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A simple water system for camper vans.

I always wanted a really basic sink and water system. No holes in the side of the van for a fill port, removable jugs for filling at filtered water stations, no tanks outside the van to freeze. I wanted an electric water pump. Combined with the fact that I decided I’d be OK boiling water rather than installing a complicated water heater system, I was able to put together a super cheap and functional setup for my van’s kitchen.

My van has come and gone, but I adventured for 50,000 miles over two years in it — which puts me in a great spot to reflect on what I wanted and what I changed over time.

This was the first “system” that I could call done in my build, despite the fact that I’d not even completed the cabinetry yet. My system used a single 6-gallon jug for freshwater and another for greywater. This is about as simple as you can get, if you can live with the limited capacity.

I made a hole in the jug’s cap and pushed vinyl tubing through it to the bottom. For the greywater, I made another hole for the trap hose and sealed around it on the inside with RTV to prevent odors. This wasn’t necessary for the freshwater hoses as they fit incredible tightly into the holes I made in the caps.

What I Ordered

Cold Water Faucet
Bar sink with cutting board insert, grid, and basket strainer
Camco Flexible RV Drain Trap
Seaflo 1.2GPM 12v Water Pump (I’d consider this one if I were building today as this Seaflo is quite noisy with no accumulator, though it works fine @ half the cost!)
2x 6 Gallon Water Containers (I used Ozark Trail jugs, which were fine, but these look sturdier and the price is similar)
3/8″ ID Flexible Vinyl Tubing
Stainless Steel Hose Clamps
PTFE Thread Tape (Remember, white is only for water – no gas pipes)
Fitting for hose to faucet connection: Take the faucet to a hardware store and find a fitting threaded for the faucet that converts it to a 3/8″ barb. I did not make note of this — and the reviews state 3/8″ female compression, but I recall having trouble when I ordered that size. Save the hassle and take it in with you. Let me know what you find out!

What I changed after 2 years..

I gave into the temptation of having 12 gallons of freshwater once I started living in the van full-time. What I did was replace the greywater jug with another 6-gal for freshwater. I re-routed my drain hose through the wall, into a garden hose splitter, fittings, and finally to 3/8″ vinyl tubing that would either drain greywater through a hole in my van’s floor or divert it to a smaller 1.3-gallon holding tank.

I’m not the environmental police, but obviously I have to state that you should be very mindful of what, if any, soaps/detergents/toothpastes you’re using when greywater is dumping onto the ground. Just don’t be a dick, basically.

Here are a few photos — but, for the most part, my initial system remained in-tact. To this day, the only real thing I’d tell you to consider is a water pump with a built-in accumulator (or adding one separately). This setup — the pump will run anytime the faucet is opened, and it’s not quiet.

My water system after 2 years. Note the trap drain now runs into the next cabinet over. I simply switch the lids between jugs when I empty one.
Camco RV drain mounted on the wall, with spigots leading to a hole in the floor as well as a 1-gallon diversion tank for use when dumping was not appropriate.

Additional things I bought for this greywater diversion system

Hudson Exchange 5L (1.3 Gallon) Water Tank
Garden Hose Splitter
90ยบ Garden Hose Elbow (3/4″ Thread)
Garden Hose to 3/8″ Barb Fittings
(from here, you can use the clamps and tubing I linked for the original system)

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Installing a diesel heater in my gas-powered Transit.

Like everything else, I did a deep dive on heaters during my initial build. I ended up installing a Propex HS-2000 6500BTU furnace, but later switched to a generic diesel heater that I purchased on Amazon. I didn’t find that the Propex was sufficient in the lower 20’s or colder in my van. Additionally, the cost of diesel means that I’m getting three times the heat output for less than half of the cost of propane. I sold my Propane furnace to pay for my entire diesel heater installation.

Parts and Tools:

Note: You’ll see these marketed from 2kw to 8kw, there are only truly 2 models. 2kW and 5kW. The 2kW is harder to find and has less support, so I opted for the 5 and recommend it for all but the smallest rigs.

Transit install location

I chose to install the heater inside of the passenger seat pedestal. In Transits equipped with dual batteries, you may not have this option. My Transit had the bottle jack mounted here. The easiest option is to install the heater elsewhere in the van with a flat surface, but I appreciated the chance to utilize an otherwise useless area. You can utilize one of the bottle jack mount studs to orient yourself below the van before making your cuts, and the other can be repurposed as a ground for the heater.

There are two spots to install this under the passenger seat: either closer to the passenger door or closer to the driver’s. I have seen one person mount their heater on the driver’s side of the passenger seat platform, but a stock van is going to require removal of the exhaust heat shield– and in my van, my floor is already heated up from that and I wouldn’t trust anything to be near it unprotected. Their van is significantly modified and had the heat shield removed.

Cutting holes and modifying the pedestal

Installing on the passenger side leaves a small margin for error in a deep channel that is not easy to access. In some install photos, you’ll see a series of small, neat holes drilled for everything to pass through and bolt up from underneath. Not going to happen here, your most conservative option is two large holes as I’ve done below. Note: I had to make two new holes in the mounting plate because of where my holes are cut. I’d just cut out a square/rectangle rather than what I’ve done here. Alternatively, these holes should have been a little more toward the driver’s side (1/4-1/2″) to avoid having the lip of the mounting plate need to go underneath the pax side of the pedestal.

There is a recessed groove right down the middle of where I did the install. I built up the channel in the sheet metal with high-temp RTV and let it set. I then used a ton of it under the mounting plate to ensure an air-tight seal. This is pretty important to prevent fume intrusion. I attached the silicone gasket, mounting plate, fuel line, combustion hoses, etc. to the heater before lowering it into place for the final attachment with 4 self-tapping screws. Any service requiring the removal of the lines attached to the bottom of the heater will require breaking the seal and removing the full unit. I am not super concerned by this as it’s not likely I’ll need to do this.

For the cabin hot air ducting, I cut one side of the slotted metal areas, and then bent them back out of the way. Not pretty, but got the job done. This was definitely cutting corners as far as a doing a professional install, but I was laying on a street in the Los Angeles area and just wanted it to be done with. I broke 5 metal cutting jigsaw blades in the process. This one have been done more easily (and cleaner) with the pedestal removed from the van. Update: I removed my seat to install a swivel and acquired an angle grinder. Don’t even both with the jigsaw, angle grinder made quick work out of cleaning the pedestal metal up.

For my hot air duct, I had to cut a hole in my steel partition wall. If you have to make such a hole in a dividing wall, I’d recommend ordering an 80mm hole saw. I used a 3.25″ (as it was available off-the-shelf locally), but the hole is almost too big for screws to bite into the area around it.

Underneath the van

With the heater in place, I sealed around the edges of my cut-out with 3M smokeproof putty and high-temp RTV just as a failsafe for the RTV used above. I secured the intake hose and and the exhaust with included clips and self-tappers, then mounted the muffler. I put black or red RTV over each of the self-tappers to keep them from getting dirty/rusty. Worked great on removal of my old heater.

The fuel pump needs to be mounted at an angle of ~30-45 degrees. Your muffler should be as close to the perimeter of your van as possible and there should be no low points the line should never run “up” after its come down from the heater, to prevent water/condensation buildup. I considered adding another section of exhaust pipe as this exhausts directly under my sliding door, but the longer the exhaust — the more likely you’ll get carbon buildup in your heater.

Wiring

The wiring harness included was mostly sufficient for my purposes, but I did have to cut the connector off of the fuel pump section so that I could pass it through an existing hole in the Transit floor (circled in red in a photo above). This hole exits into a chassis member with an opening large enough to put your whole hand in.

This heater is typically going to be using between 2 and 3 amps, but during startup and shutdown, it will draw approximately 10 for 2-3 minutes! I’ve put the heater onto a 15-amp fuse, as I doubt the included wires could handle much more than that.

I cut and extended the thermostat wires, which were significantly shorter than you’d image. I had no issues adding another 3-5 feet to this section. The short ground coming from the unit, I crimped on a ring terminal and reused a nut from the bottle jack mount to attach it next to the heater, as pictured above.

Turret mount for other install locations

If you’re installing somewhere else in the van (like on top of a finished floor), you’re going to need to protect the surrounding combustibles from the extremely hot combustion exhaust. The only way to do this safely is with a turret. You can find these on EBay by searching for “diesel heater turret”, you’ll likely be ordering it from the UK.

Afterburner Thermostat Upgrade

You should totally budget $100 to purchase the Afterburner thermostat from Ray Jones. This unit adds WiFi control, Fahrenheit units, voltage cutoffs, fuel usage tracking, Android app, and so much more. I wouldn’t trust the heater half as much without it, though the factory thermostat did work fine.

Fuel Tank

I installed my fuel tank inside of my bench seat, as the dimensions just happened to work out perfectly. A note: it’s really easy to screw up the fitting on the bottom and wind up with a leak. I recommend tapping the *top* of your fuel tank and attaching your fuel line to a stand pipe.

I have never had any issue with the tank being inside and have never smelled diesel aside from opening the tank to fill it. Diesel is not wildly combustible in the way that gasoline is – you can literally hold a lit match to spilled diesel and it won’t ignite.

My initial plan was to run the fuel line to the rear of the van, but doing this proved very frustrating — and I gave up once I reached the rear axle. Avoiding the exhaust and suspension just seemed like more of a risk than having the tank at my slider. A bonus: all my fuel line and components are within arms reach for easy diagnosis and inspection now.

Resources

There is a gentleman on YouTube who does a 12-part series on everything you could want to know about these heaters, how they function, and how to maintain them. Understanding how they work will make the installation seem like less of a mystery. Link

The Chinese Diesel Heater Community on Facebook. Link

One of the most useful install videos that I found:

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Differential Cover Upgrade / Gear Oil Change on a Ford 9.75″ Differential (Transit / F150)

Having a Yukon Gear locker installed, I wanted to be able to change the gear oil in my differential regularly.. and the factory cover makes that a nightmare. Sealed with only black RTV from the factory, draining the oil involves removing twelve bolts, breaking that RTV seal, cleaning both surfaces, reapplying RTV, reinstalling twelve bolts, allowing time to cure, and filling with oil. Well overdue for my break-in change, I opted to ditch the factory cover for something with a drain plug, and ditch the RTV sealant for an actual gasket.

Before buying an aftermarket differential cover, I recommend watching the series by Banks Power (link) where they demonstrate gear oil flow using clear covers, which shows why many aftermarket covers may be more detrimental than helpful.

Parts and Tools Required:

Gear Oil: The Transit manual calls for a 75w85 gear oil meeting the “WSS-M2C942” specification. I only found one readily-available choice outside of the Motorcraft brand. Motorcraft is full synthetic and includes no additives for limited slip differentials. The Red Line alternative does have some LS additives, though this is not detrimental if you don’t have a limited slip differential.

The factory oil capacity is 2.75 quarts. After installing the G2 differential cover, I was able to sneak in just about 3 quarts before reaching the fill hole.. so either way, you’ll need to order quantity 3 of either oil choice.

OR

The Motorcraft oil requires a bottle of friction modifier/additive if you have a limited slip differential installed. The Red Line oil says that it includes friction modifiers and you should only add more if you notice chattering / noise while in motion.

The 9.75″ differential has been in use by Ford in various truck applications for over a decade now, and there are numerous instances of people using different weights and classifications of oil in it without issue. My backup choice of oil, especially if you need something available locally, is Mobil 1 75w-90. I found this locally for about half the cost of the two options meeting Ford’s called out specs above.

Differential Cover: There are a lot of choices out there, but your best bet is to choose a cover which mimics the contours of the factory cover. Anything completely squared off should be out. I highly recommend visiting the Banks Power video I shared in the beginning of this post to see how the oil flows in motion, this will make total sense afterward.

I chose the aluminum G2 Axle and Gear “Hammer Series” 40-2012ALB. The interior of the cover is rounded rather than boxy, resulting in smoother oil movement. The price is very reasonable. The style is nice without being over-the-top. The top link is for powdercoated black finish and the second is plain aluminum.

Differential Gasket: Short and sweet. LubeLocker seems to be highly recommended everywhere. Alternatively, the cover I’m installing included black RTV, so you could save the $20.

Tools:

  • Socket Set (specifically, you’ll need a 1/2″ deep well socket for the factory bolts)
  • Hex / Allen Socket Set (specifically, you’ll need a 6mm and an 8mm)
  • Torque Wrench capable of 30 ft. lbs. (Harbor Freight cheapy will work, I use a Husky from Home Depot
  • Small Razor Blade Scraper
  • Silicone Gasket Remover (The CRC product I used in the pictures doesn’t appear to be available online, it works great for vinyl decals but wasn’t super effective on this RTV. Reviews for this Motorcraft option seem good. GooGone would be another alternative)
  • Fluid Pump (I used a funnel with tube, it took forever but worked eventually)
  • Flush Cutters (for cutting several zip ties)
  • Shop Towels
  • Oil Catch Pan
  • Zip Ties
  • Paint Scraper and Hammer (or something to use to break the RTV seal)

Installation Steps

  1. Park wisely.

    Your van should be on a level surface, and you’ll need to remove your spare tire to make room to work.

  2. Relocate the ABS wire attached to the diff housing bolt studs.

    Unclip the ABS sensor wire from the three top bolts. Should pull straight off the studs by hand. Go ahead and cut the connectors and zip tie this to the rigid line above the differential circled below.the abs line we are relocating

  3. Position your catch pan, then using a deep well 1/2″ socket, loosen all 12 bolts. Remove all but the two on the top corners (or wherever) to hold the cover up once we break it loose. Very unlikely that any oil will drain until the next step.bolts removed, catch pan in place

  4. Breaking the RTV seal.

    Wedge a flat paint scraper or other thin tool between the differential cover and housing. Using a hammer or mallet, drive it in until oil starts to drain. Let the bulk come out and then use this tool to break the RTV seal all around the cover. I actually used a knife on this step as my RTV is very fresh and I wasn’t successful with a paint scraper. Just be cautious not to scrape the housing mating surface. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of my knife sticking out of the side of my diff! ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. Clean the valley.

    Allow the oil to drain, then remove the remaining two bolts and differential cover. There’s a valley at the bottom of the differential housing, clear it out with shop towels. This is where any potential metal shavings or debris is going to be, so clean thoroughly.cleaning remaining oil from the valley

  6. Prepare the housing mating surface.

    Cover everything but the mating surface with shop rags or towels. Wipe off any oil and spray mating surface liberally with RTV remover. Scrape at a low angle with a razor blade and repeat process until surface is smooth and clean. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, but it’s worth doing right.cleaning the old rtv off the mating surface

  7. Get the new cover and gasket ready.

    A little awkward: Take the new differential cover and push two bolts through from the front, then place the LubeLocker gasket over the bolts. Holding the diff by these bolts, put into place and start threading the two bolts into the differential housing. Install the remaining bolts until the threads just run out, but don’t tighten them. You’ll probably have to shift the cover around to get all bolts started. Don’t force anything. The gasket installs dry – don’t add any kind of sealant to it or the mating surfaces.

  8. Torque in two steps.

    Using a torque wrench set to 15 foot pounds and a 6mm Hex / Allen socket, tighten each bolt per the diagram on the gasket packaging until the wrench clicks. Repeat the pattern, but set your torque wrench to 30 foot pounds this time. I read online various specs, but the fact is, the Ford spec is for RTV and has no bearing in this situation. I saw a few accounts ranging from 28 to 33, all reporting no leaks. I chose 30 foot pounds and it’s worked out great.

    Note: The 6mm socket fits the aftermarket bolts sort of loosely. I was able to torque without issue, but be careful as I could see these stripping easily. I tried a 1/4″ Hex / Allen socket, but it didn’t seem to fit. Your mileage may vary!

  9. Check out the magnetic drain plug! Snug it up and remove the top two bolts.

    Ensure the drain plug is snug, then remove the other two fill plugs. Use a funnel with tubing or a simple transfer pump (recommended above) to transfer oil into the differential. The third quart brought the level high enough for the oil to start flowing out of the center fill hole. This is your indicator that you’ve filled the differential. Do not fill to the upper bolt hole.

  10. Finishing up.

    Insert the middle and upper fill bolts to snug. Dispose of your oil at a local auto parts store. Drive a couple of miles to bring the diff oil up to temp and check for any leaks. Admire your work!

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Resetting the Ford Transit TPMS system

Image result for tpms light

TPMS is really cool, when it works properly. As much as the old geezer in me wants to say that it’s just as easy to bust out a gauge and check tire pressure manually, it’s not. My van does not have the “message center” in the instrument cluster. All I have is trip, odometer, and miles to empty.

After 6 tires, 2 flats, and 28 thousand miles in 7 months, I have learned my way around the Transit’s TPMS. I air down my tires on trails enough that this reset tool has paid for its <$15 price tag several times by now.

Tools Needed:
TPMS Sensor Relearn / Reset Tool

While we’re on the topic, I regularly use this deflator tool, this Viair 88P portable compressor, and this tire plug kit. Looking back, I should have invested in on-board air rather than making the portable work (it was just slow). I have the ARB CKMA12 for the 31″ tires on my Jeep and it’d work well for the sizes running on Transits — though the CKMTA12 would be much faster, if budget allows. If you want to stay portable, but still have a faster compressor — the Viair 300P kit would be an excellent upgrade over the 88P, at about half the cost of the ARB CKMA12 I mentioned.

There is a method to reset the TPMS without this tool. It’s ridiculous and involves deflating all four tires. Just don’t, seriously. There’s also a method of using this tool that involves some procedure of key-on-key-off sequence that is also unnecessary.

Here’s how I reset the TPMS system with this cheap tool:

  1. With the key in the ON position (but engine not running), press and release your hazard indicator button six times quickly, cycling the hazards on and off three times total. Your horn should sound for a moment. Prepare to walk outside of the van and visit each tire in this order: Driver Front, Passenger Front, Passenger Rear, Driver Rear
  2. Take the tool and hold it near the valve stem on each tire as pictured below, press the button. The horn should honk within 3 seconds. If not, reposition and press the button again.
  3. Once the horn honks, proceed to the next tire in the order mentioned above (Driver Front, Passenger Front, Passenger Rear, Driver Rear) and repeat the button press process.
  4. After the 4th honk, return to the driver’s seat and turn the key to off. The system should be reset and the TPMS light will be off at this point.

I can’t find solid documentation of exactly what value the TPMS system uses. I found a Ford article specifying that running other tire sizes will require different PSI, so my educated guess is that it just compares the average of the tires and looks for anything out of the ordinary.

I recommend checking your tire pressure periodically, especially if you do any off-road driving. Tire shops would always inflate my tires to 60-65 PSI and I found that way too harsh, even on-road. I carry an inexpensive digital gauge like this one for routine checks.