Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Modern versus traditional methods used in fitting out.

Well it is weekend again, and again it is cold and dank, with snow again forecast in northern areas of the UK. It was touch and go whether to visit the boat or not, but I love being there and tinkering around. This was my latest project......

One of the little jobs that I had outstanding was a fairly long standing annoying little fault with the engine hours meter, which is part of the tachometer. The meter itself is a digital LCD display, where everything else on the instrument panel, a Barrus deluxe, are analogue gauges. The panel is fitted on the port side outside verticle bulkhead just left of the stern cabin entrance doors. As such, it is fairly exposed to the weather, and is only covered when we leave the boat and fit the vinyl cockpit cover over the semi-trad stern area. However, I have checked, and it is fitted in accordance with specified instructions, being vertically mounted and sheltered from direct long term contact with water. However, in the cold weather, the internals of all the instruments do have a tendancy to form condensation. The problem with the hour meter is that in these conditions, it stops displaying, and remains blank.

 The location of the instruments. The offending hour meter at the bottom of the (condensated) tachometer in the middle.

Two years ago, when we first bought the boat, and this happened, I arranged for an engineer to check it out. After many hours of dismantling and fault finding he declared that the only resolution would be a new gauge. He checked the local Barrus supplier, and was told, rightly or wrongly, I never found out, that you could only buy the complete panel and not just a single gauge from it! Guess what? - cost was up there in the clouds! As I have a background in electronics, albeit I left that trade in 1987, I wasn't going to give up that easily, and told him not to bother. In the meantime, the panel had been lying on the bed within the cabin, and on refitting, hey presto - it worked! The engineer put it down to corroded or loose connections on the loom wiring connector. I wasn't that concerned as it was now operational although I had a bill to pay for his labour. The meter continued to work all the next year and through the winter, until we opened the boat up this February, after being laid up since September last year and another harsh winter. The engine started no problem, but the engine hour meter remained blank again.

Now, many people would not be too concerned about such a minor problem as having no engine hour meter. Unfortunately I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and everything that is supposed to work has to work, or I lose sleep over it. This time, I decided to investigate the problem myself, rather than pay another bill for an engineer to tell me the thing had started to work of its own accord again. I consulted two boating related forums on the internet. I find these to be very useful, as there is always somebody out there who has had exactly the same problem and found their own solution. This is exactly what happened in this case. Several people had experienced similar problems with this type of LCD display in the often unfavourable environment to which they are exposed. They had all solved it by removing the offending instrument and placing it in a warm, dry place such as an airing cupboard for a couple of days, after which it should work fine, even retaining the information it had before it went faulty. I tried this, and achieved the same result, success! The fault is due to damp, or condensation affecting the LCD display, and not loose or corroded wiring connections in the loom plug/socket. It appears to me that an LCD display should not be used in these circumstanses where they will be affected in this way, but I suppose the gauge maker, as opposed to the instrument panel supplier, only ever intended their guage to be fitted into a nice cosy cockpit of a fibreglass cruiser, and not bolted onto the external cold steel of a narrowboat.

So, what way forward? If I could find a supplier for a new gauge, the problem would most likely re-occur. My solution was to fit another, analogue engine hour meter, internally. The two would work together, the LCD one when it felt like it, and the older design analogue guage, hopefully, totally reliably. I obtained the new guage for £20 off Ebay, fitted it, and everything in the world is once again rosy! I made a note in my service history, (again I am a perfectionist here also), that an additional gauge had been fitted at 766 hours, the existing log which should be displayed on the LCD meter.

The new analogue gauge, fitted internally, in the oak box that covers the rear of the instrument panel.

The moral of my story, (as far as I am concerned anyway), is if you can't fix something with a big hammer and an adjustable spanner, then I am not interested in it being part of my boat! This was the design brief given to Maurice Wilks, chief design engineer at Rover Cars, when he designed the first Land Rover in 1948. I believe that this holds good today when designing narrowboats, I know many others won't agree!


  1. Hi Peter

    We had exactly the same problem on our last boat, when it was warmer the engine hours would work, but when cold and damp no chance! This time we are having a Beta 43 so have an analogue instrument panel, so should be better this time, and a less smokey engine, do you find that the barrus is a little smokey when in a lock, we were told this was normal for a barrus, although we did put a broquet in the fuel tank and this stopped a lot of it so much so spencer at hiperton boat yard now sells them as he was amazed at the difference.

  2. Yes, the engine is smokey in locks, but gets better as it runs through the day. I had been thinking about fuel additives as a resul of all the talk of FAME and bio diesel being added to fuel these days. I will now study your link in detail when we get home, so thanks for that. By the way, the new hours gauge works perfectly and I see no reason now why it shouldn't continue to do so, so I am happy again! Regards Peter.


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