If, like us, the lockdown has left you staying put more than you would like to be, there is a good chance that your campervan hasn’t gone too far over the last year. The only good thing is that you are probably averaging about 3 weeks to the gallon! We have seen some of you put your campervans or motorhomes into storage, sorned them or left them outside your house, so how do we get them ready for when lockdown restrictions end? What checks should we be making on our campervan or motorhome pre travel?
We have compiled a list of things you need to check before heading off on the road.
Before you even think about turning the engine on you need to do some primary checks. A visual check of the vehicle first for any damage incurred either by other vehicles or storms etc. Look for any dents, scratches or changes to the vehicle. Ensure that there is no debris on the roof of the van that could fall off and cause an accident or damage.
Take a look under bonnet and chassis for any animals living in the van, nesting or causing damage to cables. Hopefully you remembered to take all the food out beforehand so as not to attract critters!
Prior to travel all lights should be tested. Enlist a friend to help you including hazards, fogs and all internal dash lights are in good working order and that no warning lights are displayed. Any bulbs or fuses that need replacing must be done so straight away. (We will talk more about the leisure battery and internal electrics later). Inspect the marker light casing and light fittings for any cracks or damage.
Screen wash and Wipers
Before taking to the road you need to ensure you have plenty of screen wash and that your wipers are working correctly, not stuck to the windscreen and the blades have not perished. Ensure the gutter between the windscreen and bonnet is clear from leaves and other debris, if not kept clear this could severely affect your engine such as water congregating and damaging the electrics and fuse boards. This should be a regular maintenance check.
Always check the oil when the vehicle is cold. Find the dipstick, no the one under the bonnet! Pull it out and clean it with an old rag or tissue. Note at the bottom of the dipstick there will be two lines, minimum and maximum. Carefully insert the stick back into the tube trying to keep it central. Once it is fully inserted, remove the dipstick again and see where the oil line is. Oil and coolant are the most important fluids in the vehicle so always check the owner’s manual for the correct specifications.
Check that the water reservoir isn’t frozen before starting the vehicle if it has been cold recently. If there isn’t enough antifreeze/coolant in the water it could expand when it freezes. This can create cracks and leaks. If you see the water tank is empty you need to refill it, check under the engine afterwards to see if water is escaping from somewhere.
If you have topped up and it hasn’t leaked, turn the engine over and let it run for 1 minute and then turn it off. This will allow you to get water into the system and refill the tank again. Run the engine for a little longer whilst you are doing other checks to see if any water is escaping. Move the vehicle onto a dry flat surface if you can.
Wheels and Tyres
Visual Check – inspect your tyres regularly for lumps, bulges, cuts, cracking, foreign objects in the tread (remove with a blunt tool if you can) and make sure these are dealt with urgently by a professional. The pre travel check could stop a dangerous situation from arising when driving your motorhome or campervan.
Always check the tyre pressure from cold. Check that you have the correct PSI. Campervans and motorhomes can be heavy vehicles so ensuring you have the correct PSI will keep you safe and also help on fuel economy. Most larger vehicles will have a plate inside the cab that will give you the correct figures. Having a vehicle in storage or parked up not moving for too long can cause damage to the tyre. Rapid deterioration from supporting the weight of the vehicle on one part of the tyre is not unheard-of.
Why are tyres so special?
There are lots of different types of tyres. A range depending on your budgets and performance. The purpose of a tyre is to support the weight of the vehicle at speed, they must be able to cope with corners and shifting weight, deal with all weather and surface types, from ice and snow to extreme heat in summer and tarmac to grass. The tyre is the only part of the vehicle that should be touching the ground and as such, they have to deal with traction of breaking and acceleration too.
As tyres are one of the most important parts of the vehicle in terms of safety as well as actually being able to move, it is very important not to overlook these parts of your vehicle and regularly check them over for damage/wear and tear.
What are the markings on the tyre sidewall?
Sidewall. This is the area between the tread and the wheel hub. You will often find writing on this area which to someone who doesn’t work with tyres, can look very confusing.
For example, a code such as 205/65 R16 95 V. Here we will explain what each parts mean.
205 – Width of the tyre in mm
65 – Section height in terms of a percentage. In this case 65% is described as the aspect ratio. It refers to the height of the tyre from the rim to the tread divided by the width of the tyre.
R16 – Rim Diameter. The letter R means Radial. The number is the diameter of the inner rim measured in inches.
95 – Load index in KG. related to the load each tyre is able to carry.
V – The last letter relates to the maximum speed for that tyre. You may need to search for this online to get the correct speed for your tyre. If you have different tyres, always stick to the lowest one.
Tyre Tread depth
In the UK, the legal requirement for tread is 1.6mm across three quarters of the tyres surface. The easiest way to check is to look for the tread wear indicators. These are small bumps built into the grooves of the tread. If your tread is level with the top of the bump, you are at the legal limit and your tyres need changing.
Tools and tricks.
Tyre gauge – the best way to check is to use a tool such as a tyre gauge. These come in many forms such as digital, pen shaped gauges and even laminated cards.
Trick – If you don’t have access to a tyre tread gauge, see if you can get your hands on a 20p coin! Place the coin in the tread and if the outer band is visible then your tyres may be illegal. Take the test in multiple places and in different treads as some tyres can wear herder if your tracking and balancing is out.
Types of tyres
Normal car tyre – Usually made from just two plies and inflate to approximately 40 psi and carrying up to 500kg
Commercial tyre – usually has about 2mm more tread to start with and made from 6 or 8 plies. This makes the tyre more durable and can carry a higher weight load up to 700Kg and inflate to around 65 psi.
Motorhome Tyres – A van of approx. 2700kg empty weight can put 675kg pressure on each tyre. Specialist motorhome tyres can be inflated to 80psi. They have tougher sidewalls and a better tread compound, helping in those tricky grass pitches in wet weather!
Here is a link for more information
Damp and leaks
As our vans start to age, we see more problems arising and this isn’t only related to the engine. Age shows itself in many ways, rust patches, peeling paint and seals perishing can all cause leaks, as can screw holes, air vents and unaligned doors. If you have an Iveco Daily like us, you probably already know about the door seal leaking! Pre travel checks on your motorhome or campervan are not limited to the engine and external features, the habitation are needs investigating too!
Inspect the ceiling, door/window seals, air vents and floors for any sins of water damage. This could be staining, damp and mould or actual puddles. Remember water can travel so where the water pools may not be where the leak is.
It is good to do a roof inspection and check any caulked areas such as sky lights. Door and window seals may also have perished and it is essential to replace these if damaged. External doors such as for a toilet access also should not be forgotten.
Rust must be sorted and stopped as soon as possible too. Any holes that have been cut in the body work, i.e. to fit a rear ladder or air vent, could quickly start rust. Treating rust with the appropriate products as soon as this work is carried out can stop rust from spreading.
If you find damp or mould in the camper, this mould needs removing and the items/panels replacing. Mould can affect the health of those living in confined space.
Leisure Battery and internal electrics
If disconnected, these need reconnecting. Clean the contacts and leads with contact cleaner. Reconnect battery ensuring the connections are the correct way around and test system. You may need a few days to charge fully if it hasn’t been charged periodically through winter. Using a battery charger indoors may be benficial to aid a faster charge.
Once the battery is charged and reconnected, check all of your wires and if safe, then your internal lighting and sockets etc. Please do check here for any water damage around electrics before turning on power.
If you have water pumps or heaters installed, test and flush all systems. Reconnect all pipes, fill with water and run through. Sterilise the tanks and pipes following manufacturer’s instructions, refill with clean water and run through a couple of times. Your tanks should have been drained through winter to stop pipe bursts however always check for any seals breaking and monitor for any leaks for the first while.
Caravan and motorhome gas systems should be checked yearly by a qualified engineer as part of your regular upkeep.
If you have gas bottles in your campervan or motorhome, it is good practice to remove them over winter and store them in the garden shed, check them again pre travel. If you are travelling to cold climates, it is advisable to use Propane – the red bottle. This is because this gas will not freeze and can be used down to -43 degrees Celsius. In the UK during the summer months butane is a good choice as the temperature is usually well above 3 degrees and butane contains more energy per unit of volume than propane. However if you are looking to camp in cold temperatures, you will find yourself in a spot of bother if you are unable to boil a kettle for a coffee due to the gas freezing, so many year rounders will switch to propane over winter.
Print our Pre Travel Check list for your campervan or motorhome
We have compiled all the above in a handy printable list for you! Download it now for your ease when starting your campervan or motorhome pre travel check.
A good service is also recommended for the campervan or motorhome if you are able to, in order to complete a full pre travel check.