Category Archives: Preparation

The String in the Flyscreen!

One of the things that broke around the South Island was our habitation door flyscreen. There are 4 strings that keep it steady in the middle and the second one down just let go from old age. The string was knackered. We were in Te Anau when it finally let go and although we could still use it, after we left the Te Anau midges behind, we didn’t really need it.

Click on any Image to Enlarge

In Te Anau where it broke

There are really no clear instructions for fixing these things and by the time I’d done mine three times and picking up bits and learning as you go, I managed to get mine working nicely. Fiona had to keep me settled and there was the occasional swear word that leaked out here and there. Just as well the Grandkids weren’t here 🙂

The Research

After doing a bit of homework on it, I talked to Bruce Philpott who has the same van as us. He replaced his a few years ago with a locally made customised one.  He was really helpful in giving me the rundown on how to get the blind cassette out of Rafe with out breaking to much other stuff!

Then I read John Pedersen’s blog on the fun he and Sarah had with theirs when it let go a few years ago. He talked about how he banished his to the “Naughty room” a few times until he and Sarah could deal with it. I understand completely 🙂 Johns blog is a good read.

Clever Engineer, Alan Watt has also done his on his Dethleffs Trend and had lots of useful advice. Like John, he advised me not to throw away the old string so I could get the right lengths and also to use Fishing Braid with glue which I did. The best advice I got from Alan was take it quietly before you rip into it, study it,  when its in bits and as you go to understand how it works.  Once I got my head around it, it became a lot easier.. great advice!

Most European Motorhomes are supplied by either of two Dutch manufacturers and although I found a pdf file from the one I’m sure ours came from, there were differences. But the BIG tip I got from that is where to tie the knots from the blinds. This was from Horrex in the Netherlands.

There is also a good video online which doesn’t have sound but is well worth a look at too.

Getting Underway

After a good chat with Bruce on where the screws were and things to look out for, I set out to remove the cassette from Rafe. It came out pretty painlessly and I set up a table and laid it out ready to drill out the pop rivets in each corner.

Click on the Gallery to see “the bits” enlarged.

Its a good idea to  spread out the bits and get phone snaps how it all goes together in case your is different from the ones below.

An overview shot showing where the string goes. Front blind handle has been removed. Top this end.
From the bottom end.

Once the pop rivets were drilled out, and we had it all in bits,  we just had to take the blinds pack out from their slide on handle and slide the case from the back.  We cut the old string out and we sewed the new string though the holes. The string goes around the back of the blinds, and back to the front, both top and bottom.

Fiona sewing the blind (no 3)
This where the joins should be in relation to the blind.. before the last hole on both ends.

We  tied the ends together and then glued the knots. The cord runs out the ends in opposite directions. Top strings out the bottom and bottom strings out the top.  Some use cut off electrical connectors and squash them rather than tying them.

After tying and positioning the knots we taped over the string on the back of the blind pack to keep the string in place.

On went the slide on back case over the tape and the slide on front handle onto the blind pack.  Tip: make sure you’re  careful to feed the string through the handle in both directions. (top to bottom and vice versa)

It was time then to  start pop riveting the bits together around the outside starting with the corners at either end of the blind pack. The Handle sticking out with the string. See below.

The top rail (left) showing the string going through the outside case and to the tensioner. Tension BEFORE you pop rivet the last two corners back together.

The bottom on ours had a fixed knot on the end of the bottom rail away from the blind. Don’t forget to feed it through the side of metal case first. See below with the old string before it was cleaned 🙂

The end of the bottom rail showing the string going through the outside casing.

In went the tensioner and we tied a knot to it along the top rail.  This needed to be done and tensioned  before pop riveting on the outside metal case as the string goes through the end and gets jammed by the outside case.  I had to drill out the pop rivets and redo that corner again after tensioning 🙂

As I said, I took three goes before I got it to work reliably.

All back together again.

The first time, I made it too tight and broke the string the first time we tried to open it 🙂

No 2, It was too lose so we completely pulled it apart only to find all we had to do is drill out one corner and tension it properly 🙂

Third time lucky..

Back in Rafe

I reckon I could do it in a couple of hours or so now but it is finicky and can be frustrating..   If you’re handy with a drill and a pop rivet gun, give it a go.

Motorhome Air Bag ECU’s

One of the lovely little gotcha’s that come with a Motorhome is the occasional failure of the Air Bag ECU. They’re only small, about a size of a fat CD Case and they’re usually easily accessible. In a Fiat Ducato, they’re just under the cover with the Starter battery but they’re an absolute bugger when they go wrong!

They’re also very essential for getting a WOF or a COF as if the error light shows for the airbags, you won’t get a certificate.

Click on any Image to enlarge

The ECU unit

I had one go in Rafe when it was just over a year old(six years ago) and fortunately it was in the middle of a COF period and while there were no spares in the country at the time (par for the course so it seems), Andrew Simms told me to come back in a month while another one came here from Italy. The cost if I was paying for it I believe then was about $1050 including fitting. Luckily it was covered by warranty.

Fast forward 6 or 7 years to October ’21.. After provisioning Rafe for a trip away in the Countdown supermarket carpark, I started Rafe and there were the dreaded lights on the dashboard.

Right next to the start battery

With more Fiats now in the country and the parts situation just as chaotic, there is a chronic shortage of these units and they were now $1100-1200 depending on where you went.

The bottom cowl below the glovebox needs to come off first
The ECU with one plug removed for access to the second bolt .. 3 bolts. Slide over the green clips to unplug.

On trawling through Facebook, I came across Shayne Cooper, The Circuit Specialist who works in Manukau repairing these units for anywhere between $300-500 depending on the unit and the fault.

I took my unit out to Shayne and he cheerily said “a couple of days” but also said he was busy so I left it for over a week before I rang back and it was ready.

Shayne working on an Airbag ECU

Talking to Shayne afterwards, the most common problem seems to be the data in the Eeprom getting corrupted. Shayne gets in there with a Hex editor and manually tidies it up so it can work again as advertised.

According to Shayne, although there are faults in other ECU’s apart from Fiat Ducato’s it does seem to be a lot more common in Motorhome installations which is interesting.

Shayne thought it might have something to do with Solar panels or something like that.

A Dodge ECU on the bench

He’d spent a bit of time on it finding some issues on the PCB as well (sounds to me a bit like dry joints). I rushed home to put it in and it was great.

Day two I had to move Rafe and there was the error again so out it came and back to Shayne… a few more days and I had it in my hands again and reinstalled it.. this time perfecto.. and it seemed a lot more of a solid start. I was encouraged and started it a few more times just for good measure 🙂

In place ready to go

Shayne had said that he found some muck in there sitting under a capacitor pulling down the voltage to 2 volts! .. easy fix.

Shayne has just been frantic with these things and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better…. Its a big disappointment for Fiat owners especially.

I know of several people who are waiting on these units to arrive but they aren’t expecting anything much before April and there are a lot of them.. think 100 plus!  That’s a lot of Motorhomes without certification for many months..

The dealers need to look at making an effort to get these units repaired as most of them can easily be repaired for less than $400 instead of being replaced at $1200 odd. .. such a waste of money.

I’m just so pleased we’ve got Shayne here to fix them. There is someone in Wellington too I believe who can do this as well.  A friend of mine  who had this issue a while ago put me onto as well in the UK.  He found them really good so that’s an option too.

Update: There’s a chap in Taupo,  who’s sorting these out too.  Wayne Frost of Car Computers NZ Ltd. Phone 027 288 4837

All the Stone Chips have gone!

One of the things we should have done when we first got our Motorhome 7 odd years ago was to put some protection on the bonnet against stone chips. I remember Fiona mentioning it at the time but I was too eager to use the new toy!

Years later after progressively touching up the stone chips on the bonnet leaving pimples of touch up paint, it was time to either repaint the bonnet or tidy things up.

Click on any Image to enlarge

Masking out the design

Having just had the bumper done up after it dropped all its paint, I needed to have the decals that Dethleffs originally put on replaced on the newly painted bumper.

Jeremy applies the white base.

My son Drew was involved in Drift Car racing and met Jeremy years ago who is a sign writer extraordinaire who is also a dab hand at wrapping cars and anything else. Drew introduced us by phone so off I went to Jeremy’s workshop get the new decals.

Jay doing the other side with the white base.

Jeremy is an old school sign writer who can still do signs with a brush.. sounds to me like a photographer who still knows how to process a roll of film 🙂 I liked the sound of that.. nothing like experience!

He immediately looked at the images I had of the original decals and said “I can do much better than that” ! Jeremys right hand man Jay was there on one side while Jeremy was on the other.

On goes the blue
Applying the blue over the white.
Jeremy trimming the blue shape

Jeremy’s version of the Decals were quite a lot bigger but followed the contours of the bumper much more closely and also met up with the pattern on the sides of the van much better so it all looked a lot more streamlined than the original Dethleffs effort. I was over the moon.

Click on the Gallery below for blow by blow slideshow

Next came the bonnet which I was only going to get Jeremy to tackle if it wasn’t a huge job. Jeremy took one look at it and after a comment like “easy peasy”, we were off.

Jeremy sanding the “pimples” on the bonnet.

Jeremy got some very fine wet and dry sandpaper and with some water, gently hand sanded all the little pimples of touch up paint that I had applied down so the bonnet was smooth. There was also a Globe 4 decal on the bonnet which had to go too.

Applying the protective bonnet cover.

The bonnet then looked like a bluey grey colour which looked awful. I think Jeremy could tell I was a bit nervous so he cut off a tiny bit of bonnet protector and after wetting it, stuck it in the middle of all the horrible grey and immediately, it took on the lovely deep blue I was used to! It was a WOW moment.. I was amazed and it was a high gloss too.

Squeezing out the water.

Jay appeared with a sheet of the protector big enough for our bonnet and between them, they wet it and the bonnet and on it went. The next 30 minutes or so were spent squeezing out the water but it looked absolutely amazing. The best part was that out of the 40 or so original stone chips on the bonnet, the sanded paint filled up the holes left like a filler so you could really only see a handful of them afterwards.. A HUGE improvement.. Its like a new bonnet.

Jay tidying up at the end

Watching the process was awesome too.. with the new technology products now it really was something to see.

Wow all finished

If you’re looking to do a stone chip tidy up or do something with your Motorhome or Caravan, you can find Jeremy and Jay at Big Brown Industries in the Wairau Valley.

Jeremy and Jay with the end result

The Sunburnt Bumper

It seems at this time of the year, there is an endless demand on outgoing funds for the Motorhome.. Service, Insurance, COF and a rattle or two you’ve discovered that could be silenced.

This year, the big one was repainting the Bumper just to add to the list.

Click on any Image to enlarge

looks like a peely shoulder !

To be fair, a new vehicle where ever it is made should not have to have its bumper repainted after only 6 years so that grates a wee bit, but not being one to dwell on these things, it had to be fixed.

Before.. you can see the yellow tint in the lacquer from the sun.

The deterioration started about three years ago and when I raised it at the time with the dealers, I was told it came under the Fiat warranty which had by then expired.   ….Hey Ho as they say.. Lets get on and get it fixed…!

It started with the whole bumper going a yellowy colour and then the paint peeled off in bits. I progressively sanded parts of it to blend the colour and make it look a bit better as it got worse.

About to be taken off

After talking to one of my favorite RV repairers Peter at RV repairs who is also a qualified spray painter, he advised that I should leave it as long as possible so as much of the peeling paint would fall off and remove the need for a massive sanding job!

.. It couldn’t wait any longer !!

Click on the Gallery below for a Slideshow

In Devonport where I live, there is a great family run business which many of my mates at school have worked at over the years, run by Dennis  and Nathan Hale, called Fleet St Panel beaters.  They have a great reputation for doing things properly and are well known around the community as being really nice people.

In getting the newly painted Bumper. reattached

Where they are next to the supermarket in Devonport is pretty tight for big vehicles so it was a case of getting the bumper taken off and taking Rafe back home until the painting was finished.

All sanded and primed.

The bad news came on day 1 when after taking it off, we found that the bumper was actually fiberglass, not plastic. This meant it couldn’t be dipped to strip the paint off and they couldn’t bake the new paint on. It also needed to be sanded thoroughly before applying a special primer for the fiberglass. The good news part of this is that fiberglass is really strong.

Sanded and ready for some colour

Nathan was telling me it they budget on a couple of hours to prepare a plastic bumper. This one needed a day and a half of sanding as a lot of it was by hand. .. I could see my budget being blown sky-high and Fiona giving me a stern talking to 😐

All finished and waiting for Rafe – pic by Nathan

Unfortunately, they had a couple of staff off sick  and with the extra preparation, the 4 day job turned into two weeks but the outcome was well worth the wait. The finish was just sensational.

Although I was given the German paint codes, Kris the painter used a fancy machine that could read the colour off the side of the van and match it wirelessly to paints in NZ that can deal with our UV.

All done .. – WOW – pic by Nathan

An amazing colour match and friends who have known the van from new and know a bit about paint reckon it looks better than it was at the beginning.. I agree!!

Yes, it cost a bit more but I’m not complaining with such a great paint job.

Looking really good.. also with the polished headlights.

I’ve ordered a new logo sticker from Dethleffs and have my friendly local signwriter Tom putting the blue and white decals on over the next few weeks.


Full Beam Ahead

Just recently, I noticed that my headlights were getting a bit foggy and getting a bit of a yellow tinge to them. After checking a few websites out for a remedy, I found that there were several kits available for restoring the headlights.

I bought one of these kits and it being one of the better well known brands, I applied it to my headlights and they came up like magic. .. but they didn’t stay like it for long. Then I found out that the sealer used in most of these kits only lasted a few months and the headlights reverted back to their hazy yellow look again.

Click on any Image to Enlarge

All ready to go.. (bumper off being sprayed too)

Looking up on the web again, I found a company that comes around to your Motorhome, professionally cleans up your headlights and applies a two pot sealer that lasts for 5 years or more. It is baked on using Infra Red lights which also makes a big difference.

Fully prepared

Scott arrived right on time and parked right next to Rafe and immediately set about masking up the headlights and covering the front of the van with plastic to protect the van from muck and overspray.

Once that was done, he fired up the generator in the back of his van and sanded the residue of the useless sealer I’d put on and got the headlights looking quite clean but very cloudy as they now had no protection at all. After changing grits on the sander progressively up to 3000 grit, the headlights then felt like silk.

Sanded but not sealed

Out came the chemist in Scott and he sat down and mixed up the sealer.. it looked like three different parts actually and it all looked very precise.

Mixing the sealer

Next came the spray gear and the mask and as he sprayed  each headlight, it was like someone turned the clarity filter on.. the difference was amazing. He then set the IR lights on to bake the sealant on.. After about 30 minutes, on went another coat and it looked even better.

Before !
first coat

Scott’s a really interesting guy having worked in the UK as an engineer supervising the manufacture of Computer chips for many of the worlds biggest manufacturers. When he came out here with his Kiwi wife a long time ago, it was time for a change.. A really clever guy and looking at my headlights, I felt pretty fortunate to have someone like him cleaning them up.

The cost was a little over $120 which I thought was pretty good value given the setup involved and what he had to do.

Click on the Gallery below to see the Sideshow

The danger of not doing it and ignoring your headlights is .. you fail your COF when the line between high beam and low beam gets diffused by the cloudy headlights.. by then you’re also likely to have crazing in your lights which can never be sanded out. The only remedy then is to replace the headlights which in most of our vehicles is a very expensive exercise.


An amazing process and I have that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that our UV laden sun can go for its life on my now well protected headlights.

Scott’s email is

Drying coat 2
All Done

One of those clever creations, the Water Pig

One of the nice things about doing a blog like this is every now and then, you come across a really clever person who has designed or invented a clever new way of doing things.. this time its Ross Parkes, an all round clever bloke who  after needing a spare part for his SOG system, decided he’d design and 3d print it !

The other side.. ready to go

From here, ho moved on to his Water Pig  Its probably better that I let Ross tell this in his own words as when you hear the background, its an interesting story…

Much tidier

Take it away Ross 🙂

The Water Pigs, it all started when the fan motor on our SOG started failing and I enquired as to the cost a replacement – some $162 – yikes so instead I looked into the practicality of making a replacement fan assembly using a standard 50mm computer type axial fan.

During that investigation I considered that 3D printing a fan unit might be fun so purchased an Ender 3 v2 printer. Spent a day setting it up and then designed and made the fan housings (pic below) and experimented with different fans until I found one that worked ok – a whole nother story…

Pic by Ross
Pic by Ross

After that I played around and made some other SOG parts such as the bayonet fitting that goes in the top of the cassette – really to get around the design issue with the factory fitting in that it allows liquid to get down the pipe to the motor if too much slosh going on. It also meant we could have a fitting on our spare cassette all ready to go when we do a swap and also played around printing our new house which is yet to be completed

At that point I had become fairly competent designing and driving the printer so started thinking what else could I make and the water filler attachment that we use on our van came to mind. Like many people I have something I made from bits and bobs that you can connect the hose to so as to not have to hold it when filling with water. (pic below) A bit of a consideration if you have larger tanks or if you are on your own.

Pic by Ross

And so was born the first “Water Pig” or “Poaka Wai” (pic above) which fitted the Fiamma brand fitting on our Traillite and out of interest I posted it on a couple of Facebook groups, “hey look what I made” and then had a flurry of people also wanting one but of course they were not all Fiamma…

So on with the R&D hat again and came up with 8 different piggy designs, some of which I am still refining.  It would not have been possible without the help of quite a few people out there who volunteered to be guinea pigs for the water pigs. There are still a few tweaks that I need to do to perfect some of them and I have quite a lot of “seconds” that I sell off for not very much, well actually, I sell the good ones for not very much as well 😉 It is important to note that there are “commercial” water filler fittings available on Amazon/Ebay for various filler types but these are quite expensive and from off shore sources.

A whole bunch of piggies – Pic by Ross

The process of printing the pigs is not quick with each taking 5-7 hours depending on the size. (pics below – A piggy for Rafe) I could print them quicker but they would not be as pretty and probably not as strong.

The one for Rafe hot off the press – Pic by Ross

Sometimes things go wrong (pic below) so the printer does need to be monitored during the initial stages to ensure adhesion to the build plate is good and also if I have messed with a design I sometimes get it wrong and create some mutant pig…

Pic by Ross

Anyway, its been good for my brain developing the eight little pigs (so far) and hopefully is helping some people out by making dump station stops more efficient and easier due to not having to hold the hose….

In summary.. I’ve tried it on Rafe’s water filler (I had to wash it first before I could photograph it !) and it works really well..

For those looking for one, Ross is an administrator of the Facebook group RV Happy Travellers.  You can contact him here

Well done mate   a nice bit of Kiwi ingenuity!!

1,000,000 Hits

The last 100 k odd seemed like it was taking a lifetime but we made it. 1 Million Hits..

After 5 years or so we’ve made it!

The first post! August 2015

Now that we’re back in a house again, it has been a real struggle to keep up with the content and I’ve found myself doing trips just to get something to write about.  I’ve also just retired last month as a Commercial Photographer, so I will be taking things a bit more quietly from here so you will notice the posts only being made when there is something to publish.

One of our first posts.. Fiona and Rafe at Coromandel Motor camp

But this is the Milestone that matters… !!

Our first trip away in the South Island in our Caravan . wee Rafe.

Thanks again for checking in and thanks to everyone that made suggestions and offered help.

More to come…!!

At Simpsons Beach Coromandel

New Batteries – UPDATE

One of the first things I do after publishing a post is to link it through to several Facebook pages relating to Motorhoming.

I’d only just posted my post on my new Batteries from AA Solar when several people commented on how they were not optimally wired. They weren’t incorrect but I would get more life out of them if they were changed and several made suggestions on how it could be improved.

To be fair, Thorsten the Technician, only rewired what he inherited from the previous setup and increased the wiring size while he did it.

I actually thought it looked much better than how it was but when I posted into the NZMCA facebook forum, the advice came back on improvements that could be made and it was worth giving it another look.

How it was

I called AA Solar and after seeing my photos, they agreed and were more than happy to reset the wiring. What a difference!  Its got a much more obvious flow to it and even tidier than before.. It should perform better too.

Its a Beautiful thing
Thorsten finishing off the changes.

Thanks to all those who pitched in with the advice and thanks to Thorsten and AA Solar for a job well done.

New Batteries ..maybe before time.

Isn’t it funny how as you go through the various upgrades on your Motorhome or Caravan and someone tells you, “buy this, its the best there is” and you say to yourself later “more homework was required!”

In early 2018, I did just that and bought some new batteries which were then the best thing since sliced bread as they had a new fangled silicon plate system.

Click on an Image to Enlarge

Not long after I had them installed, I took Rafe back to get the new batteries load tested as I thought they were dropping their voltage too quickly but they passed with flying colours.

Over the last few years I’ve persisted with them and we’ve found ourselves being plugged in to power more often than we’d probably like to prevent  voltage range anxiety.

A nameless friend and battery advisor has  explained to me that the batteries I had, due to how they’re made were  not  known performers as house batteries for Motorhomes.

So here we are only 3 and a bit years later replacing them with Champion Deep Cycle AGM’s from AA Solar in Silverdale.  With the NZMCA discount, these batteries are known performers as house batteries and are quite a bit less expensive than the 3 yr old ones I’ve replaced.

The empty space under the seat for the new batteries after the old batteries were removed.

Thorsten was the technician on the job and got into taking Rafe’s seat out to get at the batteries underneath.

Thorsten re doing the cables for the terminals.

Out they came and with a quick test, although they had lost a significant amount of power, they were probably ok as low load crank batteries for a year or two. I made the decision to dump them as I could see them sitting in the back of our carport in three years time 🙂

Just about done.

In went the new batteries.. the new Champions were a bit longer but just fitted in under the seat. Thorsten took one look at the wiring for the second battery and declared it to be vastly undersized.. so he replaced this with colour coded heatshrink and new terminal bolts.. very tidy.

I was really pleased with how it went with the wiring and the batteries and am now looking forward to now being able to be off grid a bit more than we have with known performing, Deep Cycle batteries.

All done !

With the new wiring and all cleaned up it really is a big improvement just looking at it and it almost seems a shame to cover it all up with the seat 🙂 Thanks Thorsten for a really tidy job.

Cracks in the Shower

Now that we’re back in a house and no longer living fulltime in our Motorhome, we’re in a position where we can get on with some of the bigger maintenance issues we should have done earlier.

Click on an image to enlarge

Shower base showing cracks. Pressure on drain outlets.

One of these was over the course of the last few years, we’ve  been getting some cracks in the plastic base of the shower. I’ve been covering them in epoxy progressively to make sure water was not getting through underneath.

Shower base with cracks

Apparently this is not uncommon in both Caravan and Motorhomes and is caused by stress in the plastic due to lack of support from underneath the tray.

Friends of ours have an almost identical Motorhome to ours  have had exactly the same issue so its a common problem.

Wall linings coming out.

Having just had our Truma heater dealt with by Peter and his team at RV repairs and with Peter’s background in boatbuilding, I thought he’d be the perfect man for the job.

Initially Peter was talking about adding some glass matting to the under side of the shower tray to add some strength to the tray but once he opened it all up, that idea went out the window in favour of rebuilding the base to make it better able to deal with the load.

Shower tray removed.. easy to see why it cracked.

Fortunately, there was no sign of any water or moisture at all underneath so I was really pleased about that… my epoxy repairs paid off.

The base was basically a pedestal made of ply supporting the inner two thirds of the tray and not very well.

Peter changed the top to make a thicker plastic top which went right to the edge of the hole, drilled new holes for the waste (in the right places!) and then glued it all together.

With the base out ready, sides cut down waiting for new plastic thicker top

It wasn’t a simple job as all the lining had to be removed to get the old shower tray out and to complicate matters, our bedroom TV was bolted through one of the shower linings up high so that had to come off too.

New base supported properly
All done and solid as a rock

And .. murphy’s law, after 4 days of sitting in Peters workshop, he couldn’t get it to start! The start battery had finally popped its clogs after 6 years of faithful service so Peter jump started Rafe for me to go and get a  battery … do not pass GO, don’t stop for the $200.. straight to the battery shop 🙂

The new Monstrous Battery

We went away last weekend in Rafe and the shower feels completely different.. much firmer and absolutely zero movement. Peter has done a fantastic job.. and thanks for the jumpstart 🙂