Restoring the van down under

Our 2000 Jayco Eagle caravan suits our family’s needs just perfectly and we really do love it but these things are a lot more complicated than they look! Having never owned a caravan before or spending much time in one has not served us well and we definitely have a new-found respect for all you caravaners out there.

We haven’t even left yet but we’ve already come to realise that the caravanning and camping community is an awesome one. We have met some of the kindest people along the way who have taken the time to help solve our problems or suggest someone who can. Then there’s the world wide web and the many people who’ve done the homework for us, we love you Youtube! What did people do before the internet?

Here are some of the things we’ve learnt so far.

Doing your checks

Finding the van of our dreams wasn’t as hard as we’d thought it would be but before we handed over any money we made sure we did a REVS check. This told us if the van had ever been written off, was stolen or had any money owing on it. We used a website called www.revscheck.com.au (make sure the one you use is relevant to your state). It was quick and inexpensive and could save you a lot of money and heartache.

Roadworthy & Gas Certificate

When purchasing a registered van you need to ensure that it’s roadworthy and comes with a valid roadworthy and gas certificate. Check with your state’s transport department but in Queensland, this is not your responsibility, it’s the sellers, and if they try to bypass this process don’t accept it. For two reasons:  Firstly, you can’t get it registered in your name without a certificate and if you arrange this yourself you will be responsible for any repairs required. Secondly and most importantly, when you drive the van home for the first time you want to make sure you’re going to get there safely.

Electrics

Once it’s registered and insured, you want to do your own safety check. Ofcourse, if you’re not comfortable with this, getting someone who is reputable and qualified to do the job is highly recommended! We began our check with the electrics and made sure all the lights and indicators were working…in our case our travelling lights weren’t. A few light bulbs later and we were right! Next, we connected power to the van and made sure all the interior lights, power points and the fridge were working. We found that the cable which connected from the van to the car had some exposed wires and needed cleaning and covering as dirt had settled into them. This is just maintenance but can cause all sorts of problems along the way.

Tyres

There’s a rectangular date stamp printed on the tyre sidewall which tells you the week and year of manufacture (in our case it was 4802). The tyre was 15 years old! Tyres don’t have an actual use by date but some sources in the tyre industry do recommend that if the tyre is older than six years old and there’s visible cracking then it’s time to change it. We ended up replacing ours.

Brakes & Bearings

We need a.. what? Well this one was a bit more complicated. Firstly, we had to make sure the van had brakes. The X-trail we have is amazing but it’s not the biggest car and the Eagle does weigh over a ton which could make going downhill super fun! In Qld, if the trailer has a GTM (Gross Trailer Mass) of more than 750kg it must have an efficient braking system installed. Ours had electric brakes. Lucky!

These brakes will only work though if you have an electric brake controller which in our case needed to be installed into the X-Trail. Cha Ching! We decided to go with the Redarc Elite system as it had excellent reviews and we found it easy to operate. I managed to tow the van and recalibrate it myself, and if I can do it then seriously, anyone can. Unfortunately, the brakes weren’t working very well though, even though we’d recently had the van serviced. Turns out the magnets were really worn and the drums needed replacing. The wheel bearings were borderline but as we’re going to be travelling long distances thought we’d replace them just in case.

Rust

Our van isn’t a dinosaur just yet but we do live close to the ocean so it did have a bit of rust about, especially underneath. We treated it and painted it with a rust prevention paint which you can buy at any hardware store to prevent any further corrosion.

Inside the van

Canvas Walls

Dreaded mould! The sight of this stuff makes me shiver but as this is quite a common problem in these types of vans we were able to find some great advice on how to deal with this issue. It took us two days to clean and treat the canvas using a 30-second mould killer from Bunnings. You have to be quick with this stuff as it can bleach the canvas but we found it worked better than the other recommended treatments that we first tried like vinegar, salt and oil of cloves. Just make sure you rinse it all out with fresh water afterwards. NOTE: this does damage the water-repellent so we did need to re-waterproof the canvas. We used the Coi Leisure Aqua Proof product from BCF.  It was very easy to use and dries clear. Judging by the age and condition of the canvas prior to this process, I’d say it needed it anyway. A bit of seam sealer on the edges and it’s all ready to go!

Sleeping arrangements

The van has two beds on each side, a queen and a double, a lounge area that converts to a king single and the dining area that folds down and turns into another single bed so it’s definitely big enough for the four of us. The mattresses were in excellent condition but we steam cleaned them anyway to make sure there was no mould hidden inside.

Some minor repairs

A few handles needed repairing, locks replacing and some cushions re-upholstered. The gas bottle on the van was very old and full of rust so it too had to be replaced. The awnings needed cleaning and repairing and with the help of some awesome guys at The Canvas Place in Brisbane, they’re as good as new.

All of this might seem like a lot of work but we don’t think it would have mattered if the van was 5 or 15 years old. What we’ve learnt is that vans need to be cared for and well-maintained if you want them to be reliable and comfortable and if you need help along the way, just ask! There are tons of people out there who are willing to lend a hand.

We have exactly two weeks to go before we leave, now we just need to work out how to pack for the next five months!

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