Our Truma water heater failed on electric back in mid June, two days into our 2018/19 euro tour! Being electro technically savvy (qualified) I determined that both of the electric elements were dead. On-line research showed that you could replace them yourself, but a good workshop was essential in which to make the repairs. I also considered flying a new Truma heater out to Sweden so that I could just swap them over. But that was seriously expensive.
So we persevered for nine months with only gas water heating. Now normally that would be ok as we do have big 22 kg LPG/GPL tanks, but for the next four months we would be in Scandinavia where filling stations are less frequent, with none at all in Finland. We managed our gas usage for Bron’s showers only, and later when the hot Spanish winter arrived we bought simple electric fan heaters for €14 each, one in the lounge and another for the bedroom.
Meanwhile I had been in touch with the Truma help desk in Burton upon Trent in Derbyshire, who confirmed my diagnosis. Fortunately for us, Truma have only about four service centres worldwide, of which one is the aforementioned. There are of course service companies elsewhere, but only about four actual Truma service centres. Months ago when we knew what we were doing this year, I booked in for replacement elements.
Today was the big day, we had arrived last Thursday and stayed nearby at the Caravan Club’s site in the centre of Uttoxeter race course. Truma have a huge UK distribution warehouse and customer service centre here. They said they could remove the heater and repair and refit in about four hours, during which they would water and feed us in their TV lounge. Their quote was £300/$600 parts plus about 4 hours labour.
We duly turned up at 0830, removed about 500 kg of clothes from under the bed where our Truma is located, and I dismantled the custom fitted cabinetry I had built under the bed. Then we went to Derby for the day, great city centre shopping there.
They called a couple of hours later and said the heater was seriously damaged by frost. It was kaput!
A new Combi 6000 watt model, the biggest model, needed because of our size, retails for £2600/$5200 plus labour, I knew this but was not expecting it.
But there is a problem, the new generation model has an LCD keypad, while our older model has mechanical switches. The new LCD panel needs a 12 volt supply, and creating that will take a lot of work. I offered to do that as I know it can be done really easily, but no they don’t have insurance for me to do that. While I understand this insurance business, I also see it as the great British cop out for not doing anything different. Sorry to my Brit friends, but we have heard that excuse so many times in the past three years. In this instance I would be inside my van doing whatever damage at whatever risk I wished to take, not their worry.
Anyway, Tony the technician was very very nice and he had a better solution. He had a fully warranted and serviced Combi 2000 watt trade-in heater, which can be converted to a Combi 6000 watt model by changing the internal circuit board and loom from ours to this heater, hence converting it to the same as our original. After some discussion to clarify all that we went ahead.
The job was completed about 3 pm and we returned to the Workshop. Wow what a difference. The new heater was much much better than it had been.
Tony then spent half an hour demonstrating how to use it, which confirmed we were doing it correctly, and demonstrating that the new heater worked correctly. Then he showed us our old heater, and how he had removed the electric control board and fitted it to the new one. It seems that a Combi 2000 watt and Combi 6000 watt heater are physically the same, but the lesser model is electronically limited.
So what had happened. Frost is a major issue for motorhomes in winter, and he said the damage to ours was the worst he had seen in his six years at Truma. What I don’t quite understand is that the heater and plumbing are all inside the vehicle, and in our case all external connecting plumbing is insulated, as are the water tanks, with a winterising kit? However frost damage does still happen.
We know for certain that over the past three years our van has always had warmth and hot water during the winter evenings and mornings, with only a two day period in Kent last year when we were snow bound. During that snow period the heating was definitely turned on because we were there in the van. The only time I can see that this damage occurred is after we purchased it, in Wales, they stored it over winter without taking the necessary anti frost preventions. At the time I was quietly concerned back in NZ that they may not have winterised it properly, or at all?
The damage was amazing. The heater is designed as follows. The inner gas heater is a roaring inferno inside a stainless steel tubular tank about 120 mm in diameter and about 300 mm long.
This tank is a firm fit inside a massive aluminium heat sink with maybe 30 solid radial fins, each with many minor fins off them, creating a massive surface area with which to radiate heat.
Surrounding the heat sink is the water tank, this time a long round tank with a hollow centre. So the inner and outer tank walls look to be maybe two centimetres apart, yet it holds ten litres of water. The water tank is millimetres away from the heat sink and not physically contacting each other.
The way it works is the inner furnace tank reaches 200 degrees. The serious heat radiates from the fins to the water tank by air convection, not physical contact.
The frost causes the water to freeze and expand, pushing the inner tank wall against the heat sink fins. In a minor damage case, the direct contact causes the water to over heat and then the unit shuts down. So it will work like this. In our case though, the tank had expanded so far that the radial heatsink fins had been crushed! This is a huge solid aluminium extrusion crushed by the expanding water tank. The damage was spectacular.
The electric elements are just two straight jug or kettle elements, worth peanuts but sold for £300/$600 a pair. They fit in the air chamber, slid into slots between the heat sink fins to heat the heatsink directly.
The power rating works like this, on electric only it is rated at 1800 watts, on gas only it is rated at 4200 watts. On the joint electric and gas setting, it prioritises one or the other depending on the thermostat, so it is not really a 6000 watt heater.
Our electric elements failed as elements do. The frost damage was not apparent until they tried to replace the elements and then saw the state of the thing. I wish I had photos, but at that point I had left my phone in the car, uncharacteristically.
So now it is working well, in retrospect the heater never seemed quite hot enough, but it is now.
The final bill was £1074/NZ$2148, which was £650/$1300 for the 2000 watt heater, plus a wiring harness, plus labour to fit our 6000 watt components and install. And a new warrantee. They only charged us for two hours labour at about $100 per hr.
The staff at Truma were awesome, excellent advice and service all the way from when I first contacted them from Scandinavia.
Incidentally, the name Truma comes from President Truman. According to the web site, the company was started during WW2 when the founder was producing economic gas heaters for German citizens. He later named the company after President Truman, for whom he had great respect. Later he created the very first hot water shower system for caravans, in 1961, from memory. Although I understand the Alde water systems are superior, Truma claim to have a 90% market share world wide? The company is still family managed, now by his granddaughter I recall. All this info is available on their website or on YouTube.
There is a terrifying video on YouTube showing a see through version of the 6000 watt gas heater, burning like a jet engine about to explode, this is good under our bed!
Sorry for the long description, but I think it is a great example of what frost can do, and to be aware of. We Aucklanders are not really concerned by frost although we do get them, but those of you south of Bombay need to be aware of the dangers.
JohnM n Bron