Ten campervan maintenance tips to keep your van healthy and running smoothly.
So you’ve finished your van build and finally hit the road. Traveling and living in your very own campervan never felt so sweet! But just because your van conversion is finished, doesn’t mean there isn’t any more work to do on your vehicle.
Far from it, in fact!
In this article we will address the ongoing maintenance requirements that are needed to keep your campervan in top shape. This list of maintenance tips will go beyond the services provided at standard auto-shops and will address several points that you yourself can do to keep you van running smoothly into the future.
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Why Is Maintenance Important For Your Campervan?
Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your van in good working order! When you use your vehicle, both for driving and for living in, there is natural wear and tear that occurs. Dirt, grime, and rust also begin to accumulate.
There are three main reasons to properly maintain your campervan.
- Prevent breakdowns & becoming stranded: Van life is for traveling. Being stuck on the roadside or stranded on a country road isn’t fun.
- Maintenance costs > Repair costs: Regular maintenance can cost on average several hundred dollars a year. Repair costs can climb into the thousands.
- Extended Lifespan: A properly maintained vehicle just lasts longer. Getting you more bang for your buck.
- Higher Resale Value: A properly maintained van will get you more money when it comes time to sell it.
Alright let’s get to the list!
Tips To Maintaining Your Van Life Campervan
In this section below, we will discuss the key areas of your van that you should maintain to keep your home running smoothly.
1. The standard & common services, duh...
1. Regular Oil Changes: This should be self-explanatory by now. Procrastinating on required oil changes, or forgoing an oil change all together, can do serious harm to all the moving parts inside your engine. A broken engine costs thousands of dollars to fix. Get your oil changed at regular intervals!
- We always put in synthetic oil. It’s more expensive than other options, but you can also get the most number of miles out of synthetic oil before needing a change.
- Synthetic oil = 8,000-10,000 miles
- Synthetic blend = 5,000-6,000 miles
2. Tire Rotation: Get your tires rotated during your oil changes. This helps to prolong the life of your tires and helps give you a smoother ride with better handling.
- I’ll rotate the all 5 tires, which includes the spare, around the van. This gives maximum longevity to our pricey KO2 tires.
- This is usually an additional $20-$40 service.
3. All Vehicle Fluids: Usually all your vehicle’s fluids are checked when you get an oil change. Keep these fluids topped up and fresh to prolong the life of your vehicle.
2. Keep Your Vehicle Starting Battery Healthy
This is huge.
Battery maintenance is a key area that lots of van lifers seem to ignore A healthy and working battery is not something we should take for granted.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go deeper into battery science, but ideally the charge of your vehicle battery should not be drawn to below a 50% charge. Allowing this to happen for too many times can significantly decrease the lifespan of your battery, leading to a premature dead battery.
It seems that “van life” and “dead batteries” really go hand in hand, sometimes.
A properly maintained vehicle starting battery can be achieved by following the below guidelines:
Unplug parasitic devices when parked
We all charge our phones, music players, and other electronic devices through the USB and “cigarette ports” in our vehicle while we drive.
This is OK when we’re driving since a running engine will keep our vehicle batteries charged.
But if we are parked too long, these devices can drain the vehicle battery beyond it’s safe “depth-of-discharge” (DoD) level. Doing this repeatedly will have adverse affects on the longevity of your van’s batteries.
Unplugging these your phone and other electrical devices from your car’s sockets once you’ve parked your vehicle will prevent your van batteries from draining too low.
Parked for extended periods of time? Turn on that engine.
Even if you’ve unplugged all your devices from your van’s charging ports, parasitic loads hardwired throughout your vehicle continue to drain your battery’s charge. This is OK if you are only parking your campervan for less than a week or two. But if you plan to stay parked for weeks or months, these hardwired loads can add up and drain your vehicle’s battery charge.
These parasitic loads include your vehicle’s electric clock, engine diagnostic monitors, and sensors. This is especially true for newer vehicles that have much more intricate onboard computer monitors than older vans.
If you find yourself parked for an extended period of time, turn on your engine a few times a month for 10-20 minutes each time to keep your starting battery charged and healthy.
Not doing so can quickly lead to an old and deteriorated battery.
Familiarize yourself with battery voltage numbers
If only the charge of your vehicle battery is as easy to read as your smartphone. Then keeping these batteries at a healthy charge would be simple.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy.
There is no way to check for a specific % charge on your vehicle battery, but you can learn to read your battery’s voltage, and this will tell you whether or not your battery needs a charge.
You can read a battery’s voltage by using a multimeter. Touching the (+) lead to (+) battery terminal and the (-) lead to the (-) battery terminal quickly gives an accurate battery voltage reading on the multimeter.
This device is an essential tool I always keep in my campervan tool box. You should keep one with you, too.
Letting the voltage of your vehicle starting battery drop to below ~12.06v (50%) harms the total lifespan of your battery. In fact, if I can help it, I try not to let my battery get below 12.30v.
When I intend to park my campervan for extended periods of time, I check my vehicle’s battery voltage every 2-3 days. If I see that the voltage has dropped to ~12.06v, it is a good time to recharge that battery.
There are a number of ways you can recharge the starting battery but simply turning on the engine and leaving it on for 10-20 minutes is a good way to bring the starting battery’s charge back up.
3. Wash Your Van's Chassis To Prevent Rust
Rust may just be the #1 enemy of all vehicles. And as van lifers, we can be driving and parking our vehicles in lots of different environments that can promote rust on the under body of our homes.
Driving on salted snowy roads? Parked on the beach next to the salty ocean and air? Tearing it up on the muddy back roads? Driving in all these different environments really puts our van’s structural integrity to the test.
To prevent rust, we regularly wash down the chassis of our van with clean water once we leave environments that are prone to rust creation. We will either get it professional washed or use our own hose to wash down the under body.
If surface rust does start to form, we use a combination of anti-rust solution spray and fine grit sandpaper to gently remove the rust before it penetrates too far through the metal.
Nobody wants a rusted exhaust pipe to suddenly break off while driving down the highway…
Learn More: We believe that not doing proper preventative van maintenance is one of the biggest van life mistakes you can make.
4. Protect Your Roof With A Tarp
During the summer of 2020, we found ourselves parked long term at an RV campground in southern Mexico. We were parked under a tree and it was the rainy season.
So in order to protect our roof from the rain (hello leaks!) and the acidity of decomposing pine needles and bird poop, we purchased a tarp and tied it over the roof of our campervan.
It wasn’t the prettiest sight in the world, but it kept our roof clean, dry, and protected from the elements. Although we have no “known” leaks in our van, I’m always concerned about the possibility of water seeping through our roof, especially during heavy rains.
Bonus: If you can get a large enough tarp, you can cover your sliding door. See picture above. Which will allow you to keep your sliding door open during the rain without rain water seeping in-between the van’s body and the sliding door.
5. Maintain Proper Air Pressure In Your Tires
I’m a slight fanatic when it comes to tire pressure. Every couple weeks I’m checking my tire pressure numbers. It’s quick and easy to do when we’re at a gas station or rest area.
Generally, we like to keep 65psi for our rear tires and 60psi for our fronts.
I’ve found keeping these settings gets us pretty good gas mileage on the highways while also affording us a smooth-ish ride on the back-country roads.
We keep a handy air compressor with us and that allows us to quickly reinflate our tires if pressure is getting low.
Protect Your Investment, Maintain Your Van!
Seriously, we all saved considerable sums of money to live our own unique van life dreams. The money we spent on our vehicles and for the campervan conversion process and huge investments to achieve these dreams.
“Van maintenance” isn’t the sexiest van life topic out there, but spending the time to learn and conduct proper maintenance on our vehicles saves us from future headaches, trip delays, and from spending more money down the road.
Doing so also allows us to stay out there longer to continue to live the life we love.
Thanks for reading!
Learn More: Biggest Van Life Mistakes
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