This section is about some of the jobs that I’ve wanted to do and some that I’ve had to do on my caravan. As I wrote elsewhere, in 2011 I decided to give up caravanning, so I sold my five year old Bailey and all the equipment. Four months later, realizing that I had acted impetuously, I started looking for another caravan Not being sure how long I would want to caravan on my own, I bought my 2001 Avondale Rialto. I bought it as seen from an executor but it came fully equipped and with two awnings, ground sheets and water containers all ready to go. Unfortunately, in spite of having four years worth of recent service records with damp reports ticked and marked “OK”, I quickly discovered that the van had a damp problem. Dealing with the rotten lining and timber became the number one priority.
Damp in the end bathroom room.
Within hours of getting the van home I discovered the dampness around the toilet in the end bathroom. When I inspected the van the end bathroom was filled with awnings, Aquaroll and Wastemaster together with ground sheets, wheel ramps and a sundry collection of equipment. Not until I had it all moved into the garage did I find the soggy wall-board.
I started the job by removing the toilet and reservoir filler. To remove the toilet pan, first remove the holding tank through the access door. Screwed into the floor of the caravan are four long cross headed screws. The front two are easily reached whilst the rear two are made easier by using a piece of mirror to see them. Once the screws are removed, the toilet unit is lifted off the hanger attached to the wall. I also removed the holding tank door and surround. Back inside the van, by using a damp meter I estimated the extent of the dampness. Having marked out an area a bit less than a square metre, I began to cut through the wall board with a sharp Stanley knife pulled along a straight edge. I used many draws of the blade with light pressure rather than pressing too hard. Eventually the blade was into the polystyrene and I could begin to peel away the soggy wall board. The damp had separated the wall board from the polystyrene so it came away easily. Once that was out of the way, the blackened, saturated wood framing could be seen. I decided which sections would need to be removed and replaced and which would be still sound after drying out.. I began cutting the sections with a small tennon saw and carefully separating them from the outer skin. Being wet, most came away fairly easily but some required careful scraping with a broad chisel – the outer skin is easily damaged, even from the inside. New wood of the same dimensions as the existing was sourced from Wickes or B&Q, cut to length and glued to the outer skin with a grab adhesive. Where new timber framed openings, I left the wood clamped overnight with a protecting piece on the outside.
Next I needed some wall-board. The only wall-boards I could find were 8’x4’ – much larger than what I wanted and then not a true match. I decided to try to make a piece. First I found a piece of 3mm plywood which I covered both sides with sheets of good quality brown parcel paper. White PVA was used for the paper with a good covering being given to both sides That was left to dry and by sticking paper to both sides, the ply dried flat. Doing only one side will allow the sheet to bend.
Now it was time to study the existing wallboard. It was basically grey so I mixed a bowl of white emulsion paint, gradually adding some black powder paint. It took a several tries to reach the shade I wanted and then it was rollered on and left to dry. The same mix was darkened slightly more and the paint was applied with a dry sponge dabbed onto the surface. When I was satisfied with the result, the board was allowed to thoroughly dry before being painted over with thinned PVA solution. That seals the surface and gives it a slight sheen.
Once dry the board was glued to the framework with grab adhesive and stapled around the edges. To cover the joint, a length of uPVC moulding was mitred and fixed with white silicon.
The dampness had been caused by a badly fitting reservoir filler surround. That was well cleaned and new mastic applied before refitting.
Cross over bar on the Carver mover.
When I bought my Avondale it was already fitted with a Carver mover however, it didn’t have a cross-over bar. That’s the connecting rod which allows the mover to be applied to both wheels but from only one side. Where I park my van at home – close along side the house, to be able to operate the mover from only one side is essential.
A quick look under the van at the mover told me what I needed. On ebay I bought two 10mm sockets and a one metre length of 15x15mm square stainless steel tube. I already had some square tube to use as the centre part so by drilling two holes in the centre tube and welding a 13mm nut over each hole, I was able to slide in the side bars and lock them with the bolts. Two short lengths of 12mm square steel inserted into the ends of the sliding bars held the 10mm sockets on the cross bars. A quick coat of Hammerite and the job was ready to fit. Total cost around £12.
Restore tired worktop edges.
Some the wooden edging strips where they had been constantly wiped with a damp cloth were looking very tired after 13 years of use. I started by rubbing down the edges with fine wire wool. Don’t use glass paper. It will take off the high spots. Because the wire wool takes up the shape of the moulding, it keeps the rubbed surface even. After dusting off and wiping down with a damp cloth, I left the job till next day to dry. The edge mouldings were now going to be sprayed, so the worktop was masked off with tape up to the moulding and newspaper was added to protect from over spray. The underside and doors were also masked. With the masking done, a can of clear lacquer – the type bought in Halfords and used as the top coat on metallic paintwork – was used.
The spray needs to be done down the length of edging quickly in just one wipe from a distance of around six inches.. Do more and it will run and start to sag. After a couple of minutes, a second wipe is given, and a few minutes later, a third, then a fourth. If you are not familiar with spray cellulose, the spray jet is cleaned by inverting the can and spraying until it clears. Then the can will be workable next time you need it. Carefully remove the newspaper and masking tape and leave the job for a couple of days to harden. (Also you’ll want to get out of the heavy atmosphere left in the van.) A couple of days later, some fine wire wool well lubricated with wax polish was lightly rubbed over the edging and a few minutes later buffed with a polishing cloth. The wax polish I used was a mix of bees wax, carnauba and white spirit, but any light coloured shoe polish would do.
Fold-away TV shelf.
No where in my van was there a place where I could set up to view my TV. I decided I needed a fold up shelf attached to the end of the sink unit. I wanted the woodwork to match as near as possible the grain and colour of the rest of the van.
I began by looking at different items in the local DIY stores. I found a good match in the form of a 36”x12” shelf and also a length of matching beading to cover the raw cut edges. The shelf was hinged so that it could fold up out of the way. Catches were found in caravan accessory shops.
It’s time consuming and probably wasteful of water when trying to get a comfortable temperature for the water in the shower. This modification allows the hot water to be turned on without ever moving the hot and cold taps. Once the hot water runs through, the temperature is always the same. The control valve is a domestic central heating straight through valve.
It’s connected to the shower outlet with various 15mm chromed pipe fittings and short pieces of chromed copper tubing. All the parts can be found in a Wickes or B&Q store.
At sometime my caravan had suffered from floor de lamination because when I bought it the job had already been done with the carpet being replaced at the same time. Unfortunately the carpet chosen was of fairly poor quality and was beginning to show signs of wear, mainly through repeated cleaning around the sink and fridge areas. After much deliberation I decided to replace it with vinyl and started to look around at types and colours. I discovered that flooring came not only in various widths but also in 2mm and 4mm thicknesses. The thinner vinyl I thought would eventually show up joints and imperfections in the wood floor so I was looking at 4mm offcuts. But then it was time for me to go off to Spain for the winter so the job was put on the ‘back burner’.
At the beginning of March when I came home I found myself with several hours to spend in Calais whilst waiting for my tunnel crossing so I spent some time browsing in Leroy Merlin’s DIY store. Wandering around I came across their rack of offcuts. Most of them were rejected because of being the wrong size, wrong colour, wrong quality and wrong pattern. But one 4mtr wide off-cut got me really excited. The colour appealed and it was the right thickness and quality, but would there be sufficient to do the job? Backwards and forwards I went between the shop and the caravan to take measurements. Finally, I decided, I would have it. Because of its length it had to go into the caravan through the end bathroom window and travel on the floor.
The previous owner’s fitter had removed the original carpet by cutting around the furniture then fitting the new carpet on the exposed floor. It was only lightly glued around the edges so I carefully removed it and used it as a template to cut the vinyl. Many Avondales have their spare wheel in a well accessed through a lift up panel in the floor. That was an added complication but I trimmed the edges around the well with 25x25mm aluminium angle. Fortunately because there’s a sliding door to the end bathroom, the laying of the vinyl could be done in two sections. To go down the centre of the caravan I bought a length of carpet runner.
A Second shelf in overhead cupboards.
Like many caravan cupboards mine had space for an extra shelf but without one being fitted. I used some pieces of Formica which I had to hand in the workshop. First a piece was cut just slightly smaller than the shape of the cupboard.
Then edging was cut from 12x12mm square timber and glued on the underside of the Formica. To support the shelves I fixed four equal lengths of 6mm dowel rod in each corner lightly held in place with a single dab of glue. The shelf sits on the four dowels. If at sometime in the future the shelves need to be removed, they can be quickly dismantled.
Fitting a Strong box.
It always useful to have a secure storage place in the caravan where passports, spare cash, keys and other valuables can be left. I bought a cash box 230mmx150mmx70mm with two keys from a stationers store. Decide on a suitable site for the box – probably in the base of a cupboard. As it’s necessary to do some of the work under the caravan choose a spot with fairly easy access, Before finally deciding on a site make sure there are no chassis members or pipes in the area.
Prepare the cash box by drilling two 8mm holes in the bottom of it. With the box in position on the floor, drill through the floor. Your drill will go through easily since it’s only 6mm of ply on top of 25mm of polystyrene with another 6mm ply sheet below. You’ll also need two 8mmx50mm long bolts and four nuts. Just to put the bolts through the holes would not make the box very secure because it could easily be prised off the floor. A piece of plate is needed under the floor with the bolts holding it in position. With one nut tightened down on each bolt, the second nut is then tightened on top, locking the two together. That will prevent the bolt being loosened from under the caravan.
I chose the cupboard in my end bathroom. Being at the back of the caravan access was easy when laying underneath. My hand-held Black & Decker vacuum cleaner is stored in the base of the cupboard so to an intruder taking a quick look in the cupboard, my strong box isn’t immediately apparent.
Replacing my Truma Trumatic S2003
DIY work on mains electric or gas appliances shouldn’t be carried out unless you describe yourself as “competent”. These notes are not intended as a DIY guide.
The Truma gas and electric fire in my van has never been reliable. When I bought the van the young woman who was selling it on behalf of her late dad told me that the electric heater was faulty. After I got it home I tried the fire and it worked fine………… That is until it got hot and the thermostat switched it off. Then it wouldn’t come back on again until the power was switched off and allowed to cool. It was then ok till the thermostat knocked it off again. Reading up on the fault I discovered that one or both over-heat thermostats had failed. They were just a fiver each to buy but the entire fire had to come out to replace them.
This picture shows the two thermostats. They are far from accessible. In many cases the entire fire needs to be removed.
Whenever the caravan travelled, by the time I’d made my first stop the front cover was laying on the floor. That was solved by putting a screw through the top vent. Next the blower stopped working. The reason I discovered was a burnt pcb which was fairly easy to replace.
This is the original pcb showing the burnt component.
But worse trouble showed itself when I arrived at Portsmouth harbour at 10pm last November ready for an early morning departure. My plan was to stay overnight on the dockside and because of the cold, I needed the gas fire. It took me over half an hour to get it lit. Clearly it was a job for the future. Once I was on a site, the electric fire was invariably used. Last week I decided to investigate. I took out the spark ignition module, put in a new battery and tested it. That was working ok and was even giving me an occasional mild shock. Next I suspected the micro switch at the gas valve, so I substituted a spring switch, but still the fire refused to light. Obviously the fire would need to come out. With gas bottle and mains electric turned off I disconnected first the electric supply to the fire, then the gas supply under the caravan. With the flue/exhaust pipe taken off, the fire was ready to lift out. Three of the five screws were only finger tight having lost their grip on the plywood/foam sandwich floor. I drilled out the holes and glued in some large plastic plugs. With the fire on the ground outside it looked a sorry sight.
Picture of underside
Both top side and bottom were thick with rust. Getting the burner out decided me………Maybe it was time for a new fire. At eighteen years old I wasn’t surprised to see that my model, the S2003 had been replaced. Comparing the new S2004 model it looked as though it would be a straight swap. Prices on the internet varied by up to £55 so I shopped around. It was ordered on Thursday and delivered on Monday – by 9.30, so I got busy straight away
The Truma caravan fire is made up of three separate units. The Trumatic is the gas fire in the front; the Ultraheat is the electric part fitted behind, then the blown hot air system is fitted behind that. The Ultraheat attaches to the inner casing which is part of the gas fire and I was please to see it was simply a matter of removing the element and control box from the old case and fitting it on the new. Screw holes matched perfectly.
I’d already cleaned the years of dust and fluff from the blower fan but was then dismayed to discover that the new fire casing wouldn’t accept my TEB 2 blower.
The fan with 18 years of dust before cleaning
The freshly cleaned TEB2. Also the aperture in the floor, the hot air pipes and the flu.
The three fixing screw plugs and the extraction hole were in quite the wrong place. My new fire was designed for the later TEB3 blower. I was reluctant to bin mine and part with 200 quid to replace it. I gave up for the day to ponder this latest setback.
With a new day I began to see the solution. I could use my old blower if I cut the back out of my old fire, rivet it to the new and blank off and cut a new hole to suit. It worked well – although I foresaw another problem on the horizon. With the blower and the electric fire installed, it was possible to check at that stage that it was working correctly. Once the gas fire is fitted it’s no longer possible to reach the electric part. All was fine so it was time to fit the gas fire. The fire sits in the same floor aperture used on the previous fire. The exhaust outlet is in the same place so the original flue pipe easily connects as before, It’s essential to use a new rubber sealing ring when ever the flue is disconnected because on tightening, the rubber seal becomes deformed.
The new fire fitted and connected.
Once the gas was reconnected, the bottle turned on, the air displaced in the pipe, and we had ignition. Whenever gas pipes have been opened, it is essential that on completion of the work, the system is pressure tested. Therefore with a manometer connected, the fire was lit, then turned off. The gas bottle valve was closed and the gas pressure read…. 37 for propane or had I been using butane, it would have been 28. I went and had a coffee and on my return was gratified to see the pressure was holding on 37.
The pressure gauge connected to the gas system.
The new front panel is a big improvement on the old. Two locking spring levers hold it in place. The gas control knob works in the same way as the original. Turn to 5 on the scale and press down the knob which works the ignition. But now the problem which I mentioned earlier. Had I fitted a new TEB3 blower, it would have come with a switch which would have fitted into the top control panel. However I was using the original TEB2 fan control. Somehow it needed to be fitted into the panel. I took one of the supplied blanking discs and by cutting and drilling, I made it so that it would mount the TEB2 switch. A little bit of cutting on the front panel allowed the fan control plug to come through.
The new control panel.
Room thermostat riding piggy-back on the fire thermostat.
A final test using the gas fire and a CO detector is all that remains to be done.
Fitting quick release battery terminals.
In November 2015 having arrived at Salamanca, my carbon monoxide alarm awoke me during the night. Much later in the day I discovered the alarm had been triggered by hydrogen sulphide gas given off the faulty 12volt on-board caravan battery. By the time I’d discovered the source of the obnoxious smell, the battery was extremely hot and probably close to exploding. There were several panic moments as a suitable spanner was found with which to loosen the bolts securing the terminals. Fitting some quick release terminals has been on my to-do-list ever since.
Fitting a USB charging point.
Whenever a phone or other device requires charging in the caravan it often requires a plug top to be removed from a socket, which isn’t always convenient. I thought it would be useful to have an additional three pin socket with a dedicated charging point built into it. After switching off all the mains electricity in the caravan, I removed a nearby socket and using 2.5mm flex, connected a piece long enough to reach from the feeder socket into the new position. A hole was drilled in the wood panel so that the wire could be fed through and the patress box screwed to the woodwork. With the electricity switched on again, wiring was checked with the polarity tester.
Making sure my van is not over weight.
From time to time we hear about the police and the DVSA stopping caravanners to check the weights of their outfits. Just to make sure my van isn’t over-weight I occasionally like to check the weight of my van using a Reich Caravan Weight Control. Using it is a bit like using the bathroom scales. Stand near the front or back edge, and you won’t get an accurate reading. So it is with the Reich machine. My method is to lay it between two pieces of board of a similar thickness to the machine so that the mover can position the wheel over the device without twisting it. Obviously the boards need to be far enough away to avoid supporting any weight on them. Also the weight control requires a fairly smooth and level surface on which to sit so I place machine and boards on a piece of plywood.
Having weighed the nose weight, the device is used on each wheel in turn until it finally gives the total of the three individual weights. Hopefully the total weight will be less than the figure stamped on the caravan’s plate.
Renewing window seal inserts.
The plastic cover strips in the inside window trims seem to shrink as the years go by. Some of the strips in the corners of my windows had started to make a short cut.
The cover strip is available on ebay and if the colour is matched, it isn’t a difficult job to do because all that is required is to cut out a short length and replace with a new piece. If the nearby handlelock and stay is removed, the insert can be cut and butt jointed between the screw holes, thus giving an invisible join.
When the caravan’s electrics failed.
The porridge was cooked but the caravan’s electrics had gone off. A quick trip outside with a torch was needed to reset the breaker. But it was alright – it didn’t need resetting. A check on the sockets in the bollard showed they were live so it wasn’t a power cut. Back in the awning I disconnected the mains lead and plugged it temporarily into an emergency extension lead. That got the kettle boiled and with the fridge turned to gas, I had breakfast and pondered what to do next.
When it was light I looked under the seats to check around the charger and the fuse module but everything seemed OK. The breaker switch on the Zig unit was off and it wanted to stay that way. With the holding screws out I pulled the Zig unit forward and there, at the back of of the box, I found the burnt mains connector. It seemed the neutral pins had been arcing and had melted the plug.
The plug and socket had RS stock numbers moulded into them but RS Components web site showed no such numbers. Not surprising at 18 years old. To get the electrics temporarily working I cobbled together a connection using a UK three-pin plug into an extension socket wired into the RCD and the incoming supply. With the Zig unit back in place and the mains lead reconnected, electricity in the van was temporarily restored.
Looking on the internet it seemed the best thing to replace the burnt connectors with would be an IEC plug and socket. There were several suppliers on ebay who would deliver to Spain but all the plugs had a maximum capacity of 10amps. The caravan needed 15amps. I found them on RS Components website.
The new socket was much bigger than the original so a larger hole needed to be cut. Not an easy job with the limited equipment in the car’s tool box but fortunately I had some drill bits and a couple of files with me.
With the socket screwed in, new wires connected to the RCD, and the matching plug attached to the incoming supply, it was all reassembled and refitted in the overhead locker.
Still to come
Heated towel rail in bathroom
Rear view camera
Truma water heater element.