Saturday, 25 April 2015

240V mains power circuits

One of the first things that I had installed in this camper was the external mains connection, which would allow to connect an external 240V AC power into the vehicle. I had use this already for powering a heater fan, when working during the autumn months in the rear of the vehicle.
But for regular use of 240V, for example at campsites, it is important to install proper circuit breakers when connecting to the camp site's power. From eBay I had ordered a while ago a small circuit breaker box, for a maximum current of 16A, which seems sufficient to me. The box is watertight. The power distribution is in a watertight junction box, to which the power plugs are connected. The power plug box itself is currently not of a watertight type, but maybe I will change this later.

I decided to affix these boxes (fuse box, distributor box, power plugs) at the back of the vertical panel, so that they would not take away more valuable space inside the vehicle. There is enough space, as the rear window in the small right barn door leaves a large gap. Below these boxes is a battery charger which can charge the battery once external power is connected.

Friday, 24 April 2015

A rolling blind at the rear window

The windows of this car are tinted, so they provide some privacy. However, when staying actually in it overnight, it is important to have some kind of curtain or blind. At Wilco I saw rolling blinds, and I got a blue one with 60 cm width. Originally I wanted to use it for one of the side windows, but then it also fits nicely at the rear window on the barn door, and so I affixed it there. I was able to drill small screw holes into the metal next to the window, so that the top mechanism for holding the blind could be attached. The picture below shows the blind rolled down at the rear door.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Fixing the carpet

Until now I only had placed the carpet tiles loosely onto the floor, just to show how they would fit. Now it was time to affix them, so that I could use the rear space to its full capacity. I cut the remaining tiles under the folded rear seat bench so that all the floor area was covered. A few months ago I had prepared the area under the bench with an isolating underlay, as I had planned to place possibly a wood laminate floor. Now I simply glued the cut tiles onto this underlay. There will be very little force onto these regions, as they will mostly remain under the seat bench.

I did use the heavy duty adhesive spray (which I had used for the trim and the insulation) and did spray it onto the ground and underlay, then put the tiles on top. Did work fine, they are sitting very stable.

As can be seen in the picture, I left the motor wrench installed, which had been used for pulling up a wheel chair when the ramp still was installed. Who knows for what I might need it sometime...

Then I decided to quickly build the 2nd part of the modular platform which is to be placed onto the other folded part of the rear seat bench. This concept of two independent platforms which can be placed onto the foldable parts of the rear bench seat, allows a flexibility of using the car for transporting 3, 4 or 5 people. And when made into the 2-people camper (both parts of the rear seat folded down), then the whole space is to be used for storing luggage or other equipment.

Here are the two platforms onto the folded rear bench:

Monday, 13 April 2015


For a long while I had deliberated what kind of floor would be best. Originally I wanted a wood laminate. But then I figured that it would easily be damaged, and things would slide back and forth when I would transport stuff. So I decided to get some cheap carpet tiles. I cut them to size and placed them for now without glue on the floor. I find that looks now quite inviting!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Finalising the worktop - and another shelf

The large worktop over the refrigerator needed some final work: the right rear speaker was waiting to be installed, and vents for the fridge compressor needed to be cut. Also the +12V wire from the leisure battery needed a thicker cable. So I took again out the tools, installed a thicker cable, and cut speaker and vent outlets into the worktop. I also guided the connector for the wrench remote upwards above the work top. The car still has that motor wrench which was used to pull in a wheel chair, when the ramp was still installed. I did not remove it, maybe it will come in handy some time.

Now for the first time since the removal of the original rear panels I have a rear speaker. Of course that is only one, which is not very satisfying. Therefore I decided to mount also something on the left side, to be able to install the other speaker there as well. I did not want to use up much space, but the structure needed to be solid and supportive, at the same height as the opposite main worktop, because it would serve later as the basis for the bedding that would be put on top.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Electrics - control box

For white a while I had all the electric wiring for the solar controller and the refrigerator done with flying wires, without any hidden installation. I had added a split charge relay, and had connected this to another relay to disconnect the solar panel when the engine alternator was charging the leisure battery. Worked all fine, but did not look very good.

For quite a while I had designed a control box which I wanted to place in between all my electrics and the solar control box. My own box would provide me with voltages and currents, so I could finally see how much the solar panel would charge the battery, and how much my electrics would use. Here is the latest plan of this concept:

From left to right the solar controller basically has 6 inputs: +/- from solar panel, +/- from/to leisure battery, and +/- to electric load. My own box would have the same 6 inputs, would then do some switching and voltage/current measurement, then have the 6 outputs which would then connect to the solar controller. In addition I planned to connect the vehicle battery/alternator for charging while driving, then an external 12V source in case I have external power, and an input for an external battery charger. The above schematics allows all this: automatic switching to external 12V, when such a source is connected; manual choice of charging the battery; integrated split charge relay for automatic switching to charging from vehicle while engine is on; automatic disconnect of the solar panel while driving; manual override of split charge relay for explicit linking of the batteries even when not driving (for example for charging both the leisure and the car battery from the solar panel). And the design allows to show the voltages and currents in the three circuits: the solar panel, the leisure battery, and the connected load. Furthermore I wanted an external high-current output, bypassing all controllers in case I connect a high-powered device (e.g. a microwave oven).

Over the time I had bought all the necessary components: 3 Volt/Ampmeters, relays, wires, and a suitable box.

So I began to build. First added a little board inside the box, so I could mount the components onto it. Here is the volt/ampmeter with the required shunt resistor (a low ohm resistor which is used to measure a voltage across, which is then interpreted as a current).

I tried various layouts of the backplane in the box:

The front plane would have three data displays plus two switches: one for switching on the external battery charging, another one for bridging the split charge relay.

Then everything would come together...

... and I realised that the box was too small. The thick wires (for up to 40 Ampere) and the bulky terminals did not leave any wiggle room. While in theory all the relays and the (overly large) shunt resistors would fit, in practise I was not able to close the box without the risk of creating a short circuit somewhere or damaging those very fine and sensitive Volt/Ampmenter wires. So I decided to leave the box open for now and connect it to the vehicle anyway. At the front there is now also a switchable circuit breaker for the electric consumer loads.

And - it works! The above picture shows the voltages and currents as the solar panel is loading (left v/a meter), the battery provides some output current as well (center v/a meter), and the refrigerator is on and drawing current (right v/a meter). So for the first time I can see what is actually going on in the circuits . great! Theoretically the currents of the solar panel and the battery should add up to the load - but they are 200 mA short; not sure why that is... possibly the solar panel controller uses a bit of power (each of the v/a meters uses 20 mA) ... but it also could be because the controller regulates current and voltage in the battery and in the load circuits, so that it is not the current that should add up, but the power. Based on this, there is a leakage of around 400 mW.

Now I can temporarily mount this box on the vertical panel and have finally a more empty work top. The external wiring is not yet final and will be shortened eventually.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A small problem: the auxiliary belt

While driving on Sunday afternoon through the North Yorkshire landscape, I suddenly heard a noise. First I thought something was flapping in the wind against the car, some fabric or similar. But then I heard the noise coming from the engine. I opened the hood while the motor was running - and saw that the auxilliary belt had a piece hanging from it which was slapping against the interior of the engine compartment. I switched off the engine, then cut off with a scissor the piece that was hanging from the belt. It seemed that one of the 6 grooves had split, so that 5 were together and one was hanging off. Now the belt was partially narrower than usual.
I continued driving slowly, but after a few miles there was again noise. The rest of the belt had also reduced itself to 5 grooves instead of 6. I cut also that piece off. Only a small segment was now there with the original 6 grooves. I kept slowly driving, keeping the engine below 2000 rpm - not very funny for the people driving behind me...

But I made it back to Leeds ok. Then, on Tuesday (Monday was Bank Holiday) I brought it to she shop - was done in Wednesday. The mechanic told me that there was a wrong alternator mounted! Someone previously had installed an incorrect alternator, which only had a pulley with 5 grooves and was slightly misaligned - with no options to provide fine alignment. They now mounted a smaller belt - just 5 grooves wide. At least that fit well the alternator pulley. I shall observe if it breaks again. Possibly will need a new alternator then...

So far no problems, runs fine.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The first cup of coffee - with onboard power!

For last Christmas (2014) my brother Winny gave me a nice present: a Waeco PerfectCoffee MC01 coffee maker, powered by just 12V. I had not yet dared to try it out, because of the anticipated power needed. The 12V version requires 170W (as of the manual; the website states actually 180W), which translates to 15A current. But now with the updated wiring which supports up to 30A I was finally in a position to give it a try.

So I filled in the coffee and the water and started the coffee maker. The voltage of the consumer circuit which had been at a healthy 12.9V dropped instantly to 10.8V. So I decided to start the car engine to give some power support with the alternator. Then the voltage went up to 12.0V in the consumer circuit. On the solar panel controller I could see that the battery voltage at that point actually was even much higher: at 13.2V because of the alternator, while the consumer circuit still was at 12V. The current draw of the coffee maker was then 13A.

This is because of the voltage regulator in the solar panel control which limits the voltage of the consumer circuits. Once I have my own control box ready, I will have some more clarity regarding the various voltages and the currents that flow in the electric system.

When I switched off the car engine to have the coffee maker powered only on by the battery, I did observe the battery voltage still showing a value of 11.7V, while the consumer circuit voltage was at 10.8V. The current draw then was 11A.

But in the meantime the coffee was brewing nicely.

And after about 12 minutes a cup of delicious coffee was ready. Excellent! Now I can be completely mobile and have a cup of coffee. Can surely be also made into a tea cooker. And all without the need for any gas bottle or gas cooker - GREAT!

The next test of a major appliance will be the batter-powered microwave oven - also a present from my technology-conscious brother Winny. For this one I want to have my junction box ready, so that I can see the power distribution of the required 30 or so Ampere...!

Installing the worktop and beech panel

For several months only the refrigerator has been installed in the camper, being attached to a structure of wooden beams (34mm x 34mm) which are screwed tightly to the vehicle (floor and wall). The floor in the rear area had been there from the earlier conversion to a disabled transport, so it is not the original floor. But that is an advantage: it appears to be out of hardwood, and so I could put screws in it and bolt down very stable those wooden beams for the "kitchen". I also put a temporary vertical panel there, to attach some of the electric components (switches, solar controller). Looked all quite messy...

I should have done some more and better planning ahead, when I got the refrigerator and out it in place. There might have been a better , more space-efficient arrangement than what I had now. But I was eager to put the fridge in to a stable position, and so that was the first thing that I had done in the rear of the vehicle, and which now determines the use of the available space.

After last weekend's visit to the Yorkshire Motorhome Show in Harrogate, I had decided that the best combination in my camper would be grey worktop and beech panels. It would have been nice to get a beech worktop, but they are prohibitively expensive.

From Wickes I got a 2m long worktop for £ 30, which seems reasonable. The space I need to cover with it is only 73cm long; I will still have some use of the remaining worktop, for the opposite side in the camper. I also got a furniture panel board with beech laminate.

Before I would mount the worktop, I did attach a shelf in the area over the battery and near the fridge compressor. This needed to be done before the worktop is attached, as the worktop would prevent convenient access of that area.

I then decided to spray-paint the wooden structural beams in silver-grey, the same colour of the vehicle itself. This will avoid "collision" between different types of wood. The only visible wood will be the beech panels.

Before the painting I had added another structural support beam, onto which I would later mount the panel.

Then I took that vertical beech panel and cut it in size. The rounded shape at the left side I did capture with a template of cardboard, which then provided the proper cut out of the beech panel.

The vertical panel actually needs to be bent a bit inward, because of the slightly curved shape of the rear of the vehicle. Now, when I close the rear doors, they push the panel in place. But I soon will affix some kind of shelf which will do this bending in a permanent way.

The worktop cutting was done in several steps: first the overall width had to be cut: 73cm. Then I had to reduce the depth from 60cm to 56cm. As the vehicle wall under the side window is slanted due to trim and internal vehicle body, I also had to cut the worktop slanted. Needed then to cut out some conduits for all the cables. And I realised then that I had to extend a few of the wiring cables so that they would fit through. I used this opportunity to use thicker wiring, to ensure that at least 40A could flow properly (is a bit of an overkill, as the solar controller and the split charge relay are only made for 30A, but it never hurts to use thicker cables, for potential upgrades later). I also connected the solar panel through a relay, which disconnects it, once the vehicle engine (alternator) is doing the recharging of the leisure battery (at 14.4V, through TEC3M split charge relay).

All the wiring is still done ad-hoc. I plan to put it all into a special box, so that the wiring is hidden. In any case, it will be hidden in a shelving compartment which will be attached to the vertical beech panel, on top of the new worktop.