Tips and Things

Van leveling the easy way

Have you watched people setting up their van for the night? Some spend ages going backwards and forward, up and down their leveling blocks, while they are doing all that they are constantly jumping in and out to check a spirit level or such 'instrument' in the back. For about 99p all that fussing around can be done away with.

Having gone out and found yourself a suitable spirit level as shown below. Spend a bit of time getting your vehicle perfectly level. Then in my case I made a bit of wood fit inside the door handle of the drivers door where the window switches would have been. It won't be easy to get the top of your block the same level as the van, so by mixing up a small quantity of body filler, put a blob on your block, then sit the spirit on the blob and lightly push the level down to get the bubbles in to the centre positions. When dry, secure fully with screws as shown below.

With your 'in cab' level indicator, you can view instantly tell how level your van is without leaving your seat. With practice, you can asses how level your van is and know exactly where to position your leveling blocks. I tend to drive up mine, then slowly fall back down to the correct level position. Works like a dream and so quick.

 

 

Water Tank Filling

I bet you've all seen it, and done it. Standing there holding the hose pipe when filling your water tanks. 

Some people have made rubber bungs for the ends of their hoses to force it in to the tank filler to hold it in place. Yep that works, but I decided to be a little more refined.

Using a short length of 15mm copper tube I carefully bent it to engage in the tank filler, but in such a way that it didn't rest on the van bodywork. To aid its placement, I added a small length of food grade hose. On the inlet end I soldered a male 1/2"BSP threaded adaptor to enable the fitting of a 'Hoselok' adaptor, thus making it quick and easy to attach to a hose.

 


Invertor Power

There is always a lot of talk about invertors on motorhome and caravanning web sites. "Should I get a pure sine wave invertor (more expensive) or would a modified sine wave invertor do? Well it all depends on what you want to power!

I personally use mine to charge the mobile phone, power the laptop and speakers. I have also used it for a soldering iron, battery drill charger, portable lead light, not all at the same time   Its rated at 150 watts, with a peak ratting of 300 watts and gives a modified sine wave output, making it cheaper than a pure sine wave model. These small inverters are ideal for most applications, however I have heard that some electric tooth brush chargers (sorry no details on what type/make) don't like them so much so they have failed (the charger). 

Obviously inverters come in all sorts of sizes, but remember the larger the inverter and the load you apply to it, the quicker you will discharge your battery (can be minutes, rather than hours in some cases).

Most TV's seem happy to run off a modified sine wave inverter, as do microwaves. Microwaves seem to be the main reason why people purchase a large inverter. In this case its usually best to use a big inverter solely for the microwave, then use a smaller inverter for the smaller powered items as the battery drain won't be as much for a small inverter, as it would for the same load on a large inverter.

Why run a microwave from an inverter when 12 volt microwaves are available? Basically 12 volt microwaves are exceedingly expensive, so its more cost effective to buy a cheap low power microwave from your local store with a suitably sized invertor, rather than ordering an expensive 12 volt microwave. Another consideration often overlooked for inverters is the size of supply cables for the low voltage side, as they can be as thick as your finger for one conductor!

 

Inverters are getting increasingly popular with self build motor home builders, especially when powering fridges. 'Camping' style fridges which run off 12 volts, 240 volts and gas (normally referred to as a three way fridge) are another exceedingly expensive item. Yet again  a standard domestic fridge for the home can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of a three way fridge. Okay, one of the selling points of a three way fridge is that its 'designed' to be in a mobile environment, however many people are now using domestic fridges off an inverter without any apparent problems (a plus point for a domestic compressor powered fridge is that its more efficient than a three way). Obviously a little rewiring has to be undertaken to enable the inverter to switch off automatically when the compressors not running to conserve power. But that's basically it for fridges.

 


Stuck for spaces for switches?

Most of the electrical terminations, fuses and relays are mounted in the van wall behind the drivers seat for the 'living accommodation/motorhome", some of these items needed switches within easy access to the drivers seat. To overcome having to run many cables to the dashboard, I made and mounted a switch panel behind the handbrake. It also saves having to drill holes in the dash for non compatible switches (Peugeot switches are available, at a price!). On the panel I mounted a heavy duty battery switch which can join the house/leisure battery with the van starter battery (be aware using a leisure battery to start your van can destroy the battery as its not designed to delivery very high currents in short bursts, by doing so, it will buckle the plates inside the battery, thus shorting them out). Other switches are for the LCD display/monitor, radiator fan override, rear camera adjustment etc.


Carrying and towing capacities

There is no point guessing with towing and carrying capacities, you need to be precise as the Police will be, if you get stopped and weighed, or if you have an accident.

Under the bonnet will be a data plate giving weights. 

The above is the weight data plate off my Peugeot van (the chassis No has been smudged out)

I appreciate its not clear, but the top figure is the vans GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight). The second figure is the GTW (Gross Train Weight - not gross trailer weight as on American vehicles), or some people refer to it as MTW (Maximum Train Weight). Then we have the maximum front axle weight, and last the rear axle maximum axle weight.

From the above figures you'll notice the two maximum axle weights add up to 3970KG. This is not unusual, infact it is quite common. What many people don't realise is that you can be over weight, yet still be under the GVW! The reason being that poor vehicle loading has put excess weight over one axle.

From the OEM spec, the Kerb weight (just the basic vehicle weight without passengers, driver etc. and perhaps without a tank of fuel) is stated as 1925KG. Therefore the GVW 3500KG less the Kerb weight 1925KG leaves a payload capacity of 1575KG. This payload figure is your motorhome conversion, passengers, fuel, water, food etc. Now if you have a very heavy conversion, you may not have much left to carry duty free etc.

 

Recap    
GVW   3500KG
Kerb Wt. Less 1925KG
Payload Leaves 1575KG

The GTW is the gross weight of your vehicle AND any trailer. To find the legal towing capacity of your vehicle, you need to subtract the GVW from the GTW, therefore 5100KG less 3500KG leaves 1600KG. 

 

Recap    
GTW   5100KG
GVW Less 3500KG
Tow Cap. Leaves 1600KG

I have seen posts in forums where vehicle owners want the carrying capacity of their vehicle up rated. Specialist companies are able to do this work by fitting extra suspension supports to the rear axle like an air suspension (inflatable bellows). However this up rating is at the expense of the towing capacity! The reason being that the brakes fitted to your vehicle are designed to stop a certain weight, usually the GVW. Therefore any extra weight carried on the vehicle has to be removed from the trailer to keep the vehicle and its trailer within the original GTW.

Obviously you need to take your vehicle to a public weigh bridge to establish the actual weights of your vehicle (cost usually about £5). Get a total weight, front axle and back axle weight, Don't forget to load your vehicle with all the passengers, food, fuel, bikes etc. Be prepared to be shocked! 

I am not guaranteeing the above information is 100% correct so you are advised to seek official advise elsewhere

 

 


Oh dearÖ. heavy vehicle, road tyresÖ not good at all.

Couple of suggestions to extract yourself from the mire.

Check the ground before parking/driving on it. Remember you are checking to see how firm the ground is.

Try and park your vehicle with the drive wheels on some hard standing to aid traction. Try and park so that you can drive away without having to maneuver you vehicle back and forth to get to leave. Don't park in dips, thus having to drive 'up hill' to get out.

If you do want to risk parking on soft ground, treat it as snow - low revs, smooooooth take off's, avoid sudden movements, once moving donít stop and keep going.

Put on snow chains - remember with chains, if you spin your wheels, you WILL get stuck as they dig holes very quickly. Snow chains work equally well in mud as they do in snow and ice.

Park on boards to avoid the vehicle sinking.

If you do get stuck, get out and asses, sitting there spinning your wheels won't do anything except make things worse. having spun your wheels leaves very little tyre adhesion as all the tread will have filled up with compacted mud.

Gather up stones, gravel etc to place under your Ďdrivingí wheels to give extra traction (the driving wheels are the ones spinning! Ė yes Iíve come across goons putting stones etc under the non driving wheels as theyíre the one Ďnot stuck/spinningí!). Failing the lack of stone, try dry straw/hay etc. as that has a tendency to work as well. Even the cab carpets work well. Probably cheaper to replace the carpets than pay for a tow truck.

If youíve sunk, the only option if your on your own is to jack up the vehicle using spreader plates under the jack to avoid the jack sinking as well, and fill in the holes under the tyres with stone (ideally) to get the vehicle back up to ground level ready to try again.

Concerning jacks, if you have sunk, you may not be able to get a jack under the vehicle so alternative jacking points need to be considered, like jacking up under the tow ball hitch, under the bumpers (not good if plastic), if you do have to use a sill, make sure you use something to spread the weight to avoid collapsing/damaging the sill. Or dig a hole to place the jack in to get it in a suitable place to lift the vehicle. 

When off-roading I used a 'hi-lift' jack (4í/1200mm lift!), however similar can be achieved with a tall scissor jack. By jacking the vehicle up in the centre, like the tow ball to get both wheels clear of the ground by several inches, then pushing the vehicle sideways to Ďfallí off the jack, its then possible to get the vehicle clear of any ruts, ready to try again. Do be aware whilst getting both wheels off the ground on the same axle, the vehicle WILL be unstable, so DON't get under the vehicle - this includes hands arms, feet etc. With cheap pressed steel jacks, you may find that they may suffer from being pushed over, so check them thoroughly afterwards

Rocking the vehicle by driving backward and forwards and stopping (not with your brakes, but by pressing the clutch in) as soon as you come to a halt and change direction to do the same again, you may find the vehicle rolls back on its own, ready for you to start again.. By doing this on a regular basis you generally gain a little distance every time.

The ultimate - Get four/all wheel drive, lock any free wheeling hubs, engage diff locks and centre diff if fitted, select low range first gear and take off very smoothly and gently.

 

Be prepared.

Carry a spade, boards, chains etc. 

I have seen in some of the garden magazines rolled up plastic walk ways, these are ideal for laying down as wheel tracks to aid traction. There are more heavy duty ones in the 4x4 magazines, but I doubt thereís many people here who frequent in those circles. I have also seen plastic roll out mats with chevrons or spikes on them which would be very helpful. Some people use plastic trays, or even cut up stackable bakers plastic trays to use under their wheels

A good tip, I think! I painted all my off road equipment bright colours or wrapped them in brightly coloured tape. Very useful for long grass or dark situations where it would be difficult to see black jacks etc..  Yep. I learnt the hard way.

IMPORTANT.

Some of the above have an element of risk so do take care of yourself and consider those around you as well. 

Things to be wary of ;

Flying mud/stone from spinning wheels.

Vehicles falling off jacks and trapping fingers, hands, arms, bodies etc.

If you end up needing a tow, donít use a chain unless its specifically rated for the job. Avoid snatch towing unless itís a proper kinetic energy rope. Normal tow ropes are NOT suitable for snatch towing. In a snatch tow situation its possible to get strains in the rope up to around ten times your vehicle weight. If ropes snap they can cause extensive damage, even DEATH. So make sure every one stands well clear when being towed out. 

Take care, itís a dangerous place out there

 


Here's a message on the same subject from Welsh Roi of CF Bedford Ambulance (Blodwyn!) fame. (he's also part of this website www.bedfordcf.co.uk)

Just reading your bit in bogy ground extraction.

Here's what I use. 2 bits of stair carpet, cut in half length ways, about 6 ft long, and some washing line. They roll up and tie with the washing line.

I tie the carpet to the back of the van so that once I am moving I don't have to stop until i am clear of the muck and don't have to walk back through it. Cost is nothing.

I have only had to use them once, I was trained in the army to drive on the worst type of stuff. I really can't believe the standard of some drivers. I watched one older couple recently on a campsite, revving the bollocks and spinning the wheels. They dug themselves in nicely.

I went thru the same stuff [single wheel and a lot heavier] with out a problem.

Roi

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