Travels, Modifications, Experiences

Eurovan Repairs

Eurovan Luggage Rack Repair

Eurovan Luggage Rack Repair

Eurovan Luggage Rack Repair

On our recent trip to California the luggage rack on the EVC made so much noise that I finally climbed up there and took a look at it to see what the trouble was. The recessed corners  of the plastic shell had cracked, thus making the rack’s connection to the Eurovan pretty flimsy. Even driving slowly through town, the noise was horrendous, like some roof-mounted troll thought the EVC was a piñata.

Duct-taped Eurovan Luggage Rack

Duct-taped Eurovan Luggage Rack

I duct-taped the rack and ordered the repair kit from GoWesty. Below is an account of my repair, which was as involved, time consuming, and difficult as I dreaded it would be. But now it’s done, and – most importantly – silent and way more resilient than Winnebago, in keeping with the American manufacturing credo of “barely good enough,” designed it to be.

Removing the Luggage Rack

This was the easiest part. GoWesty’s instructions are simple and worked just fine: unbolt everything and remove the rack.

Original brackets

Original brackets

What I saw after the rack was off was disgusting. Filth, slime, cracking silicone, and rusted, twisted metal brackets. I cleaned everything, let it dry completely, and then drilled the rivet heads off the original brackets so I could remove and replace them. Winnebago only riveted the outside of each bracket; the inside was “glued” onto the roof and the glue job on every bracket had long ago failed.

Eurovan luggage rack silicone block

Eurovan luggage rack silicone block

Winnebago filled the channel on each side of the Eurovan roof with a block of plastic which they siliconed or glued in place. I’ve read about this being a major leak-point for the campers, and sure enough big cracks were opening up around the edges of the plastic blocks. I scrubbed the cracks and filled them with clear silicone.

Repairing the Luggage Rack Shell

Cracked Eurovan Luggage Rack

Cracked Eurovan Luggage Rack

Since I’d had good luck with JB Weld on other plastic repairs (e.g., the battery cover under the hood) I decided to use it on the luggage rack. I cleaned the plastic, sanded the areas around the cracks, and cleaned it all with acetone.

Bottom of EVC Luggage Rack

JB Weld repair

I applied generous amounts of JB Weld to both the top and the bottom of each crack (waiting about 12 hours for the bottom to dry before turning it over and doing the top), making sure that I covered the long crack extensions at each corner. After the top had dried completely (24 hours), I painted the dark gray JB Weld with touch-up paint that I got from an auto paint store (paint code: R902, Arctic White). They mixed the paint while I waited; the dealer wanted twice the amount ($25) and two weeks to order it!

New Eurovan Luggage Rack Seal

New Eurovan Luggage Rack Seal

After repairing the cracks, I removed the old seal, which had rusted extensively on the inside, since there were bare metal clips holding the seal in place. I sanded and acetoned the edge of the plastic to remove the rust stains, and then installed the GoWesty replacement seal. This seal has a rubber bulb on one side, and the instructions didn’t indicate whether the bulb went on the inside or outside, so I called GoWesty and they got back to me quickly, indicating that the bulb goes on the inside. After installing it, I could easily see why: it forms an actual seal (unlike the original) that keeps the air from getting under the rack and buffeting it. The original seal and the shoddy material and installation of the original brackets allowed the rack over time to get buffeted to the point of cracking at the corners. UV damage also contributed, as the plastic is pretty brittle now.

Installing the New Brackets

Drilling out old rivets

Drilling out old rivets

This is the part I dreaded most because (a) it required drilling holes in the roof and (b) I had never used a rivet gun. GoWesty’s instructions were clear and simple as usual, and worked fine. What they don’t explain are the finer points of installing rivets, which is not their responsibility. As with installing the Fiamma awning, drilling holes in the Eurovan makes me nervous. With the luggage rack, there was the added difficulty of not drilling all the way through the headliner. [UPDATE: A  nice person sent me a comment saying that “Drill Stops” (about $4 at Home Depot) can prevent you from drilling through the headliner – GoWesty should update their instructions and recommend people use those to save their headliners.]

Siliconed new brackets

New brackets with silicone

To install the brackets, first I siliconed the bottom of all four holes, then placed the bracket over the existing two holes. I installed the first rivet too loosely, which meant drilling it out and redoing it; luckily I had purchased an extra box of 3/16” rivets as GoWesty supplies only the exact number of rivets required (20). I learned from my mistake that to get a tight rivet you need to squeeze the rivet gun incrementally to get the full pull on the rivet. It took me two or three incremental pulls (squeeze, open the rivet gun handle, “swallow” the rivet back down to the head, squeeze again, “swallow” and squeeze until it breaks off the disposable rivet shaft).

After riveting the bracket into the two existing holes, I drilled (3/16” bit) the two inside holes. On the first one I went clean through the headliner. There is very little space between the roof metal and the headliner, which made drilling the other 9 holes quite nerve-wracking. Despite being extremely careful and drilling very slowly, I still made four holes in the headliner. Not much you can do there (anyone have a suggestion to prevent and/or repair the holes in the headliner?).

Center bracket installed backwards

Center bracket installed backwards

Center bracket correctly installed

Center bracket correctly installed

Once all brackets were riveted in place I siliconed over all the rivets and leading edges of the brackets to keep water from getting into the holes and leaking through the headliner. To my horror, after looking at the photos I’d just taken of the newly installed brackets, I realized I’d installed the front bracket backwards! I had to drill out all four rivets and re-install that bracket, which didn’t take me long since I’d improved my skill level with the rivet gun.

Re-installation of the Luggage Rack

After dismantling the rack, I sanded and repainted the rusted top brackets that secure the plactic shell to the roof-riveted brackets. Re-installing the entire rack was pretty straightforward, but required some elbow grease to get the holes in the plastic lined up with the threaded holes in the brackets. I bolted one side down loosely, then had to pull pretty hard on the other side to get those bolts threaded.

Failed JB Weld repair

Failed JB Weld repair

I’m sad to report that my time-consuming JB Weld job on the cracks failed at the two front corners, which were the biggest cracks in the rack. The back corner repairs held, and the top brackets have enough surface space to hold the plastic securely in place. After tightening the top brackets I siliconed the cracks in the front corners and can only hope they’ll last and keep from getting bigger. Since the rack isn’t vibrating and getting buffeted like it did originally, I’m optimistic. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes out for a flawless replacement plastic shell (haven’t had any luck finding one yet; any suggestions are welcomed!).

Road Test

Repaired Eurovan Luggage Rack

Repaired Eurovan Luggage Rack

The impetus for getting this job done was an impending trip to the Olympic Peninsula. I’m happy to report that the damned thing was silent the whole trip, even during near-hurricane force winds in a couple spots. The cracks don’t seem to have grown, and I’m relieved to have this one behind me. Whether I’ll actually use the rack is another matter!

UPDATE (12/31/11):

Even though we’re selling the van, I couldn’t rest knowing that the JB Weld had cracked again when we were driving through a 65 MPH wind storm on the Interstate coming home from Thanksgiving. So I went to an auto paint store, bought a little fiberglass repair kit ($25), and fixed that damned plastic tray for good!

Step 1: Remove luggage rack. This was made more difficult than it should have been because of the silicone I’d used to seal the brackets with; the good news was that the silicone held and there was no evidence of water getting under the brackets and rusting.

Step 2: Prep the plastic for fiberglass work. This was also more difficult because of the silicone I’d squirted over the JB Weld, which needed to be removed so the fiberglass/resin would stick. I used a chisel and some medium grit sandpaper to remove all the silicone, and to rough up the plastic so the resin would adhere.

Step 3: Cut fiberglass to shape for the bottom side. I only “fixed” the front corners of the rack; the original rear corner repairs had held, and they get way less buffeting than the front corners. I cut one large piece of cloth for each corner, and several smaller pieces to layer over the cracked areas.

EVC luggage rack fiberglass repairStep 4: Mix and apply resin. I put a thin brushing of resin down on the plastic so the fiberglass cloth would stick more easily.

Step 5: Lay fiberglass cloth in place. Once the cloth hits the resin, it’s there for good, so before I put the resin down I traced the section of cloth with a Sharpie so I could set it down where it needed to go.

Step 6: Brush resin over cloth. I made sure to eliminate air bubbles and get enough resin into the cloth.

Step 7: Add additional cloth layers. Putting a couple more layers of cloth over the cracks really built up the corners and needed minimal amounts of resin for saturation.

Step 8: Repeat for top-side of rack. Once the resin dried on the bottom, which only took a couple hours, I flipped the rack over and started on the top side, repeating steps 3-7.

Step 9: Sand and paint. Since UV rays can weaken the fiberglass (according to the instructions), I followed the recommendation to put a layer of paint over the repaired areas (I didn’t do this on the underside because it never gets any direct light). I used a white Rustoleum spray paint, which took overnight to dry.

Step 10: Drill holes for re-installation. Since the fiberglass covered the original mounting holes, I had to drill them out. I used a small bit to reduce the size of the mounting holes from the original, thinking it would increase the strength of the tray in the mounting areas. I had to test fit it a couple times to get the holes to line up so all eight bolts and the center screw would line up.

Step 11: Cut rubber grommets for brackets. I decided to put thin rubber pads (made from a road bike inner tube) under the brackets to maybe reduce the buffeting stress a wee bit; the metal edges of the brackets on the brittle plastic tray seemed to be harsh enough – before this repair – to cause the plastic to crack. I cut pieces to size and used a hole punch (like you learned to use in Kindergarten) and put them under the brackets before installing the bolts.

Step 12: Bolt (and screw) in place. I hand-tightened all 8 bolts, then put the center screw in place (I made a tiny grommet for this, too). Then I tightened all bolts, re-torqued the screw (this is hard because I used the original Phillips head screw, which – because it’s hard to get to, being right in the center of the vehicle), and then installed the bar on the brackets with the two bolts.

I’m very pleased with the results of this repair and think that it should hold for a long, long time. What it lacks in beauty it should more than make up for in strength. I have to admit that during the two days I worked on this I kept wishing I had a spare $600 to buy the OEM replacement that GoWesty sells

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Mice in the Van

Eurovan camping in the Tetons

Eurovan camping in the Tetons: it doesn't get any better than this (unless you can eliminate mosquitos)

On a recent trip in the Eurovan we spent about a week at our family cabin not far from Yellowstone. Mice had been scouring the place for whatever they could find, and several had been trapped (killed). After a while it seemed the mice just disappeared: no more little tiny football shaped dried turds in the morning dotting the kitchen counters. What a relief!

Preparing for a hike, Leslie went to the Eurovan to get some food for the trek and found – surprisingly – that a mouse or mice had gotten into the camper and weaseled their way into one of the food cupboards. Worse, they ate most of one of my favorite snacks – the Nature Valley Sweet and Salty peanut granola bar. A Clif Bar had been compromised also, along with a couple other things, but the Nature Valley bar was the clear favorite among these rodents. We have at least that one thing in common I guess.

External heater vent on EVC

External heater vent on EVC

Anyway, it took me a while to figure out how they got inside. No windows or vents were open, except for the auxiliary heater vent on the left rear of the van, which you can’t close. That must have been their port, although the opening is pretty tiny. But so are mice.

From there, the mice had to crawl their way into the heater box and out the inside vent at the base of the back seat. To get inside the cupboard with the food, they had to have shimmied up and over the console with the stove, sink and fridge, down the back and into the cupboard from the rear.

Eurovan mouse entry

Proposed path of mouse entry into 2001 Eurovan

If anyone else has experienced this most undesired transgression, please let me know. Also, if I have their route wrong – based on your experience – please let me know that as well!

Field mice

This is what the inside of the EVC must have looked like

The kicker in all this mice business is that it didn’t reveal itself until we were halfway home on the two-day return trip. The propane setting (which I’d so carefully repaired, as noted in a previous blog post) on the fridge stopped working. I could tell that the igniter wasn’t working, so the propane wouldn’t light for the fridge, but the stove worked just fine. So the fridge was off while we were camped, and on the 12VDC setting while driving (although I’m not sure even that worked; my beer at camp was not very cold!).

So I bit the bullet and after we got home went through the laborious exercise of removing the fridge. It was just as hard to get out as I remembered. I reviewed all the parts and everything seemed in order until I saw the fuse panel on top of the fridge. The little plastic cover over the center fuse (a 20 amp fuse) looked funny. I removed the cover and found it burned at one end. The fuse was blown.

Norcold fridge panel

Before the blown fuse

Then I noticed, scattered hither and yon across the top of the fridge, a bunch of mouse turds, and one very close to the 20 amp fuse. Could a mouse have crapped near the fuse panel and blown the fuse? Or could one of its wee feet have wedged in underneath that fuse cover and caused the damage? Or do fuses just burn up on their own? I’m no electrician or mouse scientist but I’m leaning to either of the first two theories. Again, if anyone has a clue on this, let me know.

By the way, since I had the fridge out, I took the opportunity to add joint tape to all the propane connections on the fridge, which I hope will reduce the residual propane odor that sometimes escapes from the fridge… Now the thing works fine. I thought it might be a good idea to rig up some kind of screen to keep over the exterior heater vents to prevent varmints from entering my mobile abode. But, like a lot of other things, I probably wont’ get around to it until it’s too late.