Outwell Fallcrest Side Panel Set

Camping in the UK means at some point you will encounter rain, especially if you choose to holiday in Wales which we did for a weekend recently. Elsewhere in the UK sunshine was abundant but in Wales it chucked it down for pretty much the whole weekend, sun came out as we were leaving, standard.

The only plus point of this scenario was that I got to use the side panel set I bought. They are made specifically for wind out awnings, each side zips round the awning arms and then you tether the panel to the ground using supplied pegs and you end up with something like this.

The Fiamma equivalent is about £170.00 per side whereas this was £110.00 for both sides. They were easy to deploy and held the rain off admirably, the only downside is that they aren’t so good if one end of the awning is lower than the other to allow rain to run off and not pool in the awning fabric, you have to repel the lower end. There is also a bit of a gap between the panel and the van so a bit of rain does come through.

Once dry the pack down nicely into their own little bag along with the pegs.

They are a good alternative to the Fiamma sides and will do the job for the odd occasion I take the family camping and it rains which hopefully isn’t too often…

Fiamma 200 DJ bike rack

After initially buying the incorrect one second hand and finding the bits that would make it fit my van would cost almost as much as buying a new one and watching eBay for almost a year for a secondhand one i’ve bitten the bullet and bought one new.

Just Kampers had a deal on their eBay shop which meant I picked it up for £345.00 instead of £405.00, a considerable saving but still lumpy!

There are only a few options on the cycle rack front for Sprinters so the manufacturers can charge what they like, that being said the Fiamma ones are very well made, we had one on our T4 and was very pleased with it.

The rack arrived next day and there is a small amount of assembly before you try and get the rack attached to your van, instructions that come with it are very easy to follow. If you don’t want to scratch your rear door i would suggest two of you fit it, my door has a few bangs and marks on it so I wasn’t that worried and fitted it on my own.

Fiamma recommend you drill through your door and fit some anti theft bolts, I took the panelling off my rear door and forgot there was more panelling underneath!

You have to remove (if you have it) the lower grey panel as when you drill through that’s where the holes are!

All in all on my own the job took about 90 mins and now I can take either my bikes or electric scooters away without shoving them in the back of the van

I’ve left some bits off rack as where I live some people thing it’s OK to help themselves to your stuff, the joy of living in London!

Replacing the stock stereo

For a long time it’s been on my mind to replace the stereo in the van. One of the first jobs I had as a kid was working on the weekend in a car stereo store and ever since I’ve never had a standard sound system in any of my vehicles. Pair that with my DJ antics it’s fair to say I know and appreciate a good sound system, the one that came with this van is not a good system, so much so that I rarely have it on.

There are lots of blog posts that tell you how to take out the stereo and reinstall it, I’m not going to go into that, look it up if you need to, what I’m going to share is what I took out, what I put in and how it sounds.

This is the stock system, it took about an hour to get it all out.

The stock Sprinter stereo, speakers and tweeter

Believe it or not that head unit is made by Alpine!

Below is what I bought

Xtrons PSP90M245
Hertz DSK 165.3
Kenwood KSC-Sw11 powered under seat sub

The head unit supports Apple Car play and the android equivalent, car play was the main feature i wanted, it also has a built in 4 channel 50watt amp, you can connect a DAB aerial to it which I will do at some point and you can also add an ODBII dongle and get fault codes and live engine data. It fits straight in to the void left by the stock unit with no need for an spacers or surrounds, the site says the unit is suitable for 906 sprinters from 2006 – 2012, mine is a 2013 and it fits fine with no issues or fettling requirements.

After researching underseat subs and not understanding how anything in such a shallow enclosure could provide any sub base I settled on the Kenwood sub as it seems to be the most popular and wasn’t very expensive.

The decision on the door speakers and dash tweeters was made after looking at other audio system update blogs, the Hertz speakers seem pretty popular and give pleasing results.

Installing the head unit was pretty straight forward, you just take out the old one and plug in the new one, I did have to strip back the aerial connection from the van so it fitted the stereo’s connection. If you want to take advantage of Car Play or have easy access to load your own music / movies on to the head unit then you need to put the USB cables somewhere accessible. I pulled out the USB and audio port in the dash near the steering and routed the cables through there, it’s not the prettiest solution but it works for me.

The sub I installed under the drivers seat as I have a diesel heater in the passenger seat, I Isolated the speaker from the chassis using a bit of left over trim from the cab shelf, the door speakers require a spacer, I bought a pair that are supposed to be for a Vauxhall from Halfords, so long as it fits a 6.5” speaker and it’s the same depth as the original speakers you can use any. There was no need to trim or cut the door cards. I also stuffed some left over insulation around them to try and damp any vibrations in the door.

So how does it sound?

It sounds better but is by no means amazing. The top and mids are definitely crisper but the sub just sounds like a 6 x 9 speaker in small cabinet playing the best sub signal it can muster, this is still better than what was there before and it has it’s own remote control so you can easily adjust it dependant on what music is playing.

I am sure that when I am driving the sound will be far more acceptable than the stock system and having the option to now stream Spotify, Mixcloud or my own personal library from my phone and having navigation on a considerably bigger screen is a major benefit.

I ordered some sound deadening panels and added them to the the passenger door as it was vibrating a lot, if I’m absolutely honest once I installed them and compared it to the door without the panels in it there wasn’t much difference in sound, at some point I’ll put the remaining panels on the other door just because I have nothing else to do with them but to my ears they’ve not made any significant improvement, ultimately I just need to get used to the sound as it which is a definite improvement over the previous sound.

The P0299 code underboost mystery solved!

A short while back the engine management light came up on the van, no issues seemed to be present which was a bit strange, I hadn’t been on any long drives and wasn’t until I was on one I noticed the issue.

The van would be fine on small journeys below 40 mph but if you ventured above 40, especially going up a hill limp home mode (LHM) would kick in.

When this happens the van will not rev about 3000rpm in gears 1 and 2 and you’ll be lucky to hit 2500rpm in the remaining gears. Essentially the van is running on the 2.1 ltr engine without any turbo, mine is a Bi Turbo so the power loss is really quite noticeable.

Putting a cheap OBD2 scanner on the van revealed the code P0299 which is a turbo underboost code, further investigation revealed this could be a whole heap of things ranging from fairly basic stuff such as a split pipe from the intercooler to the turbo right the way up to a cracked intake pipe which appears to be a very specific problem with OM651 engine on our van.

I physically checked all of the pipes I could see, no splits, there is a massive read pipe that comes off the intercooler and goes to the turbo, no splits on that and I changed the gaskets either end, didn’t fix the problem.

I dropped the van to my mechanic Wayne and he checked out pretty much what I did and few bits I couldn’t get to, he also had a few other people look at it and they all pointed to the turbo being faulty, at £550 for a reconditioned turbo this was the main reason I was convinced it wasn’t the turbo so I decided to try and find a sprinter expert to take a look at it.

As luck would have it, a quick google search for sprinter specialist Croydon brought up MerxWerx, a sprinter specialist that comes to you, perfect! I called up, spoke to Peter who said he’d be round the following day which he was.

On arrival Peter determined there was nothing wrong with my turbo, “rarely go wrong they do” he said, instead he said I had a vacuum leak, somewhere before the turbo on the same side of the engine as the EGR valve and cooler. Unfortunately he didn’t have the vacuum testing kit on him to confirm which part was faulty, he was sure he knew what the issue was but there were four of the same thing and he needed to check using the vacuum tester which one was at fault, he’d be back next Monday with the tester.

Sure enough the following Monday Peter turned up with the tester and happily confirmed the issue was a faulty turbo transducer

Turbo Transducer

Going back to his confidence in what the issue was he turned up with a new one, fitted it, job done!

I’ve since taken the van on a few runs and no more limp mode, van runs like a dream!

The part number for the transducer is A 009 153 31 28 and I cannot recommend Peter highly enough for any puzzling sprinter issues if you are in London and the surrounding areas, http://www.MerxWerx.com

The Flaming 3 Way Fridge….

When I was building new Bumblebee I decided on investing in a 3 way fridge as the 12v compressor fridge drained the battery on old Bumblebee, was noisy and wasn’t very big either.

After a good deal of research I settled on an N4100 3 way auto selector fridge which I ordered from Jacksons Leisure. I spoke to Jacksons for considerable time to ensure I bought everything I needed including the correct vents, I was advised by Jackson that the Dometic vents were perfectly fine for the Thetford Fridge install, you’ll see why this is important later.

The vents and fridge were installed in France by Simon, the Fridge had to be raised to meet where the vents were cut (due to the van structure) and the fridge was surrounded by fire retardant insulation, all electrical and gas connections were made as they should be, the Fridge was briefly tested on 12v and 240v but not on gas as there was no LPG in the cylinder. I returned back to the UK assuming all was well with the Fridge.

Covid reached our shores in March 2020 and we all got locked down and for a time I was working from the van as a make shift office, I had the fridge hooked up to 240v to store food that wouldn’t fit in our house fridge, all working as it should do for a good few months. As the lockdown measures eased slightly we decided to head off to some land a friend owns to stay in the van and escape the house, I’d filled the tank with LPG so thought I should test the Fridge before we left to make sure there was no Carbon Monoxide issues when running on gas. I double checked all the connections for gas leakage, no issues there so was confident in firing up the fridge on gas which I did, hung about for ten minutes to make sure there were no immediate issues and then headed off into the house to grab some food, a short time later there was furious banging on my door, my neighbour enlightened me that the van was on fire, luckily we extinguished the fire relatively quickly, the culprit was the 3 way fridge.

The rear of the Fridge post fire

To this day I do not know what caused the fridge to go up in flames, we were very lucky nobody was in it and thanks to the fire retardant insulation the damage to the van wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

The aftermath

I immediately tried to contact Thetford who had shut down their UK operation due to Covid, I managed to report it to their US counterparts who took down my details and then sat on it for a good month or so. Eventually after much chasing on my part a member of the UK team, Paul McNulty got in touch asking for more photos of the damage and the fridge.

What then followed was essentially Thetford’s representative telling me that there were flaws in the installation such as the fridge cavity not being fully sealed, the exhaust pipe not being something he recognised and the vents used being incorrect. None of these things would cause a fire. He then went on to question whether something else in the area where the fridge was installed caused the fire, there is only a water pipe running underneath the fridge so not likely to have caused a fire. The fridge was returned to Thetford who concluded there was no evidence they could see that the fridge caused the fire despite it being the only thing on in the van at the time, the only thing in the cavity where the fire started and the only thing in that area that had a naked flame.

The customer service from Thetford was appalling and consisted solely of them pointing out how they were not responsible and would no way be replacing the fridge. I contacted trading standards and they advised me to take it up with Jacksons as per consumer law, they were just as bad and offered to sell me the same fridge at a reduced cost!

Since this incident I bought a second hand Dometic fridge, myself and my mate Adam installed it ourselves in the same cavity using the same vents, gas pipes and wired the same way, it works exactly how it should, I’ve used it countless times on gas with no issue whatsoever which leads me to believe even more so that the fridge from Thetford was faulty.

If you are thinking of installing a Thetford fridge in your van build please bear my experience in mind, I hope never to have to deal with Thetford again for anything, I do have one of their toilets however and thats great for taking a dump in, it least it won’t go up in flames…

2020 – Bit of an odd one…

So as most of you reading this will agree, 2020 was a bit of strange year. For me it started out alright, I began the year by heading over to France to start work on our new van, did that, came back, we had a baby and I’ve been working from home ever since…

The real baby Yoda!

Little Arielle arrived at the beginning of March, I went on paternity leave and at the end of it the whole company I work for moved to a working from home model as did I, however mine was slightly different as we don’t have the biggest house so I worked from the van parked outside!

Van / home working

The upside of working from the van is that in between calls I could do some work on the van and to be honest, if it wasn’t for the whole lockdown thing it wouldn’t be where it is now. With the help of some very good friends we managed to get the van to a state that we could actually use it to go away in despite also having a fire thanks to a Thetford N4100 fridge which I’ll write a separate article on.

Post fire fridge

Having the van and a network of friends who have land we can stay on meant when some of the restrictions were lifted we could get away and we had a lovely summer.

Camp Penshurst

Arielle took to vanlife pretty well too and between when she was born and now her sleeping arrangements have been modified a few times and are still an ongoing project, it’s been lovely to get away as a family at short notice and not have to really book anything, living not too far from the coast we did a few midweek trips to the beach and it’s surprising how many car parks you can stay the night in!

A car park believe it or not!

Dare I say it, the van itself is almost finished, the fridge has been replaced, the door under the fridge fitted and shelving installed along with a shelf above the cab too.

Just needs a paint and net added
Cab shelf, you can never have enough storage!

It now looks a like a van and comfortably sleeps the four of us

We’ve even had a trip out in the snow!

The kids love the van too, here they are a year into lockdown, it amazes me how resilient they are to it all as is Lauren

Stella was so excited she passed out

Hopefully I’ll be sharing some details of trips out and about and will be updating the build section with all the things I’ve done in the hope it will help others on their quest to build a home on wheels, with the whole covid thing I reckon there’s going to be a rise in motorhome builds!