Continued issues with our LPG system left us cold and frustrated. After trying to get it fixed we suck it up and head back to Belgium.
Waking up this first Monday morning of our adventure, we were still having issues with the gas (LPG) system. Since our gas system is key to cooking, heating, and keeping our fridge cool, fixing this problem was our highest priority. At this point I was convinced it was something to do with the regulator and tank auto-switching unit. The regulator controls the flow of gas, keeping the gas flow at 30psi and 1.5kg/hr while the auto-switching unit detects when our primary gas tank is empty and automatically switches to the secondary tank. The auto-switching unit was my top suspect because it never did detect that both tanks were full. It would only ever go green on one tank despite both tanks being completely full.
The previous day, we spotted signs for a camping shop near the Leclerc, so we planned to head that way. So we packed up and headed out first thing. We reset the RCD switch after disconnecting the 230V mains, although we still had to pull the fuse on the fridge before it would work again on gas. This mystery switch really makes no sense to me yet. It will need to be further investigated when other issues are resolved.
Before leaving the campground we pulled in to dump our water tanks and take on fresh water. Having done the grey and black already it was pretty straight forward. We also opened up the fresh water tank and dumped the remainder of that water since it smelled so bad, like rotten eggs. Filling the water tank seemed to take forever and while Alison was waiting, one of the campground owners told her she needed to pay for it. I thought it was included in the overnight price, but it wasn’t. Total cost: 2€.
So Les Cytises, which the ACSI book told us would cost us €14/night, cost us at least an extra €10 for two nights. Plus we could never get the WiFi to work, reducing the value of staying at the campground in the first place. It just added insult to the frustration we were already feeling with the gas/electric situation.
While paying the 2€ for the servicing, I asked if there was anyone nearby who repaired gas systems for camping cars. It just so happened another camper was in the office at the same time and was on the phone with a small repair shop nearby, ADM Loisirs. The guy on the phone from ADM said they did work on gas systems for motorhomes and so we got instructions on how to find them, in a town called Samer.
Putting Les Cytises behind us and feeling a wee bit hopeful, we headed directly to ADM Loisirs. Naturally we missed the turn off for the ‘tout petit zone industrielle’ and had to turn around. Turning into the aptly named ‘little industrial park’, we found the repair shop tucked in back with a bunch of motorhomes parked outside.
This place is a typical garage with two guys working and a bunch of other ‘friends’ standing around chatting and ‘helping’. I walked in to the garage and got the attention of one of the mechanics. I told him the problem as best as possible in my mediocre French. Funny how in school you never learn the French words for LPG gas system parts!
After some back and forth, we agreed the regulator and auto-switching mechanism likely needed to be replaced. However, in our system there is an electric valve, controlled from the panel inside the motorhome, which turns the gas flow on and off. This switch seemed to be fused into a single unit with the regulator and auto-switching gadget so it would also need to be replaced. Unfortunately the guys at the garage didn’t have a replacement for the switch, so we decided to just replace what we could and bypass the switch.
Disconnecting the pipes and hoses was easy. However once the gas pipes were disconnected everything was still hanging off the electrical cables for the switch. Hesitant to cut the cables, the mechanic disassembled the switch to separate the electric bits from the metal. After about 30 minutes he had the system apart.
Shortly afterwards the mechanic had the new regulator and auto-switching unit connected to the two tanks. As soon as he opened the tanks you could see and hear a difference. The auto-switching unit immediately detected the pressure in both tanks, showing green on both sides. As the valves opened there was a satisfying ‘waa-chunk!’ noise which demonstrated the pressure in the tank. That had never happened with the old unit.
I turned on the gas on the stove and it worked. Turned the fridge to gas, not working. Turn on heating, not working. Uh oh. We tried a couple more times and then realized the fridge and heater were tied into the electric switch on the panel and therefore depended on the control panel switch. *sigh* The mechanic detached the new unit and reconnected the old one. Back to square one.
A big thank you to ADM Loisirs for their help. They were very nice and, because they didn’t fix the problem, they didn’t charge us for their time (or for a 25A fuse I needed for the blown circuit on our 12V plugs). Their parting advice was to keep checking at camping service centres along the way to see if they had a replacement switch to go with the regulator and tank auto-selector.
We piled back in the motorhome. I was deflated and pissed off. I had hoped this would get us back on the road again but it didn’t. We needed to have the gas work consistently and didn’t want to keep searching out service centres in the hope they might have the tools to fix it. Finally we made the hard decision to suck it up and return to Vanomobil to get this (and other problems) resolved. I called Frank and told him we would be back in 4 hours. He said they would be ready.
We put the motorhome on the highway and pushed east, back across the border. I felt like I had my tail between my legs, like I had failed at living in a motorhome. But there were just too many issues. The list included: gas not working, solar not working at all, air gap behind fridge, toilet flush still inconsistent, and the engine shuddering. Four hours later we arrived at Vanomobil.
We pulled into Vanomobil’s parking lot and found Frank waving us around back where he had a technician immediately start working on the solar issues. Not messing around, the Vanomobil technician pulled out the existing solar regulator and replaced it with a new, simpler unit. If the light is green then the solar panels are delivering power. At least now we know the panel is working!
The technician then took a look at the gas. It was agreed that it was not working properly, the auto-switching unit should detect the pressure in the tank. They drove Amelia into the garage and put it up on the lift.
While one technician dealt with the toilet flushing issue, the gap behind the fridge, and installed our 3G/4G antenna from MotorhomeWiFi, the other technician dove into the gas system. Again he didn’t mess around and replaced the switch, the regulator, and auto-switching unit. Then he sought out the Crash Protection Unit which shuts down the gas system in the event of an accident. We found the CPU under the bench behind the passenger seat and he replaced it. In the end Vanomobil replaced everything but the tanks and the pipes/hoses.
Regarding the engine, we noticed it would stutter whenever we were driving about 80km/h and applying just a bit of acceleration, like going up a small hill. Since we were back anyway, we figured we should get it looked at before continuing through France. Frank called a local Fiat garage and set up an appointment for 13:00 the next day. We would have preferred the next morning, but it was set up anyway.
After a couple hours, all the repairs had been done. The gas seemed to work, the solar was working (there is a green light), and the other repairs were complete. Now we would test it out overnight and let Frank know the next day. Although we were frustrated to have had to return to Belgium, Frank and the team at Vanomobil lived up to their warranty and jumped on top of the problems we were having. It is nice to see a company which stands by its commitments.
From Hoogstraten, we drove down to Mortsel to overnight outside our friends, Jon, Peter, and Yvo’s, house. Jon came out when we arrived and welcomed us. It was Yvo’s birthday so we let them enjoy their dinner while Alison cooked up some sausage and pasta. I still wasn’t very hungry so only ate half. After dinner we went in to wish Yvo a happy birthday and enjoyed a glass of champagne. We shared our story with them and caught up on their news. We didn’t stay long as I was exhausted and just needed to get some sleep.
It started raining as we were heading across the street and then it poured. It had been a long day, but the decision to return had been the right one.
May the 4th be with you… and us!
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