Below is a summary of our experience with our Knaus 550. We now have 4 trips in one of these vehicles, one with a rental version, and three with the 550 we purchased. As we have spent more time in François we have added some accessories to address upgrades we wanted.
We have now owned François for 18 months and made three major trips covering about 16000 km’s. We have had no mechanical issues with the Fiat portion of the vehicle. During this time we have had no system failures with any of the RV components. There is a small mystery water leak when we drive in very heavy rain that does not occur any other time. Beside that we have had no issues with the vehicle. The vehicle as purchased was very basic as is common in rental RV’s. Over time we have added some accessories to give us some luxury we wanted, or to improve the livability of the RV.
The Knaus 550 is extremely compact at 19.6 feet long, 10 feet high, and 7.2 feet wide (In comparison Scout our Malayan is 22.5 feet long, 10.5 feet high and 7.5 feet wide). In fact it is shorter than most European RV’s. Despite the compact size the living area in the Knaus is from our perspective more comfortable for long trips than the Malayan. Part of that is because the Fiat Ducato (sold as the Ram Promaster in the US) does not have the hood of our Silverado, so more of the length is devoted to the house than to the engine, but also due to some smart decisions by the German designers. We particularly enjoyed having the bed at floor level, and still having a substantial sitting area. All of the space to the rear of the vehicle is used so the bathroom is larger than in Scout, and we have a floor to ceiling storage closet. In fact the interior storage is enormous compared to the Malayan.
In additon to the closet and abundant cabinet space they have a clever way of accessing the storage under the bed. The slat bed folds up in half giving you access to about 8 x 6 feet of storage. We were able to put our suitcases under there with the two lawn chairs, a folding table, and the hose and electricity cords. This storage area is also accessible from the outside, though that door could use to be a little wider. The fit and finish and quality of the latches hinges and other hardware is superior to Scout. Much superior.
The base vehicle is a Fiat Ducato which is sold in the US as the Ram Promaster. The Fiat Ducato model we have has a 6 speed manual transmission attached to 2.2 liter diesel engine. We did some mountain driving in it and it handled the hills well. I imagine it would be a little more of a struggle with an automatic, having said that I have relearned how much I like automatic transmissions. We have had no issues so far with our Fiat.
One interesting thing that took us a little while to wrap our head around is that most European RV’s do not come with a spare tire. In Europe roadside assistance is included with all insurance so they do not require a spare, if you have a flat you are supposed to call for assistance and they will come out and repair the flat or tow you to the nearest place that can. You are required to have a flat repair kit on board, but our understanding is that they are rarely used by the repair services.
The utility systems are simple compared to Scout due to the differences in camping styles in Europe. There was no inverter initially, and when dry camping you have only one USB outlet available. When plugged in there are plenty of electric outlets. Campgrounds have communal plugs that you use when camping sometimes it is included in the price and sometimes you have to pay. Electricity is available occasionally at Aires, Stellplatz’s, and Sostas. There is usually a charge for this electricity and sometimes it is pay by the hour.
When dry camping the electric outlets do not work. We found that with proper management we could keep everything we needed charged from the one USB outlet, but after the first trip we did add an inverter so that we would have some more electric outlets available when dry camping. Eurocamping cars added the inverter and two additional plugs connected to the inverter. When dry camping the inverter powers these two plugs, and we have access to the USB port that works with the original house battery.
After the first trip we also added an additional house battery, and a solar panel. While we had not had any issues with running down our one house battery we decided to give ourselves a little leeway.
Fresh Water, Grey Water, and Black Water.
The RV holds about 30 gallons (120 liters) of fresh water accessible by filling a tank on the outside. There is no provision for hooking up water and having it on demand. In European campgrounds there are central water points where you fill the tank on arrival or departure. If you stay longer and do not want to move, we noticed most people carry 5 gallon water buckets and they manually refill their water every couple of days. The access points for water are quite large to allow for this. On our second trip we purchased a water bucket with a spout for about €5, one of our best purchases.
The systems for disposing of gray and black water are quite different in Europe, and I think it would be very difficult for a RV with an American Black water system to work here. We also have a cassette on Scout our American RV and I personally think it is less gross than the black hoses most people use.
The gray water in Europe is disposed of by pulling over a grate and opening a valve, and letting the water run directly into the drain. Sometimes these drains are located in very awkward places. We almost had a disaster trying to back into one in Spain. I noticed that a lot of people keep a separate water bucket for disposing of their gray water when they are parked up for a while. I have begun carrying the gray water daily to the disposal as we do not generate that much gray water per day and it is good exercise for me.
Ton hates the smell generated by the cassette and we initially managed the smell using the blue tabs most RVer’s are familiar with. As we were traveling we began to hear about a system to manage odors called a SOG unit. It is a German designed accessory that adds a fan to the cassette that holds the black water. When you open the slot in the toilet to let the bad stuff go into the cassette the fan kicks on and pulls the odor out of the vehicle. I was skeptical but everyone we met who had one raved about them. After our spring 2019 trip to Germany I noticed that Eurocamping car had added them to their accessory list so we decided to purchase one. We have now used it on our last trip, and it does a pretty good job of managing the odor without having to use the chemical blue tabs. Ton still occasionally gets a whiff of smell so it is not a complete success, but it does seem to be an improvement.
The heater and hot water run on propane, François had standard cooking containers for propane when we purchased it. An issue that we did not experience is that there is no standardization of propane containers or fittings in the EU, so when you change countries you have to change fittings, and bottles, it is a pain but they cope with it. The heater/ hot water system is significantly quieter than the propane heater we had in our Winnebago, and also quieter than the Espar diesel heater in Scout. The heat is floor heating and works very well. We had a couple of nights in the 30’s on the trip, and were able to quickly warm the cabin when we woke up. The heater also heats the storage compartment. The refrigerator also uses propane when not hooked up to shore power.
Gaslow Propane System
We heard of a system developed in England that allowed you to avoid the lack of standardization of propane containers and regulators in Europe called a Gaslow system. This is a British system that allows you to fill reusable containers that come in the system. In Europe a significant amount of the cars and trucks on the road run on LPG. As a result LP gas pumps are available at a large number of gas stations. This system utilizes a filler system that is compatible with these gas pumps. We did some reading on this system and it looked like a good alternative. It is most commonly used by British RV’s and continental RV dealers do not seem to retrofit it. We talked to Phill and he said he would install it so we decided to have him install the Gaslow when we purchased François.
Unlike the US the customer fills LP gas at the pump in Europe. (Except for Italy where the attendant must do it.) Once I learned the drill we have not had any real trouble with one exception. While the internals of the system work anywhere in Europe, the connector between the pump and the vehicle is not standardized across Europe. France, Spain, and Italy use one system, Germany uses another, and apparently Britain uses a third connector. Our system came with all three connectors. For the first two trips I had gotten used to the French connector and had no problem using it. The first time we got to Germany I realized that the German adaptor was missing. I had lost it in Spain. Eventually we were able to find a replacement at a gas station, but it was a day of panic as we would have had to have a new replacement mailed to us from England. So if you go with a Gaslow system make sure you have a good system to keep track of your adaptors. The other advantage of the Gaslow is LPG at the pump is almost half as cheap as the containers.
I think the Gaslow has been a good investment. If we are not heating François we get 3 to 4 weeks between fill ups. When we run the heater we get about 5 to 6 days between fill ups.
There is no AC unit, but good windows of the same make as Scout and two roof vents without fans. We have experienced temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, I bought a little USB fan one day in a Lidl that Ton finds amusing for how little air it moves. During the next hot spell we will search for a better fan.
François did not have a screen door when we purchased it. After enduring a heat wave on our trip to Germany we asked for a screen door to be retrofitted. It was a great investment.
We added a small safe to store valuables in. When we depart François for the day we store some of our high value stuff as well as our passports in the safe.