Golden Rules For Van Maintenance

Posted by Burtman on
Feb 21, 14:10.
February 21 2024, 02:10 pm.

Feb 21, 15:02.
February 21 2024, 03:02 pm.

Read Time: About 6 Minutes

Maintaining your van is more than an annual oil change and the odd tire kick; it's an ongoing process of inspection and attention to detail, both, while in motion and when parked.

To help you get into the maintenance groove, I've compiled a list of "golden rules" that you should try to keep in mind. Think of them as guidelines for a safe mindset.

While these "rules" are not going to be true all of the time, treating them as though they are will keep you safe, keep your van in the best possible condition and avoid unnecessary problems. They will apply at different times, depending on what you are working on, or how things go on the road.

1. All unexpected behavior requires investigation.

Changes in vehicle behavior can be the result of excessive wear, momentary or worsening damage, contamination, or other sudden changes that can result in very dangerous situations.

Sudden changes, such as a loss of engine or braking power, steering control, pressure, cooling, etc., need immediate investigation. Ignoring such serious events can lead to 24-car pile-ups at the least convenient times.

It is wise to have breakdown cover.

2. All damaged parts need replacement.

Although there are some parts of your van that can break or wear without any real consequences, such as seat covers, mud flaps and cigar lighters, there's no such thing as an unimportant part when it comes to the drive train - in other words, the parts that make your van move.

A damaged belt, a cracked brake line, a broken gasket, a bare wire, or even a broken bulb, can all cause serious accidents. Some of these items will deteriorate over time and eventually give up, creating what appears to be a sudden change. Having a little look at things from time to time can mean replacing or servicing parts before they break, and that could save your life, not to mention your wallet, time and nerves.

3. All dashboard warning lights need investigation.

Your dashboard has warning lights to alert you to problems detected by various sensors in the vehicle. They include fluid pressure and level sensors that can tell you when important fluids are low or leaking; electrical sensors that can warn you of blown fuses, glow plugs and circuit issues, including, in some vehicles, incorrect voltages; temperature sensors that can tell you when something is overheating; and much more.

If you see a warning light that stays lit on your dashboard after starting the engine, you should consult your manual to find out what it means, and make arrangements to have it looked at before it becomes a bigger problem. Some problems will need to be addressed immediately, while others might be able to wait for a short time, but no warning light should be ignored.

If your manual is vague about the meaning of a warning light, perhaps because it has several possible meanings, consider buying a code reader specific to the make of your van. It will tell you exactly what the problem is in plain english (other languages available, of course), and that will save a lot of trial and error.

4. All cables are live.

When working with electricity, there is always a risk of fire or electrocution. While some cables carry minimal voltages and couldn't so much as fluff your hair, other will kill you instantly, sending your burning carcass across the street and causing a chain reaction of exploding cars and fuel stations.

Although that is unlikely.

Before disconnecting or touching any cables in your van, always disconnect the battery, unless you know that you need it connected (perhaps in order to carry out a circuit test). Always wear insulated gloves (rubber or coated), and be careful not to touch your metal tools across terminals and other live connections.

Remember this, too: even after disconnecting the battery, there are many capacitors that can still hold a deadly charge, and they will release it on contact. Electricity is extremely dangerous. Don't mess about with it and never rush a job that involves it.

5. All fluids need priming.

Ok, some don't, but the majority do, and having the idea in mind never hurts. Priming means removing all the air from the line, so that fluid can flow continuously. You will find priming to be important in many places, including your fuel and brake lines, and even in your sink. A line staying primed relies on decent seals, so if you keep losing pressure or sucking air in, that's where you should start looking.

You will know when a fluid needs priming when air in the system prevents normal operation. For example, not priming the fuel line after a filter change will mean not being able to start the engine (the air in the line will prevent the fuel from reaching the injectors).

6. All moving parts need lubrication.

Again, this is not strictly true, but asking yourself whether or not a part you just worked on needs lubrication before putting it all back together can save you a lot of hassle.

Some parts are designed to rely on friction. Like your brakes. But even so, while your brake pads must never be lubricated (or they will stop working), the pistons that push them do, and so does the pedal. So, when servicing or replacing moving parts, consider (and check) whether grease, oil or lubricant spray should be appllied, and at what stage. As a rule, cover other parts (especially electrical parts) before spraying anything, so you only lubricate the intended part. Some lubricants may bridge electrical gaps, causing short circuit and electrical problems. Keep electricity and fluid separate at all times.

All fluids are toxic, flammable and reactive.

In other words, whenever you need to handle fluids, you should wear protective equipment (eyes, hands, breathing) and dispose of old fluids responsibly, keeping them separated at all times.

Keep all vehicle fluids out of the reach of children, animals, drinking water sources and naked flames, as they can be deadly if ingested or inhaled, and may cause serious injury due to skin or eye contact. They can easily poison water supplies, killing aquatic animals and anyone who drinks the water.

Additionally, it's important to know that some fluids can contaminate water supplies just by being close to them, so it's probably best not to store your clean water tank near the fluid store, just in case.

Expect chemical reactions, including burning and explosion, release of toxic fumes, or even acid burns, if chemicals are mixed that shouldn't be. Basically, treat all vehicle fluids with extreme care at all times.

All fluids need changing.

Using your van results in wear, corrosion and fluid contamination. Any impurity in a fluid supply will reduce effectiveness of fluid, which will eventually lead to failure, and may cause lasting damage to internal components.

Engine oil, for example, collects tiny shavings of metal that are the result of high speed friction between pistons and cylinders, among other things. After a while, engine oil becomes a grinding paste that will speed up the deterioration of many internal parts. That's one reason why you should change your engine oil every year, or better, every 10-20,000 miles (see your manual for maufacturer's recommendation).

As a rule, you should fully replace (not just top up) all fluids at least once a year to keep your van as young as that woman on the skin cream ad (spoiler: she's actually 24, not 45, and the skin cream is as toxic as the engine oil).

All fixtures need torquing.

With the exception of screws and small retainers that are obviously not relied upon by important systems, such as mud guard screws, interior sun visor screws, brake bleed nuts*, light fixtures as so on, you should always check if the item you are fitting requires a specific torque setting.

The torque setting for important parts is crucially important because it ensures that the part is secure enough to do its job without rattling loose or being under too much tension and breaking during operation.

Over-tightened wheel bolts, for example, can lead to the loss of a wheel while in motion, and you don't need a dramtic exaggeration to imagine how unenjoyable that day could be.

It's always worth checking in your workshop manual, or online, or even by asking at a parts store or local workshop. And it makes sense to do that before you start taking things apart.

* Brake bleed screws need to be pretty tight, so fluid can't leak. They maintain the pressure of the entire braking system, including when you brake hard. But if you over-tighten them, they can snap off. You may have a hard time finding a torque value for them, so as a good middle ground, tighten them carefully until they stop moving freely, then add a bit of pressure and turn them a bit further. Exactly how far you turn them will be down to how they feel, but somewhere around a quarter turn should be ok.

All rust needs treating.

With the exception of light rust on solid iron, which will remain strong long after the rest of the vehicle has rotted, it's a good idea to address rust while it's new. That way, it won't have corroded the underlying metal, yet, which means you won't have to replace any panels, or worse, cut, weld, grind, fill, sand, prime and paint anything.

Rust is easy to deal with while it's new and a horrible pain in the butt when it's old. A bit like business partners. In some cases, untreated rust has already caused too much damage, and that can mean scrapping an otherwise-fine vehicle.

So take these words home and think 'em through. Or the next story of terrifying events and upsetting inconveniences I write might be about you.

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