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Northland Rally Report


2017 Northland Rally Report

by David Buxton


Waipu Rally 27-29 October 2017 – what a fantastic rally; thank you Denis and your Northland team for organising such a successful rally for a large number of Auto-trail motorhomes. 100 members registered for the rally and after a few last minute cancellations, over 90 vans turned up.


Photos taken at the rally are now on the website. They have been uploaded in the following groups: aerial photos, general, bus trip, piper and dress-up, wearable arts and speakers and sponsors.


We have had a write up in the local Bream Bay News ( and look out for a report in the next NZMCA “The Motor Caravanner”.


There have also been lots of accolades coming from members who attended the rally. Here are a couple of examples (abridged):


“We would like to thank the great team of volunteers for the wonderful weekend we have just had at Waipu. We know how much effort goes into organising such an amazing weekend and really appreciate all the effort you have all put in. We really enjoyed the speakers that made the weekend. The meal shared with old and new friends was very enjoyable. Our thanks go to all the sponsors, what amazing support you had.”


“Many thanks to your amazing hardworking team to crest such an enjoyable event for us all.   It was our first as we're new to motorhoming - and it will be hard to beat!  You've certainly set the bar very high. The planning and organisation ensured the event ran very smoothly. We met some great, fun, like-minded people who we look forward to meeting up with on the road again.  Roll on Tauranga 2018!😊”


Yes, Denis and his Northland team did a wonderful job organising what turned out to be a much larger rally than at first planned. The registrations system worked well, the Scottish theme was a great idea with us being ‘piped’ into the hall on Friday afternoon, the wearable arts and local history presentations made an interesting start to the programme and the bus tour to the port, oil refinery and local district was really special.


On Saturday afternoon we had presentations from special guests from the UK, Mr Dave Thomas, Managing Director of Auto-trail and Scott Stephens, Sales and Marketing Director, introduced by Dan Monk, M.D. Auckland Motorhomes Ltd. This was followed by a technical presentation from Kevin Schreuder, Andrew Simms Ltd’s General Manager After Sales Service assisted by Joao Marques, ATECO NZ Ltd, Fiat Technical Specialist.


Video recordings of these talks (except Scott Stephen’s) are on YouTube:


Dave Thomas presentation:


Dave Thomas question time:


Andrew Simms question time:


Here are the pre-prepared questions given to Dave Thomas together with his written answers – he added more in the video recording:


Questions for Dave Thomas: compiled by David Buxton based on member’s requests. Questions have been kept generic or industry related rather than specific individual issues.


Comformatic Gearbox

Whilst the Comfortmatic gearbox works well in medium sized motorhomes, it has had its problems with bigger vans such as the Delaware and Commanche, with too much clutch slipping especially when reversing and hill climbing. Can it be supplied with lower first and reverse gears for heavier vans?

The Comfortmatic gearbox has given problems with the engine going into ‘crawler mode’ with light braking when the brake switch has not been installed correctly. Many Fiat dealers don’t seem to have the skills to recognise and fix this issue. This issue needs to be clearly spelled out in an owner manual, along with other advice such as not holding vehicles on a hill with light acceleration.

A very informative Fiat Ducato motorhome instructional video has been put on Utube by Australian Caravan Co covering a number of driving and safety features. Would Auto-trail consider making a similar video  - saves a lot of manual reading?

(Here’s the link:


Answer: The Comfortmatic gearbox is a robotised manual and as such behaves in the same way. Vehicles, particularly the larger models, should never be held on the accelerator on an incline at a road junction for example. The reverse gear ratio has been lowered on the X2/90 version. All models that have the larger Alko chassis have been fully tested and approved by Fiat to handle this weight.



Quality Control

Many owners have complained about fitments such as door hinges pulling out and upholstery back boards falling off due screws being too small or not screwing into solid material, skylight seals failing, plumbing coming apart because it hasn't been glued, Auto-trail letters falling off and several more that have been reported on our forum. 

Have these problems been addressed in new models?


Answer: With the goal of creating lighter and lighter vehicles we have moved to a more composite board. In the past we used Malasian hard wood boards, then Poplar and now we use a composite of Balsa core and Meranti faces. Whilst the boards are light and strong, they are reliant on the furniture operative to drill small pilot holes and use low torque screw drivers. In some cases, screws may have been over tightened. We are now looking at a new generation of screws that have a thin shaft and larger thread similar to a plaster board screw.

Special NZ requirements


We realise NZ is a small market by European standards, however we do have special requirements often associated with our freedom camping. Already higher performance fridges are being installed and more fresh, grey water tank and house battery capacity is being installed in NZ. One frustrating issue has been the Sargent controller only having a capacity of 100 watts in the past. This has been increased to 200 watts now but this is often not sufficient and it's not the efficient MPPT type. 


For NZ bound motorhomes can MPPT controllers with at least 300w capacity be installed?


Answer: 300w solar panels can be fitted, however, they will have to be wired directly to the leisure battery and then can include the MPPT regulator. The PSU installed in the latest vehicles can take 200w, however, the unit has to perform many other functions and we have to adhere to European EMC regulations regarding intercomponent interference.


Battery charging

Battery charging from mains power. The Sargent system does not input the recommended 15 + volts to effectively desulfate house batteries. This needs to be rectified.


Answer: Battery charging from the engine alternator. With EU requirements to reduce emissions and increase engine efficiency, battery charging is reduced to a trickle as soon as the engine battery has been charged. This means little charge goes into the house batteries, a frustrating problem when house batteries urgently need charging from the engine whilst travelling. Can the charging system for motorhomes be modified to alleviate this problem?


The current system charges at 14.4v however Sargents are talking to Banner about raising this to 14.8 volts. Batteries should be maintained at 11v or higher and if this is the case the batteries should not sulphate. The Smart charging of the leisure batteries by the PX300 also works the battery to help prevent sulphating. Sargents are aware of the new technologies coming through which reduces the charge when the vehicle battery is full and they are looking to develop a booster system to overcome this issue and also enable the fridge to be run on the move.


Grey water plumbing – the traps used are not effective in stopping smells coming up into the van and they also cause air locks and poor water flow. It is recommended that the water level in these traps should be 70mm, not the 16-20mm used in many UK and European made motorhomes. The best solution is to use standard household 'U' traps. Many owners have installed these. They cut out all smells and give far better waste water flow. Can standard household U traps be installed at the factory to alleviate these problems?


Answer: We have used the appropriate smell traps in the past, however we have found them to restrict water flow. We have since deleted these to increase the waste flow and are now looking at pipe runs to create flexible S bend in the pipe runs.


Parts and service for parallel and self-imported Auto-trail motorhomes

 Owners of these motorhomes who require parts or service have regularly complained about not being able to obtain spare parts and/or service from Auckland Motorhomes, the official NZ Auto-trail dealer.  What is Auto-trail’s policy on this issue? Dan, AMH, has told me he is happy to supply parts but not free advice to owners who have not bought from him. I’m not sure what Ashburton and Taranaki RV’s policy is. 


Answer: All owners should go back to their selling dealer for any issue related to their vehicle, whether that be in NZ, Australia or the UK. All the vehicles we build for NZ and Australia are fitted with components that are applicable to that individual country, tropical fridges, ADR approved heaters, km binacles etc. If a customer chooses to come to the UK and purchase a UK specified vehicle and undertake a self-import to NZ, they must be aware of the limitations, the same if somebody buys an Auto-trail and then moves to France. Their contract is with the selling dealer and the dealers contract is with Auto-trail. That said we can and do sell parts to the end user, however, selling parts to an owner in NZ who has bought from the UK will incur substantial shipping costs. This is the main reason why we have to ship vehicles with no conversion warranty, as if parts break, the cost of shipping these back to the UK so that we can claim from our supplier, far outweighs the cost of the part.


WOF (warrant of fitness) rated motorhomes 

In NZ the max allowable laden weight of a vehicle with a WOF is 3500kg. These vehicles have a manufacturers' GVM rating of 3500kg.

Many motorhomes, even ones up to 7m +, are being sold with this rating. Available payloads, assuming a full tank of diesel is included in the tare weight, are often little more than 300 kg. For example, the Tracker EKS is advertised with a payload of 310kg. If we add: 

2 persons at 80 kg            = 160kg                 (4 persons =320kg)

120 litres water                 = 120

2 X 9kg gas cylinders       =  44

Toilet cassette full             =  20

Food, bedding, clothes     =  30

Chairs, utensils, 'toys' etc =  30

                                            404kg                    (with 4 persons: 564kg)


The vehicle now exceeds the GVM. It would be very hard to keep the max laden weight under 3500kg, especially the way many NZ owners use their motorhomes. There may be insurance issues if an overloaded motorhome is involved in an accident; also the possibility of an expensive fine if the vehicle is found to be overweight by the police.


The question arises: are motorhome retailers blindly encouraging over-weight vehicles with light weight chassis being put on the road just to satisfy the demand for WOF rather than the more expensive COF (certificate of fitness)?  


Another query on this issue – are the WOF motorhomes built on lighter weight chassis and therefore less stable on the road, especially with undulating roads and cross winds.  If this is the case, then again, should the industry be pushing to sell such vehicles, especially when over say 2.8m high and 6.5 m long?


Answer: We calculate the available payload differently in the UK and Europe compared to NZ. The UK Mass in Running Order figure is the weight of the empty vehicle (the NZ tare weight) with 75kg added for the driver, the fuel tank full, and the weight of one gas bottle. So, on the Tracker EKS we add 170kg to the empty vehicle weight.


The tare weight of the Tracker EKS model is 3020kg which gives a payload of 480kg.


On the issue about the number of passengers, in the UK we only put in an allowance (which is 75kg) for every designated travelling seat ie. a seat with a seat belt fitted. In the case of the Tracker EKS we would never allow for 4 passengers.


All smaller vehicles are built to 3500kg and use the Ducato light chassis on 15” wheels. The mid-range vehicles tend to use the same chassis on 16” wheels, which give a better ride and the larger vehicles are either on maxi or Alko chassis. Whilst Motorhomes are a high cube, the body shape of Auto-trails help them cut through the air and certainly on UK roads do not suffer from cross winds or turbulence when passing HGV’s.


All vehicles that are exported to Australia, are built on either the heavy or Alko chassis, due to the condition of some of their roads.


Water ingress into engine compartment. 

The Fiat for years has had a design fault that allows water to drain off the windscreen and onto sensitive electrical components under the bonnet. Even the new X290 with modified windscreen and scuttle still has a water ingress problem. 

With so many motorhomes being built on Fiat chassis (75%+ I understand) why can't the motorhome industry have more influence on Fiat to fix this problem once and for all?


ANswer: Water in the engine bay was a known problem on X2/44 and X2/50 vehicles with some serious effects, however the latest X2/90 model in considerably better.  Our Group pushes Fiat to provide solutions in many areas and with the original x2/50, 85 requests were made on making the chassis “Motorhome friendly” and they achieved 78 of these. However, with Fiat / PSA building 1300 vehicles a day, our influence is measured. I have raised it again at the recent NEC show with Fiat and will wait for their feedback.


Overhang on Delawares

The long overhang on Delawares and some other models can be frustrating when it comes to driving over dips that cause the back end to scrape and damage the plastic skirt. 

Can adjustable air suspension be offered as an optional extra; and/or a suitable protection that is bolted onto the extended chassis? (Many owners have installed various systems to eliminate this problem ranging from simple rollers to sophisticated bumpers.)


Answer: Whilst the maximum overhang in Europe is 65% of wheelbase, the majority of our vehicles are below 60%, however, with the Delaware being the largest wheelbase model, this results in a large rear overhang. We have therefore designed and developed with Witter a rear protection bar that can be bolted to the vehicles rear extensions or directly to the Alko chassis. This is also used to incorporate a rear cycle carrier also from Witter to carrier two electric cycles (60kg). Retail price for the bar in the UK is £199.


Toilet vent

The current toilet vent recirculates smelly air through a carbon filter that invariably is not replaced. A far better solution is to vent the air to the outside. 

Can the current toilet system be replaced with an external vent system?


Answer: We are discussing with Thetford on how to best vent to the vehicles exterior, ideally this will be under floor.


Reliable repair services

Auckland Motorhomes, being the only official seller of Auto-trails, expect their customers to take their motorhomes to Auckland for warranty repairs. This is often very expensive and inconvenient if the owner lives or has a problem to be fixed a long way from Auckland. Often with electrical and fridge problems it is hard to find a person that knows what they are doing. 

With so many Auto-trails on NZ roads now, can reliable repair agents be nominated throughout NZ, both for body repairs and electrical repairs. This would also be a major selling advantage.


Answer: In the UK we have a network of dealers that retail our products, however, they are not obliged to do warranty work on a vehicle they have not sold. Therefore, the first port of call for warranty is the selling dealer. The NCC (National Caravan Council) have a number of independent repairers in their Approved Workshop scheme (some of which are mobile) who customers can use to undertake repairs if they are on holiday or they live too far from their selling dealer. If you have a trade association in NZ, it may be worth looking at this type of model as a solution. Or perhaps put commercial pressure on the NZ dealers to offer a quid pro quo system for Auto-trails. 


I haven’t put in a question about Fiat warranty in NZ as this has been covered extensively on our forum ( and will also be addressed at the rally by an Auckland Fiat dealer (Andrew Simms) and hopefully the official Fiat NZ importer.  Warranty claims have been a source of huge frustration and often out of pocket repairs for owners of new imported motorhomes on Fiat chassis. Fiat NZ often refuses to supply parts and some Fiat dealers refuse to do warranty work.


However you may wish to mention what you told me in your email dated17 July, that “all vehicles built specifically for AMH and Ashburton RV come with a comprehensive 5 year warranty that starts at the point of registration”.  I presume this includes the engine and chassis.


Answer: All Auto-trails going to NZ and Australia have a 5-year Fiat chassis warranty. Fiat Australia come under the wing of Fiat Italy, however, Fiat NZ are an independent importer of Fiat vehicles. After numerous discussions and pressure from Auto-trail, Fiat Italy are in discussions with the importer to not only recognise the 5 year warranty, but also rectify those vehicles that have issues. 


Back to the rally programme –

Happy hour followed the technical talks, kindly sponsored by Auckland Motor Homes Ltd. More socialising carried on at the two dinner venues, both providing superb meals.


First up Sunday morning was our Club meeting. Four major decisions:


1. Tribute owners can now become full members of the Club.  Tributes are now an Auto-trial model just like Delawares, Scouts etc and are clearly badged ‘Auto-trail’.

2. Next rally will be in or near Tauranga – thank you John Smith for talking to the large contingent of Bay of Plenty members who attended and offering Tauranga as the 2018 venue. Thank you also to Kevin Hodgson for offering Napier as the next possible venue. Don’t forget, any of you can organise a ‘mini-rally’ for your local members – just a few invited along for a weekend get-together can be great fun.

3. The Club’s informal structure will continue ie no executive, constitution etc.

4. I want to step down from being ‘Club Co-ordinator’ and let a ‘new broom’ have a go. I thought this may require some arm twisting however it didn’t; John Smith has kindly taken over the role.


Next on the programme was a talk from Far North Fuels’ manager, Margaret Ware, about their change of name to Kiwi Fuels and an explanation about the various fuel discount cards they offer to NZMCA members.


You can watch a video recording of Margaret’s talk on YouTube:


Throughout the rally many, many sponsored prizes were drawn, several with a value of several hundred dollars. We were overwhelmed with the generosity of the sponsorship, not only for prizes but also for the hall cost, Club banner and for the delicious morning and afternoon tea catering.


The rally officially ended at midday in true Scottish tradition, by us all being ‘piped’ out of the hall.

In the afternoon technical sessions were held for those who wanted to stay, covering a range of topics, issues and useful fixes. Chris Gaelic gave a short presentation on using RVExplorer to plan an itinerary around Northland to find interesting places to visit and great spots to freedom camp.


While the rally was held from Friday to Sunday, many members decided to stay at the venue on Thursday and Sunday nights too, making it a long weekend event with more time for happy hours and socialising! The venue, the Waipu Caledonian Society’s Park is an excellent POP for both big and small motorhome events. A big thank you to those Society members who helped make our weekend so enjoyable.





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