Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A problem with gas

A standard VW California (like Fred) has the stove in the middle of the vehicle, behind the driver. This connects to a gas pipe that runs down the side of the van, to the bottle at the back.

As a consequence, you need to open the back door every time you stop for the night or drive off to turn the gas on or off from the bottle - unless you want a live channel of gas running down the side of the vehicle, which probably wouldn't be great in the event of an accident. Not that we have accidents. But this isn't exactly handy - and with the rather heavy Fiamma box on the back, it's even more unhandy.

Secondly, when it's cold, the gas bottle has a tendency to freeze up because it's tucked away, far from the heat of the cabin. This usually happens half way through cooking dinner. The bottle gets colder and colder, and the stream of gas gets thinner and thinner ... and your pasta won't boil anymore. We've tried insulating it, but in the Alps in winter, that only delays the problem. The only cure is to open the heavy back door, get the bottle out and warm it in front of the heater, then put it back in its box. Again, pretty unhandy.

Is it possible to connect the bottle straight to the stove, so the bottle is in the cabin of the van, where it's always quite warm? NO! Some bright spark at Westfalia has put different types of connections on each the end of the pipe in the van. Nice work, buddy.

Stove to pipe: press valve connection. Pipe to bottle: screw connection.

Is it possible to just get a connector from one to the other? A simple adapter? NO! Well, not in France. In France they have a different system of gas connections than they do in Germany, or the Netherlands. You thought Europe was one big happy union, didn't you?

We spent today visiting almost every single handware store in the greater Grenoble area. Each time a very helpful assistant would explain they didn't have the part - it being a German part - but perhaps this other place would. And off we'd drive.

Eventually we ended up at a camping / caravanning store (the name of which, ironically, we had had all along). Again, he couldn't help us ... but he gave us the name and address of his mechanic, who might be able to import a VW part into France for us. The mechanic also couldn't help us, but asked us to follow his young apprentice down the road, to yet another place that might perhaps have the appropriate bits.

By this stage, we had been driving between hardware stores for 5 hours. Yes really.

The apprentice took us to a building supplies shop, and walked in as if he owned the place. Before any business was discussed, he greeted and shook the hands of every staff member there. We felt quite informal, nodding and smiling and pretending we spoke French.

The issue was explained, again in French, and we were told that it would be really no problem. Easy, in fact. Particularly as he had one of the two connectors, the screw connection, in stock - success at last! We just had to cut the pipe from the stove, removing the press valve, and replacing it with a screw connection. Then it could go straight to the bottle, which we could put under the stove in the warmth of the cabin - hurrah!

But that would mean we could never again connect the stove to the pipe in the van ... Which one day, in summer, we might want to do. So, the man took the discarded press valve and its short section of hose, and added another screw connection onto it. Too easy. Well, when you have the right bits!

So we now have a short section of hose, with the press valve on one end and the screw connection on the other. An adapter at last - double hurrah!

... and the cost? Free. Nada, nothing, happy to be of service. Smiles and thanks all round. Brilliant. :)


  1. Seriously you drove around for 5 hours and couldn't come up with that solution yourselfs? Maybe the holiday is taking its toll;-)

    Have a good one!


  2. Well we did already have the solution, as did every hardware store we visited ... just not the crucial spare parts. In Germany this would all have been so easy!

    Hope you're well Hans. :)