Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly # 1: The blue truck’s water system

I have spent considerable time on the water system while I modified my truck. On the drawing you can see how my system works. Here I tell you what has proven good and what has proven to be bad. I will be following the system step by step, mentioning each unit, starting at the water tank following through till the drain at the sink.

Water Tank

I do not like drilling holes in the original structure of the Toyota for various reasons i.e. rust, weakening the strength etc. Therefore I had to come up with a way to built an external filling port. I have built an aluminum panel that houses the filling port and some 12 Volts and 230 Volts power outlets. The panel is constructed in a way that it fits into the space when the original sliding window is opened and is attached at the original locking mechanism of the original sliding windows. Objectiv achieved, no holes drilled. 

The water tank with the mounting I manufactured. the aluminum profiles have glued in rubber lining for protection of the plastic tank

The water tank in situ during installation, the big grey tube is already connected to the outside filling port. the left hose is the hose going to the pump the hose that is not yet connected is the vent of the tank that goes into the filling port.

The panel I have manufactured to avoid drilling into the trucks structure, on the right you can see how it fits into the locking port of the sliding window. The small black nozzle is where the vent hose will be connected. 

I bought the water tank second hand, I do not know the original manufacturer. It is an RV type black 80 liter plastic tank with a wide opening for cleaning. Connections: A filling, a vent and a connection to for the hose to the water pump. I have built an aluminum mount for the installation inside of the Toyota to make it off-road capable. 

The Good: Buying it cheap on the web in excellent conditions. The wide opening to clean it out manually without using chemicals. 80 liters is a perfect size that gives you enough independence especially when free camping a lot. The installation inside of the vehicle will protect your water system from freezing. Even at nights with temperatures below freezing in the truck it was never cold enough to have any freezing issues.
The Bad: Takes up a lot of space inside the truck
The Ugly: Nothing
What would I do different if I was to start again: I would probably spend the extra money and installation efforts for an outside tank to be installed under the truck between the chassis beams. 80 liters of space inside of a relatively small vehicle to give up just for water is a lot. Disadvantage of the outside tank: Freezing issues, expensive, more complicated to install since it requires more cut-throughs into the vehicle. Advantage: It frees up a lot of space inside the car, it further lowers the point of gravity.  


Top is stainless steel for drinking water from the tank to the water tap, second and third is aluminum for the radiator coolant  IN and OUT to the Heat-Exchanger

Instead of just using hoses I have installed serious plumbing where possible. Stainless steel for the fresh water, aluminum tubing for the radiator coolant which I needed for the heat-exchanger for the hot water. 

The Good: Solid, long lasting, clean and healthy. No leaks, no issues over the past 160’000 kms and about 5 years since installation.

The Bad: Expensive, heavy, a lot of work to build and install initially (vs. plastic hoses).
The Ugly/Problems so far: One hose slipped off and resulted in a leak, plumbing itself no issues.
Would I do it different: No, same way all over again.

The Pump

Note: In this picture he pump is not connected yet, nor electrically neither to the water system. The wiring is original Surflo, I manteled the wires for protection.

I installed a Sureflo Whisper King Pump and a small filter in front of the pump for protection of the pump.

The Good: It actually is quiet, the electrical motor used is strong and reliable. 
The Bad: When bought in Europe it is very expensive for what is. It is US built, sorry my US friends! The US Americans like to buy new shit once in wile, often or at a certain high frequency. Most of the products manufactured in the US are catering excellently to that need of the US consumers. I call those things “Proudly built in the US not to last”. The first pump lasted about 8 months until it started having issues with the pressure switch. I managed to repair it in situ.
The Ugly: After about 18 months it started leaking on the plastic housing of the water pump side. The entire thing is just build kind of cheapish, see “The Bad”. I replaced it with the same type after about 2 years of use. Disassembled the first one and cleaned out the water pump part and replaced the O-Ring and put it aside as spare. The newly installed one lasted about another year and a bit when it started leaking at the same spot as the first one did. I guess it is one of those things that are fine when used in an RV that you take out for a three week vacation once a year but not for heavy duty use in an off-road overlanding truck for a couple of years and daily use.
What would I do different: I would search the market for a better quality product or even better build my own with a 12 Volt electro-motor i.e. the windscreen-wiper motor of a compact car from the scrapper and buy a small industrial grade water pump, i.e. as used for garden fountains or such, connect the two pieces and hopefully be trouble free for years.

The Accumulator

The Surflo accumulator with the mount I manufactured, on the right is the tire pressure valve for the pressure setting by a tire pump. Pluming is not in yet.

I installed a Sureflo water pressure accumulator. Its job is to level out the pressure difference that the pump might create because it switches on by lower pressure, as soon as you open the mixing valve at the faucet. It has a rubber membrane inside and it can be pumped up with a tire pump or a small bike pump to leverage out the pressure to perfect level.

The Good: It is a plastic part but surprisingly well built. No issues neither on water nor on the air half of the part. 
The Bad: A waste of money. For a car as short as mine the part is not really required and doesn’t make a whole lot of a difference.
The Ugly: Nothing.
What would I do different: Not even bother to install one

Manual Cut-Off Valves in the fresh water system

Top with the black handle is the fresh water cut off, the large valve with the red handle is for the radiator cooling water IN going to the Heat Exchanger it includes a bleeding valve, the smaller red handle is for the return to the radiator. 

I have installed a cut off valve right after the tank in front of the pump this allows to shut off all water flow right after the tank for any kind of maintenance on the system. The second valve is before the filters and the heat-exchanger, which allows cutting off for filter cleaning/replacement. I have used industrial grade brass ball-valve units vs. the plastic RV things.

The Good: All

The Bad: Slightly more expensive than the RV plastic stuff, heavy
The Ugly: Nothing
I would do it the same way again.

Manual Cut-Off Valves in the Heat-Exchanger radiator coolant water system

Leaktesting the system with a bypass hose prior to nstallation of the Heat-Exchanger. The valves with the red handles are the cut off's for the system, the upper one includes a bleeding valve since it is the highest point in the system.
I have installed two brass industrial grade valves at the IN and at the OUT side. This allows to totally switching the boiler off the engine cooling system. I have included a bleeding valve since the highest point is about at the same level as the radiator. I have bled the system only once after initial system installation. 

The Good: All
Bad and Ugly: Nothing

Pressure Regulator Pre-Heat-Exchanger IN

The water pressure has to be regulated prior to feeding it into the Heat-Exchanger in order not to exceed manufacturer’s specs. I have used a RV type regulator. 
Tipp: Should you decide to build a system without water filters you can save money here since you will be able to run the entire system with a lower pressure at the pump OUT, meaning you will not need more pressure than what the Heat-Exchanger is approved for anyways.  

The Good: All

Bad and Ugly: Nothing

Heat Exchanger

During installation and adjustments, the Heat-Exchanger sits on its own floorboard piece and can be removed independent from the rest of the water system if required for repairs or modifications.

The heat exchanger I have installed is an Elgena unit with 6 liter capacity. It is connected to the engine cooling system, which means as soon as your engine has warmed up you will have 6 liter of hot water. Additionally there is an electrical system that allows for the use as an electrical boiler, which you can purchase either in a 12 or 24 Volts version or 110 or 240 Volts. I have chosen the 12 V one. I would not want to leave without that piece of equipment anymore. When you free camp in the wild it is just wonderful to have a hot shower after a day of hiking, driving or any other activities. The hot water is extremely hot when heated with the engine, approx. 80°C which allows when mixed to a comfy temperature level for a shower of about 10 minutes despite the small water volume in the heat exchanger. You can also use the hot water to do your dishes and while on the road you can prepare yourself a hot tea or a quick-soup without unpacking/starting up your stove.

The Good: Many, see above
The Bad: Expensive, extensive plumbing works required to connect to the engine cooling system, kind of bulky for a small overlanding vehicle. Not build for outside (under chassis) installation.
The Ugly: The electrical aux-heating failed after about 2 years and is currently still unserviceable (the engine heat-exchanger part works so well that I did not bother repairing the electr. part on the road).
Would I do it different now: Yes, I would buy the high power electrical option with 220 Volts vs. the 12 Volts one, the reason being: When on the road I do have hot water from the engine, when on an organized campground I could connect to the grid. With 12 Volts 330 Watts the boiler uses a lot of power, so with the 12 Volt electrical option I need top solar conditions in order to use it with my own electricity, when that is the case (hot weather usually), I might as well shower cold. Worst case I could still run the engine for 10 to15 minutes and not even bother about the electrical boiler part.

Overpressure/Bleeding Valve at the Heat-Exchanger

The bleeding valve on the left of the brass T, the overpressure valve with the red knob on the right, the black hoses are IN and OUT of the engine cooling water, the white hose on the left top corner of the picture is fresh cold water IN.

The Elgena Heat-Exchanger comes with the solid brass unit. This will protect the system from over pressure and also allows you to bleed the system. I have attached a hose to the overpressure valve exit side and connected it with a Y-Connector to the sink's drain. If the valve opens, which if the case, is for a fraction of a second only, the water will not splash into the vehicle and be guided directly outside. 

The Good: All
Bad and Ugly: Nothing   

Water Filter

Housing and No. 4 Filter on the left, Carbodyn on the right with its housing. The filters are installed with brass quick connects, which allows for them to be removed and a short bypass line can replace them and the system can be used without filters.

System leak test prior to the installation of the Heat-Exchanger, Sink etc.

I am using a dual filter Katadyn system. The pre-filter I am using is the Carbodyn model, the main filter is the number 4. The first one is a replaceable unit, the second one can be cleaned. I have two number 4 filters for ease of maintenance, so I can just switch it, dry and clean it and have it ready for the next replacement. I replace the Carbodyn about once a year and switch the No. 4 filter for the cleaned one at the same time. 

The Good: Works excellent, not just for clean but also for tasty water. Never had any issues and making my own drinking water on the entire trip.
The Bad: An expensive solution, buying water might be a more economical at the end of the day. It is just so much easier to have your drinking water with you all the time and at the quantity still in your tank vs. having all those pet bottles with drinking water somewhere in your car.
The Ugly: Nothing
Would I do it different now: No.

Mixing Valves, Shower Head, Water Faucet

The pull-out shower head. RV style made of plastic, after 5 years since installation and 4 years regular use, in the background you can see the broken support when the shower is back in place. 

Mixing valve and water tap, chromplated house type of casted brass unit. 4 years of service without issues.

I have used a house type of faucet and an RV type of pull out shower. The mixing valves are all house type brass chromed units. 

The Good: High quality units pay off no issues at all, no leaks, nothing breaks. This type of units usually last for 20 years in a house.
The Bad: Expensive, heavy
The Ugly: The RV type of shower is plastic and did not last, It does not leak but its fixture at the mounting point started breaking and ever since it does not sit nice and firm at its location.
Would I do it different now: Yes, I would also use a house type high quality shower vs. the RV plastic thingy.

I have installed the water tap in a way that allows to use it either inside draining into the sink or outside draining into the wild. 

It is a nice option, especially when I sit/cook under the awning. Hower this is not an important option, when the layout of your truck does not cater well to that I would not put too much effoert in making it possible. As an alternative you can always use the pull out shower for water supply when outside.

The Sink

I have bought the sink used. It is a stainless steel typical RV type of unit. It is great to have a sink inside the car, see above, especially when street camping in a village or city it allows for you to wash yourself inside of the car without doing too much street nakedness under the OMG shower.

The Good: Works well, good quality, light weight, second hand was cheap, easy to find second hand.
The Ugly: Nothing
Would I do it different now: Yes, I would buy a smaller sink. It is excellent to have a sink inside the car, you can wash yourself when using the outside shower is not appropriate, you have a place to drain your water, do your laundry or dishes or put your dirty hiking shoes in after a muddy trip. But the unit I have installed just takes up too much valuable space in a small rig as mine. I would go for a the same unit but only half as wide.

The Drain

I am draining the water from the sink directly outside. I use 100% bio degradable soap and whenever possible I use a bucket which I put outside under the drain and carry the waste water into a toilet or a sink at a house. I have no toilet and therefore the waste water is not contaminated with anything more than soap, toothpaste and alike. I have installed a shut of valve into the drain for two reasons: 1. To keep any kind of small creatures out that might find their way through the waste water hose and 2. To shut it close when I am crossing rivers with my car.

The Good: All
Bad and Ugly: Nothing
Would I do it different now: No

The Hoses

For the fresh water system I have used industrial grade pressure hoses that can resist temperatures of up to 90°C and a pressure of up to 10 bar. This is slightly more expensive than the red and blue RV type of hoses but will guarantee you a longer and trouble free life. Where appropriate I have marked them with a red (hot) or blue (cold) tape. The hoses I have used for the engine cooling water side of the Heat-Exchanger are standard car heating hoses that I bought by the meter.

The Good: All
Bad and Ugly: Nothing
Would I do it different now: No

Feel free to comment below if this was helpful, if not or if you have different experience with your system and/or tipps and tricks for those currently working on their dream.

I wish you fun building your truck and safe travels. Hope this helps you and makes it easy to build your own water system.

If you want to know why I call my shower the OH MY GOD SHOWER, click here and read all about it.

If you want to see more pictures of the modifications done to my Land Cruiser, click here.


  1. Very helpful writeup Thomas! I admire the work that went into your system, specially the aluminum/stainless plumbing.

    A few notes from my side:
    - More expensive 12v water pumps have already a smart pressure sensor build in. Therefore there is no need for an accumulator these days in small water systems.
    - Not sure if you used any at all, but as for fresh water hoses I would always use non-transparent to avoid any kind of bacteria growing.

    Another note from my experience. It might not matter much if you have 80l for one person, but bring along one more person and travel through a desert and you need to think about water preservation. For this I would add/change two things:
    - Add thermostat valve before the hot-water outlet. After a long drive the water in the boiler is scalding hot and not usable unless you mix it with cold water. In your (or our old) setup it takes a bit of time and water to find the right temperature with the mixer or for the shower head. With a thermostat valve you already have the right temperature to start with and maybe only little adjustments need to be done. Unless you catch the unused water before the right temperature comes out of the faucet, it would be wasted.
    - While I understand where you are coming from with the non-RV type of faucet, it also has the disadvantage to use a lot more water to have a nice, constant flow. Unless you haven’t done that already I would buy a “water saving aerator” to screw on your faucet or find a high-quality RV faucet to save more water.

    Happy travels!

    1. Hello Felix,

      Thank you very much for your valuable feed-back!

      1. Accumulator, I agree with you; as mentioned in my post I would not even bother installing one at all
      2. Hoses, very good input, I did not think about that, the hoses I have used are semi-transparant, but none of them are exposed to day or artifical light where they are installed.
      3. The thermostat: On that one I do not agree, I found it an advantage to have the water that hot, because this allows you to have more water in a comfy temperature to shower, meaning when mixed you use little of the hot water out of the boiler mixed with much more cold water; and the only 6 liter easily last for two people to have a quick, comfy shower. One thing that might make a difference between our two set-ups is, that I have installed the heat-exchanger right under the mixing valve resulting in a very short (and initially cold) water line between hot water boiler-tank and mixing valve respectively shower head. The non-RV type mixing valve allows for a agreeable setting in seconds.
      4. Good point with the water saving aerator; I have tested various options at the faucet outlet and found the set up with relatively low water pressure (which you'll have anyway after a dual filter system ;-) and a standard 'air-grid-screen' in the faucet's outlet works best for me.

      Thanks again, Felix! - Looking forward to seeing you back home in Europe. Hasta luego Amigo!

    2. Hey Thomas,

      I should have probably explained the valve (also called Thermostatic mixing valve) a bit better. It does not change the temperature in your boiler. As you said the boiler temperature should be as hot as possible to last longer. What it does it automatically mixes hot/cold water to a preset temperature. Have that right before your shower head and you wont need any kind of manual water mixing (and wasting) and always have your preferred shower temperature. This device becomes more and more common at the home shower installation as well and is a great way to persevere water.
      Of course a very short line between boiler and faucet is an advantage too.

      Absolutely, can’t wait to get back together and listen to all your stories.

    3. Thanks Felix, yes I did misunderstand. All clear now. Thanks. Me too, looking forward to seeing you all. ALL! :-)