An Idiots Guide to Being Unplugged – Oldies at Large

Top snowy

Tweaking and refining systems in the van and cruiser is a constant and ongoing task when you live on the road full time. There are endless little tasks from lubricating the moving bits and pieces to rotating tyres and checking systems etc. Living with solar as we do, complimented by gas systems and backed up by the trusty genny life can get complicated at times, this particularly when you struggle with living Un-plugged at the best of times.

It took us any number of years to understand the different systems, endless conversations and constant enquiry, comparing the many varied systems used by different rigs on the road and it is a lot of fun learning about the ways and means by which others manage. That we find ourselves often in isolated places, where services are hard to find and resources often scarce, has taught us many things because, essentially, we depend on battery power. Batteries for the camera, for the computer and least of all for the Caravan or RV and the trusty fridge… gotta have those ice cubes come 5pm.

Forbie header

We spend a lot of time in the warmer climes, so this restricts the fridge we can rely on. Three way fridges are wonderful, but their performance is very relevant to ambient temps, or the climates you find yourself in. The compressor fridge is more independent and can take a greater beating but then this too depends on just how much you depend on frozen and cold storage. For us it is about volume and warm climates. Our van fridge/freezer is huge… and when we head outa town it’s commonly chocka’s.

Rainforst campWe do carry a backup, portable fridge freezer, which lives in the car and has its own independent battery and this has been a godsend at times, particularly when you are transporting a meat supply for friends in remote regions… bulk fresh meat is a biggie. You see we also will abandon the van and head for the hills in a swag, or in the trusty camper-trailer, though we feel we are getting a little long in the tooth to manage the family camper these days. So more often than not the choice is the swag and a comforting tent. It is then, that we rely on our trusty little portable fridge/freezer the most.

It did take ages for me to come to terms with the large compressor fridge in our van. It is a monster and I have a love hate relationship with the thing. But now we are on companionable terms having come to realise that the fridge is only as good as its primary power supply. The solar! Thank god for the genny.

You see we spend long periods of time, indeed most of our time unplugged and off the mains supply. Not being a lover of the caravan park, we travel more independently, more often than not. As I have mentioned before… we often go where there simply are no caravan parks so this choice is a practical one. Holidays are not our destination… for us travelling is a lifestyle and this is the life style we love. For many months we have known that we really had to revisit the power issues. The van wasn’t performing as it should and finding the right person to advise us has been a major issue.

The common adage is… ‘You cannot have too many solar panels’ we have found is something which the system designers don’t always agree with, despite system installers using this as a yard stick advice. It is about power in… power out… balanced by input relative to night and day. Sort of sounds like a diet I know well doesn’t it?

Then if the system is failing there are those who advocate more power in… ie: a backup power feed from the car when you’re travelling. Yep… been there done that. We have recently discovered though that many manufacturers wire the vans with the minimum wire strength… it’s a production cost thing, this coupled with a balance between feed and need.

On the edge of desperation The Man decided that we really needed to test the solar panels as well as the car feed, when they work in together, and so began the hunt for a systems designer. You see the feed from the car to the van batteries was not sufficient to back up the solar, despite the distances we had recently travelled and the solar too seemed to be flaky at its best. The genny was getting too great a workout and we have learnt a few valuable things along the way. So I thought I might share our revelations with you and as such the two main ones are:

  • There is a fuse in the caravan that governs the charging feed from the car. We over time have found that the wiring in the van, is commonly weaker than that found in a car. This fact blew the fuse and for months we have been driving around with a blown fuse, one we didn’t even know we had. Consequence… no back up power feed from the car to charge the battery bank in the van when we travel. Who knew?
  • The solar feed was the next problem… every specialist we went to told us a different thing but the most common advise was that if you have 4 batteries then you should have four panels (we had 3). This is a common perception. Not necessarily so… it’s the power in power out thing as the systems designer we chased up, put it.

One thing no-one thought to do though was test the power feed coming from the panels. Our panels we knew were good quality, barely 15yrs old since manufacture, they should be OK. Wrong… When someone actually got up there and for the first time in 5 years tested the output we found that they had mostly broken down. We don’t know why and given the development in solar over the last 15yrs we decided it was time for an upgrade. The lesson learnt is when you think something needs testing… don’t be talked out of asking them to test it!

We hope that it is all systems go again now after a somewhat long journey through all things unplugged. The new panels are in place and the wiring has been upgraded. We even replaced the Anderson plug and upgraded the fuse capacity to reflect the wiring up grade… and the batteries were only replaced a year or so ago. Things are looking much better… so fingers crossed.

Melbourne

On the subject of ‘all things battery’ a computer tech (yes… having battery trouble there too) recently explained to me that the battery is like a muscle… the more you use it then the less you are likely to loose it. So his advice was to unplug! Suites me fine.

fashionWhile all this was going on though I did have time on my hands to do something that is close to my heart. You see we are in and around Melbourne and to my delight I found there was a collection in town at the ‘National Gallery of Victoria’. It is the 200yrs of Australian Fashion, which runs from 8th March through to the 31st of July and it was a delight to wander though.

fashion 2Time is a precious thing and to see the markers of time, such as fashion, arranged in such a way as to take you on a journey through time and society in Australia, over the last 200 years was an absolute delight. So I deserted The Man for a day (or two) and left him to do ‘The Man thing’. Braving the local trains I spent some time exploring the galleries and exhibitions of Melbourne. What a wonderful time it was too, one of the real delights of visiting the capital cities of our States & Territories.

So it is we are back on the road … feeling quite sprucey in our now happy, travelling aluminium can.

Travel well.

Jan is an author and traveller. You can buy her books at Amazon.
You can also read more about the tales and stories on the pages:
Oldies At Large
Around the Campfire
The Dreaming
The Spirit Children

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