It may seem routine to have the tow vehicle serviced, but are you one of those caravanners that don’t book your van in for a regular check-up? Do you do it yourself? Do you do it at all? Read on, in our essential guide to servicing your caravan.
Servicing your caravan may seem like an afterthought. Despite not having an engine, a caravan or camper still requires regular maintenance. After all, it is expected to perform in a harsh environment as it tracks along in your wake. The dust and debris from the track can infiltrate the bearings and joints. The endless vibrations can wreak havoc to plumbing for water and gas. Electrical and waterproofing issues that may arise along the way. In fact, without regular maintenance, you can guarantee you will have to deal with at least one of these issues on your next holiday.
To find out more about servicing your caravan, we spoke to a service expert. Marlon Barrie is the service centre manager at Caravan Fix on the Sunshine Coast, to find out what a service schedule should include and how much of it you can do yourself depending on your mechanical skills. You may need to be honest with yourself and your abilities first.
What are the main areas to look at?
- Running gear (brakes, bearings, suspension, coupling, handbrake and chassis). Even better, if you have a service handbook – rare, we know – it will outline what should be addressed and when.
- Seal condition. All external seals around windows and hatches should be inspected regularly. We always recommend when you are washing your van to inspect the seals. You need to have an eye for detail as even a hairline crack or a pinhole opening can cause a very expensive repair over time. Ask your repairer to give you a seal condition report when they do the service. It may cost you extra, but it is well worth having this area of the van regularly checked by a professional as preventative maintenance. Also great to be able to show a prospective buyer to give them the confidence they are not buying an expensive issue.
- Always ask the repairer what level of servicing they offer. It is important to choose a comprehensive level of service. Brakes and bearings are not all there is to regular preventative maintenance. Try and opt for a 12-month full service comprising inside and outside checks, including seals.
Regular and Routine
- The routine should be regular! You will notice service schedules always state time and kilometres, whichever occurs first; this is for very good reason. If you have serviced your RV and only made a single weekend trip, then put it in storage for 12 months, it is still due for its next service.
If an RV is travelling very little, there are things to still consider. For example, there is always weight present on the bearings, axles and suspension. Plus, if these components are not moving, grease will not be moving freely within them. Remember, if your van is not stored undercover, the seals have been subject to the harsh environment. These are all good reasons to keep your service routine regular.
Things to Keep an eye on
- Tyre pressures should be maintained at the manufacturer’s recommended pressure found on the VIN, or compliance, plate. Check for inconsistent signs of wear, as this may mean your pressures need correcting, or you have an alignment issue. Also, keep an eye on the dates/age of tyres. If your tyres are out of date and have no wear, they may be unsafe. Rubber hardens over time, when this occurs they are more susceptible to blowouts.
- Notice that we can’t stress more how important it is to keep checking seals. It could save you a large repair bill down the track!
- Water damage inside the van. Look for signs of staining, cuts or dimpling to the internal wall and ceiling ply. If you notice any, you have had or currently have open seals somewhere. Be sure to look inside cupboards.
- When washing your van, have a look on the roof and all over for any signs of hail damage. It is amazing how many vans come in for servicing where we find hail damage on the roof that the owner was not aware of. Hail damage can present as spider cracks to awning vinyl, so be sure to check the exposed section of vinyl for hail damage. This may well become an insurance issue too.
If you don’t keep records of mileage now, would a caravan odometer work?
- Yes, an odometer would work, although I have not come across one fitted. Most owners we see are good at keeping caravan related records. If not, whenever towing you could start by noting the tow vehicle’s odometer reading on your fuel receipts and keeping these receipts with your van records. It would not be difficult to work out the distance travelled each trip with the van from these records. There are heaps of fuel tracking/vehicle logbook apps available also. Read more here
What’s best left to the experts, either legally, in terms of regulated fittings, or difficulty level. What can you work on; what can’t you work on?
- As a repairer, we see some interesting attempts to repair things that haven’t quite worked. Gas and 240v work should always be left to a licenced technician. You may think you are saving some money at the time of the DIY repair, but it could be dangerous to yourself or any user of the van. It could cost you money eventually to rectify. For example, we have seen hot water services hard-wired behind existing 240v power points. Most hot water systems require the 240v power lead to be plugged into a powerpoint, not hard-wired. This could void the HWS warranty or, even worse, not be covered by insurance if the damage was caused by a DIY install.
What are the five most common service items you see that people ignore, and then wish they’d never heard of?
1. 10 points for guessing … yep, seals
We may identify open seals and advise customers of the issues that need attention. Some people believe they can just go over the areas with silicone, and this will fix all their sealant issues. We have had customers try this, only to come back to us wanting an estimate to repair their internal ply further down the track. It is at this point they wish they took our recommendation to professionally re-seal their van before the problem worsened. Some of these repair jobs end up costing big $$$$.
2. Manufacturer’s warranty
We do manufacturer warranty repairs for all the major and not-so-major brands. However, this has become an issue for some customers when we lodge their claim only to be advised by the manufacturer they can’t warrant their van as they have no service history. So, the moral of the story? While your van is under warranty and even beyond, it is very important to keep up with regular servicing and maintenance. Some manufacturers may consider a claim even outside the warranty period, depending on the issue. You will have a much stronger case if you have evidence you have maintained your van well. Depending on the issue, some insurance companies may ask to see service history. It’s all about protecting your asset!
Under-inflation, over inflation and out of date. If you have your van professionally serviced, don’t rotate tyres yourself. It does not help your mechanic to identify potential suspension/wheel alignment issues when tyres have been rotated. Always inflate your tyres to what the manufacturer has stamped on the VIN plate. If you do this and find the van is very bouncy, the pressure can be adjusted slightly so towing it is comfortable. Did you know your tyres have an age limit? All tyres will have a date on the placard, as well as the tyre sidewall. If a tyre is more than five years old and has plenty of tread left, it is still roadworthy, although it may not be safe. As tyres reach their end of life the rubber hardens, which means it is more susceptible to blowouts. A tyre blowout can be very dangerous if you lose control of the van. At the very least, you may damage the van itself from the blowout. Generally, the resulting damage is claimable under insurance. Whereas having out of date tyres could affect an insurance claim.
4. Breakaway brakes or brake safe
We often see vans with broken breakaway brake switches on the A-frame, severed cables and flat batteries. No one wants to be in a situation where this vital safety equipment fails to do its job, that is, pull up the van if it becomes un-coupled! The best advice we can give is to get into the habit of pulling the breakaway cord out of the switch when you hitch up, and before you take off. Move the van forward about a metre, you will soon know if your breakaway unit is operating or not. Most units have a battery which should be checked/tested to ensure it is holding charge. Try not to entwine the cable in your chain; it really should be independent all the way to the attachment point on the tow vehicle. If the cable is too long, replace it with a coil type.
5. Has your anode been checked lately?
No, it is not a medical question. If you have a hot water service that has an anode rod, it should be checked at each service interval. If you are using bore water or have been travelling where water quality is not the best, the anode may need checking more often. Failure to replace an anode in time could lead to the tank rusting, splitting and ultimately rupturing. No one wants large volumes of water in their van or any water for that matter. At worst, you could be up for a new hot water service and a big water damage repair bill. Read more here
Marlon reckons his most valuable tips for if you are considering attempting a DIY repair: If it needs a licence, engage a professional. If you are not sure about anything covered in this article, engage a professional.
A huge thanks to the team at Caravan Fix for their help with this story. A good service centre should always want to help and offer advice for jobs you can do yourself if you’re up to it, as well as take care of the jobs that require a lot more experience and facilities. For outlets and services offered by Caravan Fix, click here for more information.