Saturday, September 7, 2013

Roll On, Roll Off...

Hindsight is a funny thing.  For example, I notice how the RORO of Roll On, Roll Off ships make no mention about the rest of the systems working when it rolls off.  Just that it has rolled off.  As Martha has mentioned in a previous post, when Landshark arrived, a few things weren't working.  And by a few, I mean a lot of things.  Perhaps most.  I should be thankful that the engine ran as soon as I turned the key.  Anyway, here's the list of what wasn't working:

  • Interior lights
  • Heating/Cooling from the engine
  • Heating/Cooling for the house
  • Radio, Wipers, Mirrors
  • Dashboard fans
  • Water pump (therefore all water)
  • Refrigerator
  • Slides
  • Levels display
  • Generator
  • Other things I'm sure I'm forgetting

In other words, it was not habitable.  Yes, I could drive it.  But clearly a lot was wrong.  And we were 9 hours off of the timezone of the person who has done all of our repair work previously.  And Tiffin didn't even answer the phone when we were on the lot in Red Bay.  Well, it could be worse.  We could be offshore on a boat with a similar level of system failures.  How does a "perfectly working" RV go to this state?  Does it really matter?  No.  Just have to start fixing things.

Fortunately, I spent a few hours researching and finally buying a mifi device for the UK after trying all possible options to leverage one of our 4 "personal hotspot" devices to actually deliver the internet.  Between incorrect antenna configurations for the UK, Apple licensing policy, lack of a sufficiently strong business plan for the 6+ cell phone providers, etc.; buying yet another device was the only way to go.  Landfill companies love mobile phone companies.  To the mobile phone companies' credit, I was able to reuse my horrible "smart" phone with just a new sim card.

So, we had the internet.  Any searches along the lines of "massive electrical system failure for motorhome" didn't work out.  Stupid internet.  Finally I started looking for anyone in my timezone with Tiffin experience.  Somehow I was connected with a tech at Signature Motorhomes.  I'm sure it was the plaintive pitch of "we just picked up our RV in Southampton and NOTHING works" which cut through crucial details such as "did you buy it through us?"  Evidently, this one company is responsible for 90+% of American Motorhome sales in the UK and they couldn't imagine anyone being dumb enough to ship one themselves.  Clearly they do not know us very well.

Given the massive system failure, we narrowed it down to the 12v system having gone horribly, horribly wrong.  So, we worked our way to the engine.  Things seemed fine, at least as far as that was concerned.  We headed to the side section and I got to learn what a solenoid looks like (I learned what it did by surfing wikipedia later).  It wasn't powering the 12v house system.  Ah, but it wasn't being powered.  Thus within about 30 minutes, we tracked it down to a 250amp fuse which had blown.  I don't know much about electricity, but having carried a 50amp cable around to power the rig, I cannot imagine what would cause a 250amp fuse to blow.  I'm glad I wasn't touching it at the moment.  (The tech's theory is that someone ran the engine batteries to 0, and then clicked on the "use house system" and the 6 batteries there blew the fuse...  I could see why those 480 amps could blow the 250...  I think I'm going to replace that button on the dash with a separate launch key control...  And I definitely have to buy another replacement fuse!)

I tracked down some jumper cables from a random dockworker (with the number of items which were stolen from our rig, I now wonder if these were bought bought by that dockworker...  but I digress), and we proved that if the fuse is replaced, the lights inside turn on.  Water pump works.  Levels sensor works.  Even a slide works.  That should do it.  Ah, but then I tested the generator.  Nothing.  Still won't turn on.  Another 30 minutes of troubleshooting and it appears that the generator internal fuse was shot.  Excellent. A simple 15amp fuse, a 250amp fuse and we'll be all set.  I thank the tech (I'm keeping his name private to protect him), and unfortunately, never talk to him again.

We head to the hotel.  We eat.  We sleep.  We wake.  We eat again.  It is time to track down some parts.  The internet is useless for finding something within driving distance, so for the first time in nearly 2 decades, I pick up the phone to start asking if shops have what we need.  Amazingly, the 2nd shop had exactly what I needed.  I'm off on an adventure of driving on the left side of the road.  It is surprisingly straightforward, but it does take a while to drive there and back.  I try to buy extra spares, but they have only one of this fuse.  Apparently there isn't much call for it.  Bought a few of the others.  Can't hurt.  We rally the family and head to the rig.  I replace the parts, and we appear to be all set.  The fact that the heating & air conditioning in back isn't working seems like a minor issue, it's got to be 78 degrees here at the coast!  And we've been getting strange looks from the dock workers.  It's time to go.  We drive off to our first campsite of the trip!!!!

< driving montage, smiling and singing family (singing because the radio still isn't working...  And someone stole the aux plug...  Anyway) >

Campground looks great.  I park in the wrong spot, I nearly take out a sign moving the rig about, but I don't care.  We're here.  We're livin' the dream.  And everything except for the radio (as far as I know), is good.  I lower the jacks, and press the slides out button.  Nothing.


I swear I tested the slides.  And then I remember, I tested the back driver's slide.  The "odd" slide.  The one that doesn't use the same mechanism as the other 3.  Lovely.  Well, at least we can take out that one slide.  And that will give us access to quite a bit more of the rig.  And pleasantly enough, we found that nothing from that part of the rig appears to have been stolen (see Martha's post on stolen items).  So, the fix list is down to:

  • 3 slides
  • Heating / Air Conditioning in the house
  • Radio

It's late.  We eat, we sleep and in the morning, we drive on.  I'm sure we can figure these things out in the afternoon.  We're used to 400 mile days of driving.  But clearly the UK is not used to letting people drive 70mph for hours on end.  We barely manage 150 miles before we're exhausted.  Or I should rephrase, before I'm exhausted.  I have no idea where Martha is.  I lost her 100 miles ago when she passed me.  Fortunately, we decided on our destination before we left that morning.  I'm quite sure she'll find us.  (SPOILER alert:  she does)  After about an hour at the new campsite (a great farm where they make ice cream and have a 30 pitch RV park), she rolls in.  Between a truck hugging my bumper, roundabout excitement and 15 miles to the nearest turnabout point; Martha & James had a lovely drive through Oxford while I had to beat through traffic on the M6 in Birmingham.  Such is life.

The next day I focus on troubleshooting.  After calling my contact at Signature Motorhomes 4 times to no avail and reading up a tutorial on micrometers, I start working my own way through the rig.  The slides were definitely funky.  It seems to me that someone had plugged in a relay incorrectly.  What I relay was before that day, I did not know.  But with the help of the internet and an electrical schematics book (THANK YOU to whoever thought to include that with the Tiffin motorhome!), I was able to narrow it down, swap one wire position and get the slides going.  Feeling good about that, it occurs to me that maybe the heating issue is as dumb as the fuses in both thermostats.  It IS!  On a high from that, I pull out the radio and it turns out that there is a fuse and that it too was blown.  And better yet I have the radio fuse (same as the generator fuse, and I bought 5 of those).  So as Mom and Paul drive in from their day of shopping, I was able to raise my arms in triumph with slides out and the radio blaring the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana (aka theme from Raging Bull) in full glory.  It was a very good day.

I wake the following day confident that a little bit of calling will get the heat going.  To be on the safe side, I call two shops and confirm they have both fuses.  I head out on the road.  First shop, I get a really bad feeling.  The guys at this electrical supply shop have never seen a fuse this size.  Certainly not this amperage.  They advise going to Maplin.  I get to the second shop, and he has the right amperage (or so we think), but wrong physical size.  He gives me a couple for free "just because you look like you need some help, mate."  I start heading to the Maplin only to discover that I do not have my wallet.  Blast.  Drive back, eat lunch.  I gingerly test out the fuse and the heater blower turns on.  Bingo.  Find the right size fuse and we'll have heat.  Finding the Maplin proves to be quite a challenge, but I do replace several items that were stolen as well as buy Martha a new cell phone before I find the Maplin.  (FWIW, I'm using the mnemonic device of repetition to help ensure that I remember what will likely become my favorite store in the UK -- Maplin.)  They have the fuses and after a bit of shopping at the Tesco, I'm back at the rig.  Fuses are in, and the blowers turn on.  It's going to be warm tonight!

Not really.  Thermostat in the morning said 57.  Fahrenheit.

Still had to sort out getting the gas flowing (just like I had to do with the range & hot water heater -- hardly worth mentioning amidst the drama of missing parts above)...  First attempt killed what was left in the house batteries in the morning.  After getting the generator going, blew through a few 200ma fuses before I switch to the 2amp fuses.  But once the gas was primed, heat was coming out.  Air conditioning too.

Victory was mine.

In a future episode, I'll regale you with my attempts (and someday success!) to get a 110v 50amp rig working on 240v/16amps.  But for now, things are basically working and we're able to roll down the highway and spread out in camp.  Life is good.

Post trip update on the above.  When you go overseas, it's a very good idea to learn how to use a multimeter and to learn your rig.  Stuff will break.  As sailing cruisers say, cruising is fixing things in exotic ports.  And as you can see above, I got to do that and more on the trip.  And I would add that having books in addition to a good internet connection and electricity is a great idea.  Because books don't need power.  And spare fuses are never a bad idea.


  1. quite the adventure in electrical troubleshooting!

  2. I've come to realize why one typically pays so much more for hotels and the like when traveling. They ensure that everything is working (and clean!).