Top tips for DIY van repairs

Peter Quilty — 19 December 2016

Have you ever been trapped in the bush, caught in virtual isolation? Stranded due to a caravanning mishap, and not knowing how to fix the problem?

Most ardent holidaymakers will eventually face a DIY caravan repair, whether out-of-the-way in a remote environment or along the side of a road on the outskirts of suburbia.

So CW enlisted the advice of some industry experts to help give you peace of mind and make your next caravanning adventure hassle-free.



INGENIOUS DIY


Steve McNaught, part-owner of Tough Toys Offroad Accessories in Hillcrest, Qld, has some solutions to common problems that could potentially bring you to a stop.

“With the right tools and some ingenuity you can fix most problems well enough to carry on with your trip, or at least get you to the nearest town,” McNaught said. “Don’t take short cuts with safety – there are some things you just can’t fix on your own – but don’t let minor mishaps ruin your tour either. 

CARAVAN LIGHTS


“If your brake lights or indicators stop working in the outback, it’s no big deal, but you’re going to need them when you get back to town, so it’s best to get them fixed as soon as possible.

“Check none of the connections have been shaken loose or clogged with dirt. This is where a multimeter comes in handy – it can tell you what part of the circuit the fault is in. Pretty often, just pulling out the plug and having a look at it will fix the problem. If not, look at fuses and – the obvious – bulbs. You should be carrying a few spares of each. A coil of spare wire and a pair of side cutters will also come in handy.”

RATTLES

“When you’re driving along a corrugated track there’s no chance of you missing it when something comes loose. The constant rattling will drive you nuts in no time, unless you fix it. This is where improvised tie-downs come in.

“Of course, first you need to find out what’s loose. A good bet is to check your jockey wheel – they’re notorious noisemakers. Some grease can quieten things down, but you may need to apply a bungie cord or even cable ties.”

U-BOLTS


“Another potentially dangerous breakage is the U-bolts that hold the caravan’s leaf springs together. A spare one is a good thing to have along. If you don’t have one, you could always try welding the broken one as a temporary fix.

“If you don’t have a welding kit with you, it’s possible to improvise one from a couple of batteries and some jump leads; then you just need a welding rod and you’re good to go. Don’t rely on this for too long, though, because the heat of welding can leave the bolt brittle – get it replaced as soon as you can. In an extreme case, you can use ratchet straps to hold everything together, but that’s definitely a last resort.” It’s also important to research this welding method before you attempt it, to ensure your safety.

LEAKY AWNING

“A drip in your awning can really ruin your night. Luckily, it can be fixed well enough to get you by. If you only notice the problem when it starts raining – which is usually how it goes – fix an oily rag over the leak to keep you dry until morning. Dry canvas can be patched with duct tape. Get a proper patch sewn on and sealed as soon as you get home.”

BEST LAID PLANS


Geoff and Sharon McLean of Utow/Resort Caravans van hire, dealership and service centre in Somerville, Vic, pull out of the drive and head off on a caravanning pilgrimage every winter – and they love to get off the grid. Geoff said some simple planning goes a long way to ensuring their trip will be another with no problems.

McLean has a number of tips he likes to give to caravanning friends, mostly relating to preparation, prevention and roadside fixes which are always handy to know.

“Know your caravan, carry the tools and spares, and get yourself informed on how to fix things. If you cannot fix it yourself, then wear a nice smile and, in no time, somebody will have you back on the road.”

TOOLS AND PARTS ARE ESSENTIAL


“You cannot fix anything if you have nothing to do it with,” he said. “I carry a fairly extensive tool bag, and I use a soft bag rather than a toolbox as it is easier to store in the van.

“If something is coming loose, then tighten it up before it falls off and causes a problem. If it is stuck, then a spray with silicone will most probably get it going. Sliding window blinds are an example. A stuck open blind can wreck your holiday. A good spray along the edges and moving parts with silicone spray and some wriggling will fix them up more often than not.”

CHECK YOUR BRAKES

“A brake failure is a big problem; however, on a properly serviced van, the chance of it being something big is fairly remote. There are wires under the van going to each wheel. They are easily hit by something and broken. If you can see a broken wire at the wheel, use your wire joiners and just connect it back up.

“To test the electric brakes are working, jack up each wheel in turn. Spin the wheel and apply the brakes in the car. The wheel will stop if they are working. Make sure the car ignition is on.”

REPLACE YOUR TYRES


“I would always start a big trip with near new tyres. A good tread will prevent many of the punctures that will see you head in hands on the side of the road. Just because they look good, how old are they? If they are six years old, replace them, no matter what they look like.

“Keep an eye on your tyre pressure. I carry a 12V air compressor and tyre repair plugs. Really, check them regularly! Give the tyres a visual inspection for any bulges, cuts or lumps. With a good compressor and a set of tyre plugs, you can fix a small puncture, often without removing the wheel. Before you go, get an old wheel and puncture it. Practice using the plugs and compressor to mend it. You will be surprised just how easy it is.”

PROTECT YOUR TANKS

“Have a look under your van before you go. Are you doing any dirt roads? Are the pipes and tank protected? What parts are most at risk of stone damage? A spare tap, some hose to match your van and a couple of joiners in your tool bag will get you back on the road. A pin hole in a tank can be fixed with a screw covered in silicone screwed into the hole. You can buy special glues and fillers that can be mixed together and put over a larger hole to stop the leak. But you will need to drain it first.”

DIY MUST-HAVES

  • Grease
  • Bungie cord/occy strap
  • Cable ties
  • Multimeter
  • Batteries and jump leads
  • Duct tape

TOOLBOX ESSENTIALS

  • Socket set
  • Open end and ring spanners
  • Good screwdriver set
  • Pliers, cutters, wire strippers
  • Shifting spanners (all sizes)
  • Lockjaw pliers (small and large)
  • 12V wire
  • Thread sealing tape, insulation tape, duct tape
  • Screws, nuts and bolts (assorted)
  • Wire joiners (assorted)
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Grease
  • Can of lubricating/silicon
  • Torque wrench
  • Bearing grease
  • Spares: wheel bearings, wheel nuts, studs, fuses, bulbs, electrical wire, U-bolt

PREVENTION TIPS

  • Carrying tools and parts is essential 
  • Every time you stop, have a good look around your van
  • Keep your brakes well-serviced to avoid a small failure becoming a big issue
  • Keep your water tanks and lines well-protected
  • Start a big trip with near new tyres
  • Don’t forget to plug in your trailer wiring plug to avoid its destruction 

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #552 June 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!

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top tips tips DIY van repairers repairers plan preparation bush