If you’re planning a long journey or a road trip in your campervan then it’s worth checking things over before you set off. Here is a list of essential checks you should carry out prior to hitting the road. I’ll also include a few none essential checks just to make sure you get the best experience possible when on the road. If you’re heading over to Europe then you’ll need a few extra bits and pieces so I’ll cover this also.
You’ll need to think carefully about what you’re going to need whilst away from home, especially if you’re planning to be away for an extended period of time. Likewise if you are going to be covering a lot of miles then these checks and maintenance tips are going to make a huge difference to your experience whilst away from base.
Things to check on your campervan before a road trip
We own a Mazda Bongo campervan, which is over 25 years old now. Whilst this has been reliable for us on long journeys (touch wood) we like to make sure everything goes smoothly by following this checklist. Having travelled across Europe in 2019 with many stop offs along the way I wanted to share some key tips for consideration that can make the journey a little more risk free. We covered about 1900 miles in 8 days which was a bit of a mission but we saw the most amazing sights. You can read all about this journey here.
Road trips are great if you’re planning to see multiple places in one trip. We’ve done a few of these in the last 3 years and learnt some valuable lessons along the way. Most importantly of all is to check over the vehicle before you leave. You want it to be as safe and reliable to avoid disappointment. Having completed the below checklist your mind should be at rest and breakdowns or faulty equipment should be the last of your worries. You can get on and enjoy your travels.
A comprehensive campervan checklist before long journeys
The following is a comprehensive checklist for campervans before you leave for extended durations. These should all be considered if you are planning a trip that covers 300 miles or more.
Spare wheel & tyre
Make sure you can access your spare wheel to check that it has plenty of tread and air in it. You don’t want to get caught short with a spare wheel that you can’t use.
Locking wheel nut – Just double check you have this. Without it you won’t be able to remove the wheel to replace or repair a puncture.
Tools to change wheel – Check you have everything you need to change a wheel should you get a puncture. A Jack, wrench and extension bar. (See below for Mazda Bongo specifics.) Some newer campers might not have a spare so ensure there is a tyre sealant kit.
Do a quick practice run beforehand and familiarise yourself with the process and check everything works as it should. This will also allow you to ensure all the tools are present and makes things easier should you have to change the wheel for real.
Tyre pressure – Be sure to check your tyre pressure with a pressure gauge or a digital air pump. You’ll need to know the recommended pressure for your specific vehicle. This can be found on a label within the door seal or this website: https://www.tyre-pressures.com/ (My Mazda Bongo didn’t list the tyre pressure in either of these places. I found this information on Bongofury)
Tyre tread – Check your tyres are in good condition before you set off. If you’re planning to cover a lot of miles then you’re going to get through a fair bit of your tyre tread. Check if you are close to the limit and replace your tyres beforehand if needed. You can use a 20p piece to check your tyres tread as per the below video.
Check the engine bay to ensure your coolant levels are correct. You don’t want an overheating engine on your travels. If you need to top up your coolant make sure you use the correct type. Also it’s worth bearing in mind that if you do need a top-up, why? Is there a leak that needs investigating? Maybe check with your garage before you hit the road. The location and shape of the coolant header tank is going to differ for each campervan. (Image below for a diesel Mazda Bongo)
Windscreen washer fluid
Check the levels and fill to the top before you head off. You can buy windscreen washer fluid from most auto stores, supermarkets or online. Don’t just use water as it won’t have anti-freeze properties. Make sure you use an actual windscreen washer fluid. You can buy ready mixed, concentrated or tablets which can be added to normal water.
Make sure your windscreen wipers are in good condition. If you experience juddering or jumping, scraping noises or squeaking noises from your wipers then I’d change them before your next trip. Replacing noisy wipers with new ones will make all the difference when in the van for extended periods of time, not to mention they make visibility much better.
Sometimes a good clean will resolve issues but when the rubber starts to perish it’s time for replacements.
Does your air-conditioning work as it should? If not you can get a free air-con check at Halfords. A re-gas will cost you £50. Hopefully thats all it needs. Air-con gas can slowly leak from some older vehicles. To prevent this it’s a good idea to switch on the air-con on every so often, even in the winter.
Going on long journeys in summer will not be as enjoyable without air-con!
Likewise you’ll want to make sure your heating is working when travelling in the colder months.
Some of you might have a diesel heater installed so it’s worth giving this a check to make sure everything is working correctly. Ongoing maintenance is important for these devices. Clean or replace the glow pin, remove carbon deposits in the combustion chamber and replace fuel filters if not done for a while.
Engine oil levels
Ensure your engine oil is at the right level. To check your engine oil you’ll need to locate the dip-stick, remove it from the tube, clean with a rag, place back and remove again to see where it is on the level. If you need a top-up make sure you use the correct engine oil for your van. You can use this engine oil checker to help you find the right one. If you need a top up then it might be worth taking a spare 1L bottle just in case you need another top-up whilst on the road.
Brakes and brake fluid check
Test your brakes before you start a long journey. Simply go for a drive, find a quiet road and perform a brake test. If things don’t feel right then you can take your campervan for a free brake test in many auto centres. If you experience juddering, van pulling to one side or squeaking when braking it’s worth getting them checked out by the professionals.
Also check your brake fluid level. If this is low make sure you have a garage investigate why!
Windscreen cracks and chips
Do you have any chips or cracks in your windscreen? If so it’s worth getting these sorted ASAP. You may be able to do this through your insurance or simply contact Autoglass for a quote. Cracks can easily expand if not repaired or replaced. It’s not a job you want to worry about if you’re in a different country or trying to enjoy your holiday.
Lights, interior and exterior
Check all your lights are working. Ask someone to help you check all your exterior lights by walking around the vehicle whilst you test them all. Don’t forget full beam, indicators and numberplate lights. Always take spares light bulbs with you in the glovebox. You can buy van lightbulb kits online.
You can easily check all your interior lights yourself and replace any bulbs that might not be working.
If using a multimeter make sure the battery is showing 12.6V or above when the engine is off, or 13.7V to 14.7V when the engine is running. If you’re not getting these readings you’ll need to consider changing your battery. Seek professional advise here.
As above it’s worth checking your leisure battery is in good condition before you go. Ensure it’s charging with the engine running (13.7V to 14.7V reading on a multimeter).
I’ve installed a USB charger point with voltage reader in my van so that I can alway easily keep an eye on this. Find this on eBay.
Power steering fluid
It’s worth checking your power steering fluid also before long journeys. If you notice the levels are low take it to a garage to have the levels investigated. I’ve personally never needed to do this but it’s something I always check before a long journey.
Pop top or elevating roof
If like me you have an elevating roof it’s a good idea to check everything is working at it should. My van is getting on a bit now and the roof can stick from time to time. I normally service the motors and runners before going away. Using White lithium grease for the metal runners and WD40 to loosen the hinges and motor.
If you have a fridge in your van then check it over to make sure it’s working properly. If it’s making abnormal noises, the compressor is overheating or not cooling properly, or if the compressor is clicking on and off too regularly then there might be something wrong. Have it checked over by a professional.
Gas cooking equipment
Checking gas cans and testing your equipment is always recommended before you set off. If anything isn’t working as expected then have it checked over by a qualified person. Ensuring smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working is of vital importance for your safety. Check them and take spare batteries just in case.
A full service
It’s highly recommended to have a full service on your van before a long journey. This way you know your van will be in the best condition and running efficiently for all the miles you are going to cover. Fuel filters, oil filters, air filters, spark plugs (petrol only) and new oil are all worth replacing
Having completed these checks before you go will give you peace of mind that you have done everything possible to help avoid break downs and minimise interruptions to your travel plans. Hopefully I’ve covered most areas for the majority of campervan owners out there but please feel free to leave a comment below on anything you also check before you hit the road.
We try and service our van every 10,000 miles or so but I’d recommend a service before a long trip.
Mazda Bongo specific checks
Here are a few additional checks I tend to cover with my Mazda Bongo (Ford Freda)
- Coolant alarm (if you have one fitted). Many Bongos have coolant alarms fitted to warn of engine coolant leaks. If the coolant levels drop below the low mark an alarm sounds warning the driver to turn the engine off. This prevents overheating and cracked heads. If you don’t have a coolant alarm then you can buy them on eBay.
- AFT working. (pop top roof) I did briefly mention this above but I like to check the roof is working correctly and check the seal for leaks or trapped dirt. A good clean of these parts will help ensure a long lasting AFT. Mine has almost got stuck a couple of times which would have been a nightmare having to try and manually close it. A good clean and oil tends to sort out sticking components.
- Gearbox oil levels. The Mazda Bongo also has access to replace the gearbox oil. It’s worth changing the oil every 50,000 miles or so on these vehicles.
- Spare wheel and tools. As mentioned above it’s worth check all these a doing a dry run to make sure everything is where it should be and it works. The spare wheel is underneath the back of the van on the Bongo and can corrode or get stuck. So checking this is all in working order is a good idea.
European road trip checks
If you’re heading abroad into Europe then you’ll need the following items as a legal requirement.
- Full UK drivers license + national insurance number
- V5C Certificate
- Travel insurance documents
- European breakdown cover documents
- Safety/warning triangle
- GB car sticker
- Headlamp beam deflectors
- Reflective jackets
- First aid kit
- Replacement bulbs
- Two breathalysers
You can buy complete European equipment kits from many places including eBay.
That about completes my post. It’s quite a comprehensive checklist so I’m sure not everything will need to be checked, especially if you’ve recently had something done. If you feel I’ve missed anything then please feel free to comment below and I’ll consider adding it to the post to help other out.
Here’s a printable list to make things easier
For now I say goodbye but I wish you all a happy a safe journey.
PS. Bongo owners, I’ll give you a wave and a smile when passing! 🙂