There are many factors to consider when buying a motorhome, including payload, base vehicle, maximum weight, layout and number of berths, but one really important consideration is whether to go for a manual gearbox or an auto.
Our motorhome, KC, has the Fiat Comfortmatic auto-shifted manual gearbox, which is basically the same as the manual gearbox, but with a robotised gearchange to make it an automatic.
The choice for us was largely academic, because everything else ticked the required boxes – it just happened to be an auto. This wasn’t a problem as I’ve driven lots and always liked them.
A recent visit to my friendly local Fiat dealer gave me an opportunity to check for outstanding recalls or updates (thankfully, there were none) and I asked the service manager about the ’van’s Comfortmatic box and reliability.
I was a bit taken aback when he said they’d seen a couple of Comfortmatic issues, including a failed mechatronic unit (that’s the robot bit, which sits on top of the box and pushes and pulls the selectors via hydraulic servos) – which can cost five grand to replace.
He suggested that there are two main causes of these problems. First, some drivers don’t like the speeds that the box chooses to change gear at, so they override it manually. Most drivers don’t seem to know that they should leave the selector in forward gear when turning off the engine (it’s in the owner’s handbook).
Second is that, because the hydraulic fluid is similar to brake fluid and is hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the atmosphere), it should be changed every couple of years. Many people just don’t realise this, so it isn’t done, but it’s not cheap, which may be a contributing factor. However, it really should be carried out.
He also advised a clutch relearn – teaching the controlling computer where the bite point and full open positions of the clutch are.
Now I could almost certainly do all this myself, but as I’ve never done it before and I don’t know for certain that my diagnostic kit could do the relearn procedure, I opted to let them do it and booked KC in for the procedure.
The other reason I decided to let them do the work is that they are a Fiat main agent and deal with a lot of Comfortmatics, while I don’t.
I also get a level of warranty from them, which I can’t provide if I DIY it. This is a £700 job, but if it safeguards against future problems, I’m very happy to pay it.
If you are looking for some maintenance tasks you can carry out on your ‘van, check out our DIY motorhome health check guide.
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