Every year just before the season commences most of us feel the need to take our RV along to our local dealer to have it serviced.  Even if we don’t feel like doing it we probably hitch up and take it over anyway.

Why do we need to get our caravans and motorhomes serviced?

Is it that, if we are lucky enough to have a new unit, we want to ensure that the dealers stamp goes on the service record?  Is it to prevent problems developing?  Is is just something that we do with the car and we feel that we should do it with the caravan or van-camper as well?

The photograph shows a person checking the tension of the wheelnuts to the correct torque
Checking that the torque is correct on the wheel-nuts

Firstly the servicing of the engine and running gear of your campervan is separate to what I’m talking about on this page.  This is carried out as a separate, if related, exercise to that which relates specifically to the caravan or residential section of your motorhome.

A caravan service is not a service in the sense that you apply it to a car or truck.  Nothing is really opened up and no fluids are changed or no routine adjustments or tuning is carried out.  A lot of things however are checked out in order to establish that everything is working correctly, and to repair or replace them if they’re not.

Why then should you have your caravan serviced?  As you become more and more familiar with your motorhome or caravan it may become to look a little less than complex to you.  In a sense this perception is correct.  It is after all just a insulated aluminum box with a bit of lighting, a toilet unit and cooking facilities built in.

Well yes I suppose it is.

But then all those things are interconnected and need to be looked after by and assessed by qualified professionals.  In the same way as you gas appliances and and electrical appliances are serviced and cared for at home your caravan needs this very same attention. Add in the fact that this is something which becomes part of a vehicle. It has lights, a braking system and a requirement to handle on the road in order to be safe and to comply with the law.

It quickly become apparent that servicing your travel trailer is not an optional activity, but something that needs to be done, properly and regularly.

 

 Who should service your caravan?

This is photograph which shows a a pressure guage used to test for the soundness of gas systems in caravans
The Pressure in Your Gas System is Tested According to the Standards in Force Where You Live.

Wherever you live look to your caravan, motorhome club or to your regulatory authority in order to find people to carry out this work.  They should be qualified and have their training up to date in line with regulations and developments in the industry.  Remember that your service personnel are dealing with things like electricity and gas, things you live very close to while you are on the road. They really do need to know exactly what they are doing.

It may help to look for proof that the workshops are properly accredited and find out if the workshop facilities, equipment and training are all inspected at least annually.

In addition it is worth asking if they are covered by the appropriate  insurances.  Does this insurance cover you and your property while you and it are on their premises and does it cover the work that they will carry out on your behalf.



 

What needs to be done during a caravan service?

Setting aside any repairs or damage inspection the standard service includes what is referred to as the running gear.  This includes brakes, lights, tow-hitch/vehicle coupling, tyres and suspension.  This generally involves a visual inspection and where repairs or adjustments are required they are then carried out.

As a responsible owner you will already know that your tyres are correctly inflated and that your lights operate exactly as they should.

You do check them each time you hitch up?

Photograph shows the dealer working on an AL-KO tow hitch in the process of removing work stabiliser pads.
Changing the AL-KO Stabiliser Pads

Things that you may not be fully aware of include brake adjustments and standard maintenance of your trailer stability system.  Our unit is equipped with an excellent ALKO Stabiliser tow hitch and each year it’s friction pads are checked to see if they need replacing.

Your electrical, gas, heating systems and water systems are all to one degree or another interconnected and in some cases one depends on the other to function.  Each of these is properly checked out according to the standards applicable where you live.  Some variation may occur across jurisdictions with regard to how things are done.  For instance the gas pressure, which is checked out during the service, may be tested to varying limits in different countries and states.

A photograph which shows three stabiliser pads used in the AL-KO caraving tow-hitch.  One is new, one is part worn and the other is worn and ready to be replaced.
AL-KO Stabiliser Pad, Left to right: New, Part Worn and Worn.

One of the regular checks that is always carried out, especially in temperate climate zones, is the damp test.  This involves using a meter to check for the moisture content contained in the materials that make up the unit.  It simply means placing probes on the surface of the areas to be tested and ensuring that the reading obtained is withing an acceptable range.  If your caravan is stored indoors you will usually find that it is very dry when this test is undertaken.  If the dampness readings taken at various places throughout the interior of your motorhome or travel trailer are a little high it may just mean, especially if it is stored outside, that the ambient humidity is having an effect.  This is relatively harmless unless dampness levels are very high in which case it may be recommended that you buy a dehumidifier or a calcium chloride crystal kit to ameliorate it.

This is a photoograph which show a protimeter being used inside a caravan to check for dampness
Using the Protimeter to Check for Dampness

If dampness if found to be a problem in a particular part of the caravan then repairs may need to be carried out.  This may appear to be bad news, but the purpose of your annual service is to identify these issues and to fix them before they can become real problems.

The water system should be flushed through once a year with a sterilising solution that you can get from your supplier.  This should be done routinely by you after periods when the van has not been used.  The water filter, whether this is attached to the hose that takes the water from the barrel, or whether it is built into the water line somewhere on board should also be changed each time the van is serviced.

The polarity of your electrical system will be checked to ensure that everything is still running in the right direction.

Locks and hinges will be checked and and some silicone lubricant will be sprayed into them to keep them working until next time.  Other moving parts like the corner steadies will be operated, checked for damage and greased or oiled using a silicone spray for use during the year ahead.  When the steadies do become noisy and begin to squeak it is definitely time for some oil.  In particular apply this lubrication to the end spindle closest to where you attach the brace as this is where most of the necessary leverage occurs.

Thermostats on your heater/s will be checked and if found not to function correctly will be replaced.

 

Where and When should your RV be Serviced?

Your motorhome, diesel pusher or campervan should be serviced according to the directions of the manufacturer following acceptable standards for vehicle maintenance.  This is usually governed by the mileage completed or time elapsed since the last service .

Photograph shows the dealer stamping and signing the sercive manual having completed an annualr service on the caravan.
Stamped and Signed – Ready for the Summer Ahead.

The caravan or trailer manufacturer will likewise recommend a maintenance regime for your unit.  This will most often involve annual attention which is carried out at the workshops of qualified, trained and experienced personnel who work to systems designed by the manufacturer.  All that being said if you cannot get your unit to a workshop it is possible that the work is carried out at another location to suit you.  This is very achievable provided all of the service equipment can be brought on site.  The important thing is to have it serviced regardless of where it happens.

My thanks to Donal Buckley of Buckleys Caravans both for advice and backup over the years that we have been caravanning and also for taking the time to answer my questions about the finer points of servicing.  The photos on this page were taken during this years service of my Bailey Pegasus unit and Donal is the chap doing the work.



What to Do between Services

In order to keep your RV in top shape all year round it is worth being aware of and implementing the following items:

  • Always drain down the water system whether it is kept indoors or outdoors to avoid pipes bursting during frosty conditions.
  • Drain down the toilet tank to avoid frost damage and also to avoid lumps of black mould developing on the fluid.
  • Keep all the locks and hinges oiled and keep the external surfaces clean and free of dirt and grit.  This will help to preserve the finish and will in particular help with window maintenance.
  • Check your tyre pressure and lights each time before you use the caravan.
  • Check the polarity of your electrical system each time you arrive on a new campsite using a simple plugin device available from your dealer.
  • Keep gas drop holes clear wherever they occur in the floor of the unit.  Do not cover them with pots or pans or other stuff that you carry with you.
  • When moving or putting your van into storage turn off you gas lines according to the instructions provided by your manufacturer.  Do not operate gas switches that are clearly labeled as being for use by service personnel only.
  • Establish and maintain a list of things to be done at the next service.  This is for stuff that will wait until the next service and does not apply to things like urgent gas or electrical problems that need attention now.
  • Keep and carbon monoxide detector in the van and maintain it in good order.  Keep fresh batteries in it and check it regularly.
  • Be aware of the electrical limitations of your tow-car.  Some vehicles are designed to supply only a very limited amount of power via the electrical trailer connection. Requiring these vehicles to operate your fridge while towing may be too much for it.  Check with you caravan dealer if your car is one which has had problems in this respect and if any doubt exists keep the electrical loading very simple indeed.  In fact confine it to that which is simply necessary to tow it safely and forget luxuries like arriving with a nice chilled bottle of wine in the fridge.
  • Be aware that relay switches in the caravan will drain the battery while it is in storage.  These amounts of power usage are small but over a period of weeks and months your battery will run down.  If you can plug into a supply and charge up the battery while your unit is in storage then do so, otherwise remove the battery and keep it charged up at home using a charger that is approved by your dealer.
  • With some electrically operated toilet flushing systems condensation caused by fluid in the reservoir can cause corrosion to occur.  This happens in the electronics under the printed membrane on top of the tank.  This membrane covers the switch that you push to operate the flushing mechanism.  It is good practice therefore to drain the toilet down each time you finish with the caravan.  If possible while it is in storage it is good to leave the filler cap a bit open to allow the inside of the tank to dry out and to allow evaporation in this direction rather than into the electrics.
  • If your electrically operated toilet does cease to operate this may be caused by the the fuse.  You can check and see that the fuse is intact and has not blown.  Check a little further however and you may find that the contacts have become corroded.  In some toilet systems this fuse is located at the base of the unit and dampness can be a problem.  Take some time to get to know the location of this and check it now and again.  If it is beginning to look corroded clean the contacts with some fine sandpaper or replace it using a new one.
  • A light touch of silicone spray on the seals where the water pump is connected will keep these seals in good order during the season.
  • Always fully apply the handbrake on site.  On modern caravans this is most often with the handbrake in as upright a position as you can achieve.
  • Be aware that sometimes your stabiliser clamp on the tow hitch can make some noise while towing.  It will creak and squeak.  This means that it is working properly.  You can, and indeed should uncouple the stabiliser when you reach your destination to prevent annoying others and to make your caravan easier to reverse into position.
    The photograph shows a person holding an AL-KO trailer control unit. This is the rear view of the unit and shows where it is connected to the electrics.
    The rear of the AL-KO Trailer Control System showing the electrical connection.
  • If you have your AL-KO ATC Trailer Control fitted you will hear the sound of the brakes engaging and disengaging when you attach the power plug to your tow-car.  This has a distinctive robotic sound with which you will quickly become familiar.  If this fails to happen and the red led on your system remains lit then you will need to crawl very carefully underneath the caravan and unplug the electrical lead.  Do not jack the van before doing this and operate in safe conditions at all times.  If you do not feel confident to do this then call your dealer and remain in place until help arrives.  If you do disengage the electrical lead then make sure you insulate it against shorting and damp before stowing it carefully for the journey. You can do this by taping it securely to something underneath the van that won’t cause anything else to malfunction. Do not let it trail or wobble about.  Remember that you’re now towing without the benefit your AL-KO Trailer Control system so drive, very carefully, straight to your dealer to have the unit replaced.
  • Take a look underneath you caravan and check that everything is aligned square with regard to the braking system  If the bracket/s carrying the braking system is out of alignment or off square then call you dealer and be directed by him or her.
  • If you have a caravan mover fitted then run the motor regularly during periods of inactivity to ensure that the relay and other electronics and mechanical bits get some exercise and continue to work.
  • Make sure that everything is dry before you put it away to prevent black mould developing.   In particular when you clean your fridge ensure that it is thoroughly dry before you finish work.

I’m sure there are things that I haven’t thought to mention on this page and I am, as always, delighted to receive your queries and observations via the contact page in the menu above.  When you tell me things it helps me to update the site which is relevant.