Security and Insurance

We decided to bite a very expensive bullet and go for key protection and a tracker. The insurance companies have a ceiling without a tracker that is £10-£15K below our actual van plus parts costs never mind the hundreds of hours we have invested in the van. Very “generously” they offer £30 discount if you fit a tracker but nothing for key protection.

Really our main concerns were someone breaking into the house and stealing the van keys or hijacking the remote signal or breaking into the van cloning the keys from the ODBC port. Either of which seem to be fairly common means of vehicle theft. So what we wanted was a means of disabling the van when we were away from it at home or the “French supermarket car park”.

Personally I am not a big fan of trackers, a bit of shutting the stable door too late. To me they are a means to getting the best insurance value. Key protection on the on the hand should go a long way to preventing theft in the first place. If after stealing or cloning the keys a thief can’t start the vehicle how long are they going to hang around? Granted if they come equipped with a low loader the tracker will pay for itself. And I know tracker works because I disconnected the battery to do some works shortly after having the tracker fitted and got a phone call within minutes.

My product research started with key protection where I narrowed it down to one obvious solution, Autowatch Ghost II. Unlike other systems that require you to have an ID tag Ghost has two recognition options, either you push a sequence of up to 20 dashboard / steering wheel buttons or, and here is the nice bit, you have a Bluetooth app running on your mobile phone. It is a tiny device that gets hidden on your vehicle’s network so when the vehicle won’t start how long would it take a thief to understand why it won’t start and then locate and uninstall the device

The ID tags are pretty pointless because either you have the added annoyance of remembering your tag when you pick up your keys or you keep the tag on your key ring. Keeping the tag on the key ring seems pointless to me, sure it does mean only your keys and not cloned keys can be used to start the van but if your keys are stolen the thief can start the van. Strangely this method is the only option that comes with insurance approved trackers.

There are several flavours of tracker. Cheaper units with a pay as you go sim allow you to self monitor but will not be accepted by an insurance company who will insist on an approved monitored system. So apart from the up front cost trackers have an ongoing subscription cost although you can pay a large up front one off which gives you lifetime (ownership of the vehicle and life of the tracker) coverage which actually makes sense. If we were going to have a tracker it needed to have monitored Europe tracking with alerts to my phone as well so we have opted for Smartrack Protector.

So all in all with lifetime monitoring the system has cost £1030, a lot of money but at say 1.5% of the value we think so. Not just for actual security but for peace of mind.

Lighting Scheme

Getting the lighting scheme right is important to being comfortable.

When we were doing the second Van Blanc Mirko, Premium Camper, introduced me to Hafele Loox lighting. It is a range of low voltage (12V and 24V) lighting designed to be incorporated into furniture such as kitchens and built in units. There are several different styles of LED light fitting, individual units that will fit within a 15mm panel and strip lights as well as several switching options including multi channel dimmers.

Loox offers a plug together cabling system but it is simple enough cut an splice with a soldering iron and a bit of heat shrink. For use in a domestic installation there is a 230V/12V power supply but of course we have no need as we are 12V anyway. In addition being LED the current draw is very small so we can have a lot of light for little energy use.

LED Downlight

For the ceiling / overhead lights we have opted for 3 zones, l lights in the cab area, and 4 each in the lounge / bed area and the rear kitchen using 65mm Cool White downlights with Nickel surrounds. They give a nice clear light and have a 2m tail that we will connect 6 way distribution blocks.

LED Plinth Light

Along the plinth line we will use 6 x 30mm Cool White downlights rather than plinth lights so that we can control the light level with the dimmer for day and night use. They will also be rigged to come on as the van courtesy light when the side door is opened. Again they come with 2m tails.

So this gives us 4 zones that will be controlled by a 4 channel dimmer unit for which we have 2 remote controls. Something I learned from last time is the the receiver really needs to be mounted perhaps in the ceiling to receive the signal well.

Reading Lamp

In addition we have a couple of Loox reading lamps on flexible stalks these we will mount behind the seat back so they can be used as reading lamps in the seat or in bed when it is pulled out.

Again these are 4000K Cool White which gives a nice bright clear white light.

We still need to sort a couple of other specific lights but really need to get our hands on the van first. We need an outside light for sitting under the awning and would really like one fixed above the side door which may have to be behind the door. I expect though we will end up either with a battery lantern or plug in LED bar as well. We also need a nice bright light in the back of the van behind the rear doors which will be a large store or garage.

Microwave Cooking

Ready meals are now a real possibility ;=)

This will be a first for us. We don’t need or want an oven and Sue really enjoys using her Wallas XC Duo diesel hob and when we can cook al fresco, something the big awning will let us do more of, we use our Cob oven / grill. However with a big van and more power we have the possibility of 230V so as well as taking our toaster with us we have found a neat Russel Hobbs 750W Microwave on a deal from Asda.

Simple knob controls won’t be worried about voltage / current consistency and the silver grey finish will go well with the fridge and the furniture finish.

Daylight and Fresh Air

Every camper van needs windows and vents to connect with the great outdoors

One of the first and most daunting jobs will be to take 40 Grands worth of brand new van and cut holes it in it. I am not really looking forward to that but it has to be done.

We could have ordered the van with factory fitted side windows like we used to have on our previous vans. The problem with this would be the sheer amount of uninsulated glass, the difficulty of fitting blinds and the limited opening possibilities. Instead we have decided to go with aftermarket Seitz units from Dometic.

The only windows we want are in the front of the accommodation on either side which includes one in the sliding door. There are a few options available but really only one manufacturer, Dometic, that supplies suitable units. There are three types of their Seitz units, two with plastic frames and one, Seitz S7P, with aluminium frames that have a slight curvature specifically for panel van conversions and it is these we have chosen to use. The windows themselves are a twin wall polycarbonate construction that finish reasonably flush with the van sides and have swing out opening.

They have a matching internal blind system that sandwich the wall construction. There are two blinds in each cassette, a blackout and a mesh, so that you can have them completely open or working together to give any mixture of blackout and mesh.

Next we need an opening roof light over the kitchen area and a smaller roof light with  fan assistance over the toilet / shower.

For the roof light we have opted for a Dometic Midi Heki unit that is 700 x 500mm. It opens up to one of several positions with and comes compete with an internal blind cassette not dissimilar to the windows that again sandwiches the roof construction.



Lastly we have a small 280mm square roof light vent by Fiamma that has its own fan. This will provide a little daylight but also extract odours and moisture. It comes with a mesh on the inside to keep the bugs out.


And finally the sliding door of the van is coming with stops we can adjust to limit its opening. We have our eyes on a  a mosquito screen to help keep them out of the van. We have a Thule 500mm wide power operated step that will fit under the door cill. This can be opened with a simple button and I will rig a relay so that it retracts automatically when the ignition is switched on.

Media System on the Move

Trying a new approach to entertainment and navigation.

Both Van Blancs had aftermarket media systems, the first had a Kenwood and the last a Pioneer. They were state of the art DAB Radio and Music entertainment systems with Satellite Navigation and phone integration.  They also had quality aftermarket speakers. Both great bits of kit in their own way supplied and fitted by Jason and Noel at Absolute Audio.

But here is a thing; We used the radio and occasionally music a lot when driving but not so often when parked up. We gave up on the Sat Nav which was slow to update routes and sent us on unreliable detours so we started using Apple Car Play with Apple Maps and now also Google Maps. We started using Apple Maps in Norway this year and and found it equally as good and with some advantages over the built in system. Using Car Play maps  has a small downside in that it does use a small amount of data but in return it is real time and far better. We also have Car Play in our new VW Polo and we are sold on it.

So this time we have a new plan. The van comes as standard with a decent media system with DAB, Music, Car Play and Phone integration so it does everything we want while we are on the road. In which case we will stick with it and only maybe look at the speakers.

Instead we have invested £150 in an UltimateEars Megaboom 3, Logitechs Blue Tooth speaker offering. It integrates well with iTunes and Apple Music from iPhone or iPad and playing with it at home so far sounds brilliant. It is controllable using an app and its speakers are designed to fill the space and give a good range of sound that can be adjusted by an equaliser in the phone app. The unit is waterproof and cordless, charged from a USB point, so it can be used anywhere inside or outside the van.

Water & Waste

Collecting together domestic stuff I need to build a domestic water and waste system.

I am starting to get to grips with the water, waste and sanitary on board a camper van. We will have a toilet with a sink and shower but don’t for one minute imagine a spacious bathroom.

Once we get the van I will get two tank kits from CAK Tanks in Kenilworth. One will be 100ltr of fresh water and the other about the same of grey water. These underslung tanks will be wrapped in insulation to guard against freezing and will be plumbed into the kitchen and toilet / shower room. They will both have senders to the control panels so we know when they need emptying and filling.

Shurflo Pomp

Fresh water will be pumped from the tank through 15mm push fit plastic plumbing by a small 10ltr Shurflo Trailking on demand pump that actuates by the pressure drops when a tap is opened. These are nice reliable little units for motorhomes and marine use. Operating on 12V it will have a master switch on the control panel.

Binar Water Heater

Hot water will be supplied to the toilet sink and shower via a Binar 5S12 diesel water heater. This is part of a Russian made family of air and water heaters for boats and leisure vehicles. It comes as a complete kit ready to install with a small temperature controller. It will give enough hot water for a shower or wash using a few drops of fuel. They are very compact and I haven’t decided yet whether this should be underslung or whether I can find space in side.

Telford Toilet

The toilet unit will be a built in Telford 403L Cassette type system with an electric flush from the pumped water system. It has a  level indicator for the 19L cassette that can be withdrawn for emptying from the storage space behind the rear doors.




Swift Sink

The sink unit is a neat one that I found from O’Leary Motorhomes. It is actually a spare item for a Swift camper van and looks so much better than the cheap moulded sinks that are on the market. When it folds up it leaves a nice flat panel and the challenge will be to match the finish of that with the rest of the toilet / shower.

I have to find the kitchen sink.  I have seen what we want but am having trouble getting one but I will. Then we need a simple shower unit and a plug in one outside for dog washing and the like.

The grey waste will all collect from the drains into the grey water tank. This will be emptied by a simple dump valve when you are parked over the grating at a service point. It will have a flushing inlet so that it can get a quick clean out occasionally and both the tanks will have facilities for opening them up for cleaning every year,

Power Scheme

Getting the electrical supply right will be important for living off grid and wild camping

With our new van we want to be able to travel for longer, not worry about the seasons and avoid too many expensive camp sites. To do these things a greater degree of self sufficiency when it comes to electrical power would be useful. We don’t have too many electrical devices, in fact the fridge and lights are probably the most demanding as well as enough juice to fire the hob and a bit of USB charging for phones and pads. The only real difference in our new van will be a 230V microwave for which we will need an inverter which will also be useful for charging tooth brushes, for the occasional hair drier and maybe a toaster.

Travelling in Norway this year we only used MHU (Mains Hook Up) once or twice to charge my toothbrush. Other than that travelling most days or parked up with solar kept us just about topped up although it got touch and go a couple of times. Van Blanc had a 110Ah leisure battery and a 100W solar panel and one advantage of a pop up roof is that we could get a better angle of incidence on the panel. So this time we have decided that overkill is a good plan, enough power for a few days parked up off grid and out of season.

Our van will come with a 98Ah starter battery and the larger 180A alternator so we are off to a good start.

Leoch Powabloc

We have bought two very large batteries, 12V 205Ah Leoch Gel Tubular Plate deep-cycle Powabloc from Alpha Batteries. These Gel Tubular Plate batteries have capacity ratings of  205Ah (100hr), 180Ah (20hr) with true deep-cycle and deep-discharge capabilities. They are sealed & maintenance-free and have a typical max. cycle life of 1500 cycles @ 80% DoD and come with 6-year warranty. The only minor draw back is that they weigh 60kg each but given that the van is rated at 3,5T we have a bit of headroom. They will sit on the floor out of sight ahead of the rear axle.

Xplorer Solar Panel

On the roof of the van we have space for 2 big solar panels so we have bought two 200W panels. These are Xplorer 1200 x 990 again from Alpha Batteries. They are a good quality German made panel that come with a 6 year warranty. I will have to devise some brackets that keep them low on the roof and an airfoil to reduce the wind resistance and any noise.

Next we have to manage the power, battery to battery charging from a Euro 6 source, solar charge control, mains hook up charging and all the other system management. Our previous vans were simpler and a learning curve but for this one we wanted a good integrated system. In the end we have got a complete Votronic system which is a little more expensive but should all integrate.

Votonic Triple

We will use a Votronic VBCS 60/40/430 Triple controller. This will manage the charge from the vehicle battery / alternator when we are on the, from the solar panels when the sun shines and from mains hook up. It can manage the input and charge from all three of these sources and look after the starter battery as well as the leisure batteries.

Votronic Jupiter Panel

The controller itself will be monitored through a Votronic VPC Jupiter 400 panel with a blue tooth connector for a mobile phone app. Not only will it display current battery and charge states but it will warn if the levels are too low. In addition it will also provide switching for the water pump, monitor the fresh grey water tank levels and the inside and outside temperatures.

Votronic Inverter

And then there is the occasional need for 230V which will be managed by a Votronic Inverter SMI 1700 ST NVS pure sine wave inverter. This will provide a steady 1700w to 230V outlets from batteries or direct from mains if hooked up. Being pure sine wave all sorts of electronics devices could be connected.

Of course there are all sorts of other wires, switches and plugs to take account of and make safe. There will be a Commando plug for mains hook up, a double pole consumer unit with reverse polarity warning and a couple of boxes of 12V fuses to protect everything.

NEC Show 2018

Had a great time at the NEC looking at equipment for outr new van.

To get ready for the arrival of our new VW Crafter that we are going to convert over the winter we took ourselves and our credit cards to the NEC Motorhome Show. We booked a hotel the nights before and after to give ourselves a whole day and what a good day we had. The show wasn’t too busy on a Thursday and we were there from open to close. So what did we see and and buy.

Well we started with a look around some of the big panel vans on offer. Most were on Fiat Ducato chases with just a few on Sprinter and Crafter chassis. To be honest we didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before and if the did one thing it confirmed for us why our fit out ideas are better than the market norms. There were only a couple on VW chassis, Westfalia and Hillside, but these just followed the others so nothing inspiring although we did learn a couple of useful points.

So off to start spending. Talking to some of the companies there we ended up identifying a few “deals” and a couple of decisions to make. As well as finding out who to go to when the time came. The idea though was to buy as much big kit as we could now to hedge against the pound crashing further after brexit and to make sure we had the kit ready to do the job.

Fiamma F65S Awning

Trying to understand the difference between makes and models we spoke to both Fiamma and Thule about wind out awnings. It always amazes me how little some of the people on stands know about the product, often companies seem to take anyone along regardless of their ability to present and sell the product. Anyway rant over. So after deliberating we were minded to go for Thule but when we tried to place the order the price we were told just went up and up so in the end we went back to Fiamma, who incidentally were being represented by our local dealer, Johns Cross. From them we ordered a 4 meter long F65S in black with a grey fabric. The painful thing wasn’t the several hundred pounds for the awning but the £180 for the fixing kit! Still it was on order and by the time we got home the following afternoon it had been delivered direct from the distributor.

We had been going to look at a Thetford fridge that is designed for a panel van. Campervan fridges are ridiculously expensive for what they are and this was certainly no exception. On the way to look at at it we stopped by Vitrifrigo whom we had bought our last fridge from only to be presented with a new slightly larger, cleverer and even more expensive fridge. These both had us in a quandary for the day. The head man from the Vitifrigo made us a show special and returning customer off that in the end we could not resist.

Vitrifrigo SLIM150 Fridge

The 150L compressor fridge layout is the best we have seen in a compact package and with a remote compressor. It has a large -18C 3* freezer compartment and brilliant cool drawer. It can be set to night mode to keep it quiet and turbo mode for freezing. The fridge is a useful height that will sit in a cabinet over one of the rear wheel arches. Yes it was very expensive but it will be a boon to be able to shop and store for more than a day at a time.

Wallas XC DUO Diesel Hob & Heater

Next on the list was our Wallas XC Duo diesel hob / heater – the same as we had in Van Blanc. Actually we already knew we were going to buy one so this was just a placing the order exercise. Sue loved cooking on ours and although we rarely used it for heating we are sure that in a well insulated van it will have no problem keeping us warm. Anyway we wanted to say high to Darren the tech sales guy from Wallas and had fun helping him make a couple of sales.

Aguti 2017> VW Crafter Swivel Base

For all sorts of configuration reasons we had to order the van without swivel seats and use aftermarket swivel bases. I found that no one yet seemed to make specific units and that converters were using those for other models and adapting them. So at the NEC I had a look at a Westfalia “Sven Heiden” that is based on a crafter and found they had used some from a company called Aguti that I had not seen before. Later in the day we came across a trade distributor who had Aguti in their range and who told me that they had recently got the bases but as no one yet had them for sale they would sell direct. Again they are expensive but they are the right thing and seemed to work well.

And really that is all we bought and paid for at the show although we looked at a lot of other products that we have since come home and ordered that I will detail my next posts.

Fred’s Bed

Travelling in a VW Camper with a lively dog sometimes presents its challenges

Travelling in a VW Camper with a lively dog sometimes presents its challenges not least of which is getting him to go to bed and stay there until we want to get up. We have long since given up the notion of a lie in but it would at least be nice not to be woken or get up with the sunrise.

Fred has gone through several sleeping travelling arrangements since we got him. Like all dogs he likes an enclosed sleeping space overnight and indeed at home he has an indoor kennel built in to a utility cupboard. fullsizeoutput_15deHe also has a nice folding travel kennel that still comes with us if we go to stay in other peoples houses. At one time we did try travelling with him in this but it wasn’t popular so now he travels on the back seat with a view out of the window and he is happy to do that all day long. At first we had a large drive away awning with a bedroom section so we put his travel kennel in there but it could be cold and we fretted about him being outside the van. Then, because we hadn’t put the awning we tried using it in the van but it left zero space for us to get in and out of bed. Anyway we got rid of the large awning because it simply didn’t suit our style of travelling.

So for the past couple of years we have tried various versions of sleeping Fred in the passenger footwell with a soft basket and blankets. At first we had to restrain him to persuade him to say in there. IMG_0891Then we tried a mesh curtain to divide the cab area but he found his way through that. However for the last year or more he has pretty good and simply gone to bed there and stayed until 6 or 7 in the morning. That is until Le Mans this year when he took fright at the noise of campsite revelry outside and slept on our bed! We have sort of decided that it is OK if he goes to bed and stays there until 06:00 and then he can get on our bed but not into our sleeping bags. Something else we had to do with his bed arrangements was to drape blankets over his bed area as draughts or light will wake him.

Before we set of for 5 weeks in Norway we are determined to have a good go at making a secure bed area in the footwell that he will look upon as his own and stay in. We decided to make a foam base to make the most of the space, iron out the irregularities and provide some insulation with a tent like top that would provide the draft and light protection. And finally that would fold flat for travel and not require too much effort to put up.

We started with some 20mm dense foam floor mat cut into a main base with 2 pieces that would take up the shape of the seat base. On to this we stuck some foil backed form van insulation. This provides a stable base without lumps and bumps and that will retain warmth. Sue covered this with some of the left over material from the seat back and door cards and also made some sides with a bit of stiffening to form the base basket.

We had thought to make a tent frame structure but in the end we opted for a much simpler upside down bag supported by a tent frame rod that clips to the head rest. It means the the tend isn’t held rigid but it leaves plenty of room for Fred to move around, stand up and have a shake. Once he is in the tent his weight holds it down fine and tends to push the side out to maintain the space.

The whole thing folds flat into a 600mm2 bag along with his mat that goes on the seat when we are parked up and in his bed overnight. It will take a matter of seconds to put up and take down and takes no more space than his soft basket did once it is packed for travelling.

So here is hoping he makes a lot of use of it.