Diamond Dave

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Mechanical problems with an older motorhome? Our workshop guru Diamond Dave explains how he keeps his Fiat Ducato going strong after 210,000 miles!

The Duke is dead! Long live The Duke!  Actually, The Duke is my work van: a 2005 two-litre short-wheelbase Fiat Ducato with a little over 210,000 miles under its belts.

The mileage is starting to show, with some parts needing to be replaced: last spring it was the clutch, December cost me an alternator, and in February it required an offside driveshaft.  All can be put down to fair wear and tear, but today he really disgraced himself. 

There are many motorhomes based on the Fiat Ducato, so here’s a run-down of what’s happened, so you can keep an eye out for similar issues in your own motorcaravan. 

My Ducato lost power

I recently drove The Duke to work as usual, but it quickly became obvious that something wasn’t right: there was a total lack of power. The Fiat would start and idle properly, but as soon as I put my foot down it stuttered its way to 1800rpm where it stubbornly sat. 

It finally made it through the 1.8-mile journey, but barely limped into the car park at work, accompanied by a fair bit of black smoke. By now I was running through all sorts of common problems with the Fiat Ducato in my mind, including a seized-up turbo, broken turbo shaft, injector failures, ECU problems or even a total engine failure.

A little later in the day I managed to take a look at it. The EGR valve and its control had been suggested by a neighbour, but the EGR valve turned out to be only lightly sooted, was sealing well and displayed free movement. 

So I disconnected the pipe between the turbo output and the intake manifold; with the engine running there was a good solid flow of air from the turbo, so that could be ruled out.

Throttle valve problem solved 

After a bit of head scratching and a cuppa, I had a look into the inlet manifold at the throttle valve. This is a vacuum-operated butterfly valve that should normally be open, but is closed by vacuum when the accelerator pedal is released to improve engine braking. I was a little surprised to see it almost closed; also, it closed completely when the engine was started, instead of opening fully. It was all very odd, but did explain the complete lack of power! 

The throttle valve is operated by a vacuum diaphragm that’s mounted to the side of it, and connected to the throttle valve shaft by a small ball and socket coupling. The ball and socket had simply worn away until they parted company, allowing the valve to fall to the near-closed position. Revving the motor up created enough vacuum in the inlet manifold to suck the flap closed, and thereby starve the engine of much-needed air. 

A temporary repair was made by drilling a very small hole through the centre of the ball and socket and inserting a simple split pin. This should keep The Duke breathing until a new valve assembly arrives in a few days. 

My other Ducato is a Duchess

The other Ducato is a 2009 L4H2 ('length 4, height 2' – or in other words, a Fiat Ducato with an extra-long body and medium high-top), and this is the project van that we are converting into a motorhome. This Ducato has also done more than 200,000 miles but, as with The Duke, they were mostly on the motorway, and regular servicing has been the order of the day.

The Duchess (as has become her title) was mechanically pretty sound, with the exception of the rear spring hanger bushes which were worn. New discs and pads all round, along with a brake-fluid change and general chassis service, and she’s good to go for another 100,000 miles (I hope).

As I write this the van conversion is in its final stages but, as we all know, the devil is in the detail. 

Fiat Ducato van conversion project

So far we’ve finished the insulation, wiring, carpets, kitchen installation and space- and water-heating, and fitted the water tank, waste tank and underslung gas tank. The gas system has been commissioned, and is therefore gas-tight, leak-free and ready to use. 

I still have to plumb in the water system, build the permanent king-sized bed, create a shower/toilet room from a pile of plywood, and do the final-fix wiring. 

That wouldn’t be a major problem if we had spare time to work on it, but we are going away in The Duchess in less than two weeks, and the workshop is in its busiest season. Wish me luck!

For more van conversion tips, read Grant Long's advice on how to convert a Renault Master into a campervan. And, whatever your motorhome base vehicle, whatever the age, make sure you drive it frequently – these vans are built to last and the secret is to be tough on your motorhome to keep it running well. 

A keen motorcaravanner, Practical Motorhome's technical expert Diamond Dave runs his own leisure vehicle workshop. Find out more at Dave Newell Leisure Vehicle Services.
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