11 Tips To Maintain a Camper Van & Prevent Breakdowns

Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your van in good working order! When you use your vehicle, both for driving and living, natural wear and tear occurs. Dirt, grime, and rust also begin to accumulate.

There are four main reasons to maintain your camper van properly.

  1. Prevent breakdowns & becoming stranded: Van life is for traveling. Being stuck on the roadside or left 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: An adequately maintained van will get you more money when selling it.

In this post, we share 11 tips for maintaining 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.

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1. Ensure Proper Tire Pressure

Difficulty: 1/10

One of the most straightforward maintenance tips is to ensure that your camper van’s tires are properly inflated. According to the US Government, a 20% underinflated tire 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 inflated correctly, check the recommended tire pressure in your vehicle’s owner manual or the tire’s online product page if you bought aftermarket tires. Additionally, if your tires show additional wear on the outside edges, that indicates an under-inflated tire.

Checking tire pressure with an air pressure gauge
Check tire pressure regularly

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 helpful 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 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 to release the 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 further and begin rotating your tires every 5,000-8,000 miles. Tire rotation is vital in prolonging the lifespan of your tires. This is usually done whenever you get an oil change, but mechanics charge extra for this service. If you can 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), it’s time to replace the pads.

When a brake 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.

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 on which the brake pads can be applied to the rotors.

On average, brake fluid should be replaced every three 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 vehicle hood), 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.

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04/08/2024 09:46 am GMT

5. Keep Starting Battery Charged

Difficulty: 3/10

When driving, the vehicle’s alternator ensures 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 firsthand from van lifers who have parked their camper vans for months, only to realize later that their vehicle’s starting battery had subsequently died in the process.

You can do two things 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 grows deep into the chassis’s metal frame, it’s just a matter of time before a breakdown and an expensive solution land 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 can access a spigot.

Spray washing the underside of a camper van's chassis
Cleaning the underside of our camper van

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

Collapsible Garden Hose & Sprayer

Perfect, space-efficient addition for any camper van. We use our expandable hose to regularly clean our van's body and chassis

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7. Top Up Window Wiper Fluid

Difficulty: 1/10

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

Get a bottle at any auto store or Walmart, pop up the hood and fill the window fluid reservoir. Quick, easy, and done.

8. Regularly Check Engine Oil

Difficulty: 4/10

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

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

To do this, open the engine hood and locate the oil dipstick. 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-oleum spray paint. Whenever we see a scratch with exposed metal on our camper van, 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!

Replace Differential Fluid (Aka Gear Fluid)

Difficulty: N/A

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

The best you can do is read your vehicle’s owner’s 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 vehicle’s lifetime (i.e., 150,000 miles).

Either way, you should know how often, or if at all, the differential fluid needs to be changed because a 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 toolbox. 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 loose over time when driving.
  2. Digital Multimeter – Helps diagnose electrical system issues and measures battery voltage.

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

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 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 comment in the section below.

Thanks for reading!

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