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11 Tips To Maintain A Camper Van & Prevent Breakdowns

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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 four main reasons to properly maintain your camper van.

  1. Prevent breakdowns & becoming stranded: Van life is for traveling. Being stuck on the roadside or stranded on a country road isn’t fun.
  2. Maintenance costs > Repair costs: Regular maintenance can cost on average several hundred dollars a year. Repair costs can climb into the thousands.
  3. Extended Lifespan: A properly maintained vehicle lasts longer. Getting you more bang for your buck.
  4. Higher Resale Value: A properly maintained van will get you more money when it comes time to sell it.

In this post, we share 11 tips to maintain a camper van in proper working order. We give actionable advice and recommend appropriate tools that are helpful to have with you. So if you’re ready, let’s dive into it.

1. Ensure Proper Tire Pressure

Difficulty: 1/10

One of the easiest maintenance tips is to ensure that your camper van’s tires are properly inflated. According to the US Government, a tire that is 20% under inflated reduces the vehicle’s fuel economy by 10%. Additionally, 42% of drivers don’t know how to identify low tire pressure.

To know if a tire is properly inflated, check the recommended tire pressure in your vehicle’s owner manual or on the tire’s online product page, if you bought aftermarket tires. Additionally, if your tires are showing additional wear on the outside edges, that is a good indication of an under inflated tire.

Be sure to keep a good quality tire pressure gauge with you in the glove compartment and check for adequate tire pressure at least once a month. Carrying an air compressor is useful to inflate your tires when they’re running low on air. Keeping proper pressure in your tires can help you maximize your fuel economy and the lifespan of your tires, saving you money in the long run.

2. Change & Rotate Tires

Difficulty: 4/10

Learning how to take off and put on a tire is essential during van life. You never know when you’ll get a flat tire and be forced to pull over to the side of the road. And if you don’t know how to change your own tire, you’ll be forced to rely on a kind stranger or an expensive tow truck & mechanic for help.

To change a tire, you’ll need the following two items:

  1. Heavy duty jack – Lifts vehicle
  2. Breaker Bar + Socket Set – Used to remove the tire lugs and release tire.

Check your van to see if you already have these items. If not, we provide several recommendations below.

Once you know how to change a tire, you can take it a step further and begin rotating your tires every 5,000-8,000 miles. Tire rotation is key to prolonging the lifespan of your tires. This is usually done every time you get an oil change, but mechanics charge extra for this service. If you are able to do this yourself, that’s extra money in your pocket.

3. Check Brake Pads

Difficulty: 3/10

When you take off a tire, this also allows you to inspect the health of your brake pads. A new brake pad usually has a thickness of 1/2″ (12mm). But as you use the brakes, the brake pad gets thinner.  Once the pad gets below 1/8″ (3mm), its time to replace the pads.

When a break pad gets worn out, you may hear a squealing sound when braking and it may take longer for your vehicle to come to a complete stop.

Check this great article from Mechanic Base to learn more about brake pads.

4. Check Brake Fluid Quality

Difficulty: 3/10

Brake fluid plays an integral role in your camper van’s braking system. But as the braking fluid ages, it gets more difficult to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. Brake fluid ages by absorbing water from the air. As the water content percentage rises in the braking fluid, it reduces the pressure which the brake pads can be applied to the rotors.

On average, brake fluid should be replaced every 3 years. But if you live in a humid environment (e.g. Florida), you may want to replace the fluid more often.

Luckily, checking the health of your brake fluid is easy and affordable with this ITEQ tester pen. Stick the test probes into the brake fluid reservoir (under the hood of the vehicle) and the device will indicate the water content of the fluid.

Brake Fluid Liquid Tester
This tester shows the percentage of water in your brake fluid. Includes handy indicator lights to easily help you determine when and whether your brake fluid needs to be replaced.

5. Keep Starting Battery Charged

Difficulty: 3/10

When driving, the vehicle’s alternator ensures that the starting battery stays charged. However, when parked for too many days, the starting battery can lose a substantial amount of charge, which results in a shortening of the battery’s lifespan and an eventual dead battery.

We’ve seen this first hand from van lifers who have parked their camper vans for months at a time only to realize later that their vehicle’s starting battery had subsequently died in the process.

There are two things you can do to prevent the battery from losing too much charge.

  1. Turn on the engine  – Turning the engine on for 10 minutes a week ensures that the alternator can recharge the starting battery.
  2. Connect the battery to a trickle charger – We recommend two types of trickle chargers below, one to connect to shore power and another that relies on solar power. The solar trickle charger works great when wild camping, where a shore power socket is unavailable.

6. Keep Chassis Clean From Rust & Dirt

Difficulty: 4/10

Keeping the vehicle’s chassis clean and rust free is one of the most critical parts of maintaining a camper van. If rust is allowed to grow deep into the chassis’s metal frame, it’s just a matter of time before a breakdown and an expensive solution lands on your lap.

To prevent this, find time to spray down the underside of your van. It only takes 5-10 minutes. We do this whenever we’re parked at a campsite and have access to a spigot.

With a collapsible hose and shower head, we connect to the spigot and spray give the chassis a good spray to wash off any dirt and salt (if we’ve been camping near the ocean).

7. Top Up Window Wiper Fluid

Difficulty: 1/10

If you’ve been spending too many miles driving on the highway, chances are you’re getting low on window wiper fluid. Topping up on this fluid is quick and one of the easiest camper van maintenance jobs you can do.

Just get a bottle at any auto store or Walmarts, pop open the hood, and fill the window fluid resevoir. Quick, easy, and done.

8. Regularily Check Engine Oil

Difficulty: 4/10

Depending on the quality of the oil you use, your vehicle’s engine oil is good for anywhere between 3,000-10,000 miles. The mileage also depends on where the camper van’s been driven and how hard the motor has had to work.

So it’s important to learn how to check your engine oil to determine if, and when, it needs to be changed.

To do this, pop open the engine hood and locate the engine oil dip stick. The bottom 5″ should be covered in engine oil. The older the oil, the darker the liquid will be. If the color of the oil is starting to resemble a dark cup of coffee, then it’s time to get the oil changed.

9. Cover Bare Metal Scratches With Rust-O-Leum

Difficulty: 5/10

As you drive, your camper van will get dinged and scratched. When it does, the vehicle’s surface paint will be scraped away, exposing bare metal. If the bare metal is not treated in time, rust will begin to form.

To prevent this, we carry a small can of Rust-o-leum spray paint. Whenever we see a scratch on our camper van with exposed metal, we spray a small amount into a plastic tray and use a cotton swab to dab some paint onto the metal. Potential rust issue solved!

10. Replace Differential Fluid (aka Gear Fluid)

Difficulty: N/A

Differential fluid is the liquid inside your vehicle’s rear differential. Unlike engine oil, you are not able to see this oil to determine whether or not it needs to be changed.

The best you can do is read your vehicle’s owner manual to understand how many miles you can go until the fluid needs to be replaced. For some vehicles, the gear fluid must be placed every 30,000 miles. For other vehicles, like our Ford Transit, the fluid is good for the lifetime of the vehicle (i.e 150,000 miles).

Either way, you should know how often, or if at all, the differential fluid needs to be changed. Because of broken rear differential isn’t a cheap fix.

11. Keep A Tool Box Inside The Camper Van

The quality of the maintenance on your camper van is only as good as the tools you bring. That’s why we recommend bringing along a well stocked tool box. Our three most often used tools are:

  1. Screwdriver & Socket Set – We use this all the time to tighten screws and bolts in our van that tend to come lose over time when driving.
  2. Digital Multimeter – Helps diagnose issues in our electrical system and also measures battery voltage.
  3. Paint Brush – Ironically not used for painting. We use a small paint brush to brush of dirt and debris inside and outside the van.

Read our van life tool box post to see all the different tools and spare parts we keep to maintain our camper van.

Was This Van Life Tip Helpful? We have lots of other useful articles to help you travel better in your camper van or RV. Check out our hacks & tips page to read more great van life content!

Conclusion: Protect Your Investment, Maintain Your Van

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. If you have any questions, please send us an email to the address listed in the footer below.

Thanks for reading!

Learn More: Biggest Van Life Mistakes

Go Back: Van Life Hacks & Tips

Thank You For Reading!

We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

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