Sunday, 21 September 2014

Roof panel removed - bright LED Light installed


The roof panel is now off, and I will get high-temperature - heavy duty adhesive to attach the insulation. I also used the opportunity to place temporarily the bright LED light strip into the rear roof area, as a replacement of that dim light which was under the rear left panel in the trunk space. Now, when opening the rear door, the whole car is illuminated with a very pleasant cool light - which also is more efficient than the old lightbulb.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Rear Panels Removed

I did remove the rear panels, in order to see what I would need to do regarding the insulation. There is much hollow space, which will need to be filled. I also removed the speakers and plan to replace them with other 4x6 speakers: On eBay I got Fusion replacement speakers which would fit exactly in the existing 4x6 space of the old panels. But I may actually remove the panels altogether and put my own "furniture" there, so I might have bought other speakers. Never mind, these new ones look like an improvement over the previous built-in ones. I may also replace the front speakers at some point.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Fuel Consumption - not as good as expected

After the first time of filling up the Diesel tank, I am a bit disappointed. The on-board computer had constantly promised me a consumption of 55 miles per gallon, the actual consumption was 37 mpg. Which is not bad, but just worse than the vehicle told me.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Connecting the solar controller

The solar controller arrived in the mail on Tuesday. It is a 20A controller, which has a nice informative display, showing battery loading status and currents from solar panel to battery and from battery to the consumer.

Seems to work fine, as an initial connection shows.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Window tinting and cable from vehicle battery

In recent days a few of the items which I had ordered, arrived by mail: cables, the solar controller, battery clamps. One of the important cables it to get the 12V+ from the vehicle battery to the leisure battery, so that the alternator can charge the leisure battery. This is only the fallback option, in case there is no sun. I was able to drill a hole from the passenger compartment into the engine compartment, and I guided the thick red power cable through after securing the two holes with appropriate grommets. All that is missing is now the fuse, and then the relay for switching the two batteries together.

I did order a TEC2M relay, but then realised that this is linked to the ignition. This is not what I wanted. I rather would have one that automatically switches itself when the engine is running, that is when the alternator charges the vehicle battery. Therefore I did also order a TEC3M relay which does exactly this.

I will further install two switches: one for enabling the charge by vehicle alternator, and another for manually overriding the relay in case a connection is explicitly wanted (e.g. for recharging both batteries by the solar panel).

Today I also added window tinting to the two rear windows. The side windows in the back are actually all tinted; so to complete the privacy screen I did use the tinting foil that I got in Germany in summer. My tinting job for these two windows is, I must admit, not very professionally done. There are still bubbles, as I was not able to get rid of all the wrinkles. I guess that is because the foil appears not to be very flexible and does not stretch to the curvature of the windows.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Affixing the Solar Panel

The 150W solar panel that I got is one of these semi-flexible ones, which is waterproof and can be slightly bent to fit a curved surface. It has 6 holes for mounting it. I removed the inner ceiling moulding in the vehicle, then drilled 6 holes from the outside top of the vehicle roof. That steel of the Fiat seems to be very hard - the drills seemed to have some problems getting the holes in!

Originally I wanted to use screws and nuts to fix the panel, but then I decided to use self-taping screws, as it was difficult to tighten the nuts.

I put some foam insulating tape around the edges of the panel, to avoid that it scratches the roof surface and to dampen possible vibrations.

Did a quick test drive with a few minutes of 60 mph, and the panel held fine. The two cables with the power I fed through the roof with two rubber grommets.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Electrics and Solar Power

Since I decided to convert this vehicle into a micro-camper, I needed a leisure battery. Online a 110Ah battery can be bought for around £60. But Halfords had a sale, and so I got my battery there, even it was still more expensive than the online offers. But the advantage was that I did not have to worry about delivery of this heavy item. Also I could return that old leisure battery which could not hold the charge anymore.

I also ordered a solar panel, which I wanted to mount onto the roof. I went for the 150W version, because this would almost cover the roof completely and hereby bring the most power. When the shipper DX wanted to deliver it, they told me that their truck is too large to drive towards my house... (did they come with a semi?). So I went there in the evening at 8pm to their business location. They were very busy loading and unloading their huge trucks with all kind of shipments, and then one brought me the large package with the panel. It barely fit into the cargo area of the Fiat.

Fitting all-year tyres

For my planned travels around Europe I need tyres which are legal to be driven in winter. Therefore I got a set of 4 all-year tyres from I decided to go for a low-cost Chinese tyre: MAXXIS. Price per tyre: £44. During the fitting process I had a chance to look at the wheel arches and the breaks. The front disks will need to be changes soon.

Fitting a towbar

The Fiat did not have a towbar. So I called a local towbar fitter who 2 days later fitted a single-electric bar.

Monday, 8 September 2014

First purchases and upgrades

Due to the high-crime area in which I live (a total of 5 car bread-ins in my cars in recent years), the first thing I installed is an alarm. I got one at Maplin for about £30. A set of new foot mats. Then I did some rough cleaning of the inside; foaming the fabric of the seats and of the side panels.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Buying a new car

For quite a while I have been looking to buy a new car. My 1997 Mitsubishi drove well, but I did rarely use it after I got that Peugeot Expert camper van conversion. But the Peugeot Expert ("MrPercy") does have a few flaws which prompted my search for something different: the engine keeps to let out traces of oil through its breathers, and then the smell of burning hot oil surrounds you when the window is open. This flaw had almost been away during my summer travel to Europe; it seemed that the long-distance motorway driving helped to consolidate this somewhat. But after a few days of travel in urban traffic the smell was back. Also, the whole spatial arrangement of the van conversion amenities appeared to me very space-wasteful. It is difficult to travel in this Peugeot Expert with lots of luggage and still use it as a camper. So it is basically an either-or - either using it as a camper with only little luggage, or use it as a van with giving up staying overnight in it.

So I kept my eyes open for an alternative, which also could be used as a daily driver. I had decided that the Citroen Berlingo would be a good choice. Alternatively the Renault Kangoo or the Peugeot Partner. My main requirements were: air-conditioning, CD-player (some older vehicles still had cassette players, and the radio/cassette is integrated with the vehicle and difficult to change), sunroof (even though these Berlingo/Kangoo/Partner roofs are only fixed and cannot be opened. In spring 2014 there were several reasonable Berlingos on Autotrader, which conformed to my specifications, but I was not ready to buy yet. Then in summer, there were suddenly only fewer models with my specs, and so I kept widening my search and included Fiat Doblo.

And then, after returning from my summer trip, I saw the ad for that 2005 Fiat Doblo JTD. It had been converted for wheelchair use, and did have a ramp in the back. Fortunately the body had not been modified for this, and all original seats were still in it. This was the high-roof version, with an additional sunroof window in the front. Silver, reasonable price and specifications. 88k miles. It was a big far from home to travel there twice, for looking at it and then picking it up later in case I liked it. So I got £2000 in cash from my bank account and travelled on the earliest morning train to Luton.

I had spoken to the seller on the phone, but he was still surprised when I rang him at 9:00 and threw him out of bed. He came to the station with the car, I drove it to his home, and decided that I would take it. MOT was new; it just had to be taxed, then I could go.

So the first travel of this vehicle was the 3 hour long journey back home, mostly on motorway. The car drove fine, no problems at all.