Devon, this isn’t the closest dealer to us any more. A quick call around the nearer dealers indicated no appetite whatsoever for undertaking the warranty work although Highbridge caravans were helpful in reviewing pictures and agreeing with the mobile tech that I should accept nothing less than a new panel.

The panel had other cracking at both corners – probably beyond the scope of repair with the Swift “corner caps”. The corners appearing to be something of a weak spot on these ABS panels.

Corners cracking too

Swindon caravans have always provided us with excellent service and a quick call and photo share and their service manager agreed to place a claim for a new back panel, awning rails (back section) and decals.

These arrived at Swindon Caravans from Swift within 10 working days – impressive. Of course, we were about to set sail for Spain as an added complication although the workshop was also fully booked until the 5th June.

We patched up the cracks with a clear sticky tape, long lengths of white gaffa tape and copious amounts of sealant and would check frequently within the intervening months for any signs of water ingress or failure of the temporary repair.

Everything held good and having returned from Spain during the lockdown we waited patiently until Swindon Caravan Group re-opened. Shortly before the official re-opening, our 5th June slot was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A week later we received a new slot, still within the month of June.

The journey to Swindon caravans was easy as we were still under lockdown and the motorways were clear. The repair took just three days and initial impressions are fantastic. The bathroom ceiling has gained a finishing strip along the middle where the stained ceiling board was replaced and we have a brand new, shiny rear panel.

We have been assured that as the replacement is of GRP construction, it is not prone to the same cracking issues.

Replaced section of ceiling board

Shiny new rear panel