Leading on from the last BLOG entry the replacement gearbox was fitted and we focused our attention on contacting campsites and making sure everything was checked and packed. We would need to run the van with the storage box on the back to give us extra capacity for the outdoor equipment. This has become known as the ‘bum bag’ and is extremely useful on long trips. Its been colour coded and recently had additional graphics applied so I really didn’t want to do anything to damage it.
However, the regulations in some countries stipulate that a reflective white and red square needs to be applied to any vehicle that has anything hanging over the rear by half a meter. In Italy they require that this be made of aluminum sheet. So for me this became a real headache as box is curved and attaching it would almost certain cause damage somewhere along the line. So I scratched my head for a few days, then after a visit to the local B&Q to buy some materials set to concocting a bracket.
As you can see, I did have to drill a hole in the box itself for a stainless fixing, and a corresponding hole in the reflective square. This along with a foam strip on the back of the square meant that it would ensure the square itself would not rub on the box or damage it in any way. Attaching the square was done by three wing nuts, and could be done 30 seconds. We would only attach when driving so anticipated fitting it around ten times throughout our month long euro trip
This was completed on the Friday, which left Saturday free for some last minute checks and a bit of spit and polish on the van. Our plan for the Sunday was to drive down to Canterbury Park and Ride. We anticipated getting there around lunch time and go into Canterbury for the afternoon. We would stop overnight in the park and ride car park and leave around 5am on the Monday morning for the Dover to Calais crossing to France. Well that was the plan anyway…
The morning was just about as good as we could have expected. Brilliantly sunny, and the forecast both in the UK and Europe was looking good for the forthcoming week. We were both in high spirits as we moved from Derby onto the M1 and later the M25. Traffic wasn’t a problem and we made good time as we passed Dagenham and towards the Darford tunnel. We decided with only 50 miles left to travel that we would pull in to Thurock Services, have a coffee and re-fuel. This is where it all went pear shaped.
We pulled onto the slip road and onto the M25, A13 intersection. I shifted down from 5th to 4th gear. Something didn’t seem quite right as i slowed to stop for a set of lights on the junction. My doubts were re affirmed when i couldn’t get the van out of 4th gear. The lights stayed red for a short time during which i continued to struggle to get the van out of gear. The lights turned green, my hazard turned on and my heart sunk. I wasn’t in a good place geographically or mentally. I eventually managed to get the van out of 4th by the time the lights had turned green the second time, but the lever was all over the place. I couldn’t get 1st so had to settle for second but with a little clutch slip I pulled off. I knew I couldn’t risk trying to do any distance so park my van on a concrete verge just before the next set of lights.
I continued to wrestle with the lever, but I knew that unless this turned out to be a simple, obvious issue with the gear linkage, our holiday was pretty much over before it had even started. There were no tears, but I was crying inside. Next step recovery to a place of safety…
Thurrock services. We we had intended to go to the services anyway, but under our own steam would have been the preferred method!
While the AA recovery chap settled my van back on terra firma, Mandy and I went for a coffee and tried to gather our composure. We made our way back to the van after ten minutes. I was thinking about how the gear lever felt in my hand, and hoped that I could source the root of the problem quickly. Possibly a bolt had dropped out of the gear linkage between the lever at the front and the box at the back? A second AA vehicle would be along in the hour to try and get my van back on the road which was reassuring. However, I wasn’t going to wait till then. I got the jack out, elevated the front and dropped the spare wheel so I could gain access to as much of the lever and linkage mechanism as possible to try and find that loose or missing nut or bolt.
Nothing as obvious unfortunately. The AA mechanic turned up and after a little poking and prodding came to the conclusion that there was a problem with something linkage related above the fuel tank. This turned out to be a miss diagnosis! We were told that it was up to us what we did next. If we needed recovery home or to a garage it was we just had to let them know as it was included in our policy.
I had posted on a Facebook group specifically for this type of van about my predicament in the hope that I could get a remote diagnosis from people that have been in the same situation. Lots of suggestions which was really helpful. A friend also saw the post and called me to see if I needed any help. Long story short he arrived and spent the best part of the afternoon under the van as we both scratched our head to try and resolve.
We had to throw in the towel and accept that this was not going to be a quick fix. Late afternoon I lowered the van, and all three of us popped to the service station for another Costa Coffee. Marks time and help was very much appreciated, but we had to accept the fact we were going to be spending the night there. We bid Mark goodbye, and I drowned my sorrows with a bottle of white wine from Marks and Spencers. Mandy had a shot of toffee vodka. Sleep at the motorway service station was in short supply. This was largely due to the noisy generators on HGV refrigeration trucks continually working to keep the goods cool. With the pop top roof elevated there was little protection from the noise.
Monday morning I messaged the garage that fitted the gearbox a couple of weeks previously. He was reasonably local to our home in Derby so that would have been one possible option. No immediate response from him unfortunately. However,T3 specialist Brickwerks heard we were having difficulties and offered to assist if we could get the van to them that day. It was touch and go as to whether or not we could make the 208 mile distance at the 56 mph the recovery trucks were limited to. But our options were limited, and if anybody could get us back on the road, it was these guys.
We contacted the AA and within minutes we were on the back of a flatbed en route for Northampton Service station for another relay vehicle to take us on to Honley in Yorkshire. We certainly weren’t sad to see the back of Thurrock Motorway Services!
After leaving Thurrock at 10am we finally arrived at Brickwerks at 3pm. Both Mandy and I were feeling light headed due to lack of food. Brickwerks owner Simon swiftly pulled the van into the workshop and he and mechanic Angus frantically started trying to identify the problem.
We left them to get some food to try and raise our blood sugar levels. We were both emotionally drained and It was turning out to be a long day. But we didn’t loose hope. We wandered back to the workshop after an hour or so. The diagnosis was a fault inside the gearbox.
A second bite at the cherry was offered in the form of a second hand gearbox they had in the workshop. They worked to get the van back on the road and two hours after we arrived we were on our way again. Fantastic! We decided to head back home to Derby and re-assess the situation. There was a possibility we were going to continue to Canterbury after a shower and freshen up, but after the 36 hour breakdown saga, everything needed to be perfect if were were going to consider going ahead with the trip again. Sadly, we felt this wasn’t the case and decided to cancel the holiday.
Our first choice of holiday will always be in the van. We just love it! That said it has been a real disappointment that our holiday came to such an abrupt end. To try and salvage something we have booked a cottage in Kingswear, Dartmouth for a weeks holiday. Wolfgang is now waiting patiently to have his original gearbox reconditioned by specialist Aidan Talbot. Unfortunately he can’t even look at my gearbox until 17th July, and with a one month turn around, it doesn’t look like he is going to be back on the road until the end of August.
So there you have it. The start of an epic holiday… turned out to be the end 🙁