Van main­te­nance

The best me­chan­i­cal changes you can do to keep your van re­li­able on tour.

Motorhome & Caravan Trader - - News&reviews Tech Talk - Philip Lord

While it’s true that a car­a­van doesn’t have me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents – there is no en­gine or trans­mis­sion – there are parts that can fail if you don’t keep them up­dated.

A car­a­van’s run­ning gear is very ba­sic, yet the num­ber of things that can and do go wrong might sur­prise you. Usu­ally it is a lack of main­te­nance. The trap that is easy to fall into is to fo­cus too much on the tug’s main­te­nance and worn parts re­place­ment and to ig­nore the car­a­van. A car­a­van’s run­ning gear will wear out too.

Whether you tow your car­a­van on good paved roads only or you like to ex­plore out­back dirt roads, the mov­ing parts do wear and are prone to fail­ure. Even if you’re not us­ing your van of­ten, you might find that com­po­nents still de­te­ri­o­rate. Re­plac­ing them is cheap in­sur­ance.


If it has been a few years since they were fit­ted, fresh, top qual­ity, greased wheel bear­ings are a good start­ing point. This is one part that is of­ten the first to let car­a­van own­ers down. Bear­ings should at least be re­greased and ad­justed be­fore any big tour, and it is al­ways a good idea to carry a new spare and split pin.

Get some good qual­ity bear­ings like Timkin rather than a cheap Chi­nese brand, and make sure that the axle spin­dles are not dam­aged with score marks when you’re re­plac­ing the bear­ings. You should have greased all through the bear­ing and not just the outer sur­face. The cor­rect ten­sion

needs to be ap­plied to the axle nut. If you’re un­sure, get the job done pro­fes­sion­ally.

An early warn­ing sign of bear­ing fail­ure is that they get noisy. They can also let go al­to­gether and the whole wheel and hub assem­bly can de­tach from the axle. As you can imag­ine if that hap­pens on the road, it is not a pretty sight.


While at the wheels you can in­spect the sus­pen­sion springs, bushes, spring hang­ers and dampers (if fit­ted) for dam­age, and make sure the sus­pen­sion is prop­erly greased if re­quired.

Af­ter bear­ing is­sues, one of the more com­mon prob­lems out on the road is the brakes. You should ad­just the brakes so the ve­hi­cle and the van are shar­ing the load. Be aware that this ad­just­ment might be dif­fer­ent for around town ver­sus trips out on the open road.

The prob­lem is if you rely too much on the van brakes they can over­heat and cause the brake shoes to score and crack or glaze. If the brakes heat up the hub suf­fi­ciently, the wheel bear­ing can boil out and then you have a sec­ond prob­lem – a dry bear­ing, which will even­tu­ally seize or fall apart.

A good pre-trip in­spec­tion will also check the re­main­ing brake pad or brake shoe ma­te­rial thick­ness. You also need to make sure the brake drums have not scored and there is no oil or grease on the lin­ings. Re­place the pads or shoes if there is any doubt they might not last the dis­tance of your tour, and get drums re­placed or ma­chined if they are scored. The same ap­plies to brake mag­nets. While usu­ally rea­son­ably long last­ing, they are rel­a­tively cheap to re­place if there’s any doubt about their ser­vice­abil­ity. One test is to check the mag­nets’ wires with a volt­meter. They should show 12V with the tow ve­hi­cle en­gine run­ning and the elec­tric brake con­troller slide ap­plied on full. If there is lit­tle or no c\volt­age, there is a prob­lem with the con­troller, mag­nets or wiring that needs to be fixed.

When tight­en­ing the wheel nuts, make sure the threads are not worn or dam­aged. It might be a point of con­tention, but I sug­gest you do not oil or grease the threads. Just make sure they are clear of grime and grit. Al­ways check the ten­sion of the wheel nuts when on tour. It’s a good idea to do a shake­down run on a lo­cal stretch of high­way be­fore the big trip, so that you can check all your good work (or your me­chanic’s) won’t be un­done.


Another po­ten­tial prob­lem is the car­a­van’s park brake. You want this ad­justed enough to hold the car­a­van when parked, but not too tight. About 20mm of slack in the park brake cable is about right, de­pend­ing on the run of cable. Al­ways check the wheels as well, as no cable park brake op­er­at­ing on drums is overly ef­fec­tive.

Greas­ing the cou­pling is a good idea to stop noise and re­duce fric­tion and heat build-up, but you can have prob­lems with se­cur­ing the cou­pling if too much grease is ap­plied. You may think it’s se­cure, but the ex­cess grease will mean the lock­ing pin hasn’t en­gaged and the cou­pling will de­tach from the ball when on the move. Use the grease spar­ingly or bet­ter still, use some dry-lube on the ball each time you’re hitch­ing up for a long trip. Don’t for­get to also lu­bri­cate the fric­tion points of the load-lev­el­ling hitch, if you use one.

Clock­wise from top left: Th Clock­wise from top left: Keep­ing your van me­chan­i­cally sound is eas­ier than you think; check springs and hangars for dam­age; re­place wheel bear­ings with qual­ity items.

Above: Re­place the trailer plug if pins are bro­ken or cor­rec­tions are cor­roded. Left: En­sure you in­spect the wheel nut ten­sion.

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