13 Affordable Camper Van Maintenance Tips: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Affordable camper van parked on gravel at dusk

13 Affordable Camper Van Maintenance Tips: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Buy or Sell Campers

Buy or Sell Campers

12 May 2023

We’re putting pedal to the metal on a one-way mission to ignite wanderlust and connect you with your ultimate roving home. Subscribe to get a weekly dose of vanlife inspo and expert hacks straight to your inbox.

Hey there, future van lifers and fellow adventurers! Are you a fan of the great outdoors and the freedom of the open road? If so, owning an affordable camper van can be a dream come true. These versatile vehicles provide you with a cozy home on wheels, allowing you to hit the road on exciting adventures without breaking the bank. 

But… affordable camper vans aren’t always new – affordable often means that you are buying a pre-loved van. To ensure your camper van stays in top shape and serves you well on your journeys, it’s important to pay attention to its maintenance needs. 

13 Affordable Camper Van Maintenance Tips

In this article, we’ll delve into thirteen essential maintenance aspects:

Tip 1: Keep Your Tires in Good Shape

Tip 2: Regular Oil Changes are Important

Tip 3: Check Your Fluid Levels

Tip 4: Take Care of Your Battery

Tip 5: Keep Your Van Clean and Rust-Free

Tip 6: Don’t Ignore Strange Noises or Warning Lights

Tip 7: Stay on Top of Regular Maintenance

Tip 8: The Importance of Regular Tire Rotation

Tip 9:  How to Choose the Right Oil for Your Affordable Camper Van

Tip 10: Understanding Different Types of Fluids and Their Functions

Tip 11: Signs of a Failing Battery and How to Replace It

Tip 12: Protecting Your Van from Rust: Tips and Tricks

Tip 13: Troubleshooting Common Van Noises and Warning Lights

So, buckle up and let’s hit the road to van maintenance success!

Tip 1: Keep Your Camper Van Tires in Good Shape

Your affordable camper van’s tires are like its sturdy shoes. Just like you need comfy and durable shoes to explore, your van needs good tires for a smooth ride. Be sure to check the correct pressure for your van (loaded) and check their pressure regularly using a tire pressure gauge. 

Keep an eye out for any cracks, bulges, or worn-out treads on the tires. If you notice anything off, it’s time to visit a tire shop to get them replaced. Safe travels await!

Refilling oil in a van

Tip 2: Regular Oil Changes are Important

Imagine your van’s engine as its heart. It needs clean and fresh blood to keep pumping smoothly. That’s where regular oil changes come in. Think of oil as a magical potion that keeps all the engine parts lubricated and happy. 


Make sure to follow your van’s manual for the recommended oil change intervals. Don’t worry, it’s just like giving your van a little check-up at the doctor’s!

Tip 3: Check Your Fluid Levels

Your affordable camper van is like a thirsty explorer. It needs fluids to stay hydrated and happy. You have coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and more! Just like you drink water to stay refreshed, your van needs these fluids at the right levels. See Tip 10 for more on this!

Tip 4: Take Care of Your Battery

Your van’s battery is like its energy source. It powers all the cool gadgets and electrical systems inside your van. To keep it healthy, make sure you turn off all the lights and electronics when you’re not using them. 


Additionally, keep an eye on the battery terminals to ensure they’re clean and stay that way – any icky stuff should be checked. See Tip 12 for more on batteries.

Tip 5: Keep Your Van Clean and Rust-Free

Rust is like a monster that slowly eats away at your van’s metal body. Keeping your van clean can help prevent road dust and other grime from attacking the metalwork. 


So, grab a bucket of soapy water and a sponge, and give your van a good scrub. A clean van is a happy van! This is particularly important after visiting coastal areas (sea salt increases rust), and also during the winter. See Tip 11 for more on rust!

Tip 6: Don't Ignore Strange Noises or Warning Lights

Sometimes, your van might make strange noises or show heartstoppingly terrifying lights on the dash. Just like anybody would, we hope these might go away and are ‘just a sensor’.


Unfortunately that’s rarely the case. Pay attention to these signals and address these issues sooner rather than later. See Tip 12 for some troubleshooting advice.

Tip 7: Stay on Top of Regular Maintenance

Just like you need to visit the doctor for check-ups, your van needs regular maintenance too. Make sure to follow the maintenance schedule provided by the van’s manufacturer. 


This includes tasks like replacing filters, inspecting belts and hoses, and checking the brakes. Regular maintenance helps catch any small issues before they become big problems. It’s all about keeping your van healthy and ready for new adventures!

Camper van tire with tools

Tip 8: The Importance of Regular Tire Rotation

Imagine you’re wearing a pair of your favorite sneakers. Over time, you notice that the soles wear down unevenly, making your steps less comfortable and even affecting your overall walking posture. The same principle applies to your camper van’s tires. 

Regular tire rotation is vital for maintaining even tread wear, ensuring optimal performance, and extending tire life.

By rotating your affordable camper van’s tires regularly, you distribute the wear more evenly among all four tires. This means that each tire will experience different positions on the vehicle, preventing one tire from wearing down faster than the others. The process involves moving the front tires to the back and vice versa, as well as swapping the left and right tires.

Not only does regular tire rotation promote a smooth and comfortable ride, but it also enhances overall safety. When the tires wear evenly, they maintain better traction on the road, especially during challenging weather conditions. Additionally, even tire wear contributes to better fuel efficiency, saving you money in the long run.

Tip 9: How to Choose the Right Oil for Your Affordable Camper Van

Your camper van’s engine is the heart and soul of your adventurous journey. It’s crucial to keep it running smoothly with regular oil changes. But with various types of oil available, how do you choose the right one for your van?

When selecting oil for your affordable camper van, it’s essential to consider the recommended oil viscosity grade outlined in the vehicle’s manual. The viscosity grade indicates the oil’s thickness and its ability to flow at different temperatures. For example, a common viscosity grade is 10W-30, where “10W” represents the oil’s flowability in cold weather, and “30” represents its flowability in hot weather.

The choice between conventional and synthetic oil is another consideration. Conventional oil is derived from crude oil and is generally more affordable, while synthetic oil is chemically engineered for improved performance and longevity. 

Synthetic oil tends to offer better protection against heat and engine wear, making it a popular choice for many affordable camper van owners. However, it’s essential to consult your vehicle’s manual or seek professional advice to determine the best oil option for your specific van model.

Refilling anti-freeze in a van

Tip 10: Understanding Different Types of Fluids and Their Functions

Your affordable camper van relies on various fluids to function optimally. Understanding the different types of fluids and their functions will help you ensure your van stays in peak condition throughout your adventures.


Just like you need water to cool down on a hot day, your van’s engine needs coolant to maintain a safe operating temperature. Coolant, also known as antifreeze, prevents the engine from overheating in warm weather and protects it from freezing during colder temperatures. It’s crucial to check the coolant level regularly and top it up when needed to prevent engine damage.

Brake Fluid

Picture yourself riding a bike down a hill and relying on the brakes to slow you down. Brake fluid plays a similar role in your affordable camper van, transmitting the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the brake components. 

It’s essential to check the brake fluid level regularly and ensure it meets the manufacturer’s recommended specifications. Low brake fluid levels can compromise your van’s braking performance, so it’s crucial to keep it topped up.

Transmission Fluid

Imagine you’re riding a bike and shifting gears to adapt to different terrains. In your camper van, the transmission fluid serves a similar purpose. It lubricates the transmission system, allowing for smooth gear shifts and preventing excessive heat and wear. It’s important to check the transmission fluid level regularly and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and fluid replacement.

Engine Oil

We’ve already touched on the significance of choosing the right oil for your camper van’s engine. Engine oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine, reducing friction and preventing excessive heat buildup. It also helps to remove contaminants and keep the engine clean. 


Regularly checking the oil level and changing it as recommended by the manufacturer will ensure your van’s engine remains healthy and performs optimally.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering fluid assists in smooth steering and maneuverability. Low power steering fluid levels can make steering more difficult and compromise your van’s handling. Regularly checking and topping up the power steering fluid will keep your van’s steering system in excellent condition.


These are just a few examples of the various fluids your camper van relies on. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the specific fluid requirements and maintenance procedures outlined in your vehicle’s manual. Regularly checking and maintaining the proper fluid levels will ensure your van operates smoothly and efficiently.

Tip 11: Signs of a Failing Battery and How to Replace It

Your affordable camper van’s battery is the heart of your van, providing the power it needs to start and run all its electrical systems. But sometimes, batteries can fail or lose their charge – especially when they are a few years old.


Around 5 years is the typical life expectancy for the battery in an affordable camper van. To keep your battery healthy, be sure to take short trips and drive for at least 20 minutes every few days.


Here are some signs that your van’s battery might be failing:


  • When you turn the key in the ignition, the engine cranks slowly or doesn’t start at all.
  • The lights inside your van become dim, and the electronics start behaving strangely.
  • You need to jump-start your van frequently.


If you notice any of these signs, it’s likely time to replace your van’s battery. But don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds! You can follow these steps to replace it:


Safety First: Make sure your van is parked in a safe location and the engine is turned off. Also, wear protective gloves and goggles to keep yourself safe.


Open the hood of your van and locate the battery. It’s usually a rectangular box with two terminals (positive and negative) and connected cables.


Disconnect the Cables: Start by disconnecting the negative cable (usually marked with a “-” sign) using a wrench. Then, disconnect the positive cable (usually marked with a “+” sign). Remember to loosen the bolts and gently pull the cables off the terminals.


Remove the Old Battery: Carefully lift the old battery out of its compartment and place it on a stable surface. Be mindful of its weight, as batteries can be quite heavy.


Clean the Battery Tray: Before installing the new battery, clean the battery tray and terminals with a mixture of baking soda and water. This will remove any corrosion and ensure a good connection.


Install the New Battery: Take your new battery and position it in the battery compartment. Make sure it’s secured properly and align the terminals with the cables.


Reconnect the Cables: Begin by connecting the positive cable to the positive terminal, ensuring a tight fit. Then, connect the negative cable to the negative terminal. Use a wrench to tighten the bolts securely.


Double-Check Everything: Take a moment to ensure all the connections are secure and tight. Close the hood of your van and give it a gentle tap to make sure it’s closed properly.


Congratulations! You’ve successfully replaced your van’s battery. Now, you can enjoy uninterrupted power and worry-free adventures on the road!

Rusted camper van in bushes and red sand

Tip 12: Protecting Your Van from Rust: Tips and Tricks

Rust is like the ex that you let in once, and never manage to get rid of, even though you think you have! Rust can silently attack your camper van’s metal body, causing unsightly damage and weakening its structure. But fear not! With a little preventive care, you can protect your van from rust and keep it looking great. Here are some tips and tricks:


Wash Regularly: Giving your van a regular bath isn’t just for aesthetic purposes. It helps remove dirt, road salt, and other corrosive substances that can accelerate rust formation. Pay extra attention to the undercarriage and wheel wells, as these areas are more prone to rust.


Dry Thoroughly: After washing your van, make sure to dry it thoroughly, especially the areas where water tends to accumulate, such as the door sills and crevices. Moisture is a rust’s best friend, so eliminating excess moisture is key to preventing rust.


Apply a Rust Inhibitor or Wax: Consider applying a rust inhibitor or wax to your van’s metal surfaces. These products create a protective barrier that shields against moisture and oxidation, helping to prevent rust formation and keeping your van’s body in good condition. Follow the instructions on the product label for proper application.


Inspect for Damage: Regularly inspect your van for any signs of damage or chipped paint that expose the metal underneath. These vulnerable areas are more susceptible to rust. If you notice any chips or scratches, touch them up with matching paint to provide an additional layer of protection.


Avoid Excessive Moisture: Moisture is one of the main culprits behind rust formation. Whenever possible, park your van in a covered or enclosed area to shield it from rain, snow, and excessive humidity. If you live in a particularly humid climate, using a dehumidifier inside your van can help reduce moisture levels.


Treat Rust Spots Promptly: Despite your best efforts, rust spots may still appear on your van. It’s crucial to address them promptly to prevent further damage. Use a rust converter or rust remover to eliminate the rust and then apply touch-up paint to restore the affected area.


By implementing these tips and tricks, you can significantly reduce the risk of rust on your camper van, preserving its appearance and structural integrity for years to come. Remember, a well-protected van is a happy van!

Van warning lights on a camper van

Tip 12: Troubleshooting Common Van Noises and Warning Lights

Your camper van is like a very vocal friend, but it communicates with you through various sounds and warning lights on its dashboard. Sometimes, these noises and lights may indicate that drama is on the way, so it’s best not to ignore them and hope for the best. 


Here are some common van noises and warning lights, along with possible troubleshooting steps:


Squealing Brakes: If you hear a high-pitched squealing sound when you apply the brakes, it may indicate worn brake pads or seized calipers. Take your van to a mechanic who can inspect the brakes and replace the pads if necessary.


Grinding or Clicking Sound When Steering: A grinding or clicking noise when you turn the steering wheel could be a sign of worn-out CV joints or a damaged steering system. Have a professional inspect and repair the issue to ensure safe steering.


Engine Knocking: Engine knocking sounds like a metallic knocking or pinging noise coming from under the hood. It may be caused by improper fuel combustion or low-quality fuel. Consider using a higher octane fuel or adding a fuel additive to address the issue.


Check Engine Light: When the check engine light illuminates on your dashboard, it’s your van’s way of telling you that something is amiss. It could indicate various problems, from a loose gas cap to a malfunctioning sensor. Visit an auto repair shop or use an OBD-II scanner to diagnose the specific issue.


Battery Warning Light: If the battery warning light appears on your dashboard, it means your van’s charging system is not functioning properly. It could be due to a faulty alternator, loose connections, or a dying battery. Have a professional check the electrical system and replace any faulty components.


Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) Light: The TPMS light indicates that one or more tires have low pressure. Check the tire pressure using a gauge and inflate or deflate the tires accordingly. If the light persists, there may be a malfunction in the TPMS system that requires professional attention.


Remember, it’s essential to address unusual noises and warning lights promptly to prevent further damage and ensure your van’s safety. If you’re unsure about the source of the problem or how to fix it, consult a qualified mechanic who can provide expert guidance and assistance.

📚 Key Takeaways

Congratulations, roving roadtripper! You’ve learned some awesome and affordable camper van maintenance tips to keep your van running smoothly.


Now that you’re equipped with knowledge about affordable camper van maintenance, from tire rotation to choosing the right oil, understanding fluids and protecting against rust, as well as troubleshooting common noises and warning lights, you’re well on your way to becoming a savvy van owner. 


Remember, regular maintenance and proactive care are key to keeping your affordable camper van in top shape and ensuring it accompanies you on all your adventures.


But the maintenance journey doesn’t stop here. As you continue your van ownership experience, keep an eye out for any new issues that may arise. Stay attentive to your affordable camper van’s needs and address them promptly to prevent small problems from turning into major headaches.


Additionally, don’t hesitate to consult your van’s manual and seek professional assistance when necessary. Mechanics and specialized technicians are there to help you navigate through complex maintenance tasks and provide guidance specific to your van’s make and model.


So, embrace the joys of affordable camper van ownership and take pride in your ability to maintain and care for your beloved travel companion. With regular tire rotations, proper oil selection, fluid maintenance, rust protection, and the ability to troubleshoot noises and warning lights, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any challenges that come your way.


Get ready to hit the open road with confidence, knowing that your affordable camper van is ready to take you to breathtaking destinations, memorable experiences, and unlock a world of adventure. Safe travels, happy maintenance, and may your van continue to be a gateway to incredible discoveries and cherished memories!

💬 FAQs About Affordable Camper Van Maintenance

How often should I check my tire pressure?

It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure at least once a month or before long trips.

Can I change the oil in my van myself?

While some people prefer to do it themselves, it’s recommended to have a professional handle oil changes to ensure it’s done correctly. But that’s not to say it’s not possible with some research and a careful approach. 

What should I do if my van's battery dies?

If your van’s battery dies, you can either jump-start it using jumper cables and another vehicle or call for roadside assistance. A lot of our van life community carry NOCO Boost chargers for such eventualities (see pictured). These are a pretty low-cost way to jump your battery, without the need for long cables or another vehicle.

How can I prevent rust on my van?

Regularly washing your van, especially during winter months, and keeping it dry can help prevent rust formation. Applying a rust protectant or wax can provide additional protection. 


Professional rust-proofing services are also available to help keep affordable camper vans safe. These typically address any developing rust issues at the preparation stage, and then spray the underside of your van with a sealant. 


Additionally, consider where you park your van. If you park by the beach a lot, the salt in the air can cause vehicles to corrode faster. But, hey, we all love to park by the beach, so don’t let this put you off your adventures! Just consider getting the van professionally sealed and don’t store your van close to the coast when you aren’t using it.

What does regular maintenance involve?

Regular maintenance typically includes tasks such as oil and filter changes, checking and replacing belts and hoses, inspecting brakes, and ensuring all systems are functioning properly.

Remember, taking care of your van is like taking care of a trusty friend. 


With a little love and attention, your affordable camper van will be your reliable companion on many amazing journeys ahead. 


So, hop in, buckle up, and let the adventures begin! 🚐✨

Read this next


Register to receive our newsletter, bringing you exclusive offers and the latest news.

Sell your Van in 7 days

Built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts, Buy or Sell Campers is the ultimate place to browse hundreds of camper vans for sale nationwide. Drill down into van-specific features that make all the difference in finding your perfect camper van. 

Selling your camper van? We can help with that too. Instantly gain exposure to thousands of van buyers across the Country!

Why Buy or Sell Campers?

With over 200k followers, tapping into our social media guarantees mass exposure for your rig.