Week Eighteen

Well there you have it – the finished product – well almost. The van was delivered to us on 17th of January and here we are on 17th of May setting out on our first journey. Registered as a Motor Caravan and up-plated to 3900kg it is massively spacious inside and really looks the part

I say almost finished because there is the showers tray to fit in a couple of weeks and then we can trim and seal the toilet / shower. There are a few trim jobs to do and no doubt there will be a few things to sort after our shake down run out.

This week it has been time to catch up on a lot of small jobs; The threshold strip at the sliding door, adjusting and levelling cupboard and locker doors, fit the sliding toilet door, trimming and sealing the bathroom sink and the roof vent, wallpaper Fred’s kennel with sticky back plastic and several other small jobs.

A few weeks ago I put the van on a weigh bridge and as I suspected it was a wee bit heavier than I imagined at 3280kg. While I was watching the weight I think my starting point was wrong. VW say 2060-2460kg depending on specification and I have been thinking it was about 2250kg. In reality it was probably closer to the higher figure especially with that tow bar. Lesson for everyone else – the first job in any big conversion should be a trip to the weigh bridge.

So really it could do with a few extra kg, perhaps 100-200kg and while it is registered as 3500kg the axles are rated at 1800/2100kg which given that our heaviest stuff is between the two should work nicely gaining an MGW of 3900kg. Here is a benefit of our age as both our licences have C1. I called SVTech and filled in their forms only to never hear back from them. On the other hand John Ruffles, JRConsultancy, have turned it round in a week and apparently it is in the post to me.

Another weight that would have been useful in respect of speed limits would have been the Unladen Gross Weight. Motor Caravans weighing less than 3050kg can do car speeds whereas those that weigh more are restricted to van speeds. In addition Motorhomes heavier than 3500kg are generally limited to van speeds throughout Europe. Ho hum – we will just have to do more relaxed speeds which was always the theory in our other vans but not always the practice.

Let the adventure begin!

Week Seventeen

What a week it has been but I can safely say that now the van is ready for the road. OK so there are still a few things to do, mostly titivating and nothing that if it isn’t done in the next few days will stop us going on a trail run to Cornwall on Friday.

It took a couple of days but the revised hot water system was plumbed and tested and on Wednesday the replacement exhaust and combustion pipes for the water heater arrived and got fitted. It fired up straight away and we have HOT water. I think I should read the instructions this week, go through the the settings and give it a longish burn.

When the toilet was going to be right at the back I bought a shower tray for it but now it is by a wheel arch the tray won’t fit. I’ve contemplated several possibilities including resizing the tray which bit the dust today. Instead I have found a Henderson Plastics who will make a custom one for us from 5mm white polypropylene that also covers the wheel arch for a very reasonable price. They will take 3 weeks so it will get installed before we go to Le Mans.

Meanwhile the toilet has been installed, the sink secured and connected and the sliding door fitted. Fitting the toilet required a vent through the floor to remove smells – something the literature doesn’t tell you about. Of course we couldn’t go straight through the floor so I had to create a dog leg with some 40mm waste pipe and fittings. Otherwise it was all pretty straight forward although there will be a lot of trimming and sealing to do once we fit the tray. You can see we have fitted a Bulldog shower even though they are meant for outside the van. The advantage is that we can use one shower head in two places, it has a trigger so won’t use masses of water and we don’t need it dangling in the toilet all the time.

Now on to more important things – Fred’s kennel. Right at the back of the van with an opening in the back wall is Fred’s own space into which will go his bed. It is pretty much the same size as his kennel in the utility at home. However access to the toilet cassette is through the side of the kennel so the back and side panels simply side out to give access. I have also made the side by all the services easy to slide out in case of the need to get at the pump and heater. At the same time I have put the mains hook op though the floor with the 16A plug fixed under the bumper. Usefully the flat hose for filling the water fits neatly under the kennel floor. Just one small job to do – Fablon the inside of the kennel to make it wipe clean.

Storage being important in a confined space I finished the week off by panelling the rear doors. Getting the shape right was actually not as bad as I expected and they turned out well. So now with the doors panelled I could top them off with the hooks and bungees for the the deck chairs. All I need to do now is stop the outdoor table falling off the step every time I open the door. I also need to store the Silver Screens – they are a bit bigger than the old ones for our T5&6, something I didn’t consider.

You can see we have packed a lot in. The clothes drier and ramps are held by bungees and the awning rafter and wind out handle have their own clips. There is also a “Hela” 12V rocket into which we can plug our outdoor LED strip that will hang from the rafter. The tray above the fridge compressor box has space for all manner of odds and ends and there is a Bulldog shower outlet for outdoor / dog use.

Meanwhile Sue began deep cleaning and getting rid of dust and dirty marks all of which there are lot of. She has been sealing the panel edges paying attention to getting a fine finish and it does look good. As well she has reduced a spare topper in size and made it fitted for the bed and been organising storage in the cupboards and especially trays and containers without which everything rattles and slides around when we are on the road.

And finally this week we got the V5c back from DVSA – we are now officially and legacy a Motor Caravan.

Van Wolf Graphics

There were several reasons why we chose the name Van Wolf for our van and one was the availability of nice graphics based on the idea of a wolf. We had some ideas about how we would like the van to look certainly not flashy and fussy rather classy and understated.

A visit to Steve @ Design Lab in Eastbourne was called for. Steve is a fellow dubber and his van graphics are always top notch. A couple of discussions about ideas and detail and we were booked in within a few days.

We have used a silver metal flake 7 year vinyl that has about the same amount of sparkle as the vans own paint. The wolf head designs I purchased as Jpeg and EPS from my usual source – 123rf.com. The Wolfsberg shields are just internet downloads. Anyone who knows VW recognises them as old school VW and they might help explain the vans name. On the rear door we have social media links that may get us some like minded friends and followers.

We are over the moon with the finished result. Steve’s attention to detail is noticeable. He spent all day getting those 6m long stripes straight and he has started them from behind the headlamps and made them follow through the door gaps – you cannot see a break in them. The added bonus to Steve’s work was a very reasonable price tag.

If anyone within striking distance of Eastbourne is interested in using him Steve can be contacted through his FaceBook page, @Eastbournedesignlab

Week Sixteen

We are getting excited now, just a couple of weeks work left before we take the van out for a shakedown trip.

We spent a couple of days trimming the living area. We have covered the original mid door card and made a new top card both in headlining material. To hold the panels in blind fir trees weren’t going to work but I found a bag of trim buttons were a good match and did the job. The coving panel over the sliding door was bothering me because of the curvy roof but it has worked quite well. Held up by Velcro it is covered in the headline material and incorporates the original courtesy light.

I purchased a length of keder rail with the intention of fitting this at the bottom of the coving to act as a curtain rail for a mozzie net. In the end we decided it was simply ugly. There is a convenient small gap between the coving panel and the bodywork into which we can slide a net suspended on magnets. Also we have decided not to trim the C post and found some suitable plugs for the holes so now we can attach the back of a net again with magnets. So now all we need is a fixing down the B post, i.e. magnets, Velcro or pop studs. Watch this space.

The gap between the uprights of seat bed when it is a seat has been finished off with a flap. Fixed to one side it has magnets on the other that cling to the frame. When you drop the bed the flap simply slides off. Simple and effective so you can’t see our luggage under the seat.

The storage cubby holes at the back of the kitchen have plenty of room for the washing up liquid and dish cloths beside the sink. They are lit with short LED strips on the same circuit as the roof lights. The back wall now has its cupboard door and 2 neat Southco pop out hooks convenient for the toilet & shower.

Back in September last, that would be about week -14, I spoke to Planar Heaters about using their Binar 5S as an occasional direct water heater. They told me it would work fine so when the time came I ordered one. So now I have fitted it only to find that they were wrong and it won’t. After several days of evening emails (they don’t answer their land line and the “tech” guy seems only to be part time) it turns out that I do need heat exchangers, circulating pumps and header tanks, all the things I wanted to avoid. Lesson learned and won’t be going back to them. Anyhow now I have a Webasto type 22 plate heat exchanger, expansion tank and pressure vessel and spent the weekend redoing the plumbing. All that is left is to add longer combustion and exhaust pipes and redo the electrical connections.

You will see from my post yesterday “Van Wolf Graphics” that the van has been off to have its graphics applied and is looking every bit the smart touring van.

This week we sent the V5c off to DVSA to get the body type changed to “Motor Caravan”, that should be back in a week or two. I have been worrying about the overall weight and with good cause as it turns out. I took the van down to the local public weigh bridge to get a ticket and it is 3280kg. There is about 50Kg left to add but when you add us, our food, clothes, general paraphernalia and a tank of water will be a couple of hundred kilos overweight. I think the problem is that the original weight can be anywhere between 2150kg and 2450kg depending on the van spec. I have been assuming 3250kg but it looks like it was likely to have been hearer 2450kg. Another lesson, weigh the original vehicle before you start work. Although the van is plated at 3500kg (the limit that younger folk can drive without passing another test and the limit before a taco is required on a commercial vehicle) the front axle is rated at 1800kg and the rear 2100kg so potentially 3900kg. So on Tuesday I will put in a call to SVTech to get the plate uprated to 3900kg.

Week Fifteen

Slowly but surely we are getting there but now we are at the point where a lot of what we are doing is detailing or those fiddly jobs I have been putting to one side.

As I said last week the start of this week was all about plumbing. Deciding where the components should go in relation to one another was time consuming and I think I moved the pump 4 times, only a few millimetres and guess what – yes it is back where I had it in the first place.

I am quite pleased with myself because I was worrying about the amount of pipe below the floor. In the end I have got all but a bit of waste pipe above the floor and saved some run length into the bargain. I decided to use reinforced hose from the tank to the pump and water heater before changing to 12mm John Guest push fit. We have fitted Bullfinch external type showers in the toilet cubicle and just inside the back door. The point being that we have only one shower hose, it has a trigger spray and doesn’t need to be connected if we aren’t using it.

I soon discovered fittings I was short of or had got wrong such as connections to the showers which are oddly 15mm push fit and then I realised I needed a couple of valves at the lowest point to allow me to drain down for maintenance or winter storage. So that resulted in a trip to Johns Cross and another order to Caravan Accessories.

Another piece of kit to finalise was the fridge compressor. This can be located up to 1500mm from the fridge so I have it right at the back of the van while the actual fridge is in the kitchen area. I boxed it in but with good ventilation. The point of this is that any noise (regardless of its night mode setting) is as far away from us as possible.

Looking at the equipment a lot of it came with chunky wires. I got worried that whilst I had used suitably rated cables they were nowhere near the size of the tails. Their reasoning is voltage drop and I decided to bite the bullet and pull some larger cables through. Only one fought back because it followed a difficult route but we managed. With all the equipment installed and cables upgraded it was time to put the fuses in. The fridge worked fine as did the toilet lights and extractor. Next the hob which worked but wasn’t getting diesel properly. I primed the line by sucking on it but without any luck. Then I saw that the pipe had a loop in it just before the unit and by eliminating that it fired up and ran beautifully. The only bit of kit that is playing up is the hot water heater which looks like it has a duff fuel pump.

Meanwhile the seat cushions came back from the upholsterer so our next job was to finish the vinyl wall covering before they got fitted. That was followed by the lining and lighting in the headboard unit.

We topped the week off installing our tables. We have two one small day table and a larger dining table made for us by Chippy’s Workshop. They look great and and the dining table can be used from the front seats and the seat bed. The dining table stores neatly behind the fridge.

I also took delivery of and fitted a Thule bike rack – far better that the Fiamma one that it replaced and which didn’t fit.

Week Fourteen

What a week it has been. While everyone else has been out enjoying the spring sunshine I have been flat out on the van and got so much done.

The time has come to do a job I have been dreading – the headlining. The ceiling is basically 3200mm long x 1200mm wide with a slight 20mm curve and I wanted to lose minimal height rather than just level it off and have it as unobstructed as possible. So I didn’t want the roof vent frame protruding and reducing height height or lights set in it. We planned to used 6mm lightweight ply with a headlining material from Kirvans that comes with a scrim backing.

First off I had to finish the toilet ceiling. This is 6mm lightweight ply with 3mm vinyl ply simply glued and screwed into place. I made a recess to go around the roof vent so that the frame doesn’t protrude below the ceiling – good practice for the main ceiling. The ceiling and partitions are designed to let the main ceiling oversail and create a shadow line in which there is a row of Loox LEDs that are controlled by the dimmer module. To be honest I am less than happy with  toilet but will address that in the next week or two. Its a small space and I can hide a few sins.

So on to the main event. The ceiling consists of 2 panels, a smaller one above the kitchen and a larger (full sheet of ply) above the living area. It is 6mm ply covered in a light grey headlining fabric that is backed with a 3mm scrim. We wanted to follow the curve of the ceiling so as to avoid losing any head room. Our plan was to secure the edges and hold the boards up to the roof beams with heavy duty Velcro. We applied the velcro to the roof ribs and boards the day before so that the adhesive would have cured by the time we put the ceiling up.

My original rebate above the lockers failed but the day was saved using a small anodised aluminium channel, tight but it works. The other side above the toilet was easier as I could simple create a shadow gap from black painted wood and have the panel slide over it. Laying the first smaller piece up with contact adhesive was relatively easy. We covered the top side and Velcro with plastic dust sheet held in place with a few tabs of masking tape and slid the panel into place. Once we were happy with it we pulled the dust sheet out and pressed the panel onto the Velcro – now it is going nowhere.

The large panel was a whole another prospect. First off I had to frame the roof vent with an upstanding will letting the panel follow the curve of the roof. All of which I did in 12mm ply. Next came a big hiccup with the material, we rolled it out face down so that the scrim side didn’t pick any dirt and when we turned it over it had to large crayon marks in the middle of it. We had another length which also had marks but fortunately we could get enough clean from it. Words have been had and hopefully we can still get the small panels we wanted from the damaged piece.

After a lot of discussion we eventually decided that we had to lay the material up in 2 halves, i.e. roll back one half and glue it and then do the other. Once done with the edges roller and trimmed and the roof vent trimmed we again covered the top side in plastic dust sheet and up it went. A bit of juggling, easing and persuading and in it went all lined up. Rip out the dust sheet and press on to the velcro and it too is going nowhere. The left hand side was then pressed into place with a batten along which I have stuck the LED strip. It will get a capping between the wall and the ceiling as we go through and finish off.

One useful point was to be able to use the original bulkhead fixings to fit angles onto which we would stick Velcro to support the front edge where it meets the cab head lining. So now the fished article looks great an we are well please with the tight join in the middle and with the cab head lining.

With all that finished and a delivery of plumbing fittings Easter weekend was spent under the van drilling holes in the floor and running pipes. Getting the van up on axle stands is a struggle for my 2 tonne car jack and a 3 or even 5 tonne item might be on its way. I did spend a lot of time contemplating and now I believe I have some tidy routing and minimised holes but only after swearing a lot, working in some tiny spaces at ridiculous angles. Holes have been sealed with underbody spray and where appropriate rubber seals or Sikaflex. Next week it is time to make things happen.

Week Thirteen

Its been one of those weeks when you know the end is in sight but it doesn’t get any closer.

Next week is 90 days since we got the van and the insurance company give you that long to get it converted and have the V5 changed which might be fine for a mini van but way too short for a bespoke high end conversion on a LWB big van. Never mind they have given us an extension and only charged us a few pounds for the extra 50% value with the tracker.

We started the week assembling the overhead lockers. The carcassing went together quite well considering I drew it without having the van and not really knowing all the levels. Of course there are a few things I would do differently if there was a next time – which there won’t be. I had to order new hinges, which arrived on Monday, as the originals had too much slop in them and I needed them to be precise and unsprung so had to buy Blum. It took me all day on Tuesday to get the doors hung with stays and catches. They all work fine and just need levelling – something which I suspect could be an ongoing battle as the van moves about.

At the same time I fitted the Loox downlights and those at low level. These all work on a 4 channel dimmer with remote controls.

I found that the Votronic display and App weren’t working correctly. It took me a couple of days to sort this and in the main it was down to my misunderstanding the instructions. Once corrected they all seem to function just fine.

Next came a tidy up around the seating area and fixing the plinth with its vent for the electronic equipment and the side panel for the seat with the low level lights. At the same time I fitted the door to the front of the seat base which gives a massive underseat storage space.

At the beginning of the week we so wanted to do headlining this this week but there were just so many jobs that needed doing first. We had to take out the partitions for the fridge and the toilet to trim them to allow the headlining to oversail but keep the shadow line and the LED strip lights. Whilst the partitions were down we added some pop out coat hooks in the living are and in the toilet for towels but also for wet coats. And with the partitions back in place the fridge was finally fixed in position. The space behind is for storing the tables and the fridge compressor is located in the garage to remove the noise from the living area.

Next we attacked the back wall of the toilet / bathroom and this was far from straightforward. We have a sink unit from a Swift motorhome that leaves a flat wall finish but needs a bespoke installation. All went well until we offered the partition wall up to discover what had not worked. So Sunday was spent reengineering this to find a good working solution which we have and once it is trimmed up no one will be any the wiser. Indeed the solution gives more space for the fridge compressor and allows us to retain full use of the back door stay that we would otherwise have lost.

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.

Week Twelve

It won’t be long before we are out there in our van so we are starting to plan trips starting with the West Country quite probably in May. Every week we get more and more excited about the progress we are making. This week space started to get a bit tighter making photography more difficult but I will try.

The van was booked in on Monday to have Ghost II and SmartTrack fitted. A big investment towards not losing the van and having it well covered for insurance. I’m not a big fan of trackers but the insurance companies like them and we need to get the insurance value up. Bit of a lump but we paid lifetime subs upfront which over 5+ years will be a much better deal. Ghost on the other hand is a better idea. It means the van will not start unless you know the secret or you have one or other of our mobiles and have got into them to turn the app on. Key theft won’t work nor will key cloning.

With the van back we set about finishing the partitions and making the rear wall, such a nightmare job with few straight lines or level surfaces to work with. It took us 2 days to make and trial fit all the blank panel to a reasonable degree of accuracy and scribed to the curved side walls.

At the joinery shop we cut and edged all the openings, cut the remaining grey panels and edged the and assembled the central service duct element of the overhead lockers.

Trever the chippy and I spend a lot of Friday trying to understand how to use the Hafele gas struts work automatically. The stays are supposed to be automatic opening when the catches are released but the instructions were rubbish and we could not make them work. Also the swing out hinges I had bought were no good as they flopped about too much under the force of the struts. Eventually on Friday evening it with a simple bit of CAD drawing I had it worked out and on Saturday morning hey presto the problem was solved.

Before we could install the service section I needed to finish the controls installations and prove the them and the electrics. That also meant completing the mains hook up. So with the panel in place all the terminals were made off and connected up and I decided that they also needed testing and commissioning before we go any further. And here it is – mission control all tested and up and working.

We can turn everything on and off, see the state of batteries, solar charge, water and waste tanks and in/out temperature. And I can get graphical stats about the batteries, solar charge and so on on app on my mobile phone.

Interestingly I had to disconnect the vehicle battery while I made all the final connections and within minutes I got a call from the tracking company to say they had seen the battery disconnect and was everything OK. So that works.