I've decided to bring all the problems and rectification work together into one Blog
Please note that the Directors of Danbury Motor Caravans are charming people and though you might think I have the patience of Job I am all too aware of what might be the result of an acrimonious or litigatious relationship. I offer what follows as a salutary tale and have tried to remain objective and factual.
Our Romahome next to the Demo van 26/10/04
We ordered the van on the 26/10/04 with an 'up to 16 week delivery' written on the order form, making a planned delivery of 16/2/05. We ordered several vehicle options including the larger engine, air-con etc and some habitation options including diesel water and air heating a non-standard cloth interior and a slight variation to the overcab door. The total price was well over £34k.
The deal was to be one half of the purchase price when the van was delivered from Renault. Their estimate late Dec 04
We heard nothing more until we asked about progress in the third week of Dec 04. They got back to us saying they had a firm delivery date in January. As we were going to be out of the country then we mutually agreed to pay the stage payment before they actually took delivery. Mistake I know. I made a mental note moving the delivery 3-4 weeks to the right.
As the original delivery date passed and as we had heard nothing further, we pressed for an update. We were told that the van was probably going to be a week or so late because of problems with the supply of the Webasto heaters. (I have had it confirmed from another source that there was a real problem with a new design from Webasto). We were fairly relaxed about this, as the first planned holiday was the third week in April, nine weeks after the delivery date. I didn't tell them that of course. No information came from them during the over-run period; in each case it was me progress chasing, each time the forecast varied all for various reasons although Webasto figured largely.
The vehicle was eventually registered on the 15th April, we planned a quick shakedown trip but then they said a new problem had arisen and it would not be available for collection until the 19th. This was five days before we were booked on a Ferry to Holland. In the end the 19th became the 20th and then the 20th after 3pm! By now we are getting fulsome apologies from a director and they are contacting us.
At handover we were shown all the systems but two things were apparent, apart from a miscellaneous pile of OEM manuals there was no guide to the conversion, and the layout had changed slightly from that seen, we now had an oven but one less large cupboard and two less high level side storage cupboards - these were presented to us as improvements. There were also more apologies and explanations of why they were so late, which they fully accepted were their responsibility/problem. As to the reasons for not keeping us informed, they preferred only to contact us when they had positive information. As a project manager of over 20 years I call that level of customer communications appalling.
The van was, as we had expected, a dream to drive and that evening we started working out how to load everything. It was then that I noticed a thin layer of water near the Webasto heat exchanger under the bed and a slow but steady drip from an armoured pipe.
We made the decision to go in the old van and the next 24 hours was spent hectically repacking the Romahome and changing insurance and recovery cover.
The delivery was ten weeks late on a sixteen week project. We weren't kept informed
The Renault part of the van was perfect.
The Water heater leaked.
There were minor deviations from specification.
The Webasto Story
When I returned from my holiday at the very begining of May (I took my old van), I went over it a bit more thoroughly and found more problems. These included bed extension fixing bolts too long, terrible finishing of the sealant around the roof vent, no identification markings on the habitation fuse panel, the gas regulator incorrectly postioned causing the flexible pipe to foul the gas cylinder, toilet/shower door coming open in use - about ten faults in all.
I can't explain why I didn't go through the complete van with a fine toothcomb there and then but perhaps I was too eager for them to get it back.
Danbury received the vehicle once they had received the correct part for the leaking pipe and spent a day putting these things right. (19th May). On the 20th reviewing what they had done I cut myself on a badly cut cable tie - they were all like that plus the bolts had been shortened with a hacksaw leaving sharp edges.
We booked the whitsun weekend away. The night before I filled the fresh water tank right up and found it leaked and was awfully difficult to fill. Six hours later it was still leaking but we went anyway. The photos under the van were very revealing but more of that later.
Webasto leak cured plus nine other smaller problems.
We managed over our weekend away, after a while the tank leak seemed to stop but our problems were far from over.
When we showered water poured out over the spare wheel and also seeped out the back door. The first was caused by the waste pipe not being connected (and two years later I found out the real reason why it hadn't been connected) the second by a cunning gap in the sealant exactly where water ran down the shower curtain.
We didn't empty the loo whilst away but when we tried to, back home, we couldn't open the door to the cassette. Eventually I got it open. The problem was that the door when installed didn't line up with the cassette and the lower door catch would have fouled the cassette compartment so an enterprising person had cut a piece of plastic away. Fine as long as the cassette was empty, when full however the floor of the cassette compartment dropped under the weight because of the removal of the plastic had weakened it and the door catches would not then release.
Cut away cassette mount
Also whilst underneath looking for water leaks (its not easy, the underbelly of the Trafic sits just 8" above the road) I found loads of unprotected wires and a place where the CAK tank was leaking under the insulation. I have to say that this was typical, I would often find problems I didn't know I had when tracking down problems I knew about
Underneath the van, the unprotected cables and pipes and the water tank leak
The van went back to Danbury. New cassette, new CAK tank all under van wires given secondary protection, shower resealed and drain reconnected and about six other minor things done, they had the van for the best part of two weeks, and they gave me a courtesy car for the whole period.
So we went to Devon for a week and more or less everything was OK but in a storm one night we got water in one of the side windows. It seemed to be overtopping the channel but I couldn't see why it wasn't draining properly also the window was becoming a loose fit and rattling, the one on the other side was similar although not so bad.
The arrows show where water was leaking in
New water tank
Two weeks of rectification work by Danbury
I'm getting bored with this as I'm sure you are but its a therapy putting it all down.
Roof Leaks and Bed Bugs
Next we went on our summer holiday to Scotland, if you have been keeping up it has already been back to Danbury's twice so we thought we were sorted (apart from a leak in a side window during a thunderstorm).
On our first night in the borders we woke up to wet bedding, the headlining was dripping wet. Couldn't see the source of the leak but the roof vent was open a bit so we thought it might have just blown in after all it hadn't leaked when the side windows did - we nearly came straight back to England but we soldiered on.
Wet headlining and dripping woodwork
The rock and roll bed then became difficult to deploy and put away. Eventually we could see that the whole bed base was being pulled from the floor - requiring emergency repairs. One of the nylock nuts was too tight on the bolt forming part of the cantilever hinge making the bed lock in an intermediate position. The bed base was fixed to the flooring surface with a small bracket and tiny screws which were unable to cope with the forces exerted by me trying to open and close the stiffening bed. This was sorted by me but I had to buy a socket set to undo the bolt. I had never heard of a nylock nut tightening itself.
Overtightened hinge bolt and ripped out bracket
The rest of the holiday passed uneventfully except that the water filling was a pain as the pipe from the filler went along before it went down so it tended to be a slow filler also with no water gauge you had to guess when it was nearly full. Too full and the tank would leak from the (inaccessable) inspection hatch. Also when hot, there was not enough ventilation so we bought a Fiamma turbovent to fit later.
We stopped off at Danbury's on the way home showed them the problem with the side windows and they arranged for the window manufacturer to do a home visit. We enquired about fitting a water gauge and our turbovent. We also pointed out that the original Fiamma vent was a very tight fit in the van roof and from the inside at least looked distorted.
A few weeks later we got a quote for the work to fit the new bits which Danbury offered at a discount as we had had so much trouble, it was still a lot of money so we waited for the side windows to be repaired first. It took four weeks for him to come and 15 minutes to fit new parts that had been omitted during manufacture and reseal the channel (but the guy did come all the way from Cheshire to sort it).
We went on a rally and encountered no further problems I bought a water cap with a hose connection which greatly simplified the filling.
Then I got shingles which pushed the van back in the priorities. When better I went on a short holiday to Dorset again without problems but we still hadn't had the water gauge or my turbovent fitted.
Side windows fixed
Filling problems sorted with hose connector
I sorted the bed fixings
Winter water leaks
We were booked to go to a New Years rally. The van had been covered with ice but a thaw was just starting. I went out to fill the van with water (it had been drained down in November). Once the tank was full I turned on the pump, water shot out from under the cupboards. At the same time I felt a drip of water, looked up, the headlining was soaking wet - I literally cried.
We cancelled going to the rally and sent a very emotional email to Danbury. I removed the inner part of the vent and looked in the roof space, there was clearly a leak from the roof vent and the distortion I had suspected was obvious now.
Water leaking in roof space
I removed the battery and looked behind, a hot water system pipe was disconnected. I presume that it hadn't drained down properly, had frozen and pushed the connection apart. Danbury tell me that they always pump the hot water system dry not drain it down but without instructions how was I to know that? What it also revealed after removing the battery to get to the leak was an absolute mess of wiring behind, the untidy stuff being all for the webasto heater.
Pushed off pipe and wiring mess
Danbury took the vehicle straight in, enlarged the vent aperture, fitted my turbo vent and a new gasket piece (now standard) that allows the Fiamma vent to rest on a flat surface instead of the heavily ribbed top surface of the van. It was failure of thick layers of sealant to cope with temperature variations that caused the leak. They have also dried out and insulated the roof (it was just an empty space above the headlining plywood - because apparently one of their installers hadn't liked working with insulation material - no longer employed). They also fixed the plumbing and have tidied/hidden the wiring. They also picked up and rectified a number of small wear and tear defects. There was no charge!
Roof leak fixed Turbo vent fitted
So thats where were in January 2006 the van being 9 months old. I still have reservations about the van as designed by Danbury the leisure battery is under the oven, the gas bottle under my pillow, the plumbing is not as straight forward as it might be and I don't have a circuit diagram or manual. Also no cutlery drawer.
The Renault is still a joy to drive beats hands down the Fiat Ducato that I drive on a daily basis for a charity (better gearbox, braking, acceleration, seating position and comfort).
I managed 40 days away since April 05 its been back to Danbury three times (and do you know they have had a different shop foreman on each occasion!) It hasn't cost me anything more in money but as for heartache well...............
It was around that time that I decided that in future I wouldn't involve Danbury anymore. You see each time they rectified something, they demonstrated that their build standards hadn't much improved and frankly I could do a better job myself and that wouldn't need a trek to Bristol. Also my relationship with them was wearing thin!
Going it alone and regulators
I made a cutlery drawer using the existing sink front wood and utilised the wasted space underneath. I expect it is superior to the one Danbury have now designed.
I tidied up the wiring behind the battery compartment and fitted a battery vent pipe. Danbury had drilled a hole in the floor for one which went into a chassis member and stopped. Three inches to the rear there was a drain hole in the chassis so with a bit of jiggling I got the pipe though the hole in the floor through the hole in the chassis and 'p' clipped it to the bottom of the van. I fitted drain taps to the lowest points of the hot and cold water systems
When we went away in the that spring the Truma regulator failed, I thought of going through Danbury for a new one but finding one in a nearby caravan shop I bought it. This was in the early days of 30mB regulator failures so I didn't worry too much. However when I came to fit it I was puzzled by the connection to my fixed piping. Either I couldn't read the fitting instructions or Danbury had fitted the 8mm cone the wrong way around. Also they had used plumber's style PTFE tape around the threads gas PTFE tape is thicker and as far as I remember blue. Photos sent to Truma revealed that Danbury had as I suspected fitted the pipe adaptor the wrong way around. I did email Danbury about it, and the lack of battery vent pipe but they didn't reply!
The incorrectly facing cone
Note about above photo: at this point I had already cut the wrongly fitted cone off using a pipe cutter that explains the detached piece pipe and the groove in the pipe
We had an excellent holiday in Norway (there was a suspicion that the roof leaked one night when we had a thunderstorm but rain could have blown in.) everything worked perfectly.
At Canterbury on an MHF rally the regulator failed again. By this time more was known and one solution would be to raise the regulator above the gas bottle. This would mean a major redesign of the van and from reports wasn't a guaranteed fix. So probably against all regulations I have fitted an old standard camping gaz regulator to the top of my bottle and done away with the fixed regulator. This gives me time to consider redesign and for other solutions to present themselves (stainless flexible tubing being one idea)
Whilst on a gas related topic I did some more modifications under the sink to incorporate more storage. I needed to remove the oven to make a neat job of the new shelf. It was not possible to get to the gas pipe joint behind the oven so I had to dismantle the oven bit by bit. Danbury either fit the oven and its pipework into the kitchen unit and then install the whole thing in one piece (there is another pipe joint under the vehicle) or they use someone with thin but very long arms. I modified the oven making an inspection hatch at the back of the grill that can be removed to access the pipe joint. Note in this photograph showing the joint all the wood debris is from Danbury's original build
Inaccessible joint and debris
Battery vent pipe fitted
Wiring tidied up
Truma regulator replaced twice
Gas connection and oven connection improved
More storage under sink with new shelf and cutlery drawer
Water drain taps fitted.
By the winter of 2006/07 I had convinced myself that there was probably still a small leak from the roof vent. I smeared sealant around all the joints as a temporary measure. Half way through our Danish holiday in June 2007I was certain that wet patches on the headliner were not a result of rain blowing in.
As mentioned above I have a gasket between the vent and the roof to even out the roof shape. The sealant between this gasket and the roof was only adhering to the roof, it was not very flexible and had some voids. The sealant between the gasket and the vent was a different type and was not adhering to either. I was able through mould growth etc to establish three routes for the ingress of water.
Showing the original sealants voids and mould growth
I have just (July 2007) competely re-done the roof vent sealant using non-setting mastic, this sticks very well to all three materials. Although confident of my workmanship, I shall not be satisfied until it has passed through one freezing/baking cycle as I think the different expansions of the three materials had a part to play in the seal failure.
On a cold night in Denmark we had the Webasto heater on. After a while the noise changed and I was concerned, so investigated. The level of water in the pressurised polythene header tank was very low and it was gurgling from the tank that I had heard. In the morning we could see that a small amount of coolant had leaked out.
This tank has a radiator filler top and four inlet/outlets of which only two are used. Initially all 4 are blocked by polythene. When you screw brass hose connectors into the ones you wish to use, they pierce though the polythene. The small amount of fluid escaping but the very low level points to a leak over a long time. A pinhole leak was discovered at the base of one of the unused outlets.
The pinhole leak and other weak spots inside and out
Failing to find a Webasto supplier nearby we did contact Danbury and they put us in contact with Webasto head office who gave us a new aluminium tank free of charge (although out of warranty) Note that a carefull examination of the polythene tank showed several partial voids in the polythene so I guess the aluminium tank was a 'product improvement'.
The new Tank
This saga might explain the smell that had always been associated with its use from new. What we were smelling was probably the sweetish smell of escaping coolant under pressure, and implies the fault was there from installation.
Roof vent resealed using non-setting mastic
New Webasto header tank fitted
Leisure battery charging
Split charging systems employ a relay that is energised normally by an auxiliary connection from the alternator (the same feed that turns the 'ignition light' off on your dash). I discovered that my system is different, being energised by a feed from the ignition switch. This means that all the time the ignition is on the batteries are joined together and therefore the leisure battery contributes starting current, which is not ideal. I looked for a suitable feed from the alternator and couldn't find one, I expect Danbury had the same trouble.
What I have now done is replace the split charge relay with an electronic one which senses the voltage and only connects the vehicle battery (and the alternator) to the leisure battery when the voltage rises to a level which must mean the alternator is charging the vehicle battery.
As this new arrangement does not need the feed from the ignition I went to remove it only to find shocking workmanship. A cable in a loom had the insulation scraped off and a new wire tacked on with solder the 'joint' was covered in insulating tape and buried back into the loom. This wire (live when igniition on) went to the split charge relay, squeezed between the steel battery cover and steel floor, words fail me. Suffice to say that if this wire shorted out I would have blown a fuse and I would have lost whatever else this circuit fed
The connection between the leisure battery and the vehicle battery was only fused at the leisure battery end so there was a cable, live when the ignition was on, that if shorted to earth would probably have melted or caught fire before blowing the main battery fuse. I have introduced a 30A fuse into the line at the vehicle battery end.
Split charge relay replaced by voltage sensing relay
New shower tray
In July 2007 we noticed that the shower tray was cracked around the waste drain. I'm not sure what caused our broken shower tray I think I can recall something falling heavily there or it could have just been me being heavy footed. I tried a temporary repair with 'Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure' but it was ineffective probably because the crack had been there some time and was dirty. I decided to replace the tray. Good job it was supplied by C.A.C tanks so I got a replacement quite easily.
It was a long job which had to wait until October. The cassette toilet had to be removed and then the tray pulled apart piece by piece, there was a lot of sealant around the edges (to conceal inaccurate cutting?) and Danbury seemed to have used their best adhesive to bond the tray to the vinyl flooring. This begs the question "why?" the shower tray wasn't going anywhere.
Once the tray was out and I could see exactly how Danbury did the job, the reasons for the large amount of edge sealant was clear. Its practically impossible to measure accurately the cut out shape for the toilet plinth. Thetford have a mounting flange which would conceal an inaccurate cut out but the shower tray isn't deep enough to bring its raised portion snuggly underneath. I constructed several cardboard templates but it still was a bit hit and miss. If the shower tray was lifted 20mm then the mounting flange of the Thetford toilet would come into play but it would mean a lot of work now including a new toilet door, plinth supports and waste plumbing.
Tray first fitment, offering up templates and finally cut.
After I had cut the new tray to shape ensuring that the drain hole was accurately lined up with the floor hole and offered it up I found the main reason that the tray cracked in the first place (and there was I blaming us for being heavy footed). The waste fitting and outlet pipe was bearing on a chassis member and this would have been bending the tray slightly at its weakest point. Any weight put on the area around the waste hole produced a shearing force on the tray. I had to source and buy a differently angled waste fitting and run a new outlet pipe so that when the tray was in position it missed the chassis member. You may recall the pipe wasn't fitted from new perhaps because it would have been very difficult to fit it as the fitting was hard up against the chassis member. The convoluted pipe originally fitted was changed to one with a smooth internal bore. The cost to me of the new pipe was £1.30 a meter compared to 80p for the type Danbury fitted and which was full of detritus
Close up of hole in floor and chassis member
New shower tray fitted on mastic bed with new waste fitting and pipe
This year I also fitted an awning and we have done 84 nights away in the van