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How to Prepare Your Van for Summer Road Trips


Cruising down miles of open road, waking up to an ocean view outside your van doors, and exploring natural wonders far off the beaten path… these are just a few of the tantalizing promises of summer van adventures. Unfortunately, the very elements you’re chasing–sun, salt, and sand–can wreak havoc on your rig if you’re not careful. If you have a vintage camper van, the sheer mileage of months spent road-tripping can also put a strain on mechanical components. Plus, RVs that have been collecting dust for months will require some maintenance to get back to ship-shape condition.

The last thing you want while on vacation is to deal with unexpected van issues. Luckily, you can avoid stress on the road by following the Boy Scout motto–be prepared. Don’t know where to start? We’re here to help. Before you embark on the road trip of your dreams, follow the steps below for summer van preparation and maintenance.

young woman cooking in RV parked at the beach during sunrise

Prepare for Summer Road Trips in your Van

From vital safety check-ups to preventative measures, we’re covering it all. Our advice will help protect your investment and keep your trusty van looking like new for years to come. 

To make the process seamless, we’ve created a chronologically-ordered guide. If you’re using and maintaining your van frequently, you might not need to check off every item listed before your summer road trip. You may be able to do inspections and repairs yourself if you have the know-how, or you may prefer to have a professional handle everything. We’ve generally categorized tasks based on an intermediate level of van knowledge. 

bikes set up at rv campsite

Mechanical Pre-Trip Inspection

Unless you have above-average mechanical skills, the easiest way to knock out multiple important safety checks is bringing your van to an experienced mechanic for a pre-trip inspection. This should include checking your wheel alignment, tire pressure and tread, brakes, shocks and struts, battery, belts and hoses, and fluids. Make sure to mention anything out of the ordinary you’ve noticed, such as strange noises while driving, rust, or signs of leaking fluid, so your mechanic can conduct a thorough investigation.

DIY Van Maintenance

Camper van maintenance can be broadly divided into two categories, the “vehicle” side and the “home” side. Once you are assured that the mechanical components of the vehicle are roadworthy, it’s time for home maintenance and repairs. On the exterior, check your rig’s window seals and slide-out seals, if applicable, for signs of damage. Replace if needed. Clean and lubricate moving metal parts like hinges and slideouts. Remove any debris or nests from intake and exhaust openings. Inside, you may need to reverse winterization processes. If so, drain and flush out antifreeze before sanitizing the water system. Even if you aren’t dealing with antifreeze, you should sanitize all your water tanks a minimum of every six months. For more details, read “Understanding Black and Gray Water in Your RV.” At least once a year, check all of the air and water filters in your van to ensure they are still working or replace them as needed. 

paddle boards rest against RV in Florida

Features Testing

You don’t want to be halfway to your dream destination when you notice that a simple but vital feature of your van is malfunctioning. Conduct a test run a few weeks before you leave to avoid mid-trip snafus and provide enough time for repairs. This is especially important if your van has been in storage since last summer’s adventures. Take it for a test drive to ensure that everything is working smoothly. Pay special attention to headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and hazards. These features are crucial for safety but are often forgotten–you might never realize a light is malfunctioning if you don’t make a point to look. Similarly, check smoke, carbon monoxide, and propane detectors by looking for a blinking light or pressing the test button. Test your van’s climate control, plumbing system, and all appliances to avoid any unwanted surprises on the road. 

Pre-Trip Cleaning

Whether you’ve been storing your van for months or living out of it full-time, we’re willing to bet it could use a thorough cleaning. For guidance, check out our “Van Life Spring Cleaning Checklist.” While cleaning, keep an eye out for evidence of pests or mold so you can remove any health hazards before your travel season. Learn more about insect prevention measures in our guide to “Beat the Bugs.” Air out your van to deal with any stale air, weird smells, or excess humidity. On the exterior, clean windows, mirrors, and cameras for good visibility. 


Emergency Supplies Check

No van lifer should travel without an emergency kit. If you already have one, ensure everything is still in good condition. If you’re building your supplies for the first time, make sure you have a roadside emergency kit, first aid kit, basic tools to repair problems on the “home” side of your motorhome, a fire extinguisher, and nonperishable snacks, water, and pet food in case you’re stranded for a while. If you plan on offroading and staying at remote campsites, consider purchasing a portable jump starter, leveling blocks, traction tracks, and tow ropes. Don’t forget important documents and medications for humans and pets.

Smart Packing 

Speaking of packing, that epic summer road trip will flow more smoothly if you optimize what you bring and how you store it. Resist the temptation to overpack and embrace a minimalist approach. When you ensure that every item has a dedicated place in the van, you’ll avoid wasting time moving possessions around whenever you need to access something. Still don’t know what to bring along? Check out Van Lifer’s Summer Road Trip Packing List and Van Road Trip Capsule Wardrobe: How to Pack Light This Summer.


Summer Element Protection

As we mentioned, summer conditions are rough on camper vans. However, you can protect your rig from the elements with a few important tips. First, wash and wax your van often during warm-weather months. This single process protects your paint job from damage caused by multiple factors including the sun, dirt and sand particles, and water. Consider conditioning your RV’s seals more often in hot, sunny climates to prevent drying and cracking. Everything inside your van, from fabric to plastic to wood veneer, can be harmed by excessive sun and heat. Protect these surfaces by keeping the blinds and curtains closed, using a dashboard sunshade, and parking in the shade whenever possible. You might even want to consider tinting your windows to shield your van interior–and your body–from harmful rays. All of these methods have the added benefit of keeping your van interior cool and comfortable. Seat covers or leather conditioning products can also help maintain your vehicle’s seats. Lastly, depending on where you travel this summer, you may be looking at increased humidity. A small dehumidifier will prevent moisture buildup. 

Immediately Before Leaving

You’ve spent the last few weeks ensuring your van is ready for the adventure ahead. Now you just need to follow a brief checklist to avoid issues while driving. Ensure that windows and roof vents are closed, external connections are stowed properly, and any exterior storage is securely fastened and closed. Remember that propane tanks and appliances require extra care to prevent dangerous leaks while driving. Propane tanks should be closed and appliances that use propane should be turned off. To keep your van in great condition for decades, you’ll also want to distribute weight evenly within the space from side to side and front to back. Besides ensuring heavy items are equally spaced, make sure all of your possessions are stored securely so they won’t rattle around or break while you drive. 


Healthy Habits

Once you’ve taken care of these preparation tasks, you’re ready to go! However, our summer van life tips don’t end there. Keep your rig functioning well all season and beyond by adopting good habits on the road. First, avoid bringing wet items like beach towels, wetsuits, and swimsuits inside the van as much as possible. Instead, hang them up to dry outside. You’ll also want to air out the space when showering and cooking to prevent mold and water damage. To keep your home clean on even the sandiest of beach vacations, commit to taking your shoes off every time you enter the van. If you have dogs, dedicate a specific dog towel to wash and dry them before they are allowed back in the van. For the sand that will inevitably make its way inside, a handheld vacuum will work wonders.

With a little preparation and maintenance, you’ll be able to enjoy stress-free summer travels while protecting the value of your home on wheels. Ready to go places you’ve never been? RecVan can take you there. 

We carry a wide range of vans suitable for every type of adventure, from family vacations at RV resorts to solo boondocking expeditions. For more information about different van models, check out our News and Reviews. Looking for more savvy van life tips? Read Unexpected Van Expenses and How to Avoid Them.”