Caravan servicing for dummies

Many people service their own caravan but is it false economy?

There’s not much to a caravan. Just a box on a trailer, really. So how hard could it be to service it yourself? Why go to a caravan workshop and let them do it?

The reason is that you could find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

If you’re a home mechanic that has been servicing your own caravan for the last 40 years, then no worries. You probably have a dry, well-lit, fully equipped garage workshop in which to work on your van.

You’re also probably clued-in about replacement bearings sold for $8.95 on eBay by the Joyful Bearing Company of China being not such a good choice for your van.

You could also no doubt get wheel bearing tension correct to within a Newton metre, while drinking a cup of tea and chatting to a mate.

There are two main components that are serviced on a caravan — wheel bearings and brakes — and myriad other bits and pieces that should be checked as part of on-going maintenance.

Wheel bearings are the hardest bit to service. When you finally get to them (who ever decided to make a wheel nut so big?) you’ll discover they’re covered in gobs of grease that will never wash out of your white chinos.

Once you’ve cleaned the bearings with your parts washer (don’t use the washing machine) and dried them off, you need to know about scoring, bluing and pitting.

If drugs, fighting and olives are the first things that spring to mind, you’re already in trouble.

If you don’t really know if the bearings are beautiful or busted, you may decide to just chuck in new bearings and be done with it. Getting them online or at the local spare parts shop, you’ll be asked which is it: Holden or Ford?

This can be confusing, especially if you didn’t grow up with an allegiance to the Blue Oval or the General. And what does the type of car you prefer have to do with caravan bearings anyway?

You know you need grease, and RepCheap have some you-beaut white lithium grease on sale. Good to go.

Then you have brake shoes to inspect. They look quite thick, so that’s a good sign. Lots of pretty cracks though them, too.

So you’ve dabbed some grease on the bearings, eventually got them to fit and put the wheel hub back on. You’ve tightened the wheel nut as much as you can, dropped in a split pin and got the wheel back on.

Then there’s a general look around the van. Split seams can be a worry, and not just with your pants. Chassis cracks too, and handbrake cable tension. It all looks okay… you think.

This isn’t to say you can’t learn to do your own caravan servicing, and to do it well. It takes mechanical aptitude, a dry, clean space to do the work and time — lots of it — to learn what to do and not to rush through the job.

But if you happen to notice a wheel overtaking you on your next trip, just as your van begins engraving the road, you’d be right to be upset. You’d want to sue the caravan manufacturer, the local council for building such crap roads or even the Joyful Bearing Company of China for making such woeful bearings.

And you might find the money, time and effort to do all that would’ve been better spent getting a caravan workshop to do the job.

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