When it comes time to ditch the stresses of everyday life and hit the road for a few days or weeks of pure camping fun, you really want to know your camper trailer is good for the long haul, right? I mean there’s nothing worse than pulling up at a brilliant camping spot, only to realise the camper is falling to pieces! The good news is, with a bit of regular maintenance there’s no reason why the old family camper can’t be super reliable and ready for action at a moment’s notice. With that in mind, here’s your exclusive guide to keeping the home away from home in tip-top shape for many years to come!
In the long run wheel bearings would have to be one of the most common components to fail on a camper trailer, so it pays to put them at the top of your routine maintenance checklist. How often should you check them? Well, how does after every trip sound? It sounds tedious, but when you consider that just one water crossing is enough to mark the beginning of the end for a brand new set of bearings if water gets in the hub, it kinda makes sense, right? For a quick check, spin each wheel while it’s jacked up and off the ground, and listen for a growling noise, which can indicate a buggered wheel bearing. Also, look for excessive free-play by riggling the wheel top to bottom, and side to side. While you’re at it, pop the bearing cap off the hub and check the condition of the grease too. If you see any sign of contamination, especially a white residue (indicating water has penetrated the hub), you should repack the bearings with fresh grease at a minimum. This is also the perfect time to ensure the bearings themselves are in good condition along with the axle itself. The bearings should operate smoothly if you spin the outer race while holding the inner one with your fingers. Any sign of pitting (small indents) on the bearings rollers, plus marks or scuffs is more than enough to warrant the replacement of the bearings altogether.
Let’s bust one myth right here, right now: your camper’s tyres are every bit as important as your vehicle’s! When you consider the amount of sideways movement they can receive out on the tracks, you could say they need to be even tougher! Now, one of the best ways to keep your tyres in tip-top shape is to maintain the correct tyre pressure for the load applied, that goes for when the camper is just lazing around in the backyard too. Obviously, we should be keeping an eye out for excessive tread wear, but it pays to keep an eye out for uneven or out of the ordinary wear too. In fact, tyres wear can actually tell a story. For example, overinflated tyres can cause premature wear right around the centre of the tread; while underinflation usually causes wear on both outer edges. If the tyre is worn on one edge of the tyre, there could be a wheel alignment, axle or tracking issue, and if you run your hand around the circumference of the tyre and find it’s uneven or bumpy, it could indicate a problem with your suspension setup where it’s not maintaining enough downward pressure on your wheel.
As part of your routine tyre inspection, make sure the base of the tyre valve isn’t showing any signs of cracking or brittleness, and that goes for the rest of the tyre too. Hairline cracks can indicate the tyre is past its use-by date thanks to the deterioration of its rubber compound. Oh, and if you spot any damage to the tyre’s sidewall, it’s definitely worth getting it checked by an expert!
While the wheels are removed, take 10 minutes to clean and lubricate the threads inside your wheel lugs and on the wheel studs themselves. Dirt and muck get caught inside and are the number one cause of thread damage – there’s nothing worse than a seized wheel nut when you need to chuck on the spare tyre!
Have you ever hooked up the camper, ready to hit the road and discovered the bloody tail lights aren’t working? Of course, you have! The funny thing is, the problem can almost always be found in the auxiliary plug, and can usually be avoided by spraying a bit of electrical contact cleaner or WD-40 in the terminals every now and then. Yep, do that on a regular basis and you’ll save yourself a heck of a lot of trouble down the track. The other common problem is the seal for the tail light lenses breaking down and allowing condensation inside, which is an electrical connection’s worst enemy!
Blowing your 12V fridge’s vents out with a bit of compressed air goes a long way in the long run, and giving it plenty of room to breathe by cleaning the surrounding area will help it run a heck of a lot cooler too. Oh, and make sure the fridge is left dry, with the lid up when it’s not in use to prevent mould from getting the upper hand.
Another handy little trick is to run a trickle charger or solar panel to your camper to keep the battery maintained between trips. It’ll improve its reliability ten-fold, and no doubt pay itself off in the long run. If you’ve got solar panels permanently installed, use a bit of soapy water every now and then to give them a clean to maintain their efficiency long term – the detergent actually reduces the static charge on the surface so it attracts less dust.
Routine maintenance is crucial to ensure your water storage facilities are safe and usable on your camper. Noticeable odours from the water are a tell-tale sign you’ll need to sanitize the tanks, and while the time between treatments can vary, put it this way: you can’t do it too often! There are a million and one different products available for the job, but one of the most common methods is to flush some bleach through the system. This will need to be heavily diluted; about ¼ cup of bleach to roughly 55L of water should do the trick! For a less abrasive option, Milton Baby Bottle sterilizer will get the job done, or the old bicarbonate soda solution works a treat as well.
Remember to flush the entire system from the filler pipe to each water outlet, and don’t forget the hot water system if you’ve got one too. In fact, now’s the time to check the condition of the hot water system’s sacrificial anodes (depending on the design), along with the water filter element if you’ve got a filtration system installed for drinking water.
Another thing to check for is rocks or stones getting caught between the water tank and its stone guard, especially if the tank is made from plastic. Like a stone stuck in your shoe, it can be a real pain in the butt, only in this case the constant scuffing can wind up damaging the tank.
There’s nothing quite like a few nights under the canvas, that is unless it’s gone all mouldy! Sunlight is your biggest friend here. It goes without saying you should never store canvas away when it’s damp or wet, at least not for any more than a day or two. And believe it or not, sunlight is one of the best ways to kill mould once it’s started to develop too.
But water isn’t always the enemy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A regular hose down obviously helps keep it clean, which prevents things like bird droppings and acidic seeds from penetrating any canvas coatings, but it can also help with the waterproofing side of things too by causing the canvas threads to swell and close up any holes in the weave. You’d be amazed at what a difference simply airing the tent out regularly can do for the camper’s longevity too.
Keeping things running smoothly is the key to a long-lasting camper trailer, and that means routine lubrication is a top priority in so many ways. A grease gun is a worthy investment, particularly if your suspension and offroad coupling has specified grease points. Locks, latches and hinges love a good dousing of spray-on lubricant and the same goes for your tent’s zippers too! In fact, pretty much anything that slides, swings, rotates or moves will benefit, and it’ll keep things feeling brand new despite the amount of dust our offroad adventures throw at it. Now use a little common sense here though, often lubricants can actually cause dust to stick to it, so keep this in mind before going too crazy with the spray lube.
If your gas system is permanently installed, it should be serviced and repaired by a qualified technician. In saying that, there’s no harm in checking over it for leaks regularly, just in case. Simply spray over any connections or fittings with soapy water, and if bubbles appear it indicates a possible gas leak. You can also check the safety operations of your stoves ignition, as most designs won’t allow gas to flow through the burner without a special action being carried out; it helps prevent the gas from being turned on accidentally.
You’d be surprised at what you can discover with just a quick visual inspection under your camper trailer. Look for any signs of wear; frayed brake cables, evidence of leaks like damp patches around the brake assembly, and brittle or cracked suspension bushes are all causes for concern. And look for clean patches around dirty nuts and bolts, as this can indicate they’ve loosened up over time. Excessive stone damage is also something to keep an eye on as it can open the doors to the start of a rust problem; while it’s almost impossible to totally eliminate stone damage, the use of spray-on stone guard protection, plus actual physical stone guards can definitely help.
To ensure you can pull-her-up when you need to, give the brake system the once over every now and then. Now, if you’re not all that clued up on brake systems, it’s best to get a mechanic on the job. In saying that, there a few basic checks that can help you identify if there is a problem. A visual inspection is the quickest way to pick up a potential problem; insuring the brake pads/linings have plenty of meat left on them is a good start, and check there are no leaks (for hydraulic systems) too. Following that, make sure the brake drum or disc isn’t too carved up or glazed over. Then, it’s a matter of ensuring the adjustment is correct. To do this, first, jack the wheel off the ground, and ensure the wheel spins freely. If you have drum brakes fitted, there should be a minimal amount of drag as the wheel spins. Then, get somebody to activate the brakes and make sure the wheel locks up.