Ah, spring! The sun is shining, the birds are singing and on every hard shoulder there’s at least one stranded campervan.
Yes, it’s campervan season. The Marmite of the road, campervans are either adored for their distinct appearance or hated as they grind agonisingly uphill slower than a convoy of tractors.
Eye-catching though they are, the original people carriers can be quite troublesome. To be fair, most of us over the age of 35 are getting a little worn around the edges, but it’s nothing a little TLC couldn’t sort out. And the same applies to your classic camper, so before you fire up the engine with the kind of delightful rumble that could only be intended to wake hibernating bears, it’s time to get ready for spring.
CHECK FOR WATER
For many owners, ‘vans are second vehicles kept for high days and holidays, so there’s a good chance yours has been parked up for winter.
Hopefully it will have been tucked up under a cover or in a garage, but if it’s been exposed to the worst of the British weather, some water has probably got in somewhere. Feel all the foam cushions, as water might have dripped onto them, and check the windows and door seals.
If the impact is minimal, giving your ‘van a good airing by leaving doors and windows open should do the trick. But ageing campervans are prone to leaking and you might need to replace some of the seals around the windows, doors or the pop-top roof. If things are really bad, the water might have become trapped and caused the bodywork or roof mechanism to rust, warranting a trip to the garage or campervan specialist.
LOOK FOR PROBLEMS
If you use your ‘van all year round, you’ll probably notice issues as they crop up. But spring is nevertheless a good time to take stock of problem areas and do a spot of routine maintenance – which you do anyway, right? Check the oil and, if necessary, carry out a complete oil change.
The oil on a classic VW campervan needs changing every 2-3,000 miles – more regularly than a modern car – so now is a good time to change the oil and the filter. Test the headlights, fill up the washer bottle and make sure that the washer jets work.
CHECK YOUR TYRES (ALL OF THEM)
Check your tyre pressure, including the spare, and inspect the side door to see if it slides smoothly along the runners. If it jams or feels sticky, it could be a sign it’s one unsuspecting yank away from falling off entirely in a pitch-black campsite at midnight. Not that I’d know about that kind of scenario…
SPRING CLEAN TIME
Wash and polish the bodywork and spring clean the interior, including the roof hinges and hammock beds, even if they’re not in regular use. Pay particular attention to the fridge and sink, which can get a bit musty over winter, and check cupboards to make sure no nasty leftovers from last summer are lurking. Then, when everything’s sparkling clean, it’s time to fill your camper up again!
Pack a tool box, even if it’s rudimentary. Leaving home without a jack, wrench, spare fan belt and oil really isn’t an option if you drive a campervan. Also obligatory is a torch, screwdriver, Swiss Army knife and a hammer; you might not use them to fix your van, but you are going camping after all! If you don’t have the know-how or confidence to fix more than the basics on your ‘van, you’re going to need breakdown cover. Some policies only include roadside cover for things going wrong away from home (in a pitch-black campsite at midnight, for example), so you might want to add ‘at home’ insurance in case you break down on the driveway.
Keeping a fire extinguisher on your camper is a must and, if you can, have an automatic fire extinguisher fitted in the engine bay as well.
Pack long-life foods and day-to-day essentials such as washing up liquid, bin bags and matches. Keep plenty of water on board; ok, so the engine might be air-cooled but you and your passengers probably aren’t, unless you count rolling down a window.
Take plenty of games and books to keep children occupied, as campervan journeys sure ain’t fast, and keep warm blankets and raincoats on board. You might like to think that the family standing forlornly behind the hard shoulder barrier in the driving rain will never be yours but, at some point, it really will.
PLAN SOME TRIPS
Now for the most important thing - booking your road trips! The spring and summer calendar is full of niche campervan festivals, so do your research and find out which you want to go to. Some are small and family-friendly whilst others are vast and can be quite noisy places to take young children and babies. Certain shows sell out in advance, so book ahead. Make sure that your campervan insurance is up to date and, if you decide to travel abroad, check that your policy covers this.
Don’t assume that expensive items such as iPads and laptops will be covered by your home insurance in the event of loss, damage or theft while you’re away either. Read the small print; you might find you need to arrange additional cover.
And you’re ready to go! They say it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive and, in a campervan, you certainly are hopeful of arriving. Somewhere. Anywhere, really.