|2001 Auto-Trail Mohican on a Mercedes 316 chassis - Live in Report|
Immediately after taking delivery in January 2001, we had two shakedown trips totaling five nights without major problems. We then undertook a two month tour of the Algarve and Southern coastal Spain. Any new vehicle feels different at first but with a home on wheels there is the question of where is the best place to store this and that and a set of routines has to be developed to find the best way of doing things. There is really only one way to do this and that is to live in it and do it.
It did not take long to get used to driving this large vehicle and after the second trip I felt quite confident in handling it on UK roads. The Mercedes 316 CDI powers it effortless and driving comfort is not too difficult to obtain with the multi positioning air ride seats. I was a little apprehensive about reversing but with the large electrically adjustable wing mirrors, which give an excellent rear view, plus the ability to see right through the accommodation area and out the back window, reversing aids are not required. Fuel consumption averaged about 24mpg.
Although we packed to minimise rattles and loose items, on our first trip the level of noise whilst travelling was not to our satisfaction and clearly more work was needed to reduce this. The wheelchair ramps were the major offending item. A half an hour with a saw and sandpaper before the second trip soon produced some miniature wooden wedges which were used as spacers to stop metal meeting metal at every bump in the road. I later replaced these with miniature rubber wedges found in a hardware store. I believe the original purpose of these wedges was for use with sash windows!
We quickly appreciated the ease of setting up on site, a real benefit in the wet. A quick dash outside to connect up the electric and turn the gas on and the kettle was on a minute later. The cab heater is very efficient and the accommodation section was warm on arrival and it required very little heat from the fire to bring the whole van up to a comfortable living temperature. Swivel the passenger chair round and Wendy was soon part of the scene without the laborious process of transferring from car to caravan. When the time came, she had no difficulty using a transfer board to make the transition to the wheelchair.
The toilet area was managed without a hitch and if anything it was slightly easier to transfer onto the toilet than in the caravan, there being less of a gap between chair and toilet seat. However, a standing transfer onto a free standing shower seat is required. This was unnecessary in the caravan so Wendy has lost some of her independence. There is also not quite enough depth to sit without tucking your legs underneath the shower chair. This could pose a difficulty for a larger disabled person. However the increased privacy and spaciousness of the large rear bathroom is much appreciated by us both.
The kitchen is designed to be utilised by only one person. Unlike the caravan, two is a real crowd and the layout is not as effective as that of the caravan. The sink draining board is on the right and is the wrong way round. It is impossible for one to wash and the other to dry. We solved this by buying a free standing draining top from John Lewis which when placed on the cooker top on the left allowed washing up service to resume as we like it. With the folding kitchen work top set at wheelchair height we have developed food preparation, cooking and washing up routines to make living in the motorhome pleasurable and very comfortable.
The make up of the double bed is a fiddle and far too bitty. I could see my temper getting the better of me if I had to do this every night so on our second trip we tried making up single beds, a lot less trouble and much easier to make up and stow away. Neither way presented Wendy with transfer problems. We stow the 'bedrolls' in the luton, this being by far the easiest place to put them and I was glad Wendy had persuaded me to purchase the Hi-line model rather than the Lo-line version. The storage space and flexibility of the luton is invaluable and for our long trip we even managed to store a collapsible standing frame in it.
We still found too many rattles on our second trip and pinned them down to the fire. A close inspection revealed it was loose in its frame and, on removal of the cover, further loose screws were discovered inside. All were tightened and extra frame fitting screws added to make the installation more solid.
I was not happy with the sink, unlike the enamelled caravan one, it is made of fibreglass and was not adequately supported. It flexed too much and the surrounding seal broke. Whilst it is not difficult to re-seal this, I see this as a potential problem in that water will quickly find its way into the sink top woodwork and the cupboard below if this weak point is not continually monitored. I increased support by adding extra screws and the edges were resealed . Two months of subsequent everyday use did not resulted in any problems but further use resulted in the seal breaking again and the sink developing a minor crack. Apart from this and the loose fire the build quality is excellent. The sink was subsequently replaced in August 2002 under the guarantee. I noticed the new sink supplied by Autotrail is of a better quality and it has been additionally supported by a batten across its width. We hope that is the end of the problem. Subsequent models no longer have this type of sink.
The Mohican on the Mercedes base has up rated camping suspension, even so, it is quite soft and I found distributing a full load to keep the weight carried by each axle within limits difficult. Rear ground clearance was not helped either by fitting a tow bar. Ground clearance and handling were improved by fitting 'Air Ride' rear suspension aids.
We have not found the lack of a car inconvenient but early in 2001 I had the opportunity to acquire a Ford Fiesta, this has now been fitted with an 'A' frame and is towed on some of our UK trips. On our continental trips, we changed sites more often than if we had been caravanning but to have the motorhome and its facilities handy on days out was a huge benefit particularly where wheelchair accessible toilet facilities were so sadly lacking.
AND NOW - December 2011
The report which follows identifies problems we had during ownership and what we thought about our Autotrail Mohican?
The electrically adjustable wing mirrors provide good rear visibility. However, I found the near side mirror (left hand) had a bad blind spot when driving on the continent. This was quickly solved by buying a 'stick on' wide view mirror of about 2 inches in diameter which was glued to the left hand wing mirror to cover the blind spot. I found this was also useful when negotiating UK roundabouts where lane discipline often leaves much to be desired. I also fitted a Fresnel Lens to the rear window primarily to improve the visibility of the area immediately behind the motorhome to keep an eye on our towed car.
Following starting difficulties in the early winter, the engine battery was replaced in November 2005.
In January 2006, the gear lever linkage broke resulting in an abandoned trip and a minor repair and later in the same year, the screen washer pump was replaced.
All four road tyres were routinely replaced in June 2008.
At the annual service and MOT in December 2009, a major service was requested in preparation for a trip to Morocco, it proved expensive. One of the Air- Rides was considered unsafe and I had both replaced. They normally have a life of about 8 years so they were a year past their "use by date"! The engine starter glow plugs were also replaced, Four were faulty and it was false economy not to replace all five. A rear brake pipe had also been rubbing on the suspension and was replaced as was the brake fluid.
None of the problems developed into serious issues and shows the wisdom of regular servicing for trouble free motoring. This was proven in 2010 when we encountered no problems and following servicing in December 2010, the MOT was passed with flying colours. Every time I step into the cab I love it. It is a pleasure to drive and the 5 cylinder 2.7c.c 156h.p engine copes easily with hills and mountain passes. In the UK we used to effortlessly tow a Ford Fiesta for the first 7 and a bit years with hardly any change in the 24m.p.g. average fuel consumption. In September 2008 we changed the Fiesta for a Micra C+C, which is slightly heavier car than the Fiesta, but towing remains effortless.
The Whale 'Universal' water pump stopped working in 2004 after 2-1/2 years use, the seals failed and the pump would not prime. Replacement seals could not be obtained and Whale replaced the pump free of charge within 2 weeks of contacting them. Fortunately the pump is fairly accessible on the Mohican and a trip to the dealer was not necessary because it was not difficult to change. The seals again failed in early 2006 whilst on a trip in the UK. Fortunately a large dealer was not too far away and I was able to purchase and easily fit a replacement. They do cost over £70 and I now had two duff pumps with perfect working motors! I decided to pursue the purchase of replacement seals and the best I could do, after some difficulty, was to obtain a complete new head from a caravan dealer at a cost of £33. I now carry it as a spare, this being much lighter than carrying a complete pump. In May 2007, noting the pump was showing signs of failing again, and seeing a Whale representative at one of the shows, I complained. They took my details and sent me a set of replacement seals free of charge. It was not too difficult a job to fit these in December when the pump had again totally failed and would not prime. It is worth noting here that the pump is not fitted to a solid enough bulkhead and can be rather noisy when running even though it is mounted on rubber shock absorbers. I don't think these are large enough because in operation the pump eventually moves enough for the body or the pipe work to touch the bulkhead with a resultant increase in pump noise. I have padded in between the pipework, pump and bulkhead with pieces of foam rubber.This has largely cured the problem. It is also worth noting that the new pump seals were a different colour and I am suspicious that Whale have changed the compound that these are made from. Further discussions with a Whale representative suggested these premature failures might be caused by the chemicals used to clean the water tank and they confirmed the compound had been changed. I have been using Puriclean annually but have now stopped this practice. Only time will tell whether these seals will last any longer.
In April 2006, I decided for the second time in six years to replace our two 85APH leisure batteries. At the same time I also fitted a Van Bitz Battery Master which facilitates the charging of both engine and leisure batteries from a mains hook up. This is keeping the engine battery in better condition and because the cab stereo radio/CD player runs off and the engine battery, I no longer need to worry about draining the engine battery with excessive use of the radio whilst on hook up.
Because the accommodation entrance has been widened to 30 inches to allow wheelchair access, it is fitted with a non standard stable door. This is not burst proof and also the door fly screen had to be omitted. Door security was improved shortly after purchase by fitting a Fiamma door lock and a net curtain was added to replace the lost fly screen.
In late 2006, Heo dead locks were fitted to the cab doors to improve security and an FM Modulator was fitted to the cab radio. A two port audio switch was fitted to the modulator input and, with the modulator switched on and the radio tuned to its frequency, audio inputs can be fed to the vans stereo speakers at the touch of a button. One port of the switch is connected to my PDA, which will run my navigation system or play recorded music. The other port can be connected to the TV/DVD or my laptop. Whilst I was doing this job, I discovered the accommodation speakers had been wired incorrectly to the cab radio by Autotrail. They had simply wired them in parallel with the front cab speakers rather than connecting them to the rear speaker outputs. The correction of this fault and the ability to connect my audio devices to the radio has dramatically improved the sound quality from these devices.
In 2008, as part of reducing the weight carried to keep within the plated axle weights, I removed the two Calor 13Kgm gas bottles and fitted a single Gaslow 11Kgm refillable bottle backed up by a Calor 6Kgm lightweight bottle. I also removed the topbox and rear steadies as well as moving weight forward to put more weight over the lighter loaded front axle.
In November 2009, when replacing the igniter battery, I discovered the Truma heater ignition would not switch off after lighting the gas fire. This was fixed at a habitation service in January 2010 by replacing the ignitor module.
No problems were encountered in 2010, everything performed faultlessly.
AutoTrail Coachwork and Layout
If the wind is in the right direction, a bad draft enters the accommodation compartment via the fridge vents. A magazine article points out that this should not be the case and criticises several well known suppliers for failing to install fridges correctly. Autotrail was one of them. The fridge vents should be sealed from the motorhome interior but this has not been done in our van. Apart from the draft, this may also affect fridge efficiency although we have never noticed this.
The lighting is very good with the exception of the front cab. Reading whilst sitting in the comfort of the swivelling passenger seat in a failing light was impossible. We solved this by fitting a further mains socket in the luton where we can plug in a suspended lamp to illuminate the cab area. This socket also improved the distribution of mains electricity and it can be used for other purposes when mains power is required at the front of the vehicle.
During the second year of use, a small crack about an inch long appeared in the exterior aluminum skin in the top right hand corner of the door frame.
I have had a similar problem on a caravan and believe it is due to inadequate strengthening of a wider door. I had not expected to see it
happen on a motorhome which is a much stronger built vehicle than a caravan. The insurance assessor was also surprised but nevertheless the
cracked panel was quickly replaced under the guarantee and we were assured the door frame was strengthened at the same time.
A further year of use did not resulted in it occurring again but after our Norwegian trip in 2004 it appeared again. Following discussions with
a coachwork builder this was repaired in April 2005. During repair, no sign of damp or strengthening was found. This time, a metal plate was
fixed behind the crack reinforcing the area and the whole lot was filled with resin and repainted. It was hoped this was the end of the problem? It wasn't, and a
hairline crack started to appear again 6 months later. Over a further 6 months this had not become any worse and close inspection shows it to be only on the
surface. Perhaps a cover plate is also required but for the time being I am just monitoring it. I had this checked in mid 2007 at a habitation service and received
confirmation that this was not a problem. At this service, I also had a water leak in the large accommodation window repaired. This was discovered during the
heavy rains experienced early in 2007. Fortunately it only occurred when strong wind and rain came from a certain direction and it had only intermittently leaked.
I had also discovered it early and no damage had resulted.
For further information on any of the modifications/additions made to this motorhome click here
Cost of ownership
In terms of cost per mile and nightly costs, this works out at 67p a mile or £48 per night but, if you include depreciation, this rises to 98p a mile or £68 per night. Costs of extra equipment, are not included in these figures. Not as cheap as some might think but still thoroughly enjoyable and good value for money
In September 2010 we took the plunge and ordered a custom build model. You can view more detail and follow the progrees of this acquisition here. There were some set backs but we collect this on the 29th December 2011 and our much loved Mohican was then traded in. You can view the live in report of our RS Endeavour here
We are still thoroughly enjoying our travels and hope the improved facilities of a custom built motorhome will give us many more years of happy travelling. We think the following completely captures the spirit and pleasure of owning a motorhome.
Buff's motorhome ode:
Buff Eagle - Motorhome List, August 2002