Keeping Things Fresh

John Hughes — 26 January 2022
To keep your van in proper shape for many trips into the future, there are some things to remember before you put it into storage.

There are many more remedies for dealing with invading ants, and most involve creating a barrier or removing ‘bridges’ to allow entry. Many owners are fans of putting talcum powder, bicarb soda or ant sand anywhere parts of the caravan touch the ground such as stabilisers and jockey wheels. ‘Bridges’ to avoid are leaning items up against the van or parking under a tree where branches touch the roof.

Mould can pose a threat to many parts of your van where moisture is present. A scenario that I think we have all seen is mould growing in a fridge. The simple solution is to remove the contents, defrost the freezer and dry inside as fully as possible. Owners often keep the fridge and freezer doors ajar because any residual moisture will be enough to get that mould going. If you are 100 per cent confident the inside is bone dry, then it is OK to close the doors.

Washing machines are another appliance where moisture can lurk encouraging mould, so the same thinking applies about keeping the lid open unless you are sure it is fully dry.

Mould can also develop on various surfaces if you trap moist air in your van prior to closing it up for storage. This can happen if you pack up in a humid environment then put the van into storage with limited ventilation. The moisture in the air will condense onto surfaces throughout the van when there is a temperature drop. The solution is to ‘dry’ the air in the van. This may be as simple as opening the van up to air out in an environment with low humidity. In more humid environments, running a heater can help. Moisture can also be trapped in items such as linen or towels, so it is best to remove these.

Don't forget the underside

If you experience ongoing moisture challenges, there are commercially available moisture absorbing products you can consider. They generally involve a container to hold crystals or powder that draw in water from the air. Once the crystals or powder has reached its maximum absorption it needs to be replaced.

Another threat is you put your van into storage not realising you have recently developed a water leak. Inspect for any signs of water leaks. There may be clues on the outside of your van in the form of seals that appear to have deteriorated or come away. There may also be clues on the inside of the van in the form of water stains. For more information on this, head to the DIY section on page 184.

Mould can also form on the outside of your van, particularly on the awning. Fully unwind the awning and make sure it is completely dry before putting the van into storage.

CONTAMINANTS

Speaking of the outside, it is good practice to clean the exterior surfaces thoroughly to remove traces of salt or other contaminants such as bird droppings or tree sap that could contribute to corrosion, staining or paint damage. Don’t forget the roof or the underside of the van.

The process of washing and removing dirt gives you a good chance to inspect for any corrosion or other abnormalities that you can address before storing the van.

TIME

Ignoring your battery in storage is not a good idea. Put very simply, even if you are not using your van, there is nearly always some part of the electrical system that will draw power from the battery and flatten it over time. If you let your battery get ‘too flat’, it will no longer be able to hold charge and will need to be replaced.

There are a few options for protecting your battery. You can disconnect the terminals, so power does not discharge from the battery. Alternatively, the battery can be regularly charged. You can do this by plugging into your 240V input and setting a timer to run for a few hours once a week or so. Alternatively, a trickle charger can be connected to the battery terminals to provide a small continuous charge. It is important to turn off appliances such as the hot water service and fridge that draw significant power. However, a battery will store best if it is able to be lightly discharged and then be topped up with charging. This can be achieved by having lights or similar turned on from time to time.

There is some debate as to whether it is best to keep your freshwater tanks full or empty. The argument to keep your tanks full is it does not allow air in the system which prevents the growth of bugs. I am not sure that this is scientifically founded, but there is a simpler argument that if you have good water in your tanks there is no need to dump it.

The argument for emptying is keeping water in the tanks for extended periods will taint the water with any residual compound that leaches from the tank. Inversely, impure water picked up on your travels could leave a long term residual taste in your water supply.

I think the jury is still out on water storage so we will sit on the fence on this one. However, if you live in an area where temperatures drop below zero then the answer is definitely empty the water tanks and hot water service, drain the water lines and keep the taps open, because freezing water expands and can crack pipes and fittings.


Checking all elements is essential

There is no debate with grey water tanks — they definitely need to be emptied when the van goes into storage. Organic matter in grey water stimulates bug growth that can be very smelly in as little as 12 hours. Once emptied, the grey water tanks should be flushed out with fresh water to clear residual organic matter. This can be done by running fresh water through your sink and or shower and then dumping it. Leaving your drain point open for a few hours to assist drying may help but it is probably better to close the drain point before too long to prevent creepy crawlies finding a new place to live.

It's obvious your toilet needs to be cleaned prior to storage. The basics are dump the contents at a suitable disposal point and rinse the tank with clean water. Then either allow the tank to fully dry or put some fresh water in the tank again along with a chemical specifically intended for storage.

Various moving parts will tend to dry and seize up over time through lack of use. Application of suitable lubricants on your stabilisers, coupling, handbrake mechanism and jockey wheel will help keep your van in good working order while in storage.

Seals in your gas lines could perish over time allowing a gas leak in your system somewhere. Ensuring gas bottles are turned off will safeguard against this.

COVER UP FROM THE SUN AND PRECIPITATION

Caravans can withstand the elements — that’s what they do when you get to use and enjoy them. However, in the long-term, caravans last a lot longer if they are sheltered from the elements. The sun’s UV light deteriorates plastic, rubber and paint over time. This will make the van look aged, cause parts to break prematurely and seals to fail. Being out in the weather also causes greater extremes in temperatures leading to greater expansion and contraction increasing the chance of parts failing sooner. You never know when a hailstorm could wreak havoc on your van causing very expensive denting and or broken parts. Continuous exposure to rain and condensation will inevitably accelerate corrosion. Finally, if you do experience a leak, continuous exposure to rain will mean a lot more water will get in than if your van is only in the weather occasionally.

The best option for covering your van is to put it in a shed where it will be fully sheltered from the weather. A carport is the next best option providing overhead cover. It’s a big help if you can rig up some form of side protection on the carport such as shade cloth. I have seen a van stored under a carport with significant corrosion just on one side of the van. The side that was good was protected by a wall. The side that was corroded was exposed. This van was stored about 3km from the coast and the component suppliers still determined that the damage was caused by sea air.

Failing a shed or carport, a caravan cover is a lot better than leaving your van completely exposed. A good caravan cover will not only be waterproof but also provide some form of ventilation to assist with condensation build up. It will also have multiple straps to enable the van to be tied down snugly so that it does not flap in the wind. A ‘flappy’ cover may cause damage to your van surfaces due to small but persistent abrasion. Another useful feature to look for in a caravan cover is zippable access panels lining up with the caravan doors so you can get in and out of the van without having to take the cover off.

When installing a caravan cover consider the following. Ensure the caravan is completely dry before fitting the cover to prevent moisture being trapped under the cover. Cover the windows with something soft to prevent the cover rubbing against them causing scuffing or scratches. Think about the roof and close fittings such as hatches and wind down antennae or anything that may interfere with the cover.

A caravan cover is a good option if you cannot store your van in a shed

One person on each side of a caravan with a stick each is a good way to manoeuvre the cover up and over the van. If the cover does not protect the A-frame find a second cover to go over the jockey wheel, coupling, hand brake assembly and gas bottles if necessary.

If your van will be stored in the elements, consider the following. More regular checks and washing of your van is a good idea to see if anything is starting to go wrong. Polishing your van after washing it can provide a degree of UV protection. Closing curtains, blinds and hatches will help protect your interior from the sun’s harmful rays. Winding the jockey wheel up to create a slight slope on the roof will prevent water from pooling up there minimizing the chance of leaks. Storing under a tree may not be a great idea as it may expose your van to sap or bird droppings or even a branch breaking off and doing damage.

IF IN DOUBT, CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL

Improper maintenance could lead to injury, death or property damage. Maintenance work of this nature should only be undertaken by persons with suitable mechanical competence. Information provided is general in nature, not comprehensive and can only be taken as a guide. Individual discretion must be exercised and persons undertaking described tasks do so completely at their own risk. Publishers and creators of this content accept no responsibility for loss or damage. 


SPECIAL THANKS RV REPAIR CENTRE

Special thanks to the following for their assistance in this article:

Andrew Phillips and the team from the RV Repair Centre, 120 Canterbury Rd Bayswater Nth Vic 3151, Ph: (03) 9761 4189.

Camec for the use of a caravan cover — learn more at camec.com.au.

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Feature Long-term storage Tip-top shape Things to do

Photographer

John Hughes