Sometimes things don’t go to plan and on our return to Altenmarkt for what we thought would be our last night, we discovered a tiny water leak coming out from under the kitchen by the door.
Following the leak, we identified that it wasn’t the tap or shower, nor did the pump look to be leaking. Digging further, we opened up the back of the van to have a look. It transpired that the breather pipe for the tank had decided to spew half the content of our 70lt tank over the entirety of the back of the van, under all the concealed panels and under our raised floor!
For those who wonder why we’ve got the tank inside. It’s winterised and lagged for winter travel, putting it on the outside the water would just freeze and be no good in the cold English weather.
Adding to our woes, despite having days of beautiful weather, today was not was of those days, torrential rain. We sat in the van weighing up our options, we couldn’t just leave it…
This is where we had to get creative. We built our tarp tent over the rear doors, much to the bemusement of other van dwellers and tried to dry and air the back of the van.
Luckily, we’d installed a damp proof membrane around the entirety of the flooring structure meaning any excess water should just roll out. We decided to empty everything out of the back, 4 bikes, a kayak, a plethora of dog food and bits, even lift the tank and find the fault.
We agreed we had to stay and dry it out, either using the fan or the heater. The next day, we re-emptied everything out and had the fan blowing on all the waterlogged wood. Within the day it had pretty much dried every part of the back, but some of the internal fittings required further ventilation that evening. Luckily as the sun was shining, the solar was keeping our heavily burdened batteries topped up!
Now we had to do some fault finding. We suspected it was the breather but something didn’t quite add up. As it turned out, the seal on the access point had failed entirely. We suspect that whilst the silicone sealant was intact, it hadn’t bonded effectively with the plastic.
We fill the tank under high pressure which could cause the top to move and the added force of 75kg moving around up and down over the huge hills we were climbing the previous day probably sent it over the edge. We also used to store our toolbox, another 20kg, on top of this.
We suspect that the issue had propagated over a few weeks, maybe months, despite regular inspections.
It turns out despite cycling far and wide (the van was drying at this point), nowhere had the spares we needed. I’ve brought spares for everything, including a light adhesive, but owing to the size and scale of problem we had, we were not about to do a half fix. We had to leave Altenmarkt and head for Vienna to do the repair there. On the way we needed to pick up a new adhesive and hope we could repair the van in Vienna!
How did we solve it? What have we changed?
Inspection of our system: Since then we’ve installed some inspection lights under the tanks and taken some of the fairing off so we also have a view of the tank from all sides so we can see if there are any leaks.
Breather: We’ve relocated the breather so instead of venting freely it’s attached to the filling head, creating a closed loop. We then cleaned and resealed it new with 1/2″ washers. This means that now the only option for the overflow is to come straight back into the sealed filling head.
Inspection point: The manufacturers of the tanks usually seal these, I believe with induction or heat welding, but they didn’t have time to do ours in this way so provided us with a tank that had an inspection hole that you could screw in. We have observed that the screw doesn’t sit true with thread and this attachment is about 10cm in diameter and fairly inflexible. As such. We noted that when attached it was leaking at the sides through the thread, not just through the seal. We decided to remove the entire thing and clean it fully. We prepared the surface for adhesion as well with a solvent wipe and abrasive paper. We opted for a polyurethane based sealant that was compatible with the plastics we were using. We elected to fully seal the entire inspection port as we know at a later date we could replace this part once we’ve returned to the UK.
So far, the repairs are holding and it’s a lesson for us both. We built the van, we put it together, we have the confidence to fix it, even if that means changing something fundamentally. We laughed at all the tools and spares we brought before we came away, but we are grateful now. It would be easy to forget that things do break. Just like a home things break and things need updating. When you build and test something at home you’re not using it in anger like you are on the road. When you make something for a van, you forget that it’s going to be shaken to death for months on end. These things happen, it’s just the way it is…