Motorhome advice: Top 10 motorhome problems solved
If the base vehicle of your motorhome is a Fiat Ducato, this guide - written by Ducato specialist Nick Fisher - is essential reading. Here, Nick looks at the ten most common problems Ducato owners are likely to encounter - and how to solve them.
1. Engine Management Light
The EML (engine management light) is misunderstood. By definition, it indicates that there is something connected with the engine that is not functioning as it should and could affect the emissions of the vehicle.
This means that for MOT purposes, and for anyone concerned with enforcement, the vehicle currently may not comply with emissions regulations and, until the problem is resolved, would potentially fail an MOT test. Therefore, it cannot be used on the road. In reality, there are many things that can happen that may only be temporary or instantaneous in nature and that do so very infrequently.
It may be that next time the engine is switched off and on again the problem will not be present and the EML is reset. If it doesn’t, though, you need to get this checked without delay and, at the very least, you need to get fault codes read to find clues as to what is wrong.
2. Blocked EGR pipe
On some vehicles the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve and associated pipework becomes clogged with oil and residues. To remove an EML warning, pipework can be blocked off with metal plates or replacement pipes. This is cheating and will affect the running of the engine and its emissions but, as a temporary remedy, it can be effective on some engines, most notably Ford/PSA engines.
If you have an EGR-related fault on a Fiat engine, the chances of it actually being the EGR or pipes nearby is almost nil as these engines remain exceptionally clean and modifying the pipework will have a drastic effect on efficiency and emissions.
It is much more likely that a throttle body or EGR solenoid valve is at fault and replacing them with updated items will often dramatically improve driveability and even fuel economy, while also ensuring that emissions are as intended.
3. Fuel in a tank over winter
Yes, you can leave diesel in a tank over winter; it will not deteriorate, but it can take on moisture. This is normally caused by temperature changes forming condensation on the inside of the tank. The best way to avoid this is to have the tank full.
Your fuel filter should remove the moisture from the fuel but it is not totally effective and it is not desirable to shorten the life of the filter for no good reason.
Be aware that, if you fill the tank in October, it probably will not be ‘winter diesel’ and, should you wish to move the vehicle during a very cold spell, it might be waxy or even frozen (winter diesel is usually distributed from November to March in the UK).
If you leave it alone until warmer weather the chance of any problems is considerably reduced. So, fill with winter diesel before parking up or buy a container of anti-waxing solution and add a little to the tank as advised.
4. Change the water pump with the cambelt
This depends very much on the vehicle. On some engines, the water pump is highly accessible and is a small and inexpensive item. Not changing it is false economy. On other vehicles – notably Fiat 2.3-litre engines – the pump is part of a large (and relatively expensive) casting and is not much more accessible even when the timing belt is being replaced. It is designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle and, only if there are signs of leaking or damage, should it be replaced.
5 Fiat fuel filters
Between 2005 and 2013, the fuel filter fitted to Fiat Ducatos comprised of a black plastic housing with a green lid. Inside, there is a paper element. In theory the lid can be removed and the element can be replaced but, in practice, these elements are not cheap and require the whole assembly to be removed from the vehicle.
The canister needs to be placed in a specific tool, in a bench vice and the lid removed with another special tool. The lid has to be replaced very carefully and, even with the correct tools and procedures, the risk of fuel leaks after reassembly is still high.
For this reason, I recommend replacing the whole assembly with a new one with the pre-installed element that you do not have to touch. These are expensive from Fiat but you can get them for around twice the cost of the filter element online.
Earlier and later Fiat vehicles have metal canister filters that are simple to replace and should not have any leaks afterwards.
6 Motorhome-specific tyres
Tyres are a matter of choice. When replacing tyres, I advise using what the motorhome was fitted with originally. But I personally feel that, for most owners, camper tyres are not worth paying extra for. They are made with enhanced materials that principally prevent damage by UV rays and, as a consequence, last longer and remain more compliant than standard tyres. Good-quality commercial vehicle tyres can withstand the rigours of a hard life and are unlikely to deteriorate any faster than camper-specific tyres.
Current advice is to change tyres every six years or so and I feel the benefits of motorhome-specific tyres will be negligible if this is adhered to.
But you must never exceed a tyre’s load rating, you must ensure the tyres are inflated to the correct pressures and you must regularly check for damage to the tyres and ensure there is adequate tread depth.
7 Get a spare wheel fitted
Many motorhome converters alter the chassis so that normal spare wheel carriers have to be removed. They also remove spare wheels to save weight.
I suggest that, if a spare wheel carrier can be fitted, you could do so but remember, this deducts weight from your allowable payload.
You could buy a spare wheel and tyre and secure this inside, perhaps in a garage, but this will also add weight. In these situations, and to limit the weight gain to about 20kg, I suggest taking just a spare tyre. A wheel and tyre combined will be about 85kg and the same mounted under the vehicle in a carrier will be about 120kg.
The tyre on its own will help you out of most predicaments because the supplied jacking equipment is unlikely to be able to lift a loaded motorhome.
The likelihood of a wheel being damaged is pretty low so, in most cases, you will call someone out to replace a tyre for you where you are. If you have a replacement tyre with you, this is half the problem solved.
8 Electrical faults
Do you have all sorts of electrical faults, or have a battery symbol on the dashboard? Well, this one is Fiat-specific, or at least the answer is...
Since 2006 the Fiat Ducato has suffered with many minor electrical faults and some less minor ones so, to keep this short, before you buy a new alternator, battery or start pulling your wiring looms apart, check the earth strap between the gearbox and the chassis under (just behind) the air filter. The earth straps fitted by Fiat are poor and do deteriorate.
This leads to many faults, mainly due to the voltage available to the ECU during start-up being too low to ensure that pre-starting checks can be completed properly. This can also lead to the ECU thinking that the alternator is not providing enough power, which is sometimes demonstrated by the engine idle speed increasing to compensate.
This problem has been covered in MMM many times so I will just say check it, replace it or add a second earth strap.
9 Coolant levels and leaks
Most Fiat Ducatos since 2006 are prone to radiator leaks. This is almost always found at the lower nearside corner of the coolant radiator and is best looked at from underneath. There is obviously a weakness in the design here because it is almost always seen as staining on the fins in this area; it will deteriorate over time.
You should always keep the coolant level in the header tank at around halfway between the maximum and minimum marks. If it goes lower, check the radiator.
If it is not showing signs of leaking from there it is probably the heater unit inside the dashboard that is leaking. This is much less common and is a huge job to fix. If you fill the header tank by any more than described it will become over-pressurised and blow some coolant out anyway, so don’t.
10 Main dealer servicing
On one hand, you can take your vehicle to any competent VAT-registered garage to have it serviced as long as it performs the service to the correct schedule and uses parts and oils that meet the quality and specifications stipulated by the manufacturer. By doing this you can save money. This will not (in most cases) affect your ability to claim for any warranty repairs if needed.
Or you can look at it this way – there is a franchised workshop not too far from you that has been trained, equipped and supported by the manufacturer and has, so far, probably received no funds from the sale and conversion of your vehicle, but it has technicians and the lights on ready for you if you need it. You will pay more to use it for a service and that is because its overheads are large.
If, after your warranty has expired, you have a problem that needs sorting, you may be given more assistance – be it technical or financial – if you have used the dealer network previously.
If you have a history of goodwill, you may find that the goodwill you need back will be greater. I have found this to be the case and, while the dealer may not be able to help much with costs, manufacturers regard loyalty and goodwill highly and will often extend assistance that you have no contractual right to because of your loyalty. It works both ways.
My advice is to get at least one service done by the franchised dealer during the warranty period. This may cost you more than the garage down the street, but it could be worth it in the long run – if only so that it survives until you need it next