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A Night’s Wild Camping With No Electricity, Water, or Heat

Electricity generation problems in an off grid motorhome

Another day, another set of problems to overcome.

Yesterday, as we settled in for the evening, a red light blinked ominously from the control panel above the Hymer’s habitation door. It indicated that the motorhome’s 12V system was about to fail. No 12V system means no lights, no water pump, so no water, and no heating.

Fortunately, the night was mild, so we wrapped ourselves in blankets and settled down for a couple of hours watching a few episodes of one of the many sitcom box sets we keep on board. When we purchased the Hymer we decided not to install a television. Watching DVDs on a MacBook linked wirelessly to a Bose speaker is a much more pleasant alternative.

I climbed out of bed as usual at 6am and turned the gas boiler on to heat our chilled living space.  I forgot that no electricity means no heating… or water… or electricity.

We have a Honda suitcase generator to run mains appliances and to charge our batteries. When we decided to stay an extra day on the shore at Leucate I knew we were low on fuel for the Honda. I didn’t realise quite how low.

At the crack of dawn today we needed to drive to the fuel station attached to theA Carrefour supermarket in Leucate to buy petrol.

That’s when we realised that our headlights had failed… again. Both headlights have gone, as has one of the high beam bulbs. We had to drive into town with our single high beam dazzling half a dozen very unhappy motorists.

We’ve now replaced headlights four times in the last eighteen months. We suspect the ongoing problem stems from a farcical episode at a garage in Samatan last year. A simple bulb change, carried out by five mechanics over two hours, resulted in the headlights blinking when the indicators were turned on, the failure of our fuel gauge, and an odometer which now adds one kilometre to our running total every two seconds whenever the engine is running, even if we’re stationary.

A 12V system failure should be easy to prevent in the future. Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Both 90Ah AGM batteries are new. The batteries themselves shouldn’t be a problem. The issue is our slightly different lifestyle this year compared to last winter.

We’re covering fewer miles than we did last year, so we’re running our engine less often. Solar panels aren’t very efficient at this time of the year, so we can’t rely on our single 100W panel. We need to either run our generator more often, which means staying away from other people, or pay to visit aires with mains electricity. As we don’t want to spend any more, we’ll wild camp and run the Honda more frequently.

That’s the power generation problem solved. All we need to do now is find a French garage we can trust to sort out our headlights. ‘Needle’ and ‘haystack’ are two words which immediately spring to mind.

Our Hymer's basic gauge display

Our Hymer’s basic gauge display

An essential motorhome tool for off grid camping, but a heavy one at 25kg

An essential motorhome tool for off grid camping, but a heavy one at 25kg

We exchanged a blue sky for a service station canopy

We exchanged a blue sky for a service station canopy

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Brigitte February 12, 2018, 11:37 am

    oh dear. I literally could feel the cold. As Cynthia knows my VW Vanagon I (we)
    experienced how quickly it cools down. We camped most of the time wild, I do also now,
    and it gets so chilly esp in the morning. I slept often with a woolen hat. But we had a
    heater with propane gas. I don’t know how big they come, but they are handy at least if they are close to you. A Mobilhome your size I can imagine how cold it gets. And all the problems you run into!! But that is adventure, right? I wish you luck and much sun.
    Brigitte

    • Paul Smith February 13, 2018, 5:46 am

      Thirty degrees this morning was a little chilly. We have two full tanks of LPG now, so the heating is on full blast.

      Yes, our life is filled with adventure. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Peter Earley February 12, 2018, 3:12 pm

    Paul.
    From my years as an auto electrician, I would suggest you have your charging system checked. The most common cause of halogen head lamp bulbs failing is the alternator overcharging.

    • Paul Smith February 13, 2018, 6:05 am

      Thanks for the advice Pete. The problem here in France is finding someone competent to do the checking. We may have to wait until we’re back in the Netherlands before we throw too much money at the problem.

  • Ian Theodoreson February 12, 2018, 7:42 pm

    Ah, the obsession with the battery gauge! We too are living in a camper van at present, albeit in warmer climes, and have a funky fridge which is generally fine unless you park on ground which leans in one particular direction. For some reason the fridge motor then fails to activate properly and instead runs and runs, rinsing the battery but not doing anything to keep the food cold.

    • Paul Smith February 13, 2018, 6:07 am

      Oh, the joys of living in a wheeled box! Our fridge also has a mind of its own. It works, but sometimes it doesn’t switch from gas to mains if we’re on an aire hookup, and it doesn’t switch from gas to 12V when we’re driving.

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