Merry Christmas!

Merry christmas Jack!
Merry christmas Jack!

Merry christmas from Rouen!

I came out perhaps prematurely as I have problems with my van but the way I see it is, being in the UK has not helped me solve any of the van’s problems at all. I’m not scared of trying to sort things out in a foreign country so, why the hell not be somewhere i like and risk breaking down, than stay in rainy, grey Britain and risk breaking down?

I was tempted to hang around in wales after the mechanic called Rob helped me change that hose and told me where the temperature sensor was, but when could he fit me in? Would he actually be able to solve it? He actually said getting the inlet manifold off was an awful task and that’s one of the things I want doing so…

So anyway I booked up at the last minute and came here and headed for Rouen simply because it’s a place I like, I feel comfortable there, there’s everything I need including an auto parts store I’ve been to before, a Peugeot garage I’ve been to before, a launderette I’ve used in the past and it’s a beautiful old city. Most of that is listed in this post…

The aire I use is right on the riverbank and in an industrial part of town, it’s well used but no-one bothers you down there and I can do jobs on the van that I have planned. 

Christmas dinner is not lamb this year, it’s a joint of gammon that I got from Aldi cheap, but aside from that I have all the trimmings and will enjoy a very full dinner as always. 


Where I stayed: Aire de Rouen, Quai Jacques Anquetil, 76100 Rouen. N49.433254, W1.096490. Free No services.

Jabbed up to the hilt.

Poor Jack. I took him for the Leishmaniasis jabs, there’s 3 in the series. 1 a week. £174 for the 3 jabs too *shock* Thing is this is a nasty disease to get and life ending in many cases so it’s definitely worth doing. I mentioned it first here…

Leishmaniasis is caused by the bite of the Sand fly which is predominant in Spain and Portugal, which is where I’m headed. I checked into collars too for him and apparently Scalibor is the only collar on the market at the moment which helps prevent biting. 
It does say on the link I provide here that there is no known vaccines against the disease and in fact I found 4 pages all saying the same thing. However there is indeed a vaccine, the one my dog got which is Virbac Canileish. This vaccine is controversial in some sectors as you can read here but According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) it is safe as you can read here

Jack certainly has shown no side effects at all and I also bought a Scalibor collar which will be used only when the season starts. It should last the entire season it’s makers say which is good value at only £20. I would advise shopping around though, especially if you travel to Europe as you can easily shave a fiver off that cost. If you are unsure how to get mail wherever you are in the world read my guide here.

Then at the end of that his annual booster jab is due. Lot’s of treats due!

December update

Yet more dodgy garages…

I decided to get the coolant changed as I’d used K seal thinking it might help if there were minor head gasket problems. As it happened the K seal did absolutely nothing but at least I tried. When I was getting the coolant changed at Molyneuxs in Barrow the mechanic there spotted a gouge in one of the hoses. He said it looked at though it had touched something hot and melted a furrow into the rubber. I also noticed as he worked, smearing grease all over the front of my van from his overalls, that the radiator was loose. The brand new one I just got fitted in Germany! There’s 2 mounts to hold it to the top crossbar and one was completely missing while the rubber bush on the other was destroyed. So much for German efficiency eh?
Anyway we could not fathom how the gouge got there and I could not fathom how he’d spotted it, but I got a new one from Guy Perry in Barrow along with 2 new radiator mounts. I could not get the bolts for the mounts as they were only sold in packs of 5 and 10 apparently so 4 bolts would cost me over £50 lol.
The mechanic also spotted that the accessory belt was ‘shiny and should not be’. So I also got a new belt from EK in Barrow and guess what? It’s shiny in the exact same way the existing one is. Hmmm.

The main thing was the coolant was drained (right onto the tarmac of the car park) although they didn’t flush it and that was what I’d gone for. I’d not go back to that garage again, they’re unprofessional and their charge for dumping the coolant and putting new stuff in was over £70.  Also I don’t think I needed a new accessory belt at all. I think they’re simply touting for work.

Next stop the Midlands at Best Turbos. The point here was to get the turbo assessed by specialists to eliminate it as a problem. They did their diagnostic and after a few hours determined that the turbo was absolutely fine but the EGR needed blanking as they felt that was causing a problem. He’d used a 2p piece to blank it off and so the clip could not fit properly around the pipes. *Sigh* Are there ANY professional garages at all!?

Some jobs to do
Some jobs to do

Wales and putty

Anyway from Ulverston to Walsall the van got 28 miles per gallon. First time in ages it’s done that. I had disabled the battery to battery charger til I got new fuses for it so I wondered if that had a bearing. From Walsall to Cardiff I got the same mileage again so I was ecstatic. Sadly the next day I drove an hour to get to Ridds Ramps in Aberdare and I was right back to 21 mpg. Grr. I bought some Steel Seal as it is supposed to be the very best product for minor head gasket problems which I was beginning to think I might have. 
So the underseal went OK. Cheap at £95 but I only got what I paid for, it’s not the most professional job ever. No worries, for that price I got what I expected and at least it helps. The last MOT mentioned corrosion as an advisory so it was worth doing. The lads at Ridds Ramps couldn’t have been nicer but they need to sort out their customer area. Currently it’s an old greasy leather sofa which is right at the entrance to the unit. When a car drove in I instinctively put my foot out to ward it off as it was so close. Still the job was done and that’s the main thing.

I found a motor factor place in Aberdare too and he had the exact exhaust extension I needed and at a brilliant price of £8.25! The skirt on the offside is corroded partly due to the brand new exhaust not being long enough to clear the underside edge of the van. I’ll get this fitted later on.

While I was there I went to put the new radiator hose on but it had these odd clips that I could not get off. I found a random garage who said they’d take it off and put the new one on for a tenner. I put the Steel Seal in though and wonder of wonders, I found that it reduced the smoke from the exhaust considerable. I’ve no idea what that means except there must have been some slight leak and that has now been fixed. 1 small step closer to getting sorted? 
I popped to the garage to get the new hose on and he agreed the old one had not melted, partly because there simply is nothing whatsoever near it that could possibly have melted it.  Once it was off it was very clear it was not a melt mark but a cut. I found another hose with a similar mark on and after a comment from someone online, I agree it looks for all the world like chew marks of a rodent!

Now at the garage this guy Rob, he was draining the coolant out and used an old washing up bowl to collect it. I liked that for a start as the other garage had simply dumped it in the car park. He chatted to me as he worked and it turns out he knows these engines inside out! He showed me where the engine temp sensor fits and a couple of other things I didn’t know but he surprised me the most when he picked the bowl of coolant up and smelled it and said it had Kseal in. He could not possibly have known that, he said he could smell it as it smelled like putty. I liked this guy, for one here was a mechanic who was uninterested in diagnostic codes, but knew engines. He told me the EGR system was likely to be my main problem and these engines are renowned as reliable and efficient. Anyway, hose changed, tons of info given, and we agreed when I came back in spring I’d pay him to sort the engine out whatever was needed. 

Cantering to Canterbury

Damaged water hose
Damaged water hose

He’d lifted my spirits so much I decided to book a ferry! Last minute through the Caravan and Motorhome Club but despite being christmas eve-eve it was only £105 for me and Jack. I found

a garage in Canterbury near the ferry port who would sell me the bolts for the radiator mounts for only £4. Better than Guy Perry’s. I also got more coolant, some oil, and a few other things while there. I had noticed by now that for some reason I had 25 amp fuses in the battery to battery charger. It puts 50 amps out so no wonder the fuses were melting! Technically they should have just blown though, otherwise they could have started a fire. 

The oil filter is so tight it feels like it was put on by the Tory party, so I got a chain filter wrench in Halfords for a fiver, and got a few new fuses for the battery to battery charger. The biggest standard spade type fuses they had were 40 amps so that will have to do for now until I make some 50 amp ones.

While here I went to Asda and also managed to find some 00 grade flour for making pasta. Good find! Boxing day will be home made tagliatelli with creamy mushroom and bacon sauce, a delicious recipe courtesy of my Italian friend. 

Last stop Dover to get the van washed and wait for the ferry. I’m a little bit excited!



Melamine cleaning

Keeping the van clean is difficult, because it’s permanently on the road, the road is dirty and constant exhaust fumes both mine and others sticks to the van. The van being aluminium is quite difficult to clean especially from soot and grease and it’s an ongoing struggle. However, I found something called melamine sponges which seem to help out in certain ways.

Doktor Power Magic Eraser
Doktor Power Magic Eraser

I originally bought them as Doktor Power Magic Eraser cleaning pads from JML of all people. They weren’t on a JML stand, they were hanging up in Asda Living and were only £3. It’s one long block of sponge and you cut it to size, so you get 3 hand sized sponges out of it. I like to try anything once so I bought them at that price to see how they were. I used the first one on the ceiling as it was grimy from years of smoking and road dirt and cooking and exhaust fumes and I was totally gobsmacked by the results. 

Just as they say, you only need warm water, I used lukewarm. And a light stroke of the sponge soaked and then rinsed out just swiped straight through the dirt. I’m rarely so shocked at anything but at this I was. Small but hard dried on grease droplets above the cooker were more difficult, but I found that using my thumb and pressing the sponge on the spot then spinning it brought it straight off. 

I had completed the whole ceiling of the van in a few hours and then I started on the walls which are plywood coated with some durable, waterproof material like plasticised paper. In the same way as the ceiling the sponge just took the dirt right off simply and easily and without fuss or effort. I tried it on fabric and it was effective on there too and I also tried it on glass and I have never seen the bathroom mirrors so clean. 

The final test was the woodwork which was again greasy with cooking and smoking and general road dirt. The sponge just lifted the dirt as if it was surface dust. I had to rub moderately hard on some areas such as around door handles which also attracts grease from hands but it came off without much effort. In 3 days the entire interior of the van was done, simply and easily and without a single chemical in sight. 

The one caveat I’d offer is that the first time I used a sponge my finger ends were very sore the next day and I ended up with wicklows on 3 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other. The second time it wasn’t so bad and now I don’t get them at all, but I guess if I was recommending these to anyone I’d suggest using household gloves with them to protect your fingers. It’s only an uneducated guess, but the guess is that tiny fibres come off as you use it and get lodged down the sides of your fingernails. Why it only happens the first couple of times I don’t know.

I used all of the 3 sponges because what I found was they slowly but surely crumble as you use them. They go hard and compacted, then they split, then bits fall off easily until there’s barely anything left of them. They’re much like the way a bar of soap disappears, it’s really odd, but given that it was £3 for a sponge that cut into 3 pieces and completed half the entire interior of the van without using chemicals of any kind then that’s damn good value to me. 

After finding out exactly what they were made of I found that they are cheap anyway from the internet. I found a Chinese supplier on Amazon and if I was prepared to wait 10 days for delivery I could get 100 sponges for £9.99. Bargain! They’re only small, about half the size of each third of a JML sponge, so 6 of these in one of the JML ones. But paying £3 for one in Asda Living means 50p each of the size of the smaller ones. Paying £9.99 for 100 smaller ones, or as each one is about half the size of a JML sponge lets say 50 comparatively sized sponges then that’s only about 20p each. Less than half price. Consider that currently JML are offering there’s on sale for £12 for 2, down from £20! lol

My nice clean air vent
My nice clean air vent

Anyway I got my pack within a week and set about cleaning the rest of the van. I had started on the outside of the van as well when I decided on a way I could show you how effective these pads are. I have been stripping all the external doors: lockers, toilet, gas etc and renovating the locks, cleaning the plastic frames and resealing the inserts. As they’re 14 years old I wondered how to make the yellowed plastic fittings white again and I had heard of some specialist  chemicals that helped, but apparently these harm the surface of the plastic irreparably. 

So out of curiosity I tried a bit of sponge and guess what? Yeah you guessed it, it cut right through the yellow stained plastic which even Cif and Flash and a light household bleach type cleaner could not clean. I did the first fridge vent at the top but left the bottom one while I took a photo of the difference. It’s absolutely astonishing I think for something to work so well when several chemical based cleaners have failed. 

Sadly the black marks you see on the aluminium are from the putty type material that is used to seal the vans joints to prevent leaks. It’s an oily type stuff and the sponges can’t get that off, neither can they get anything other than surface exhaust smoke off where the tail pipe was lost and exhaust was blowing directly onto the side skirt. 

So if you have general cleaning inside to do or your external plastics have yellowed over the years try this stuff out, it truly is amazing. 
I got mine from Amazon and here’s the link but for some reason they are not for sale here at the moment. Keep checking back or try one of the other suppliers of which there are many on Amazon.