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Category Archives: Accessories and Equipment

Tailgating…aka: Praise Be to VW Heritage…

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For as long as he has lived with us, Old Red’s tailgate struts (the bits that keep the boot hatch open) have been defunct and we have had to use brooms, planks, step-ladders and people to keep it open. This isn’t ideal as it makes access to the engine bay a little tricky, and also because the bike rack tends to drip cold water on whoever drew the “holding the boot open” short straw. So when I was asked to write a review for VW Heritage it really wasn’t difficult to think of a part that we needed.

Their website is organised by vehicle type, which makes finding parts for your bus or car a lot simpler…especially for people like me who don’t have as much experience with this kind of thing. There are also handy diagrams with a key so you can be doubly sure that you’re buying the right part. My lack of expertise made it hard for me to be certain of what I wanted (I mean, how can you search successfully for a tailgate strut if you think its real name is “boot propper-opener”?!) but all it took was a quick email to VW Heritage and I had all the help I needed.

There is also a ‘Live Chat’ feature on the website so, if you would rather open a speedy dialogue than draft an email, you have that option too.

Our parts – a pair of Meyle gas struts – arrived within days of ordering them.

It may have taken us six months to find a good day to get them fitted (I had overestimated just how much time I’d have to do van stuff once Velcro baby extraordinaire was here)…but get them fitted we did!

…finally…

So!

Removing the old struts…

This is obviously an excellent place to start.

Neither of us had much of an idea on how to do this job, so Luke had a look at the van while I had a look on Google. To say it’s an easy job would be a bit of an understatement, …he’d figured out what we needed to do (and started to do it) before the first page had even begun to load on my phone.

The struts are attached to the body of the van by a pin and a horseshoe clip (and two washers in the case of Old Red), and onto the tailgate by a ball joint with a pincer locking collar.

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…horseshoe clip and pin holding the strut to the body… (this is the cleaned clip and the new strut)

With the door propped up on a step-ladder (I don’t recommend using this method yourself as it wasn’t the safest…especially seeing as we kept walking into the ladder and dislodging it), we started by removing the struts from the body of the van.

To do this we used a flat screwdriver to push/slide/lever the horseshoe clip off the pin, freeing the end of the strut. Old Red’s clips had rusted into place but a few squirts of WD40 and some gentle taps with a hammer and screwdriver got them moving.

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The other end of the strut was even easier. You just slip your screwdriver into the back of the collar and lever it outwards to release the pincer hold around the ball stud so that you can pull it away.

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Et voila!…your strut is free.

…And on with the new…

Installing the new parts was just as simple.

Starting with the tailgate/ball joint end…you use your screwdriver to lever the collar open and hook the strut onto the ball stud.

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The collar locks securely around the ball, but we gave ours a good wiggle, just to be sure we’d done it correctly.

The other end slides back over the pin on the body…

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…and then you can replace the washers and clips (Luke cleaned ours before putting them back on) before standing back to admire your  handiwork.

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…done! Many thanks to Auntie Stephie for keeping her nephew happy while we worked…

It was such an easy job, and I just can’t explain how satisfying it is to not only have a working boot on our van (so satisfying that we opened and closed the boot many MANY times to test it out), but to actually have done it ourselves. Camping is going to be a whole new experience now, and doing work in the engine bay is going to be SO much easier…not to mention safer.

I’d like to offer a massive thank you to the guys at VW Heritage for their help in getting our first repair done. The struts are excellent quality and not only were they easy to fit, but they work superbly too. Our rear door is heavier than most (because of the huge, clunky bike rack) but it now opens and closes really smoothly, and (most importantly) it stays open without human intervention!

Now we’ve got one job off the to-do list, we’re keen to get on with more.

VW Heritage have a handy Wishlist function on their website that account holders can use to save items they want for future purchase (or in case a kind soul should want to buy you presents) so I’m going to use that to keep track of all the parts we need and want. With summer just a few weeks away we don’t have long to get Old Red back on the road, but I’m feeling really positive about our ability to get it done.

 

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The Struts Have Landed…

A while ago I was asked to write a parts review for VW Heritage, a company that stocks parts and accessories for all kinds of Volkswagen vehicles.

Old Red needs a LOT of work so it was hard to know what parts to ask for, but in the end Luke and I decided to get tailgate struts so we don’t have to rely on planks or the strength of our arms/backs to hold the door open.

They arrived yesterday morning!…

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I feel so honoured to be asked to do my first “proper” review. Luke and I will be removing the old struts and fitting the new ones ASAP…watch this space!

 

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Barefoot – Looking Back…Right Back…

***FROM THE ARCHIVE OF DRAFTS***

Despite having Old Red for over a year (*ahem* almost three), I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to packing for outings. In some ways I am brilliantly organised, sometimes usually to the point of having way too much stuff, but I’m still learning what we need and what we don’t need, and our trip to Barefoot Festival was yet another education.

What Worked…

  • Our gazebo!…last year (*ahem*…YEARS AGO) for Beat-Herder I bought a gazebo on a whim. This gazebo was NOT waterproof. Pie and I discovered this when we saw torrents of rain pouring through it and onto all our neatly stored stuff. The new gazebo has a woven plastic roof so it was much better at keeping rain out (when it wasn’t falling diagonally that is).
  • Once again, Poundland was a brilliant source of camping supplies…we got some tiny waterproof picnic rugs (just big enough for two people to put their bottoms on, or for one person to stretch their legs out) that were really light and folded up very small so they fitted in my festival bag. The main tent didn’t have any flooring so they were really useful to keep our bums dry.
  • Also from Poundland…a pack of three rain ponchos for a quid. The hoods on them were rubbish but they were easier than a coat to put on for a brisk run to the toilet, and you don’t mind leaving them outside in the rain as much as your favourite mac (we tucked ours into the roof of the gazebo).
  • Big fleecy blankets from Primark…they not only made excellent blankets (as you might expect), but they also worked really well hung from the gazebo as sunshades. We kept them up with pieces of rope (from Poundland of course) and LOTS of gaffa tape. They made our camp feel like a very cosy little den.
  • Instruments!…we took Luke’s guitar, my ukulele and an ocarina, along with quite a few music books. We had many lovely hours sitting in the sunshine and singing our hearts out.
  • Cooking for ourselves…we had a meal plan (of sorts) for the weekend, and took a BBQ along with us. We factored in a few meals out so we got to try wood-fired pizza and an amazing french-toast croissant, but ultimately we spent very little on food and ate really well. Admittedly, the fact that Luke is a chef didn’t hurt either…

Next Time We Will…

  • Remember that it’s never too early to start packing…especially if it’s camping stuff and things you don’t use on a daily basis. On the other hand, there is definitely a point when it’s too late to pack, and that point is about half an hour after you planned to leave. Next time I will try not to blur this line again…
  • Stick to the list…the list is there for a reason. If you don’t give the list the respect it deserves and put it in a pile of paper on the coffee table you are bound to have to go home for pillows and coffee presses, and you’ll end up spending the entire weekend buying tea at £1.50 a cup and having to barter for tiny sachets of sugar…

And We Will Take…

  • MORE BEER!!…we didn’t bring enough so we ended up buying 6 pint bottles of cider from the beer tent on our last night. That set us back twenty-four quid. TWENTY FOUR QUID!
  • More tarpaulins and blankets to make rain/wind/sun shields for the gazebo…and more rope! We took a small bundle but nowhere near enough to make an adequate ‘den’. Our den kept falling apart.
  • Pegs!…both of the clothes and tent variety. These would also have been very useful in the construction of sun/rain shields.
  • More instruments…like drums and a tambourine and maracas. Guitars and ukuleles are ace, but it would have been nice if everyone (kids included) could have joined in an made some noise!

……………………………………………….

The majority of this post was written not long after Barefoot Festival, some time in the summer of 2013. Now it’s March 2015, I’m three months pregnant and I’m very aware that the next time we go to a festival we will probably have our little one in tow (unless, by some miracle, we manage to make it to a festival this summer…when I’m six months pregnant) so we’ll have a whole new set of things to take into consideration.

On one hand I’m very excited at the thought of the adventures and fun the three of us will have together.

On the other hand, I’m already wondering what essential stuff we’ll forget this time…

 

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Oh dear! What’s With the Battery?…

If you hadn’t already guessed, the title of this post is to be sung to the tune of “Oh dear, what can the matter be?”

In my last post of last year I said that one of the things on our to do list was to get Old Red’s battery out and get it charged. An easy job you might assume? Well, not as it turned out…

Had it been left to me (Mrs Procrastination Pants) it would never have gotten done, but my husband is a “can do, will do” kind of man. The kind of man, in fact, who will think of a job that needs doing and actually get up and do it. My usual stance on things it to think of them, feel too lazy to do anything about them and decide to do them tomorrow. Maybe. Or possibly some day after that. If I can be bothered.

Last summer we needed to use Red as a spare bedroom, but he was facing down-hill, meaning that our friends either faced a difficult climb into bed or sleeping with all the blood rushing to their heads. As such, we needed to turn the van round. Being the “can do, etc etc” man that he is, Luke realised this, found a socket set, removed Red’s battery, and stuck it on the battery charger in the twinkling of an eye.

Many people will tell you that it’s impossible to reverse the polarity of a battery. They’ll tell you that it’s a myth. Well, I can tell you right now that those people are wrong.

Red’s battery had gone beyond flat. It was dead. As dead as dead can be. Flat as a pancake that’s been run over by a steam roller. As it turns out, when there is ZERO charge in a battery you can INDEED reverse the polarity of it if you put the leads on the terminals the wrong way round. This RUINS the battery by the way. Read more about it here.

Now, it must be noted that I am in NO WAY blaming my Mister for this. After all, had it been left to me the battery would still be in place – completely dead – and the van would still be pointing down-hill.

As it is, we had to bump-start the old boy (not an easy task…pushing was required) to get him moved, and now we need a new battery, but it’s not actually all that bad really is it. Plus we’ve learnt that the myth of reversing the polarity of a battery is not a myth at all! It’s just a shame we had to learn the hard way…

 

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Killing Mould…Again…

Last year I wrote a post about having to get rid of mould from some of the textiles in Old Red.

I promised myself last year that I would empty the van for winter, and make sure that it got aired out properly every week, but that plan never really came into being, and so everything that was in the roof conversion (and therefore, out of the sunlight) had gotten spotted in that horrible white dusty mould again. I felt awful that I hadn’t learnt my lesson last time, and that I’d neglected Old Red so badly…

Mould on the seatpad from the rock'n'roll bed, which I'd stored in the roof...

Mould on the seatpad from the rock’n’roll bed, which I’d stored in the roof…

...and mould on the mattress from the bed in the roof...

…and mould on the mattress from the bed in the roof…

Luckily, it wasn’t too bad (although the pictures don’t do it justice), and there wasn’t any mildew so there was no terrible staining.

Like last time, I made up a solution of water and vinegar in a spray bottle. I didn’t have any white/white wine vinegar this time, so I made do with cider vinegar, but this was a LOT more stinky. Last time, the smell faded, so I’m hoping that’ll happen again this time!

I used a stiff bristled brush to get rid of the visible mould, but this time I remembered to cover my face to avoid breathing in too much nasty stuff…

I'm coming to get you Spores!...

I’m coming to get you Spores!…

My sister and her boyfriend both offered me a dust mask, but I was far more amused by my tea-towel bandito look.

Once I’d scrubbed as much as I could I sprayed all the mouldy surfaces and let the mattresses sit and dry in the sun, turning and spraying as necessary.

The mattresses look much better now, but they’re still a bit stained and tired looking after many years of use (by many people) and could really do with a refresh. We don’t have plans for a journey out any time soon, so new foam and upholstery has been added to our to-do list.

 

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That Really Grinds My Gears…

We left Barefoot on Monday, July 29th, heading for the sea with another day of holiday ahead of us. As I said before, we hadn’t wanted the festival to end, and so we’d set off for the east coast with Kings Lynn and the seaside in our sights.

We didn’t have a campsite booked (or even planned) and we weren’t even sure of where we were going, and so when we spotted a sign for a farm shop we turned off the beaten track and onto a country road. The fabled ‘shop’ was a van on the side of the road that sold a few rotten looking vegetables, so we kept on going to civilisation and eventually found ourselves pulling into an Aldi store in Wisbech.

We pulled into the car park with no problem and headed inside to buy all the essentials that we needed for the night and morning ahead (bacon, sausuages, a kite and a diabolo…as you do) and prepared to get back on the road.

…and that’s when we hit our first problem…

I’ve moaned about my clunky 5-speed gearbox and difficult gear-stick before. I always have trouble getting it into first and reverse is almost impossible…but this time it was a million times worse. Instead of plain old refusing the slide up into reverse, the stick was kind of twisting and bending in a very worrying manner. It felt like it was broken. After pulling up the collar and giving it some closer inspection, we found out that is WAS indeed broken…

The weld that connected the stick to the linkage was not only very badly done, but was also cracking and letting the stick turn around on it’s thread. Oh dear,…

Rather than try and force it into reverse and break it completely, Luke pushed us out of the space and I got the van into first, planning on limping it to a nearby garage.

…and that’s when we hit our second problem…

Just as we were pulling away the gear stick went SPLAT on the floor of the van and we were stuck in first. Oh deary dear…

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And so, at 5.15pm, just 15 minutes before most garages close, over 100 miles from home, we pulled into another parking space and began ringing around to find someone who could help us…to no avail. Eventually we called the RAC thinking that our adventure was over before it had begun.

The RAC man arrived incredibly quickly, and was a lot more helpful than we’d imagined he’d be. He told us that he couldn’t tow us (they’d done their usual trick and sent an entirely unsuitable response vehicle out), but he was more than willing to get us into second gear and limp us along to a garage. Not only that, but he knew a garage nearby that might still be open, which was on the same estate as his mate’s welding company. Result. If the garage was closed then we’d have to camp there overnight and his friend would be more than happy to weld us back together in the morning.

It was a great plan, until he realised how difficult it was going to be to get the van into second gear, and so he asked me to start the engine to see if that made it easier…

…and that’s when we hit our third problem…

Old Red wouldn’t start.

Nothing.

The hazard lights wouldn’t even come on anymore. The battery was dead, maybe from the fridge being set to 12V throughout the journey, or the fact we didn’t have an earthing strap attached to the bodywork. The helpful RAC man started us up by connecting jump leads to the battery and the bodywork…

…and that’s when we hit our FOURTH problem…

He didn’t connect the bulldog clip to just the bodywork. No. He connected it to the bodywork via one of our fuel pipes. It was only when Luke asked why there was diesel spilling everywhere that he even noticed he’d done it. Needless to say, I was not overly impressed with him at this point and time was marching on.

Before too long the pipe was trimmed and reconnected, we were in second gear, and we were following silly Mr RAC man out of the car park and along the four miles of road to the garage. At 10 miles an hour. It was 6.20pm by this point and I was already looking at nearby hotels and trying to work out if we could afford to sleep somewhere that had a toilet, rather than in a car park. There was no way we were going to get to the seaside that night…

And then we pulled up here…

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Michael Motors, Unit 1, 62 Weasenham Road, Wisbech PE13 2RU…if you are ever in Wisbech and in need of the help of a mechanic, these are the guys to turn to! Admittedly, the first guy Luke spoke to said ‘tomorrow’ in a very gruff voice, but his colleague very helpfully pointed out that they were there, and we were there, and they might as well do it right then so that we could get on our way and not have to camp on their forecourt overnight. 

And into the garage we went…

Back in a garage...again...

Back in a garage…again…

One earthing strap, a bit of expert welding, and £50 later, and we were ready to roll again. I was beside myself with joy (and, honestly, disbelief) and thanked Michael and Thomas for their kind help. Luke tried to give them extra money for a drink but they refused on the grounds that if they drank they wouldn’t be around to do late-night fixes. They’d be at the pub.

I called them angels but they refused that too and said that they like to help wherever they can. Michael told me that he’d once leant his car to a woman for three days because she’d broken down with her kids in the car and he didn’t have time to fix it for her then and there. Once again, I told them they were angels.

Back in one piece again!...for the time being

Back in one piece again!…for the time being

…and so our mini seaside adventure began…

 

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Red Battery Condition Light of DOOM…

I may or may not have said before, but Old Red, brilliant as he may be, doesn’t have a leisure battery. I’d done a lot of reading online and had kind of expected that I would need one, seeing as it’s not usually a good idea to drain and charge your vehicle’s starter battery with any regularity. Sadly, I had fallen so in love with the big burgundy beast that I hadn’t even asked if he had one (foolish!), so I was in for a bit of a shock when I went to pick him up from the garage….but it seemed to be ok! The guys at the shop assured me that they (nor their customers) had suffered battery trouble while out in Old Red, and that I shouldn’t have any problems.

…and they were right! Sort of…

Red has a battery condition metre fixed into his wall, which allows you to operate the lights and water pump, whilst keeping an eye on how quickly the power is draining. In all the adventures I’ve had with Red so far, the light has stayed green, no matter how much music I’ve listened to, or phones I’ve charged. It was only after 7 months sat on the driveway, having the lights turned on and off periodically, that the light changed to red.

I was hoping that the runs to and from the garage, and the 60 mile trip to Loughborough would have charged the battery back up enough to keep us going for the whole weekend, but it seems that I hoped in vain. We played music from the moment we began setting up camp, charged both of our phones, had the lights on after dark, and generally revelled in electricity. The red light of doom was on before the first night was out, proving either that we hadn’t charged the battery enough or that it has dramatically dropped condition since last year…I don’t know which, but I hope it’s not the latter.

One thing to note is that when we pulled the phone charger out of the socket the light went back to green again. I’m guessing that this means the light came on to let us know the drain was too much? Later on, when we were a little less sober and were only using the lights, we took to switching the power to the van off and back on every time the light went red. This ‘cured’ the problem for a short while each time, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a way to extend battery power.

I didn’t think we had the room for a leisure battery (I hear they’re rather large), but as I said in my last post, we were lucky enough to meet a couple at Barefoot Festival who gave us some great advice on powering our van.

They had a leisure battery built into a wooden box, with all the points properly wired in and up to an 80w solar panel that they fixed onto the roof of their van. They stowed it all in the van when necessary, but when they were camped up they set it all up and ran not only their phone chargers and music system, but also powered a load of LED lights for their festival stall.

Hopefully we’ll get the chance to give Red a really really good run before the year is out so that we can test how well the battery recharges. If it turns out that it is in bad condition and won’t hold a charge, then at least we know there are options out there for a more reliable source of power. It’s going to cost us around £100 for a decent solar panel (hopefully they’ll be even cheaper by the time we get round to it) and a quick google search tells me that a battery will be around £60-100. All we (Luke) will need to do is build a box for it and wire the whole shebang up.

Simple…

 
 

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