Thursday, March 22, 2012

Westfalia Improvements - Part II

A few more inexpensive improvements / additions / modifications to make life on the road with Westly more comfortable.  I can't take credit for any of these ideas, having had precious few original thoughts in my lifetime.  I've seen them on other Westy's or on Westy forums online and copied them, or took the original idea and adapted it for my use.

Fresh Water Tank Drain
One useful feature of the Westfalia camper package is the sink.  It's a rather smallish sink, but big enough to hold a pan or regular size dinner plate and it comes in very handy for tasks like teeth brushing.  The sink has a small faucet with a switch that controls an electric pump.

The water is pumped from an 11 gallon tank, hidden in the depths of the side cabinets. The tank is filled from a port on the side of the van and it has a drain plug underneath.  It needs to be drained periodically to prepare for freezing temperatures, cleaning, and to empty between camping trips (unless you are one of the .5% of the population that enjoys having a plastic taste in your water - I think these are the same people who can bend their fingers over completely backward).  With the drain stub and the cap being plastic, the threads are easily stripped by cross-threading or over-tightening.  The cap for this plug has a metric thread and replacements run at least $10.  Westly's cap had recently been replaced by the PO so it was in good condition.  While I had the cap off for cleaning, I ran over to Ace Hardware and purchased a little brass valve commonly called a "petcock" (no idea why) and  a brass nut, round with a knurled edge made for holding lamp parts together.  I drilled a hole in the cap and the rubber washer (slightly smaller than the petcock thread),  threaded the petcock in and put the brass nut on the inside to hold it in place.  With the cap snugly back in place I can easily reach underneath and turn the T handle to drain.

Inside view
Cap in place underneath van
Just ahead of left rear wheel well
Gray Water Drain Valve
The system has no gray water holding tank.  The sink drains through a tube inside the van and a fitting underneath.  This fitting is a standard hose thread.  Regulations require that the valve be closed unless a catch container is underneath.  Westly's gray water drain valve was difficult to operate, requiring me to lay under the van to get a good grip.  I scavenged a more ergonomically designed valve from a defunct garden watering wand and attached a short piece (about 5") of hose cut off from a discarded washing machine supply line.  The hose can be removed, but it's flexible enough to not cause any problems down there so I leave it on and carry a one gallon milk jug which fits under it quite handily to contain any release of effluent.  We don't use all that much wash water while camping, but you could run a longer hose out to a larger container if needed.
Gray water drain valve and hose in place
Refrigerator Flue Vent Cover
As far as I'm aware, all Vanagon Westfalia conversions destined for North America came equipped with the Dometic RM182(a,b) refrigerator. It operates on the absorption principal which means is uses heat to remove heat (!) and so has no compressor.  It generates heat by using a propane flame, or a heating element operating on 12 (while the engine is running) or 110 volts (when plugged in to "shore power").  The waste heat is best removed from the inside of the camper, and is for the most part through an outside flue.  Operation and maintenance of the fridge will be the subject of another post, but if you can't wait, check this out.
The refrigerator flue (shiny circle)
The three boxes below are for connecting a water hose, connecting an extension cord
for 110 volts, and filling the fresh water tank
When the fridge is not in use, the flue should be covered to prevent entry of rain, leaves, bugs and so on.  A nice little plastic cap is available from several vendors which snaps into place.  Being the hands-on guy that I am, I elected to make my own.  I found a small stainless steel bowl at a local thrift store for $1.99.  I marked where I wanted to cut the bowl so it would just fit over the flue and surrounding rubber flange.  Then I took a length of 1/4 inch vacuum hose, split one side with a razor knife and pressed it over the sharp edge of the bowl with a little RTV to hold it in place.  I used some ridiculously low priced Harbor Freight tools to accomplish the task.

An angle grinder with cut off wheel clamped in vise
was used to make the cut.  Don't forget eye protection!
A threaded insert riveter was used to add a
10/32 nut to the flue cover.
The completed cover snugly in place.  A brass fastener goes in the
grommeted hole and threads into the nut on the flue cover.  
Lantern Hangers
These can be mounted forward, aft, anywhere there is a rain gutter.  They are surprisingly strong and can be used to hang all kinds of lights and other things like towels, wet swim suits, make-up mirrors, bananas (to keep them from bruising), etc.  I keep a couple of these hangers in the van.

They do flex a little depending on the weight of the object attached.  I've also seen an aluminum pipe used to reduce flexing, but with heavier weights the lip of the gutter will begin to bow out a little so be wary with that.  Warning!  Anytime you are hanging a light with a flame, test to make sure the support is better than adequate for the weight of your appliance.  You don't want your kerosene or propane lantern falling and igniting your van, campsite, acres of grassland or forest ... you get the idea.

PVC or ABS parts in either 1/2 or 3/4 inch:    Slip T
                                                                      12 inch (or so) pipe stub
                                                                      1/4 inch stainless loop

Use threaded or slip on the stub and cap, if you have the glue, the slip goes together easier.  Before attaching the cap, drill a hole and bolt the loop in. Use a large screw driver to open the loop.  You may want  to file or polish the sharp edges after you open the loop.  You can also leave off the cap and loop and just cut a notch on top of the pipe near the end but I think the loop is more secure.

I used a cut off wheel in an angle grinder (see picture above) to cut the slot.  The slot should be around 10-12mm wide which is just enough to slip on and off the gutter but still provide a good grip surface.  Where on the T-fitting the slot is cut determines the angle at which it will rest - I cut about 15 degrees off center.  I picked up a nice supply of these fittings at the Habitat for Humanity Surplus Store in Seattle for $1 a pound.
The Loo
What can I say?  We don't always travel with it, but when you need one, it sure is convenient.

This is the Thetford Porta Potti model 135.  I keep it in large old-time flour sack which hides it and drops open as shown.  It carries it's own fresh water supply which is pumped into the bowl with a bellows arrangement.  It also doubles as a little seat and is light enough to move around easily.  One drawback for guys is that it has a small, shallow bowl which means sitting rather than standing to avoid a lot of splashing all over your kitchen and bedroom.  But that's what the great outdoors is for right? Also, I wouldn't recommend this for more than a couple of people because then you would be emptying it often, and trust me on this one, it's not a fun chore.  The large vinyl mat underneath was a few bucks at Big Lots and helps keep the carpet clean, particularly when guys insist on standing, or in wet weather camping.

See more modifications here...


  1. Very cleaver on using a SS bowl for the fridge flue. I've always bought those plastic covers, and then had to replace them after a couple years when they get brittle and crack.
    I'll have to do this!

    1. Thanks - I'm thinking of making another version with about 2/3 of the trailing edge cut away - as a wind shield to help keep the flame lit while driving.

    2. any more pics of stripes? are they factory? I like!

    3. Hey Anonymous - I'm not sure if the stripes were factory or added at the dealer. The colors are very 1980s and they have been on there awhile - when you look at them close up, the vinyl is all checked and rough feeling. But they're not going anywhere - I like them too! I've seen similar color stripes on other '80s Vanagons but always much smaller, like maybe an inch wide. I've never seen another just like Westly. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting =)

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