As overlanders we know to keep our gear in tip-top shape. So we routinely take our tow tug in for its scheduled service as per the recommendations in the owner’s manual. Some of us add a lube service in between times (if you don’t you should) and we also give the caravan its own service every 10,000km (you might even do this last one and the tow tug's lube service yourself).
While these service intervals are essential for keeping our rigs ready-to-roll, we also have responsibilities to maintain them between services. If you’re wondering what we mean, think about the pre-flight inspections that ensure airworthiness in the aviation industry. We know these checks are undertaken each and every time before a plane hits the skies. In many industries and agencies, the same principles apply to the use of road-based rigs.
Whether it’s the military, mining industries or law enforcement, you’ll hear the term ‘First Parade’ used to describe the checks conducted prior to, during, and at completion of the use of vehicles. They are:
- First Parade Service: Completed before the vehicle is first driven for the day.
- Halt Parade Service: Conducted at each long stop.
- Last Parade Service: Conducted at the end of the day/vehicle use, in addition to the halt parade servicing.
If we’re aiming to spend time on the road in trouble-free touring, we’d do well to follow their lead. Our cars and caravans are held together by parts that will fatigue, rupture, loosen and break if left unchecked. It takes a deliberate hand and a disciplined approach to keep our vehicles serviceable and running efficiently over the long haul. By maintaining and using our rigs properly, we can prolong their lifespan.
We also increase the likelihood of keeping ourselves, our family and friends safe too. After all, with a country that’s almost eight million square kilometres in size, there are a lot of places where you don’t want to get stuck with a mechanical failure, including across the six million kilometres of unpaved roads, most of which are not serviced by mobile phone coverage — that’s a lot of area for something to go wrong.
Let’s take a look at what First Parade Checks entail. You’ll see the measures recommended are as applicable to caravanners, campers and four-wheel drivers as they are to military or mining operators.
Indeed, think about your own rig’s particular characteristics and you’ll probably find checks you need to add to the list.
Step 1 - go for a stroll
This is about actively looking at your rig for defects and potential problems. It goes beyond subconsciously scanning your rig for superficial issues like a scratch caused by someone’s wayward shopping trolley, or seagull poo on the windscreen. Instead, consciously look at the tyres every time you approach your rig. Do this enough times and you’ll identify what the shape of your tyre looks like normally, which will help you notice when one has deflated overnight, even if only by 10psi. Catch the problem early and avoid it becoming a major safety issue.
Also, look to see whether your wheel nuts have moved. You can buy ‘wheel nut indicators’ to help this task. At less than $1.50 each, they are a worthwhile investment to ensure you don’t get overtaken by one of your own wheels on the highway.
Check other fixtures and fittings on your caravan such as:
- Awning — is it strapped away correctly and the locking clamps to the pop-top secure?
- Windows and doors — are they shut and locked?
- Jockey wheel and levelling legs — are they up and secure?
- Water inlet — is it closed?
- Hitch — is it secure, chains on and electrics connected?
- Handbrake — is it off?
- Load — is it securely lashed down? (and did you know that having the running end of a rope or ratchet strap longer than 10cm can attract a fine?)
Then have a think about your own setup and add in additional checks that relate specifically to your rig.
Step 2 - get on your guts
You’ve had a peep around the outside, now it’s time to see how low you can go. You need to be able to see the inner side walls of your tyres to ensure they aren’t damaged, and don’t forget the spare if it’s under there. You’re looking for blisters or gouges out of the sidewalls.
Other things that might stand out could include a loose exhaust or a stick jammed somewhere. Or perhaps some loose wiring because of a snapped bracket or flimsy zip-tie. Is there a leak from the water tank or oil well? Is there evidence of ants or other creepy crawlies?
Ants often make homes in caravans and campers when they’re in storage and not in regular use. Can you see a trail that may lead to where ants have entered your rig and made a nest? Look too for spider lairs that could cause issues once you get on the road.
STEP 3 — LIFT THE LID
Pop the bonnet and check the fluid levels of the things you’re allowed to touch. Back in the day there was much more you were allowed to play with, but now vehicle manufacturers highlight the things you should look at with bright coloured lids. Check your fluid levels and battery terminals for corrosion and to
see if they are loose, then top up and tighten what you can.
While you’re there, look for exposed wiring or bundles of leaves and plastic where they shouldn’t be. Rats have an uncanny fondness for nesting inside engine bays, chewing water vessels and wires, and settling into interior fans. Ignore them at your peril. At minimum, you risk creating minced rat next time you turn on your cooling fan — at worst, serious engine damage. You may also be familiar with snakes’ affection for the warmth of engine bays where they can snuggle in. They may dislodge drive-belts and cause your engine to overheat, a situation that can turn serious once you hit the open road.
STEP 4 — OPEN THE DOOR
Before you take off, make sure all the latches, hatches, and cupboard doors are closed and locked. Otherwise they may swing open wildly, not only leaving a mess but also snapping hinges. Is the water turned off at the stop cock/ball valve? What about the TV. Have you taken it off the mount and stowed it away safely? What about your power panel in the van? Is it how you like it set when you’re in transit? Have the kids accidently turned off the fridge circuit?
STEP 5 — BLINK AND SWISH
It’s only after conducting all these checks that you should turn on the ignition. But don’t drive off just yet!
Look at the dash to see if there are any warning lights illuminated. Then check that everything that blinks and swishes does as it’s designed. If not, take time to work out what’s wrong.
How about the indicators and lights? They may work on the dashboard, but are they working on the outside of the vehicle and on the camper or caravan behind you? If not, is the problem a squashed pin on the trailer plug, or is it something else? Failure to indicate properly can cost you $200 and a couple of demerit points. Worse, you could cause a road accident.
How are the fuel gauges — do you need to top up before you go? And how about those mirrors? Are they adjusted for you or have they been changed by another driver?
FIRST PARADE LIST
As a simple reminder, keep this ‘tear-out’ list in the glove box, and add to it to meet your own specific requirements.
FIRST PARADE (Pre-trip)
- Before starting the engine:
- Check all of the rig’s wheels for security, and the tyres for wear and correct pressure;
- Check outside and inside to ensure the setup is secure and correct;
- Check underneath for obvious defects, hitch hikers and damage;
- Check that the fuel, oil, coolant, windscreen washer and brake fluids, and battery terminals are correct;
- Clean the windscreen, external mirrors, lights and reflectors;
- Check fire extinguishers, first aid kit and a tool kit; and
- Check spare tyre (pressure and for damage) and changing equipment.
After starting the engine:
- Listen for unusual noises;
- Check everything that turns on, flashes, beeps and swishes;
- Check that the fuel and oil gauges are operational;
- Adjust all mirrors;
- Check for steering, handbrake and footbrake faults;
- Complete any other requirements specified within the vehicle user handbook; and
- Fix any defects/deficiencies before you set off on your trip.
HALF-PARADE (When you stop)
- Check fuel, oil, and coolant for leaks.
- Check the tyres and wheel nuts.
- Check hubs and brake drums for overheating.
- Check the stability of the load on your roof racks, ropes and caravan
- Check all lights and indicators.
- Clean the windscreen.
LAST PARADE (End of each day)
- Check the coolant levels.
- Refuel and top-up oils and lubricants if required.
- Check all lights and indicators.
- Clean the vehicle.
- Clean out the interior and the load compartment.
- Complete any other requirements detailed in the vehicle user handbook.
- Identify and fix any defects/deficiencies ASAP.
Other simple things you can do between your rig's scheduled services include:
- Use a coolant, rather than water, in the radiator which can help delay corrosion. Be aware that coolant comes in anti-freeze/anti-boil (30–50 per cent glycol and that includes anti-corrosion inhibitors) or it comes in corrosion inhibitor-only form. While you may not need anti-freeze/boil at home going back and forth from work, you will in the middle of the desert or in the alps.
- Keep a constant speed: This will reduce tyre wear and mechanical fatigue.
- Check your vehicle towing specifications: Overloading your vehicle will place undue stresses on both your engine, drive train and towbar/chassis.
- Keep an eye on your brakes: City driving, driving in hilly areas and towing reduce their effectiveness (and life span).
- If you conduct your own lube services, change the oil and filter after a 30-minute drive. This will help to remove any oil sludge that has settled after becoming cold.
- Remember to keep all of your tyres at recommended pressures. On the highway, this can help reduce your fuel consumption by 10 per cent. By appropriately adjusting your tyre pressures when you leave the bitumen, you’ll also reduce the risk of punctures and improve your ride.