When your travel depends on your vehicle, maintaining your home on the road is critical. From the experienced overlanders to the ones just getting started, practicing good habits can recover you in less than stellar situations. Wouldn’t summer be a bummer with a blown radiator? From the heat of the desert to a crazy summer thunderstorm, keep your vehicle and camper in exceptional overlanding shape by using this basic maintenance guide!
Air Bags- Air bags that are installed on a truck with a camper should be adjusted until the vehicle and camper are both level. From that point on, the air bags should be adjusted depending on load. The vast majority of air bags we use in the shop have a 5 pound minimum in order to keep the shape of the bag, and a 100 pound inflation maximum. Extra information is included in the literature that comes with the purchase and installation of air bags.
Tires- Hot temperatures and hot pavement create more heat and friction on your tire. On the other hand, rain decreases your stopping distance and reduces maneuverability. As a result, low tire tread worsens all of these conditions. If you are planning a big adventure, take a look at the condition of your tread. If the tread is at half the thickness it was when you first purchased them, make it a priority to get your truck into your local tire shop for some new shoes. Getting routine tire rotations will also help even out wear. It is a good idea to frequently check your tires for unwanted objects such as rocks. Also, assessing the air pressure in your tire regularly is crucial. Low pressure can compromise the performance of the tire and reflect in lower gas mileage. Since heat makes air expand, the most accurate tire pressure reading will occur in the early morning when the tire is cold. A good off-road tire will have a stiff side wall for added protection against rocks. It is normal for a little bit of bulging to occur at the top and bottom of your tires. Be sure to not overfill the tire with air in efforts to get rid of bulges. A visit to a local tire store, or a quick read in your vehicle owners manual will provide good information on how much air pressure to put in a tire, how low to air down for off-road use, as well as a psi that the tire should not dip below.
Wheels- Visually inspect your wheel to rule out any odd bends, cracks, and dents. Bearings keep your vehicle running smoothly. So, the best way to check the state of the wheel bearings on your vehicle is to check them with no weight on the wheels. Proceed to jack up your vehicle until the tire is just off the ground, using jack stands as a safety precaution, and give the tire a shake by grabbing the top of the tire and pulling towards you. There should be no movement when you shake the tire. If you do not hear strange sounds driving and you do not hear or feel anything loose when you shake the tire, then your bearings are fine. To make sure that your lug nuts are not too tight or too loose, swing by your local mechanic shop to have them re-torqued to specifications. Bearings and lug nuts are a vital parts to the function of your vehicle and failing to address the problem could lead to wheels falling off while driving.
Brakes- The added weight of a camper may put more stress on your brakes. Prior to loading your camper with food and gear, drive around and see if your stopping distance is elongated and if there is any shimmying in your steering when stopping. Take your vehicle to get checked out if you experience any of the above.
Fluids and Coolants: Start at the beginning and get a basic oil change. Other fluids levels to examine are brake fluid, power steering fluid, automatic transmission fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If your engine shows that it is running a little on the hot side, check the condition and level of your coolant. The heat of summer makes the engine work harder to stay cool. Likewise, if you find your air conditioning is not performing at its peak, refrigerant may need to be added. If that doesn’t provide you satisfaction, there might be another problem, such as a leak.
Belts and Hoses: Probing the hoses and belts on your vehicle is a good way to investigate wear and tear. Belts to review are the power steering belt, fan belt, air conditioning belt, and alternator belt. Depending on how old your vehicle is, these belts could all be separate or a serpentine belt. Hoses to review are your upper and lower radiator hose, and the power steering hose. These items could be cracked, frayed, leaking, or have a slight bulge to their appearance. The heat and humidity of summer will make the condition of belts and hoses worse, causing breakdowns in unfavorable settings.
Windshield Wipers: Even if your windshield wipers survived the icy winter, they may not be in shape to wipe away the relentless rain of a summer thunderstorm. Replacing windshield wipers is important if their clearing abilities are poor.
Battery: First, be sure that all battery terminals are clean and tight so there is a good connection, allowing power to effectively travel throughout your vehicle. Also, check that your battery is held down good and tight so it doesn’t move around inside your engine compartment. If you think your battery isn’t charging properly or holding a charge very well, hook up a load tester to it to see where it’s levels are at. Replace the battery as necessary.
Vehicle Jack: Knowing where your jack is located on or in your vehicle, how to use it, and where to place it on your vehicle when the time arises should you need to use it to change a flat is vital. If you have larger tires than what originally came on the vehicle, be sure to check that the jack fits under your vehicle safely prior to any adventuring. Consequently, you may have to add some jack blocks to your set-up, or carry a tire repair kit to plug up holes until you can take your vehicle to get a new tire.
Note* A high-lift jack was used solely to demonstrate a safe location in which to jack up a vehicle. As with any jack, high-lift jacks can be extremely dangerous if they are not used properly.
Lights and Mirrors- Make sure that mirrors are adjusted to your liking. Walk around your vehicle to confirm that all your running lights, turn signals, brake lights, and headlights are working properly.
Don’t worry if you see water leaking from your air conditioning on the ground under your vehicle; it is totally normal during the hot summer months and is a direct result of humidity!
Turnbuckles– The 4 turnbuckles are the integral pieces of how the camper is mounted to the vehicle. It is important to periodically check these for tightness. Remember to tighten the front two turnbuckles first, hugging the camper as close to the front of the truck bed as possible, and then tighten the rear two turnbuckles. This can be done by sticking a screwdriver through the turnbuckle and turning. We recommend checking turnbuckles once a month, depending on how frequently you use your camper on and off road.
Bolts- The four bolts that are responsible for mounting the flatbed camper on your vehicle are not as imperative to check as turnbuckles, however it is still important to know where the four bolts are located. Generally, these bolts can be found where the propane tanks are stored, in storage areas under seats, and inside interior cabinets.
Of course, there are endless items to add to a vehicle maintenance checklist. I have compiled this list for your convenience, but there are many other helpful lists and how-to videos available on the internet. Summer isn’t summer without spontaneity, so inspect your vehicle and camper and set out on your adventure!
Written by Lauren “Lolo” Sherwood