Preparing your caravan for the summer season
With the country beginning to open up, and campsites looking set to re-open from the 4th July, most of us will be starting to think about when we can get away for our first trip.
Having spent almost 4 months in lockdown, many people will have had plenty of time to work on their caravans but if you haven’t, we’ve compiled a guide of everything you need to think about before you get back on the road this summer.
Step 1: Service your caravan
Before you travel, it’s a good idea to get a full service on your caravan to make sure everything is in good working condition and isn’t going to cause you problems while you’re on the move.
However, if you don’t want to opt for a full service, there are a number of checks you can make yourself. We need to check each system to ensure it’s in good condition and is functioning correctly. After a very long time in storage, there’s plenty of elements that could have been damaged, degraded or stopped working altogether. We need to carefully inspect all of them before we get back on the road.
Here’s a checklist:
Cleaning and reconnecting the water system
At the end of last season, it’s likely that you drained the system, disconnected the pipes and left the taps open. This will have made getting your systems back in action a lot easier as you won’t have to deal with cracked or broken pipes caused by frozen water.
To prepare your system for this season, start by reconnecting the pipes, filling the tank with water and letting it run through. This will help you to check for leaks. Any leaky pipes or cracked joints should be replaced before moving on to the next step. Next, you need to sterilise the system. Drain the tank and pipes of water before refilling with a Puriclean solution. Let this sit in the system for up to 12 hours and then flush it with fresh water. Finally, change the water filter and replace it with a new one.
Reconnect the battery
When you put your caravan in storage, your battery should’ve been removed and then charged every so often to keep it healthy. If you have followed these steps, then your battery should be ready to reconnect.
First, clean the contacts including the leads and battery terminals with a contact cleaner. Once clean, you can then reconnect the battery. When this is connected, ensure that you test the system by turning on interior lights or checking the water pump.
If you didn’t charge your battery over the course of storage, it could be the case that your battery won’t hold charge. In this case, you could need to leave it charging for a number of days using a battery charger.
If the battery is completely flat, you will need to replace it as it is unlikely to hold a charge at all.
Check the hitch and brakes
Similarly to the water systems, being prepared at the end of last season can help wonders when it comes to your hitch and brakes. If you made sure the hitch was covered and your brakes were off before you stored it, you simply need to remove the hitch cover and grease the hitch, handbrake and brake override. If you did not follow these steps, it’s likely that your brakes may have seized, in which case you should see professional help.
Fit your wheels and check the tyres
Start by checking the tyre tread and condition, followed by the tread depth. This should be at least 1.6mm across the central 75% of the tyre around the full circumference. Next check for any splits or cracks in the side walls or the treads.
Now it’s time to refit the wheels. Jack up the caravan, remove your winter wheels and refit the road wheels. You should then ensure that the wheel nuts are tightened to manufacturer settings. Make sure when you’re back on the road that you recheck your wheels after 20-40 miles to confirm they’re in good working order. Finally, check the tyre pressure and inflate more if necessary. This will help you to identify any punctures as well as saving fuel once you’re on the road.
Check the road lights
Lights can be temperamental and after a long period of disuse can be likely to cause problems. Most road light issues are caused by a bad earth in the 12N plug. Start by checking this plug, inspect the housing for cracks and ensure that the pins are not corroded or broken. Next, connect the car and check that each light is working - you may need someone else to help you. If you notice a flickering when there are 2 lights on simultaneously, you can have earthing problems in the plug. The easiest solution is usually to replace the 12N plug. Finally, inspect your lenses and marker lights for damage or missing screws.
Check the gas system
You should have your gas system checked annually by a qualified engineer within your regular service schedule. In addition to this, you should check the rubber hose in the gas bottle box for cracks or splits. If you have had it for over 2 years, regardless of its condition, you should replace it. Hoses will inevitably degrade over time so we suggest replacing them at least every 2 years. Don’t forget to stock up on gas before your trip, finding yourself without gas could be a recipe for disaster!
Step 2: Clean your caravan
Having been left for months, it’s likely that your caravan needs a thorough clean. This can be a good process to help you spot what else needs to be done and can also help you to identify more serious problems such as rust or damp.
Start with the exterior
Clean the outside of your caravan from the top to the bottom, starting with the roof and working your way down. This is where most of the algae and dirt is likely to have accumulated. Use a sturdy stepladder or work tower and try to avoid walking on your roof. It’s slippery when wet and we don’t want any accidents!
Start by hosing down the van with cold water to remove as loose dirt such as leaves, moss or grit. Missing this step could mean damaging the paintwork further down the line when you start cleaning. Make sure to use a hose rather than a pressure washer as this can loosen window seals or damage your TV antenna.
Next, using a good quality shampoo begin to rub it into the exterior using a sponge or brush. You don’t want this to dry so we suggest working your way round the caravan section by section and once each chunk is done, rinsing it with clean water. Use a flexible silicone blade to remove excess water on the walls and roof, and use a microfibre cloth to dry to windows.
Once dry, you can move onto polishing your caravan.This will brighten your vehicle and add shine. Dullness in the paintwork is caused by oxidisation due to the UV rays from the sun. Pour a small quantity onto an applicator and add a thin layer to the paintwork, using a circular movement. Try not to let this touch rubber seals or textured plastics or times to avoid damage. If you have marks or scratches on the paintwork, increase the pressure of your polishing. You must then leave the polish for 15-20 minutes before buffing it with a finishing cloth.
The next stage is to wax your caravan. Wax has no cleaning qualities but will protect your paintwork and form a barrier to repel dirt and retain shine. This follows a similar procedure to polishing, except we encourage you to leave it on for 30 minutes before buffing.
To see which areas you have waxed, and which you have yet to do you can check your progress by wetting the area. On a waxed section, water will run in beads whereas on a non-waxed area you will see ‘sheeting’ - this means that the water glides off the surface like a big “sheet” of water.
Clean your windows and wheels
Start by gentle hosing down your windows to remove any grit. This can cause serious damage during the cleaning process. We’d then suggest using a specialist window cleaning product (suited to acrylic for the best results) to spray on the windows and then wipe using a microfibre cloth.
Spray down your alloy wheels and give them a treatment using a specialist wheel cleaning product for extra shine.
Clean the awning
Before you head out to buy awning cleaning products, ensure you have read your instruction manual which should tell you how best to clean your awning. Some advise you not to use cleaning agents as it can affect the waterproofing ability of the fabric, while others will advise on which specific products to use.
The best technique to clean your awning is to erect it to the side of your caravan. Then use a telescopic cleaning brush to remove any excess dirt or debris before you start using water. This will save you from smearing the dirt around later on and making it a harder job for yourself.
This is when you can move onto spraying down your awning and applying your cleaning agent (if your instruction manual permits you to do so). You can also see in your manual whether they suggest using cold or warm water. If in doubt, just stick to the temperature straight from the tap as with some awnings the use of warm water will remove the waterproofing.
Once cleaned, you may want to consider using a reproofing agent to restore the waterproofing abilities of the fabric. Similarly to when we were checking the wax on the exterior, you can check if your awning needs reproofing by pouring a little water and seeing if it’s beading or sheeting. Yet again, it’s important to look at your manual to see which agent is best to use.
Check for damp
As we all know, repairing damp can be incredibly expensive so it’s vital we’re checking our caravans often to make sure that there’s none present.
A tool you can use is a damp meter, a device that can detect even the slightest signs of damp or humidity. Insert the 2 prongs into wood, wood fibre or plaster and you’ll receive a damp reading on the LED display.
You can also check for damp by giving your caravan a whiff! Can you smell any signs of moisture? Good places to look are concealed areas such as corners, supboard, bed boxes and storage as these can be havens for damp. Also give the floor a feel as it can feel spongy if too much liquid has entered it.
Inspect the external sealing on window frames and doors. If these are in bad condition it can quickly lead to internal damp. You can see how sturdy the seal is by applying pressure close to the window joint. Don’t just stop at the windows - any external damage that prevents the van from being truly watertight can cause issues.
Some other key things to look out for are:
- Black marks around the windows, doors and walls
- Staining on walls
- Walls that feel soft when pressed
- Damp looking patches on ceilings or walls
If you suspect any signs of water ingress in the floor or panels we suggest getting in touch with a professional as this has no quick fix and is likely to need specialist equipment.
To remove less critical signs of damp as well as mould or mildew follow these steps:
- Wear appropriate protective clothing including gloves, a facemask and an apron/overalls to ensure you are safe.
- Mix a solution of washing up liquid and warm water or vinegar and warm water to clean any mould and mildew, Never use bleach.
- Utilise a scrubbing brush to clean the affected areas thoroughly.
- Once scrubbed, allow the areas to dry completely.
- Mix 1 tbsp clove oil with 1 litre of water and pour it into a spray bottle. Apply to the areas where the mildew and mould was present. This will prevent the damp from returning. After 20 minutes, wipe the mixture off and allow the area to dry.
If the mildew or mould is recurrent or noticeably bad, we suggest getting it looked over by a professional.
Clean the interior
Start by vacuuming all of the carpets and upholstery in your van.It’s likely that a lot of dust will have built up whilst it’s been in storage so it’s important to get rid of this and any loose dirt before it gets too embedded into your space.
Once you’ve hoovered, you can clean the upholstery with a cleaning agent that is suitable for that material i.e. cloth, vinyl, leather etc, Always do a patch test first to check it doesn’t affect the colouring. Once you’ve washed these areas, ensure that they dry properly to stop mould from accumulating.
Hang any bedding, cushions and curtains out in the fresh air to air them out and ensure they don’t give a musty smell to the caravan,
When faced with the bathroom, avoid household cleaners as these can damage the surfaces as they are specialist plastics. This includes bleaching the toilet. Instead, find suitable products that won’t damage fittings, seals or pipework.
In the kitchen, a great solution you can use is diluted bicarbonate of soda. Use this to clean and deodorise your fridge and freezer for a cheap and effective solution! Make sure you also wipe down all kitchen surfaces to get rid of any residue that’s built up while it’s been in storage.
Step 3: Safety and Security
It’s important to inspect all of your security and safety measures to confirm that they’re in good working order. This can be the difference between the holiday of a lifetime and a holiday from hell, so it’s a check you must take seriously.
Firstly, check that all of your locks and alarms are still present and functional. Ensure the alarm siren is still audible and replace it if it no longer works.
If you have a tracking device, check it by moving your van a couple of miles away from where it’s been stored and making sure you can still track it.
It’s also important to check your wheel clamp and hitch lock for any sign of wear and tear. You should also check that they can be fitted and removed with ease.
Finally, check all of your safety equipment, including testing smoke alarms, topping up the first aid kit and making sure that your fire extinguisher is in date. For extra precaution, it could be worth buying a fire blanket.
Step 4: Paperwork
Paperwork is the bane of everyone’s life but in this case, it’s a necessary evil. Get organised and have it sorted before you get on the road so that you can relax and not have to worry while you’re away.
Make sure the following are valid and in date:
- Caravan Insurance
- Car breakdown cover
- Tracking device subscription
- Travel Insurance
- Passport (if you’re planning on travelling abroad)
Once you have completed these 4 steps, you’re ready to get back onto the road! It seems like a big job but the majority of these tasks will carry you through to the end of the season - leaving you free to travel to your heart's content without a worry!