How to get your Vanagon Westfalia Camper Van ready for summer road-tripping and camping
“Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where dem campers is?”
Paraphrased from Frederic Ogden Nash
If your camper van is anything like mine it probably spends its winters tucked safely away in a big red barn, or maybe in a garage or under a protective cover, or perhaps in the great outdoors (see “Winterize Your Westfalia for Storage”).
But now spring is in the air: the bees are buzzing, the meadowlarks are … larking, and campers are eager to begin a new season of outdoor living. Ironically, storage can be hard on things made to move; batteries can run down, fluids leak, and joints and mechanisms stiffen.
And that’s just the driver!
So before we hit the road, let’s get our Vanagons ready for another summer of safe, comfortable, enjoyable journeys.
A Springtime Checklist
Get Some Fresh Air
Start by opening all the doors or windows, and popping the Westfalia top, to vent the stale months-old air and to allow any humidity or moisture to dissipate. Inspect the underside of the fiberglass popup roof and the canvas for signs of mildew or rot.
Take a Good Look
Visually inspect the van inside and out, looking for evidence of rain leaks and fluid leaks: coolant, motor oil, transaxle oil, brake fluid, etc.. Check the reservoir levels of all these same fluids, and top them up if needed. If you use protective tire covers remove them now; check the tires for proper inflation and inspect them for weather checking, including the spare tire.
Get Charged Up
If your Vanagon was not used much during the winter, you probably brought your batteries indoors in the fall and used a quality automated maintenance charger to keep them topped up throughout the winter months. Reinstall now in the spring.
Once everything checks out and you’ve installed the batteries, go ahead and fire it up. Watch for any smoke or fluid leaks, and listen for unusual sounds. While warming up, have a partner help you check all the exterior lights (headlights, turn signals, brakes, etc.). Take the van out for a spin and a road test, checking that the steering, brakes, and shifting work properly.
Wash, Wax, and Wacuum
On your way home, stop at a self-service car wash offering a high-pressure underbody flush to wash any lingering dirt or road salt. Once home, give your van a thorough hand washing top to bottom with a quality car-wash soap, followed by a hand waxing. This gives you an opportunity to inspect the body and paintwork, and protects your finish from harmful summer UV rays. Use a quality RV or marine polish and wax on your fiberglass Westfalia roof.
If you didn’t vacuum and clean your Vanagon’s interior before parking it for the winter, do it now. Use a carpet deodorizer and a heavy-duty fabric refresher to eliminate odors. Vacuum the upholstery, followed by any other detailing inside and out. Polish and protect the dashboard and other vinyl areas with wipe-on or spray products designed for these surfaces.
Remove any mouse deterrents or traps from the van.
Replace the batteries in your smoke- and carbon-monoxide detectors. Check that your fire extinguisher’s pressure gauge is in the green, and turn it upside-down to give it a few hearty shakes to loosen any compacted agent powder.
Everything AND the Kitchen Sink
If your van is a full Westfalia model, test all the camper appliances. Half-fill the onboard water tank and test the kitchen sink faucet. If you used RV Antifreeze in your water-supply system to prevent freeze damage, rinse and flush it out now.
Be sure to open the main valve on the LP tank, then light both burners on the stove to prime the supply lines. The Westfalia refrigerator generally is easier to ignite on LP if it has first been pre-chilled on 120-volt AC house current several hours or overnight. Follow the starting procedure in the owner’s manual to ignite the fridge.
If you use electric or LP space heaters for camping during the Winter or the shoulder seasons of early Spring and late Fall, test them now to ensure they’ll work when you need them.
If storing your van for the winter, put it to bed right.
Restock the van with any camping equipment, automotive supplies & tools, or other provisions you removed in the fall. Once you have your Vanagon recommissioned for duty, all you need is a tank of fuel, a cold six-pack, and an adventurous attitude.