Handling your Motorhome Breakdown – Part 1

Handling your Motorhome Breakdown – Part 1

After a year of ‘engine’ issues, this week saw the conclusion to getting our Scoobie fixed, fit and finally back on the road. Such has been the drama of these unfolding events with twists and turns we thought we would put it all down in a blog.

We hope that if we can share our experiences and the lessons we learnt, potentially it could help mitigate some of your stress – should you find yourself in a similar situation. We write this not as mechanical or legal experts although as people who have learnt the hard way. Of course you must always seek your own counsel as your circumstances may not be identical to ours.

Part 1 of our Breakdown – November 2019

Our breakdown saga started one year ago. As we innocently sailed across the Mediterranean from Italy to Spain little did we know what the next 12 months would have in store for us.

It started as we headed south for our rendezvous in Dènia for a Christmas gathering with our family. A gentle loss of power past Sitges told us that something was wrong. With a call to our EU Breakdown, a local garage broke the news that it was the radiator. He duly ordered a new one for the princely sum of €1,000 plus labour. Interestingly we inspected the old radiator before we retrieved Scoobie and there were no obvious cracks or splits – so warning bells rang.

Lesson 1

I’m really not sure as we reflect back what we could have done differently. We weren’t fluent in Spanish, so how we could have challenged the repair? So we accepted the financial hit and moved on! Acceptance and trust were key to us at this point. Also clarifying with our insurers that we had accommodation cover gave us peace of mind whilst the repairs was carried out. 

Continuing problems

After just one day, the radiator began to leak again, although Myles found that the pipe at the top of the radiator had come off, so we assumed that the garage had just not put it back on tightly enough. So we popped it on, filled the radiator back up and went on our merry way. This happened to us on three more occasions; twice in Morocco and once in France en route back to UK, 3 months later. 

We class ourselves as fortunate that, knowing what we now know about our engine failure that nothing more serious happened whilst in Morocco as that could have been a whole different ball game. It did though start ringing more alarm bells as we began to think there was something more serious going on.  We started to speak to our mechanical friends to assess the possible causes. Surely it couldn’t be our engine? We had only done 56,000 miles so was hardly even run in. 

Lesson 2

If there is a pattern of repeated issues then call your Breakdown company back and explain the situation, as they hold some liability for the original call out repair and use their services to help rectify the root cause.

Of course had we done this earlier on, perhaps the scenario might have been different. Who knows and we’ll not put any energy into working that through. Potentially we could have ended up with the exact same situation although perhaps if we had picked it up with our DAS breakdown, things could have been addressed earlier.

Back on UK soil – Spring 2020

So jump forward to March 2020. When we arrived back in the UK we hoped to get straight to our mechanic to do a pressure test, although we were affected by lockdowns just like everyone else across Europe. So Scoobie was parked up and the handbrake on!

When we could finally move again we rescheduled our MOT, our damp assessment and Service back in our home town of Wellington when boom! Just 500m from Gloucester services on M5 Scoobs gave one last puff and simply stopped.  This time the pipe that had been popping off was not for turning and we had to call our Breakdown. 

Towed to our Service garage we looked on in dismay as the mechanic shook his head – this was not going to be good, we could feel it. In truth we had been feeling ‘it’ for a while. With our regular garage not fit for such a major diagnosis, we had to abandon Scoobie at a neighbouring garage, who had just started up in business and who had a large under cover workshop. We only had his word that these guys were good and on face value they seemed nice enough. Although given that no Fiat garage in the area or in Weston Super Mare would take us, we were left with no choice than to abandon him.

Two weeks later they diagnosed hairline cracks in the cylinder head, a conclusion they came to after sending the head to a professional pressure tester.  So that meant a new engine. Whilst they did suggest an option of just replacing the cylinder head,  they advised that the block (the main body of the engine) was warped and they were not confident that there wouldn’t be other associated problems within the body of the engine that could bite us on the bum further down the line. Now we wouldn’t want that now would we?

You can imagine our turmoil, especially given that the engine was barely run in! A mere 57000 on the clock! Come on Fiat – really? A set of unbelievable circumstances and clearly a Friday afternoon production that ultimately cost us £7,300 plus £1500 for the diagnostics and labour. Ouch! And of course we were well out of warranty so it was our cost to bear!

And get this…. When Fiat say you need a new engine you don’t actually get a ‘new’ engine. You get a remanufactured engine and you have to pay an additional £600 deposit for the privilege of them having your broken engine returned so they can remanufacture it and pass it onto another customer!

Lesson 3

Even with Myles’ technical knowledge we could not have known that a pipe popping off could have given us such a dramatic diagnosis. Even our mechanical friends said it was highly unlikely, especially given the additional 4000 miles we covered after our Sitges breakdown. Don’t give yourselves a hard time – it is not likely to be anything that you did.  Throw cash at it if you can and swallow that bitter pill.

3 months later – another breakdown

Imagine our delight bringing Scoobie home especially as in the July, campsites opened up again. Finally we could get a much needed break. We headed over to Tenby which was lovely although not without anxiety as we had to reconnect with Scoobs after such a tempestuous period. The lack of confidence we both experienced in silence was odd. After four years on the road, we had overcome so many challenges, although this felt big. Still things are only as big as you make them and we soon got back into a Scoobie rhythm. Surely the fan-belt whistling was nothing much to worry about.

After a mammoth effort on our renovation project, which we had invested in to get us through this Covid uncertainty, at the end of September we decided we needed a break. So we went Scotland bound for a month for a touch of RnR. What happened to that pesky fan-belt noise you might well ask? Well it got gradually worse as we sauntered up through the Staffordshire countryside. And the smell – it was like TCP – just like chemicals, was not pleasant. We limped along to a rendezvous with friends – all socially distancing of course and it was at that point that we decided Scoobie must roll no further. With the smell increasing and the noise getting worse, it was the only responsible thing to do. So Breakdown recovery called once again. We’ve seen a few of these over the years!

The recovery in itself was a drama after a series of undersized trucks visited us over the course of 24hrs. Even after an AA technician had spent 2 hours trying to diagnose the problem, his report simply said “the engine is shattered” and he recommended that we should not drive anywhere.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was vehicle number 3 that turned up to collect us. As he began to tow us onto the back of his truck, it took off our rear bumper.  It was obvious that it wasn’t going to fit, although he forged ahead regardless.  Oh the pain of hearing that grinding sound as plastic scrapes along tarmac. That sent me over the edge! They of course had no choice than to accept liability for the damage and agreed to sort out the repairs.

So vehicle number 4 came and went and number 5 finally was a low-loader that could take Scoobs to the nearest Fiat garage who we had secured an appointment with. Why a Fiat garage you may well ask? Given our remanufactured engine came with a one-year warranty, we needed to keep within the Fiat network to protect that warranty, just in case it was their fault.

With emergency accommodation secured (with our Breakdown cover we are entitled to up to £500 accommodation expenses) we waited for a diagnosis. We had to pay £270 for that diagnosis and after a nail biting day – sat like nervous parents we got our answer… It was a mis-threaded bolt on the EGR valve. A fault they concluded that lay in the hands of the garage who had fitted our ‘new engine’  a mere three months earlier.  Now that was the trigger for a series of events that is a blog all by itself and will come in a follow up.

 

Breakdown Top Tips

So from these experiences what have we learnt that we can share with you?

  • If your vehicle is still under a Fiat Warranty (normally 2 years on a new vehicle), then make sure you use their Vehicle Assist Breakdown cover. If you don’t and your Breakdown Recovery take you to a garage outside of the Fiat network any claim will be null and void.
  • If you have an EU breakdown and you are not satisfied with the service/repair or something else goes wrong soon after the repair, then speak to your breakdown company immediately and question their diagnosis. It may prevent a string of unfolding events at a point in the future.
  • When taking out UK and EU breakdown cover, find out whether you get emergency accommodation cover and if so how much are you covered for. We have had to use this cover twice and it has been a lifeline given this is our full-time home.
  • If you suspect that you need a ‘new engine’ at any point in your motorhome ownership and are in UK, ask for a second opinion as it is a costly affair. If we ever had to repeat this exercise we would pay for an independent assessor from someone like DEKRA (0800 334 5678) www.dekra-expert.co.uk.
  • DEKRA offer an independent report for around £200 that will provide you with a diagnosis. It could be money well spent. We are often at the mercy of the garages we go to and if you are not familiar with the business, then this independent report could be vital.
  • Remember that a new engine does not mean new. It means remanufactured. Do not buy a reconditioned one that will undoubtedly be cheaper on Ebay as you are not guaranteed quality or a faultless product. Go to your manufacturer, you will pay a premium although you will get an extended warranty and a better quality product.
  • Once you have your ‘new engine’ fitted, we suggest that you take a week to travel around in close proximity to the garage to test it out. Within a couple of hundred miles, you should tease out any teething problems and you will be able to return it immediately to the fitting garage for assessment and immediate repair.
  • Make sure you keep all receipts in case they are needed as evidence for a claim against a garage.
  • When you register a call out with your Breakdown company, if your vehicle is over 6m make sure you specifically request a low-loader otherwise you may get the wrong size vehicle. Also we strongly recommend that you ask for an AA Technician to attend your vehicle in the first instance in case the problem can be diagnosed and fixed without needing garage repairs.
  • If the Recovery firm damage to your vehicle as they attempt to load you, make sure you take a video and photographic evidence of the damage so that you can secure admission of liability. Take their phone number, owner’s or MD’s name and email so that you can immediately attach damage evidence and get liability in writing from them.

 

So like most things in life, there is always a lesson and we have sat patiently in our classroom absorbing the teachings. As if this wasn’t enough, our next series of tests took us down a more legal route that shall share in our next instalment. We really hope that our experiences might help you in the future. 

 

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Herefordshire Interactive Map

Herefordshire Interactive Map

With Covid keeping us grounded for the moment, we have had the opportunity to explore the area right beneath our noses.  Herefordshire is a stunning region; home of cider, stunning countryside, Areas of outstanding natural beauty and a river that meanders from its source at Plynlimon, Wales to Chepstow.  There is just so much to uncover.

We continue to be humbled by how your local area can offer so much and yet with it on your doorstep it is often the least likely place to explore. There’s some sort of psychology that says an exploration has to be far afield. Not so, as we show you in our latest Interactive Map. We’ve stretched the boundaries a little beyond just Herefordshire, although all within an easy circumference. We hope that if you are ever passing you take the  time to stop and explore this little pocket rocket county which has so much to offer. 

Check out our Interactive route map below.

Step inside Herefordshire and come with us as we explore various points of the River Wye, find unique medieval treasures, castles, fabulous walks and Areas of outstanding natural beauty. Symonds Yat, Ross on Wye, Hereford, Hay on Wye, Crickhowell, Tintern Abbey to name just a few temptresses. As our travel is twarthed beyond the Channel, perhaps the UK can offer us some alternative beauty to appreciate. Click on our gallery below for a bit of a visual teaser. 

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Morocco in Pictures

Morocco in Pictures

We were so inspired by Morocco; its landscape, people’s spirits and culture that it brought my imagination alive and my camera’s heart beat faster than ever before. So as we compiled our Morocco by Motorhome ebook, it felt appropriate to put together just one album of all our favourite images from our month there is February 2020. I took hundreds of images and I really wanted to showcase them in one special place.

We hope you enjoy our tour of Morocco through my camera’s lens.

Click on the image below. You may need to wait a few moments whilst it loads due to the megaloads of pictures I couldn’t resist including. Although if you experience any difficulties viewing it on any device, then click here.

Life in Lockdown – Life in Micro

Life in Lockdown – Life in Micro

As we shut the door after our epic journey from southern Spain, the echo of Boris’ lockdown message rang in our ears. Within hours we had managed to secure our safety for the next three months at least. Relief washed over us like a cascading waterfall and the intensity of the situation was almost overwhelming.

Whilst we had little to make the house a home, we have learnt to live more simply.  This is one of our biggest travel lessons. The simplicity that has graced our lives has had an immense impact on us both, although me particularly. It still shocks me to see the amount of ‘stuff’ stored in our lockup. Did we really need all those things to be happy? Well we soon learnt that happiness doesn’t lie within the fabric of a house, a bread-maker or a set of pictures. It comes from inside of us, when we align with our most important values; freedom, choice and simplicity.

As we transferred our bits and pieces from Scoobie, who sat snugly on the driveway we set out to create our comfort zone. The last three weeks had been fringed with a nervous static that, in our high alert status, neither of us had really appreciated. Combining that static with relief – wow what partnership that was. It felt like the colliding of the seas we witnessed in Grenen in Denmark last year. Neither one winning the battle, although tempestuous waters none the less.

Yet that night in March saw the flood-gates open; so often what happens when our flight and fight reactions surrender to the safety of our secure ground. No more looking over our shoulders, no more tension or uncertainty about whether we would make it back in time. We were in our own little bubble. Close enough to my mum to support her from a distance and yet in a haven of safety, the price of which is hard to estimate. In our four years on the road, we have rarely felt threatened. We’ve had a few unnerving moments, although nothing to really make our hackles rise. Yet now with this invisible enemy, the presence of which hangs in the air, we were definitely feeling a tightening of the strings. So having somewhere safe to be was really priceless. We knew intuitively that this is where we were meant to be – for however long was needed. We could ride out the storm here.

With relief making itself at home, we were free to work out how we were going to structure our lockdown experience. We developed a strategy to support mum and her partner with the things that they needed most and we set about fine tuning our daily routines. A lie in, some work, a freshly made juice and a walk at 3.00pm for an hour. Although more pressing was the urgency for some creature comforts like some cosy chairs to sit on and a fridge/freezer. 

Sadly Scoobie’s slopey position meant that our fridge/freezer no longer worked, so we had to quickly resolve this before I lost all my freshly purchased provisions. To my amazement I really struggled to find anything suitable. Who would have thought that there would have been not only a lack of toilet rolls, also white goods? There wasn’t a  fridge freezer to be found anywhere. So as luck would have it we were  recommended an online firm that could help us. A mini fridge was secured and within 24hrs had arrived. And just in time as my freezer compartment had started to melt. Three days later, with all the excitement of a puppy, our chairs turned up in two surprisingly small boxes. As we opened the two cardboard presents, Myles first reaction was – ‘Where are the legs?’ Alas there were no legs! Oh my how we laughed, no wonder the price was so reasonable. Legs would clearly have been another £100 at least! So you can imagine how toned our leg muscles are now, as we raise ourselves from these floor level seats. 

Life in Lockdown once the practical stuff had been sorted, became a life in micro. Blessed with the best spring weather since 1897, we nourished ourselves in the sunshine on Scoobie’s deckchairs and watched the starlings go about their nesting business. I never realised how their songs could replicate that of a buzzard to ward off predators although also, more disconcertedly, the sound of an ambulance. Quite what survival method that offers I’m not sure. And when I close my eyes, I can almost imagine that their song is that of a golden oriel, transporting me to the heady heights of Greece or Bulgaria. 

We watched each day as the skies cleared from the fumes of airplanes and tuned into how the cacophony from the orchestral dawn chorus seemed somehow more noticeable. Spring felt like such a wonderful season to be forced to be still. Whist of course being static would not be a choice to the rolling wheels of our nomadic chariot, being in one place for long enough to watch spring unfold has been a complete blessing.  To see how the blossom ruled the trees and watch their leaves slowly unfurl, given the forest’s new shapes and textures.  Nature has truly been a privilege to witness from such a micro perspective. There are indeed some silver linings to the lockdown.

As the days morphed into weeks, we found our groove. Our fortnightly shopping expeditions became an art. Despite each visit delivering a drama (lost car keys, smashed wine bottles and a puncture), we managed to navigate our entry into the unsafe zone with the deftness of a gazelle. Our diving into Aldis once a fortnight had a strategy so finely tuned that Field Marshal Montgomery would have been proud. A trolley each, one for us and one for our family, we dashed through the store respecting our 2m distances reducing our shopping from a mooch to more of a Supermarket Dash feel about it.

Back in the safety of our home, we slowly saw our creativity being boosted to new heights. Thanks to Mother Nature, in our kitchen, foraged efforts have been converted into fresh and nutritious offerings; nettle soup and quiche, spinach and potato soup when we had a glut of both, dandelion massage oils, dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. With limited resources, we’ve developed a more resourceful mindset as we found baking cakes an interesting experience; no scales for weighing flour has tested us, no electric whisk to mix the batter and outside in the garden, with no edge trimmers Myles has been on his knees with scissors! Although we can always get by with a dose of ingenuity and creativity. 

Although on the shadow side, seeing my mum struggle with her self-isolating was heart-breaking. The whole mental health issue is going to have the biggest impact, second to the tragedy of the deaths, of course. And this inspired me to focus on supporting like-minded souls who were struggling with lockdowns in Europe and back on home turf. So my Lockdown routines focused on putting my energy into creating some useful resources to ease people’s boredom, stay healthy and fit and connected. It’s always good to have somewhere to put your energy – more time on that meant less time thinking about the future.

So many people have asked us, as nomads for the last four years, how we are feeling being grounded. And interestingly another thing that travel has taught us is to live in the moment. This practical strategy has served us well during lockdown, given that it would be so easy for us to lament over our road trip to Turkey planned for May this year.  There is little point thinking ahead to what may or may not be; as things are changing so quickly. The media is doing its best to add fear, uncertainty and doubt, although we don’t subscribe to their mass hysteria. We choose instead to accept graciously where we are; feel grateful for the home we have and focus on doing positive things during this period of stillness. We are determined to travel again, whenever it is safe to do so and we will don our travel shoes to tread upon new soil. Our desire to explore still beats like a well-oiled heart. Although for now, we are safe, secure and still and this is how it is.

Coming next; managing the Bubble Burst as we move into easing measures of lockdown.

 

Other blogs in our Lockdown series

 

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Covid-19 – Our Journey through the Chaos – Part 2

Covid-19 – Our Journey through the Chaos – Part 2

After a dash north from the fringes of Morocco in March, we finally arrived on UK soil, heading for a period of rest and quarantine – or so we thought.

 

After our race against what felt like time and tide, the idea of being stationary for two weeks was a blissful concept. Yet landing back in UK was a double-edged sword. Whilst it was good to be back on home turf during uncertain times, we had to sail past my bestie, because we were in quarantine. There was no reassuring hug with my mum, there was no care-free relaxing with peace by our sides. Ambiguity was our only friend, an unwanted companion that hung in the air like a city smog, making its presence felt as it swirled between the trees of our New Forest Sanctuary.

It was an odd twist of fate, that I chose Setthorns Campsite as our quarantine retreat. It held so many hallmarks from my childhood. A campsite deep in the forest that brought me close to my family even though they were not there. With my dad in the heavens above and my mum way beyond arms reach, I was left with the memories of my youthful games amongst the trees. I have a sneaky feeling that we even parked up across from one of the pitches we used to stay on, during our weekends away.  It felt nurturing to be in a place where I had happily played as a child, and to feel close to my mum and dad. My inner child craved to be nurtured and embraced, yet she had all grown up and needed to find her own way in this crazy, new world.

The animals offered us some familiar comfort; we were surrounded by deer, squirrels, nuthatches and wild ponies. Each one seemingly oblivious to our plight and yet bizarrely soothing in the simplicity of their tamed presence. How odd to see nature’s heart beating to the exact same rhythm, whilst ours had gone off-the-wall. Someone was laughing on the other side of somewhere, at this strange situation, not of our making. 

See our gallery of Mother Nature’s canvas by clicking below;

As we surrendered to our quarantine and immersed ourselves into the peace of the forest, a lurking air of suspicion wafted around our bodies. A sensation that whispered, “You must not yet rest on your laurels”. We knew intuitively that the art we had mysteriously mastered of being one step ahead, was needed once more. And after a deeply connecting conversation about how a Covid future might look, we knew that our stillness needed a gentle prod. We needed to stir our resting souls and again thrust ourselves into action, as that tsunami was nipping at our heels reminding us of its presence.

It felt as if something big was going to happen soon in UK, having seen our European cousins all take evasive action against the demon of death. And so for us, there were no real surprises about the Government’s course – it was all a matter of timing. We had second guessed their policy and we were, once again, just about ahead of the game, albeit by a whisker.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants closed on that Friday night and we knew in our hearts that we must look for somewhere more long-term to stay. We have always considered ourselves houseless not homeless, although with a situation as grave as this, with the threat of campsites potentially closing, we knew we needed something more permanent to keep us safe.

Given my mum’s precarious balance on this Covid tightrope, we had to find somewhere close to her so we could support her. So we secured a near-by campsite that would shelter us, even given the worst case scenario. We had a fall-back of a house we were selling that was empty, although this was 30 miles away from mum and with no car – we contemplated the enormity of the situation. We had, we reckoned a few days to perhaps buy a car and reach our sanctuary position before the doors shut completely. And then, Sunday morning the dreaded news came. Campsites across the country became the latest victim to fall to the devil’s imposing stench.

Whilst not wanting to sound dramatic, there was a dawning – for me at least, that suddenly our security was at peril. Whilst the campsite had offered us a place to be safe, our ‘what if questions’ filled our heads. We knew in our hearts, however kind their offer to stay was, if they were inspected and we had to be evicted, we had no alternative. The tsunami was closer than ever to our wheels and our primal need for safety and security drove us into a battle strategy action to protect ourselves, first and foremost. We were reminded of the safety demonstration on board a plane, where you are instructed, in an emergency, to place your own oxygen mask before helping others. This was what we now needed to do.

In my corporate leadership training days, I often used the analogy of ‘thinking outside the box’. How apt was that advice right now? And despite the potential of this situation I am always amazed at just how resilient our primal being is. It kicks in without being asked; it just takes over and moves you into that sympathetic nervous system of fight, flight or freeze. My thoughts were as crystal clear as a highly polished diamond, my problem-solving as sharp as a sabre blade. With the precision of a chemist’s measure, my mind considered all the possibilities for us to stay safe and be close to mum; and within five minutes a solution emerged, thanks to the brilliance of one of our followers. A mere ten minutes later, we had the prospect of a rental property that had, in the last four days become empty. We spoke to the lovely landlords, explored options, agreed terms and secured a three month tenancy with a rolling month thereafter. Boom! I just love how the strands of synchronicity weave their web and conspire to create your destined next steps.

The very next morning, we launched into Phase 2, as despite having a place to go, we still had some critical actions to tick off our list and with precious little time to do it. It felt as if we were in a Hollywood movie, where impending doom was shadowing the earth and everyone was scattering like ants. Although paradoxically, we also felt as if we were one step ahead of the game, given our European escape. We had seen first-hand how quickly the world could change and, in many ways, we could see those around us almost oblivious to what we knew instinctively was coming soon! Real soon.

So with focus in our eyes and determination in our hearts we headed north; our lockup was our first call. A need to pick up some furniture as we had none in our new four walls. Reacquainted with our familiar yellow door, we retrieved a few bits that would give us some creature comforts. The beauty of our travel experiences over the last four years, is that we don’t need much – our surrender to simplicity was certainly going to pay dividends in this war against an unknown enemy. Doing a last supermarket shop was like walking through a set for an Apocalypse film as empty shelves and and just a handful of  desperate shoppers, took whatever they could to feed their families. It was a surreal experience. I’ve never seen a store so eerily devoid of people or food. Still, we managed to get what we needed and armed with supplies, a bed, our favourite rug we arrived at our new home. Scoobie snuggly fitted onto the drive within an inch of his life and with a huge sigh of relief we knew we were safe. Our lovely landlords welcomed us with open arms and we embraced the effortless coincidence as we shut the door behind us.

At 4pm we set foot in our temporary home made of bricks, and at 8pm that very same day, Boris announced the UK’s version of lockdown.  A mere four hours grace! We sank into our bed that night with the biggest sense of gratitude and relief as the enormity of the last 72 hours became real. Our high alert state could finally rest and the waters that now lapped up against our walls could no longer consume us. We were safe, secure and protected, at least for the moment.

Our mission was complete. We had had won the second battle of this war and could now ease into a new way of being with bricks and mortar as our protective walls. We drifted off into a deep sleep, immensely grateful to those who made our passage to safety so smooth. The kindness of strangers humbled us greatly and, as the following weeks would show, would continue to be a dominant feature of our fight against this invisible demon. For now we were safe; for now we could rest.

Virus 0 – The Motoroamers 2

You might also like this, in the Covid series

 

 

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