Campervan Lessons Learned from Season Two 2020

The year went differently than we originally planned, but we still travelled quite a few miles for Season Two. Even though we stayed pretty close to home, we learned a few lessons, thirty two to be exact, that we want to share with you.

Lesson 1: Bring our own squeegee (paid link). Some gas stations don’t have the best squeegees to clean our large windshield. Having our own means that we can have a clean windshield as we leave a campground, giving us a better chance of getting videos and pictures without bug splats blocking the view as we drive down the road.

Lesson 2: Use the step in the front bumper to reach the windshield easier. This goes along with Lesson 1. It took us a year to realize there is a step in the front bumper. Perhaps you have one too in your van waiting for you to discover!

Lesson 3: Leave the Lagun leg and arm permanently in place. Since we changed how we mounted the Lagun mounting plate (Preparing Our Camper Van For Season Two 2020), the leg and arm can be swung out of the way instead of disassembling and storing the support pieces each time we drive off. This makes setting up and taking down the table so much easier and faster.

Lesson 4: Bend the hooks on the table leaf supports (paid link) so they don’t poke through the cover. Right Buddy (RB) made a cover for the table top for Season Two (Preparing Our Camper Van For Season Two 2020) out of a cheap moving blanket. The hooked ends of the table extension supports started poking through the cover. Left Buddy (LB) took a pair of pliers and bent the hooks so that the ends no longer stick up. Problem solved!

Lesson 5: Shorten the bungee cord hooks that hold the table top leaves closed. We use a bungee cord that hooks into a couple of holes in the Lagun table mount to hold the table leaves closed while the table top is stored. However, the long hooks were difficult to get in and out of the small-ish holes of the table mount. Snipping the hooks a little shorter made taking the bungee cord on and off much easier.

Lesson 6: Use a table storage cover and leave the bungee cord off the table top. This tip made Lesson 5 obsolete. Now that we had a nice cover for the table top, there was no need to use a bungee cord as the cover itself kept the table leaves closed. We still use a smaller bungee cord on the table extensions themselves to keep them from sliding out when we don’t need them.

Lesson 7: Leave the table top on the Lagun base overnight. This reduces the number of times we set up and take down the table. The table can swing over the bench seat and conveniently hold one of RB’s suitcases during the night. There is no need to take it down at night and put it back up in the morning.

Lesson 8: Loosen the large mounting nut under the front passenger seat so the seat spins easier. Our front passenger seat was so stiff that it was a struggle to turn it around to face backwards and again to return it to face frontwards. We thought the mechanism would loosen up with time, but it never did. LB took a peek under the seat and loosened the large mounting nut. The seat now swivels like a charm. VanDOit installed the seat swivel adapter for us, so we do not know the manufacturer of swivel adapter that we have. Therefore, if you have a swivel adapter in your van, it may be different from ours and this tip may not work for you.

Lesson 9: Install a remote power switch for the water heater. Our water heater does not have a power switch. To turn it off, we need to unplug it or turn the temperature all the way down to off. It is also located in the back of our van, which is not in a convenient place to reach it often. In order to better manage our power consumption when we do not have electric hook ups, we would like to turn it on and off multiple times a day. So we installed a remote power switch (paid link). One part of the switch goes between the water heater power plug and the power outlet. We mounted the remote part of the switch on the side of the sink cabinet, a very convenient location. We now turn the water heater on while we’re driving down the road and turn it off once we reach the campground. The water stays hot for our dishes in the evening. If we haven’t driven anywhere during the day, we’ll turn it on at dinner time and turn it back off after the water reaches the desired temperature.

Lesson 10: Install BF Goodrich KO2 tires. We bought our van with the factory tires to save money. After traveling for almost two seasons, including one winter, it was time to spend some money on tires with a more aggressive tread. We live in Colorado and get a decent amount of snow in the winter, especially in the mountains. The factory tires did not perform well in the snow, so we did not drive into the mountains the first winter. The KO2 tires seem to do much better so far. It also gives us a little more peace of mind that there is a lower chance of getting stuck on the 2WD dirt roads that we sometimes find ourselves on to get to a campground or trailhead. We got the BFGoodrich LT255 70R16 KO2 tires (paid link). The diameter of the tires is about two inches larger than the factory tires, which gives us about an inch extra ground clearance than before. The disadvantage is that Ford did not provide a way to adjust the odometer and speedometer for the larger tires. So our actual speed is about 10% faster than what the speedometer reads.

Lesson 11: Install window film to reduce heat gain through the front windows. When the van is parked, we can put the window shades in all the van windows to keep it from heating up in the sun, but that doesn’t work when we are driving down the road. The sun shining in the front windows can heat us up to an uncomfortable temperature, even with the air conditioning on a 60 degree day. Installing a window film over the front door windows and an “eyebrow” strip at the top of the windshield makes a noticeable difference. We had a hard time finding someone to install the film for us and ended up doing it ourselves. It does the job, but just don’t look at it too closely! Our advice is to check the state regulations regarding auto window films. Each state has different restrictions on how much light you are allowed to filter out for driving safety reasons.

Lesson 12: Don’t use the power awning unless both of us are there. We learned this the hard way. Our Carefree power awning cannot take much wind. RB went for a walk and left LB to grab the extended awning and hang on for dear life to keep it from being ripped off the van when a dust devil blew through the campground. We discovered later that a couple of the mounting screws had sheared off (Lake Pueblo State Park – August 16th to 19th, 2020). We were lucky to notice that one of the mounting brackets was no longer attached to the awning before it completely came off of the van. We’re not sure if the damage was from the dust devil or an earlier “wind incident” (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – July 6th, 2020), or both. We now only have the awning out when both of us are there to quickly put the awning back in if the wind picks up.

Lesson 13: Buy a collapsible ladder. We initially had no ladder and no easy way to reach the roof of our high-top Ford Transit. It became painfully clear that we needed one when we struggled to strap our broken awning to the roof rail until we could get back home to fix it properly. After we bought the ladder, we have used it to brush the snow off of our solar panels and to reach the roof better when washing the van at a car wash. The 10.5 foot ladder (paid link) we bought collapses down and doesn’t take up much room on the gear slide under the bed.

Lesson 14: Bring along a Moon Shade. Even though we have a power awning, also having a Moon Shade with us came in handy. The Moon Shade does better in the wind than the power awning. Sometimes the campsite is oriented so that the power awning is on the wrong side to provide much shade. We were also very grateful to have the Moon Shade with us when we discovered that our power awning was damaged and unusable.  Pricewise, we could completely lose or destroy three or more Moon Shades for the price of our powered awning.

Lesson 15: Add eyebolts to roof rack for attaching the Moon Shade. The large magnetic hooks that come with the Moon Shade to attach it to the side of your vehicle  are quite strong, but the winds in Colorado can be even stronger. A few times gusts of wind came along that pulled one or two of the magnets off the van. To combat that, we attached eyebolts to our roof rack on the driver's side of the van. The Moon Shade has carabiners on the corners of the shade that can be opened and closed with a pull string. They make it easy to attach the shade to the eye bolts high above our heads while standing on the ground. In the picture shown, the Moon Shade is the one on the right (driver's side), attached to the van via the eye bolts.

Lesson 16: Use electrical tape to attach the power cord of the DC fan to its metal frame. LB has repaired both of our DC fans (paid link) multiple times as the electrical wire easily gets pulled out of the fan. Taping the wire to the frame reduces the tension on the connection and thus reduces the chance of the connection being broken. LB is much happier.

Lesson 17: Use vents in the front door windows to increase fresh air flow. Good air flow and humidity control inside a camper van is usually a challenge. Leaving a door or window open to increase fresh air flow is normally not an option when there are annoying bugs or when it is raining. We love the vents that we bought and use them all the time. They have screens to keep the bugs out and metal louvers to keep the rain out. The only time we have condensation on our windows now is when we don’t use the window vents. The vents sit on top of the window glass and you close the window enough so the top of the vent sits inside the window gasket. This makes it a little harder for someone to break into the van than leaving the windows open that far. We feel better about using the vents to keep the van cool while it is parked at a trailhead. Combining the vents with shades on the other windows and turning on the MaxxAir Fan usually does a good job keeping the van at a comfortable temperature during the day while we’re off hiking or other activities. The only time we don’t use them is when it gets really cold outside, like below freezing and we have the heater on, or we have electrical hookups and have the air conditioning running. Since getting the vents, we generally don’t put the door window shades in because the shades would block the air flow. Our curtain (paid link) between the cab area and the rest of the van provides enough privacy for us. However, if the sun is really shining in strong on a hot day, we’ll put a front shade in on the sunny side.

Lesson 18: Add a plastic guard to the top of the shelf to keep things from rolling or sliding off. We keep a couple of stadium seats (paid link) rolled up and stored on the shelf under the bed on the passenger side. They kept rolling off the shelf and into our laundry basket below. We had some extra plastic leftover from our Espar heater Installation: Campervan Project #6, so LB made a little fence and attached it to the side of the shelf to keep our chairs in place. Other possible solutions would be to use bungee cords or netting stretched across the opening, but that might have made pulling the chairs out a little harder and besides, we already had the plastic to work with.

Lesson 19: Don’t use grommets on towels or washcloths. The grommets work great on our curtains (Campervan Project #5: Shades and Curtains), but the grommets we put on our hand towel and wash clothes eventually fell out due to the looser weave of material. Currently, we just use the remaining hole to hang our towel and washcloths. However, we’re not sure how long the holes will last before ripping out. A more permanent solution would be to make or purchase towels and cloths with a fabric loop on one corner.

Lesson 20: Getting things to stick to the plastic molding inside the van is a struggle. The only things we have attached to the plastic trim inside the van are the command hooks (paid link) used to hold back the curtain on each side. Between the tension on the hooks due to the weight of the curtains and the extreme temperature ranges that the van interior is subject to throughout the year, none of the solutions that we have tried work a hundred percent of the time. The tape that comes with the command hooks did not stick at all. The next tape we tried was 3M Scotch Extreme Mounting Tape (paid link). This would work for weeks at a time before the hooks would fall off. We replaced the extreme mounting tape with 3M Scotch 5952 VHB Tape (paid link) The VHB tape held for several months before the hooks fell off. We reapplied the hooks using the same VHB tape, but this time we scuffed the plastic surface with a Scotch-Brite scour pad (paid link) prior to cleaning the surface with rubbing alcohol before applying the tape. We’re still waiting to see how long the hooks will stay on this time.

Lesson 21: Struggling with keeping window shades in. The window shades (Campervan Project #5: Shades and Curtains) that RB made are meant to be a friction fit and stay in by themselves. However, they don’t always stay in, especially as they wear over time. The one in the sliding door window is the most troublesome, due to the jarring forces every time the door is opened and closed. We have tried several solutions (Preparing Our Camper Van For Season Two 2020). We used a slim card, like a credit card, to wedge the sliding door shade behind the plastic molding for a tighter fit. This works better than nothing, but it still occasionally falls out when going in and out of the door. The next thing we tried was velcro. We attached velcro designed for fabric to the shade and adhered general purpose velcro to the window. For the shades in the front doors, we tried attaching small magnets on the edge of the shades to stick to the metal frame of the door. The issue was attaching the magnets to the shade. We tried super glue, but the strength of the magnet pulled themselves right off the fabric. The door shades are wedged in by the front door while the door is shut. If we needed to open a front door, then we had to hold the shade in place while we shut the door. Since we didn’t use the front door shades much during Season Two, this was not a big issue. The velcro on the other shades worked for a while, but it stopped sticking to the window after being exposed to the heat of the sun for hours. We managed to live with them for the season. Our solution for Season Three? Buy VanDOit’s window shades which uses magnets on most of the shades. After two seasons using our homemade shades, they were starting to fall apart. They served their purpose by delaying the expense of buying professionally-made shades. We’ll let you know how the new shades work out in a future blog.

Lesson 22: The 28 liter fridge (paid link) is a little too small for our needs. The small fridge didn’t bother us as much during Season One, but it became frustrating during Season Two. We were trying to go longer between resupplying and not stopping at truck stops and fast food restaurants to buy cold drinks due to COVID. Not having ice and only having two Cokes in the fridge at a time started to become an issue. RB actually prefers drinking iced tea over Coke, but we didn’t have a way to keep iced tea cold, so we didn’t make any all season. Also, having to pull out half of the items in the top-loading fridge to reach the desired item started to get old. So the plan for Season Three is to upgrade to a larger, front-loading fridge with a small freezer. Our goal is to go at least a week between grocery store stops, have some ice, and keep fresh brewed iced tea cold. Stay tuned for more info on the new fridge!

Lesson 23: Some vegetables do not keep very long when not refrigerated. We learned this lesson with broccoli. Since we ran out of room to put the broccoli in the fridge, we tried storing it in a drawer in the back for four days. It was still edible after cooking it, but it started to give off a noticeable odor in the small van (Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - July 7th to 9th, 2020). Other vegetables, that we normally keep in the fridge at home, keep pretty well unrefrigerated, like bell peppers and summer squash. However, they start to spoil at the end of a week and would last longer in a fridge. Hence, another reason to get a larger fridge in the van.

Lesson 24: A 38 gallon HDX tote holds all our kayak gear nicely. Yes, we now own a three person inflatable kayak (Sea Eagle 370 Pro - paid link)! We were a little concerned about how well it would fit in our van. The 38 gallon tote (paid link) turned out to be the perfect size. It holds the kayak, the inflatable seats, the two paddles, the foot pump, and our two life jackets. The length of the tote is just slightly less than the width of our gear slide and sits right behind our water jugs and drawer units in the back (Red Tail Lodge Full Tour). More info on our kayak will be coming soon!

Lesson 25: The Camco Leveling Blocks (paid link) are not very durable. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and don’t weigh much (about 7 pounds for 10 blocks). They fit together like legos and give you one inch of lift with one layer or two inches of lift if stacked in two layers. However, after almost two seasons of use, they are cracked and falling apart. We have replaced them with the Beach Lane Camper Levelers (paid link). The Beach Lane levelers cost about three times as much and weigh about twice as much (over 16 pounds for the pair). Although we haven’t used them much yet, we like the Beach Lane levelers better. They do have infinite height adjustability from 1/2" up to 4" and they seem like they should last a lot longer. However, they need to last three times as long in order to justify the expense. Time will tell. We’ll keep you posted.

Lesson 26: Use a metal reducer instead of a plastic reducer when installing an Espar heater. Last winter we installed an Espar heater in the van (Espar Heater Installation: Campervan Project #6). The heater was working fine until September, when we needed it again. The issue turned out to be the plastic reducer that connects the fuel line port to the fuel line. We had initially installed a plastic one (paid link) and it had snapped into two pieces. Unfortunately, to get to the broken part, we had to drop the van’s fuel tank again - not fun. We replaced it with a brass one (paid link) and secured the line around it  better to reduce strain on it. So far, so good.

Lesson 27: Periodically tighten all the bolts and stop block on the gear slide. This was a recommendation on the VanDOit Owners Facebook group. When we removed the gear slide, we discovered that several of the bolts had come loose over time. This is something we’ll add to our yearly maintenance routine as we prepare for each new season.

Lesson 28: The gear slide was sticking due to a large nut on the underside catching on the metal straps across the van floor. When we removed the gear slide, we figured out why our gear slide would sometimes get stuck when pulling it out or pushing it back in. The large nut on the underside of the gear slide was scraping on the metal straps. To fix this, we need to find a slightly smaller nut with the same size hole or grind down the lowest point of the nut. In the meantime, we’ll continue doing our work-around, which is to slightly lift the gear slide to get it past the sticking point. This is hard to do if there is a lot weight on the gear slide.

Lesson 29: Flip the rug over when taking off wet/muddy/snowy gear inside the van. Ideally we would like to take off our messy footwear and outerwear outside the van before coming in, but when it is cold, raining or snowing outside, we don’t want to stand outside with the sliding door open to do that. Our rug inside the van has a rubber bottom. So, we have learned to flip it over so the rubber side is up before stepping inside the van. After we have shed our soiled footwear and outerwear, putting our dirty shoes either in the door well or in our plastic bin under the bench seat, we turn the rug back over, covering up the wet and/or dirty rubber side. Then we have a clean, warm and dry rug to put our feet on. After the underside dries out and the weather outside improves, we can sweep the dirt back out of the van.

Lesson 30: Modify the clothes hamper holder to allow the electrical cabinet to open. For season two, we built a wooden holder to keep our clothes hamper from slipping off the gear slide (Preparing Our Camper Van For Season Two 2020). However, the sides of the holder prevented the electrical cabinet door from swinging open. We don’t need to get in the electrical cabinet often, but that is where the circuit breakers are. Having to remove the holder (it’s held in with bolts) in order to open the cabinet is rather cumbersome. But it was easy to cut down part of two of the sides of the holder to allow the cabinet door to swing open. In addition, we moved the cabinet door hinges to the other side so it swings open the other direction. A simple fix for a simple problem.

Lesson 31: Carry spare fuses for the van. We had issues with getting our van to start. Luckily we were carrying spares and replacing a fuse got us on the road again. However, the fuse may not have been the root cause as we had to have the starter motor replaced a couple of days later. But, having a spare fuse gave us an opportunity to get ourselves out of trouble and may have saved a tow.

Lesson 32: If the starter motor doesn’t crank, try again in neutral gear. This was a trick the AAA tow truck driver taught us. Again, this was when we were still having starter motor issues. We were stuck at the gas pump in a gas station a couple of days after replacing the fuse. Replacing the fuse again did not work this time so we called AAA. When the tow truck arrived, the driver tried starting our van in neutral and it started right up. Apparently Ford Transits have a safety switch that prevents the starter motor from turning on if the van is not in Park or Neutral. So if it doesn't start in park, try neutral. Again we were able to avoid towing our van and able to drive ourselves to a dealer for full diagnostics and a permanent fix of replacing the starter motor.

We only had 22 tips from Season One (Campervan Tips & Tricks From Season One 2019), but learned 32 lessons during Season Two. You would think we would be getting better at this! But learning is a never-ending process. Some of the lessons we learned are specific to our camper van and how we use it. Despite that, we hope you found these lessons useful. Perhaps they just gave you some ideas to think about or try to apply to your rig or future rig and how you like to travel. If you have some better ideas, please share!

Check out our related video: Tips and Tricks Season Two

(RB)