Expert Pre-trip Service Guide
SERVICING & MAINTENANCE
Avoid roadside breakdowns and nasty repair bills with our ultimate RV servicing and maintenance guide
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRANT HANAN & LINDA BLOFFWITCH FROM MY AUSSIE TRAVEL GUIDE
ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARAVAN & MOTORHOME
Servicing and maintenance is all part of the RVing lifestyle. Let’s face it, when on holiday and enjoying yourself, you don’t want to be worrying about suspension greasing or brake pad adjustment, repacking wheel bearings, or servicing the fridge and air conditioner. You’re on holidays and you expect everything to work when you go to use it, right?
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore any early warning signs, nor does it mean you don’t make time for regular maintenance checks, particularly if you’re on the road for long periods of time. There are some things any RVer can do, but you should also find time in your busy schedule to have expert check things over. It can be a very costly exercise to overlook servicing if you find yourself broken down and needing a tow into the nearest town.
In this article, we take a look at the kind of service and maintenance you should be doing on your RV and how to schedule it while on the road. Maintenance need not be a chore, but something we do as part of our travels. Just 10 minutes a day is enough to pick up most problems so that you can keep on travelling…and isn’t that what we all want?
HOW TO DETERMINE THE EARLY WARNING SIGNS
Without doubt, the number one rule is to remain observant at all times with the aim being to identify any minor changes in the way things operate or sound. Look and listen, and you’ll soon learn to pick up the early warning signs that something is amiss. I treat it as applying a “health check”, meaning that on a regular basis, you check that everything is still working the way it was when you first got your RV. If not, get it seen to – in the early stages, it may only just need a few minutes to bring it back to good working order.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE INSPECTED AND AT WHAT SERVICE INTERVAL?
Items such as the tow hitch, wheels, brakes, axles, suspension systems and electrical connections should all undergo servicing every 10,000km as these are exposed to the elements and succumb to wear and tear. If you’re only using your van for weekend getaways, it’s recommended to have an inspection every 12 months as a general guide. Increase the frequency of services when travelling more frequently.
All gas, diesel and electrical appliances should also be checked according to the manufacturers’ recommendations, as times vary. You’ll find these in the owner’s manual.
Conduct a periodical check of the underside of your caravan and all its attachment points. Take a look at the roof top to ensure all sealing is still water/dust tight. Exposure to the elements can cause deterioration leading to hidden water leaks and major damage if left unattended.
A TIP FROM OUR EXPERT
CHRIS BARNES, BARNES CARAVANS
Using a small notebook, create your own RV log book. In it record the mileage when leaving for a trip and again upon your return. Work out the kilometres travelled, and when it totals 10,000km, have your RV serviced. Use this method to also record any maintenance issues and have them addressed as soon as possible.
SERVICING VANS ON THE ROAD: HOW DO YOU PLAN FOR THIS?
Like everything in life, prevention is better than the cure; and it’s no different when it comes to ensuring your holiday touring is trouble free. Carry spare service parts such as bearings, filters, and gaskets, so if your next service is away from larger towns or cities, the mechanics who work on your RV will be able to use reputable parts that you have provided. Where possible, plan ahead and work out where you’ll be for your next service. Phone ahead to make a booking and talk through your service requirements.
WARRANTY WORK ON THE ROAD
Fixing an RV under warranty whilst out on the road isn’t something you want to be faced with regularly, but even with good service maintenance, the unexpected can still happen. Carry a folder in your RV which contains copies of original receipts, manufacturers’ instruction booklets and warranty cards plus copies of any insurance policies and contact details. If you’ve purchased your RV from a dealer, this can also be your first port of call through their aftersales service department. Contact them as quickly as possible and give them the relevant item model number as they can provide a list of service repairers in your area.
FIVE DIY JOBS ANY RVER CAN DO
We all have different competency levels when it comes to RV maintenance, but here are 5 quick DIY jobs any RVer can undertake:
- Wheels and Tyres – check for wear and tear, roadworthiness, correct pressure, wheel nuts.
- Tow Hitch – check that all electrical connections work, inspect all wiring plugs and give them a periodic clean with a stiff brush.
- Gas Bottles – inspect fittings and connections for signs of rust and if within the operating date.
- Inside your RV – check the electrical safety switch works, test the smoke detector, replace batteries as required, and check locks on all cupboards and drawers.
- Most of all, be observant. Attend to any issues at the next available opportunity to prevent a little niggle from becoming a real holiday stopper.
WHEN YOU NEED A LICENCED TRADESMAN
As much as you may like to tinker with your RV, legislation prevents us from attempting to service or repair some equipment unless you’re qualified. All gas work, including LPG gas connections, pipework and appliances must be performed by a licenced gasfitter. The same applies for all 240v electrical work which must be performed by a qualified electrician. Avoid working on other areas such as suspension, brakes and tow hitch connections unless you have a very good understanding of what you are doing. Any work performed during a warranty period will generally need to be performed by an authorised agent nominated by the supplier; otherwise the claim may be rejected.
A TIP FROM OUR EXPERT
CHRIS BARNES, BARNES CARAVANS
If you’re doing a lot of dirt road driving, have the steel magnets on the brake assembly swing arms that come standard with many vans replaced with magnets that have nylon centres. The standard steel-type magnets can wear and fall off on rough roads. It’s best to have your van serviced by a professional (Chris has seen many DIY servicing jobs go wrong: components haven’t been correctly assembled, incorrect torque settings have been used, and nyloc nuts are re-used and over-tightened on shackles, which leaves the suspension not working correctly.)
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR MECHANIC/SERVICE AGENT
Have some specific questions prepared in advance when arriving at the service centre so that you can quickly gain an understanding of whether they are qualified to work on your RV.
Ask questions like, “Do you have a qualified electrician working for you”? “What exactly will they be checking for”? “Will they provide a compliance certificate”?
For fridge servicing ask for specific service details, as periodical maintenance is generally limited to the following checks:
- all connections for joint leaks and fatigue
- that the gas shut off valve works properly
- that the ventilation openings aren’t restricted, and
- that a 3 way fridge gas burner is free of combustible material
If it’s a major service, the fridge will be removed from your RV and bench tested.
Air conditioning servicing questions should include:
- whether filters are cleaned or replaced
- whether inlet ducts washed and cleaned, and
- whether the efficiency of the unit’s cooling and heating is measured
For gas work, ask up front whether they have qualified gas fitters in their team and view the check sheet they will use to perform the work. Ensure the sheet has all gas appliances listed and specifically lists checks for gas flow, shut off valves, and exhausts. Ask for a certificate of compliance for the work completed.
Hot water systems can be both electrical and gas, so it’s important that qualified tradespeople work on them. However, anode inspection and replacement is something a competent person could perform without a compliance certificate.
When booking your RV in for any repairs to the chassis or suspension ask the service agent whether they will also check for any signs of rust and water damage. Confirm that they report all findings back to you prior to commencing any repairs as it may be a warranty claim.
Ask the service repairer when working on brakes to provide you with before and after specifications – for example: pad thickness, wear in magnets, condition of drums, etc. If parts are replaced, ask to see the removed parts to gain an understanding whether they are wearing evenly and are within recommended service life.
If repairs to the framework or lining of the van are necessary because of water damage, ask the agent what methods are used to identify the water damage and whether they can measure moisture content. In addition, if cladding is removed, how will the repairer ensure the replacement matches the original and what checks are performed to ensure that the van is now watertight?
INFORMATION YOU SHOULD PROVIDE TO THE MECHANIC
Take the time to point out the issues to your service provider in person. Be specific and show examples of the problem if you’re able to. Have details of proof of purchase, previous service history if any, and a copy of the owner’s manual (if applicable). Ask the service provider to give you a written quote before they perform any work on the item, and make sure you understand it. If you don’t, ask for further clarification.
WHAT SHOULD YOU INSPECT REGULARLY?
Before setting off on any great getaway, organise servicing for your tow vehicle, caravan and any equipment or accessories. When you’re travelling, keep supplies of tools, lubricants, operating manuals and service information with you so that you can adopt an RV “maintenance inspection approach”.
To identify what you should inspect regularly, take the time to prepare an inspection check sheet before undertaking any maintenance. Break the check sheet down into what inspections should be conducted on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and then fill in the sheet with the items that apply to each timeframe, both inside and outside your vehicle/RV.
By adopting an ongoing maintenance and inspection approach and having concerns attended to at the earliest opportunity will not only help save a minor repair from turning into something much more expensive, but it reduces your risk for a potentially catastrophic repair that can stop you dead in your tracks.
Don’t know what to check? Take a look at some of the ideas on this page: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
WHAT SHOULD YOU INSPECT REGULARLY?
A simple walk around for when you set up and pack up.
- External signal lights work.
- Safety chains, shackles, weight distribution pieces are sound good working order.
- Gas bottles are firmly attached and any hoses and fittings are clean and have no signs of damage.
- Jack/jockey wheel attachments are done up firmly and operate freely.
- Stabiliser legs and fittings aren’t loose and work well.
- Electrical extension cords are free from any nicks and all fittings are secure, there’s no loose wiring at plug ends.
- Water hoses are clean and not leaking, fittings are secure.
- Roll-out awnings operate smoothly and locks click home firmly.
- Tyres appear to be inflated to correct pressures.
- Remove any fallen debris and unwanted marks on your rollout awning and panel work to prevent staining.
- Wipe over and wash off any deposited dirt on surfaces to keep your van in good condition.
- Keep lubrication up to tow hitch points and moving parts.
- Check tyre pressures and adjust them accordingly.
- Wheel nuts need checking regularly, but particularly if you’ve been driving on rougher roads.
- Run any appliances that have yet to been used during the week, e.g. oven, stovetop, air conditioning unit, 12 volt system including water pumps, lights etc., particularly before heading off to remote areas.
- Test RCD and safety switches to ensure they work correctly.
- Check operation of aerials and antennas.
- Batteries will deteriorate over time so check chargers and solar regulators for functionality.
When on the road for a month, extend your walk-around checks to a more hands-on method of inspection and record your findings for the following:
- Lubricate all moving and suspension parts for smooth operation.
- Clean and lubricate appliance rubber gaskets and seals to maintain sealing qualities and prevent unnecessary wear and tear.
- Check safety equipment so that it remains in good working order – fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, fire blankets, and any emergency shut-off devices.
- Look for and address any signs of leaks from under your RV.
If you have been following your checklists above all that remains is for a detailed annual inspection of all the moving and under-load components. In some cases, these components may require replacement as they’re close to the end of their service life span.
5 TIPS FROM OUR CARAVAN EXPERT
CHRIS BARNES, BARNES CARAVANS
Our exclusive caravan expert, Chris Barnes from Barnes Caravans recommends these top 5 items be checked on your caravan yearly to keep your van on the road and out of the mechanics:
- Springs & Suspension – check for wear and tear and serviceability
- Bearings – clean and regrease (or replace) as required
- Brakes – inspect magnet wear for remaining life
- Couplings – check for excessive wear
- Lights – ensure yours are in good working order
FROM OUR EXPERT, CHRIS BARNES – DOES YOUR VAN COMPLY?
RVs, like motor vehicles, must be roadworthy and comply with all Australian Design Rules. It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure this and insurance will become void if not adhered to. For example: tow bars, safety chains and D-bolts must be stamped with dates and weight capacity, and break-away switches in some states now require a control box inside the vehicle to inform you of the battery condition. Service Agents are aware of these requirements so have your RV checked periodically using a reputable qualified service agent.
WHAT TO CHECK ON YOUR VEHICLE
With Andrew Leimroth – Berrima Diesel
We have discussed at length preventative maintenance tips for our RVs, but what implications does towing have on our tow vehicle? Here’s what mechanical expert Andrew from Berrima Diesel has to say about looking after your engine.
MOST COMMON PROBLEMS
Generally the weight you’re towing with your vehicle has quite negative effects on its ability to perform. All this weight means the engine is under load for much longer periods of time than normal. In fact every time you drive with a tow vehicle you will be probably under at least double the engine load to normal. That’s not a problem, but it should be considered when in arduous conditions and in high ambient temperatures.
Tow vehicles with performance engine mods are the usual problem vehicles we see in our shop. It’s not the performance turbo or chip that causes the problem but more the tuning guy that over tuned the engine well beyond normal. If you are adding additional power to your tow vehicles engine, then use an experienced reputable product and workshop.
REDUCE THE RISK OF MAJOR BREAKDOWNS
Service your vehicle regularly. When you are on your trip take a few minutes every morning to check under the bonnet. Check the oil level when the oil is cold, and that is also a safe time to take a peek into the radiator for water. Inspect the coolant header tank for its water level and take a general look around for any obvious leaks. If you have a fuel filter with a clear bowl take a peek for contamination. Start the engine, make sure everything is secure while it idles and listen for any ‘unusual’ noises. This will have taken less than two minutes, but is worth every second. If your knees are in good order take a peek under the vehicle for any fluid leaks and once you’re back up look at the tyres. You should by now know what a normal tyre looks like.
In summary, the best way to prevent problems when towing is to drive with ‘mechanical sympathy’. If conditions are bad, such as high headwinds, many hills or extremely hot conditions, just think about whether you really want to subject your rig to these conditions… delay your start or change the route, and things will last that much longer!
As we have shown in this article, your servicing and maintenance regime should be an ongoing process, and not something that’s casually conducted once a year. We all rely heavily on our set up to take us across the country and to remote destinations. With large distances between many towns, it would only seem fair that we consider the operating requirements and give the rig the loving care it deserves, as without it, we couldn’t travel too far!