Avoid surprise campervan breakdowns
It’s a Vanlifers worst nightmare: an unusual noise, the campervan slows down, and warning lights come on. You pull over and can’t get the van started again. Time to call for a tow.
If you’re anything like me, you immediately picture money flying out of your wallet as you begin to wrap your head around a long tow truck ride and being at the will of an expensive auto shop.
While sometimes these surprises can’t be avoided, consistent campervan maintenance can mean the difference between a successful trip and many days camped out at an auto shop parking lot.
Maintenance should never be put off for later. If you haven’t been great about taking your van in for regular maintenance, this guide can help you plan out a good maintenance schedule.
Campervan maintenance tracking
One of the first steps to staying on top of campervan maintenance is keeping track of your maintenance schedule. It’s important to know the dates and mileage of routine maintenance, part replacement and larger repairs.
One good reason for this is many parts come with warranties, so it can be valuable to know if a part failed within it’s warranty period.
As for how to keep track, everyone organizes in different ways, so use what works best for you.
I like to use a spreadsheet and a calendar app.
Receipt saving hack: Shoot a photo of all receipts with your phone and save them to a van maintenance folder. This way, at the very least you’ll, always know exactly when a part was replaced.
Paper or digital tracking
Go “old-school” and use a notebook, a “tickler file” or add it to your phone’s calendar.
There is even an array of Android and iPhone apps to help you manage your van’s maintenance.
One of my favorite apps for planning and tracking is called Zoho Notebook.
There are many others that also offer calendar alerts, photo notes and more.
Even if you’re limited on mechanic skills, these physical inspections will help you notice if something looks different and you can troubleshoot problems before they become a bigger issue.
Pre trip campervan maintenance inspections
A few days before you hit the road, do a physical inspection of your campervan. This will allow you enough time to fix any issues before you begin your trip.
During your trip, completing quick inspections can help prevent small issues from becoming big, expensive problems. Do a quick 2-minute inspection at rest stops or when filling up with gas.
Scheduling inspections and maintenance
Once you start keeping track of your maintenance, you’ll be able to make a better plan for scheduling routine campervan care.
When should you schedule it? Unfortunately, as much as we want a simple answer to this, there just isn’t one.
I’ve broken types of maintenance up into three groups, below. Of course some parts and systems will fit into more than once category.
Mileage based maintenance
Some parts and systems should be inspected by the mileage. Add warranty dates to your calendar for all parts that you purchase and for any repairs that are done and be sure to save your receipts.
Time based campervan maintenance
Other parts need to be replaced over time and aren’t necessarily worn out by mileage. Tires can crack or lose pressure, oil can leak, and AC may need refilling and maintenance.
Make a maintenance calendar for these parts to be scheduled out by time: weekly, monthly, 3 months, 6 months, or a year. Checking these parts each time before hitting the road will also help you gauge how often they need to be serviced.
Trip based maintenance
Some inspections or maintenance should also be done by trip.
Assess what needs to be taken care of before or during your trip.
Also think about the nature of your trip and what kind of miles you’ll be putting on your campervan.
The type of maintenance can change depending on whether you’re driving off-road, in very cold or hot temperatures, or in wet conditions.
Basic, frequent maintenance check-ups
Like any vehicle, your campervan needs frequent maintenance, especially before and during a trip.
Schedule this basic maintenance based on your particular van and how it’s used. Many of these things can be checked on your own or with a little help from the Internet.
The following things should be inspected regularly:
- Fluids: oil, coolant, power steering, brake, transmission, washer
- Tires: tread, pressure, damage
- Belts: cracks, noise, tension
- Lights: headlights (high/low beams), brake, turn signals, backup lights, corner lights
- Mirrors: Mounting hardware, visibility adjustment, backup camera
Advanced campervan check-ups and maintenance
There are many more complex parts that need to be checked and maintained on your campervan that are important to keep in mind too.
Staying ahead of problems vs waiting for them to happen will be easier on your wallet as well as your peace of mind.
To keep from getting overwhelmed or avoiding this list altogether, consider rotating them on a calendar instead of trying to tackle these check-ups all at once.
Schedule this maintenance according to your vehicle make, model, age, and miles. Every van is different, so do some research to determine the best timing for your vehicle.
Here’s a partial list of more advanced systems to keep an eye on, in no particular order.
- Change fluids: oil, power steering, coolant
- Suspension (struts, shocks, joints, linkage, etc.)
- Steering components
- Bearings/CV joints
- Brake pads/rotors
- Hoses: coolant, vacuum, heat, etc.
- AC coolant
- Exhaust System
- Oil pressure
- Water pump
- Air filter
You may be able to service these yourself if you have some mechanical experience. These skills can also be learned with some patience, persistence, and some high-quality YouTube videos.
If you cannot do it yourself, hire a trusted mechanic. Scheduling these ahead of time should give you the ability to take your van to someone who knows how to work on your particular vehicle make and model.
We’ve talked about working with a mechanic in our Campervan for sale: Craigslist buying guide, and some of those ideas will come in handy, here.
Know your vans unique maintenance quirks and needs
Every make and model of campervan has common problems and it’s good to know what they are.
If you know there are parts that are difficult to find, it’s worthwhile to keep a backup with you if possible.
Online forums are a wealth of knowledge for learning about common issues and how to address them.
Even if you don’t work on your van, knowing which parts tend to fail will give you a huge advantage when a breakdown occurs.
Of course you don’t want to become a rolling auto shop. Carry only the most important things and keep it simple.
Examples might be a fuel filter that often clogs or a sensor that’s difficult to locate and purchase.
Take some time to research suppliers that carry parts for your van, and will ship to you quickly, in case you find yourself at the mercy of a shop in the middle of nowhere.
Roadside assistance insurance
You can’t anticipate or prevent every repair. This guide and sticking to your maintenance schedule will definitely help, but AAA or other repair insurance are great to have on the road.
Know ahead of time what your auto policy covers as far as towing or roadside assistance. Many plans only cover a limited distance, which could be an issue if you break down in the middle of nowhere.
Campervan maintenance recap
- Avoid unpleasant surprises by staying on top of inspection and maintenance
- Whether on paper, digitally or both, keep a record
- Do detailed physical inspections at least a few days prior to departure
- Do regular walk arounds during your trips
- Schedule inspection and maintenance based on mileage, time and trip type
- Anyone can (and should) do basic inspection and maintenance such as checking oil and tire pressure
- If you’re not mechanically inclined, hire a pro for more advanced systems inspection and maintenance
- Know and be prepared for your vans idiosyncrasies
- Get a roadside assistance insurance package
The best campervan repairs are the one’s you’ve planned for. Sometimes surprises happen but following this guide and staying on top of your maintenance is the best way to ensure a safe trip with fewer surprise expenses.