The New Year is a great time for a fresh start.
Never mind the resolutions to spend more time at the gym and less time watching cat videos (we both know that’s not gonna happen). The real question is, what are your plans to get your campervan in tip top shape, and enjoy some great traveling this year?
Most vans (and van owners) are inactive this time of year, so now’s your chance to set some goals, make some plans, and resolve to make this year even better than last.
Some aspects of traveling and camping in a decades-old camper van are necessarily mechanical, and require ongoing maintenance. Reliability is of the utmost importance, especially if you want to avoid breakdowns while far from home. Regardless whether you hire out your van’s mechanical work, or turn the wrenches yourself, here are some items to ensure are in top form.
The VW Bus and Vanagon Transporters certainly have their quirks, but the fuel system is perhaps the most potentially dangerous and deadly. Too many vans have been lost to fire due to neglected fuel systems. Old and brittle plastic connectors, rusty clamps, and rubber hoses deteriorated by modern ethanol-laced gasoline can all cause leaks. Gasoline injected into a hot engine compartment is a recipe for disaster for you and your family.
So, if you don’t know when these parts were last replaced, inspect and replace them before embarking on summer road trips. Use fuel line rated for use with ethanol fuels, and the correct pressure rating for your electronic fuel injection system, with quality fuel injection clamps. Here’s a good write-up >
The Big List
Most Vanagon owners keep a running to-do list of needed mechanical repairs, fixes, and other maintenance. These often get lost in the heady days of summer when the highway and the forest call, so start working on those procrastinated loose ends now when you have no impending trips.
If you have not been religious in your maintenance, or the van is new to you and of unknown provenance, a good place to start is the 15k, 30k, and 90k-mile maintenance items on the lists found in the back pages of the Bentley manual. Just start at the top and begin working your way down. You won’t get it all done in one day, of course, but in pretty short order you’ll be able to inspect, adjust, or replace everything needed to get your ride ready.
These will include the following, and a whole lot more:
- Fluids: oil, coolant, brake and clutch, windshield washer
- Filters: oil, fuel, air
- Belts & hoses
- Lights: all interior & exterior
- Wires: battery, starter, alternator, grounds, etc.
- Battery: clean, inspect, charge, and test
- Tires: inspect for wear and cracks, rotate, treat with UV protectant
- Jack: factory jack or aftermarket, plywood support plate for use on rough ground
Record everything you do in a simple logbook, with date, mileage, and any notes, so that you can look back later for reference. Once you’ve got caught up on all this delayed maintenance, it will be a simple matter to keep up on the recommended intervals.
Outfit for Travel
If you’ll be spending a lot of time driving and living in your campervan, you’ll want to make it as comfortable as possible for you and your companions. Organize the cab, kitchen, and other living areas so you’re always ready to roll!
- Charging jacks & cords: USB, phone, cameras, etc.
- Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
- Logbook to track fuel & oil usage
- Beverage bottles & travel mugs
- Kitchen kit: all pots & pans, plates, utensils, containers
- Food staples: your favorite non- or semi-perishable pastas, rice, spices, canned goods. Store in hard plastic containers to prevent spoilage and pests.
- Bedding: sleeping bags, blankets, pillows
- Heaters (electric or LP), cooling fans
- Emergency tools & parts, fire extinguisher
- Vehicle Recovery & Extraction: folding shovel, 12-volt air compressor, traction boards or tire chains, recovery & tow straps
Check & Test all Camping Equipment:
- Test Westfalia Camper equipment: stove, fridge, LP system, water tank & sink
- RV shore power cord
- Gray water bag
- Flashlights & lanterns, batteries or chargers
- RV leveling blocks
Sometimes the campervan is the means to another end—biking, hiking, paddling, skiing, fishing, etc.. Make sure your other equipment is ready for the season:
- Roof or trunk racks, cargo boxes
- Trekking poles
- Gear bags or boxes
The entire purpose of all this preparation is going places! Now, in the doldrums of winter, is a great time to start thinking about sunnier days and destinations close and far. In fact, poring over maps and planning a getaway is often the only thing that gets me through a dreary winter.
You and your travel mates no doubt already have some destination ideas, what season to go, and what sights and other activities to take in. How long will it take you to get there and back? How long to stay in each place?
One you’ve discussed and have a rough idea, start collecting info to make your goal a reality:
- Travel guide websites
- Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
- Relevant apps for navigation, finding attractions and sites, camping, etc.
Once you’ve attended to most of the points above, start taking your campervan on short trips close to home, then progressively longer and longer trips. This will give you opportunities to inspect your work, and to ensure your van is up to all those big miles and long days you have planned.