Tag Archives: Things that go wrong

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.

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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.

The Runaway Keys

During the Dethleffs Rally at Karapiro, there was a group of cyclists who biked into Cambridge on the bike trail.

On the way there the keys to John and Kirstie’s Motorhome somehow managed to break free and were later found by a friendly Cambridge local.

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John on the phone

It was quickly established by the local who the group on bikes were and he set about getting the keys back to John and Kirsty by handing them to a couple of Police officers in a patrol car in Cambridge.

In the meantime back at Karapiro, John and Kirsty were locked out of their Motorhome with the spare set inside.

John Peats pic of Kirsty doing an impression of Spiderman!

A plan was hatched to get Kirsty (the smaller of the two) up onto the roof and to climb in through the hatch above their bedroom. John Peat was hand to get a magnificent picture of Kirsty’s legs in the air  half way into the hatch 🙂

The Keys arrive. Kirsty and John with the Police.

About an hour went by and a very kind couple of Police officers in the Police patrol car found time in their program and came to drop off the runaway keys. It was good to see the faces change from concern to smiles for everyone and it was by then time for a cold one.. very timely 🙂

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.

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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  crashdata.co.uk 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

Buns on the Bridge

With the Covid Germ still out there still and it stifling our travel plans, I thought it would be a good time to revisit our month in  Europe in a  Motorhome  following friends Gary and Dianne a few years ago…  about 15 odd posts!



The temperature had dropped from the 30’s down to a nice 20C so we set out for a walk with Fiona’s school friend from Exmouth, Hilary.

Click on the images for Hi Res or a slideshow

Hilary and Fiona in Bath

Fiona and  Hilary’s dads  were both in the NZ and British Army in Terendak Military Camp in Malaya when they were both about 8 years old.
This was the first time they had seen each other since then so it was a real occasion for them both.

Escape route for seagulls under the bridge
The shops on the bridge

We were heading towards the  Bath Bridge for a look and maybe have lunch around that way. It is amazing with shops and cafes all built on the bridge over a weir and a canal so the boats can pass on the Avon river below. Stunning place.


Back to the Abbey Hotel where we’re staying.

On the way back to the Hotel it was really nice to see people in deck chairs and just soaking up the views and the sun.

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.

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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.


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.

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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 🙂

Cleaning those MPK vents

As time marches on, things in a motorhome and caravan need to be cleaned and one of the trickier things to clean is the little MPK roof vents normally found in most showers and bathrooms in your motorhome.

Click on any Image to enlarge

Yuk… grubby vent

While you’re taking these out to clean, its a good idea while they are out to replace and broken catches that have lost their tabs like two of mine had.

I had the good fortune to have a friend Bruce who had replaced his so he knew exactly where to get some replacements. Moutere Caravans have packets of 4 for $30 plus a courier so well worth getting before you start.

The torx screws on the arms

I also went to Bunnings to invest in a Torx screwdriver kit which is like an Alun key set which was very useful to get in the tight spots on the vent.

Getting underway….. After starting on the inside by undoing the 4 Torx screws holding the arms to the motorhome and then gently lifting the vent off the roof, I moved the whole assembly to the kitchen table.

Dirty vent on its back ready for dismantling.

Out came a bucket of Sunlight dishwashing liquid in a bucket and a soft cloth.

With the vent on its back facing up on the table, I could easily get the Torx screwdriver down through the handle at each end to remove the screws holding the handle onto the perspex. It also holds the plastic inner to the perspex outer cover so expect it to all come apart at that point.

The Torx screwdriver to get at the handle screws

It makes it really easy though at this point to gently prise out the catches for replacement and give the whole thing a good clean. I got some replacement springs too so replaced those as well.

I replaced all the catches as the ones that weren’t broken were so brittle with the sun that the tabs broke anyway as soon as I tried to remove them.

Tab missing and catch!
One with a tab still!

Be careful with the perspex outer cover as it can scratch really easily.

The new catch ready to go
Sliding in a new catch

As you re assemble it, be careful not to over tighten the screws as you will strip them in the plastic.

All clean ready to reassemble.

The whole process took me about 2 hours from start to finish and it makes a really big difference and the look when its all back together… there’s also something nice about doing it yourself too!

All done and clean.

After 7 years of neglect on our roof, my whole vent was a different colour and as a result, lets in a lot more light.

Nice and clean and back together.
Its a beautiful thing !

Two Fat Bottles

Don’t you hate it when you’ve just filled your LPG bottles up when its a mission to squeeze it back into the Motorhome LPG locker!

Not much room to come and go on.

I was in having some work done on Rafe and Peter the Engineer said “what’s that tape measure doing in your gas locker?” ahh says I. That’s for when you get to an LPG station and you discover that your LPG bottle has expired and you need a new one and making sure it’ll fit in the locker.

The bottles can vary in diameter around the waist by up to 10cm each ! With two bottles in the locker, that’s the difference between getting them in or if you can get them in together, being able to shut the door!! Who would have known !

Bottles in their locker

I found this out the hard way the first time, by just trying quite a few bottles to get two that fitted in the locker together.

Its is so much easier to get them in and out too.

Locker safely locked up.

Truma Trauma

About two months ago we suddenly found that our morning ritual of having the hot water heater come on at 7am to heat the water, and then switch over to take the ice out of the air,  stopped working.

After reading up on some online forums, I found the most likely cause was that  one of the two 900w elements to have failed.  The gas was working perfectly and it still worked on power but just ever so slowly.

Click on an Image to enlarge

The Truma on the Truma test trolley

The van was due to have its annual check for water ingress so I asked one of the really busy techies there to check the resistance on the elements. They were both the same.. strange.. if one is blown, it will have a different resistance reading.

A couple of weeks later, I took Rafe to another RV workshop where I was told there were a couple of “clever truma people” who would sort it for me.  After a week of having the van and removing the heater, cleaning and reinstalling it,  it still wasn’t working.
A big disappointment !

Back to square one.

The exploded element

So.. time to find a Truma Guru and  get this fixed once and for all..

While we were in Wellington recently, we were in a shopping mall and Fiona was doing the shops. I was sitting in the “husband waiting chair” .  I got on the phone and via some friends, I was put onto Peter Webster  who owns RV Repairs who are just up the road  in Albany.. yippee!

Peter W with my old Truma

Still sitting in the “Husband waiting chair” I called Jan at RV Repairs and booked Rafe in for some heater surgery.

After taking Rafe up on a Saturday morning, Peter’s electronics man, a really nice guy also called Peter, who tested the heater with an amp meter found it was only pulling just over 1 amp on full bore.. it should be pulling about 6-8 amps. So he started to take the unit out of Rafe and stick it on their specialist Truma test trolley.

The break

Within an hour, I got a phone call saying that one element had a normal resistance, the other was as dead as a dodo.

After trying to take out the old element, they found the element had virtually exploded in the heat exchanger and when it went, it had damaged the heat exchanger.. two choices,  new heat exchanger or new unit.

My stuffed element

Heat exchanger $2000 plus odd with two elements. There would be several hours to install the heat exchanger in the heater on top of this. The other choice was a new Heater unit .. mid/late $3000’s. I chose the heater. At last the thing will now heat properly again 🙂

Truma’s new policy for replacement elements is to provide a heat exchanger with two elements due to installation failures!

How a new element looks when being installed in the Heat Exchanger

I was absolutely rapt with the two Peter’s getting straight in to solve the problem without any fuss.. They’re clever guys too . Peter W (the owner) is a boat builder and spray painter by trade and the other Peter an aeronautical engineer so they’re perfect for solving a Truma heater problem 🙂  and with lots of knowledge left over !

They’re also motorhomers themselves and great fun with not just two Peter’s but three.. 🙂

The workshop is HUGE