How to fix an old caravan
Don’t let a lack of confidence or experience stop you from taking the plunge and enjoying the freedom of owning your own caravan. It can be relatively easy and inexpensive to buy a retro van and renovate it yourself.
Before any other work is done, you should seal your van to ensure there are no leaks. Even if there don’t seem to be any apparent problems, it’s good to take extra care. Before you spend any time working inside the van, you certainly want to make sure your work won’t be wasted if the rain gets in. If there are any damp patches inside then you’ll know that these areas need special attention.
Using something like Selleys No More Gaps and a gap gun, seal all the way round the external top of the van’s edges and across any seals on the roof. Also make sure it’s covering any screw holes. If anything looks even remotely like a crack or gap, then seal it. Likewise check out any holes or screws on the side of the van and any gaps around windows. Keep a wet cloth on hand to keep spreading the filler evenly to give a good finish. Remember that No More Gaps can’t be sanded afterwards, so keep it moving and smooth it while it’s still moist. You can also paint the roof with a decent sealing paint for extra insurance.
There are two ways to paint the exterior of your van, but whichever one you choose you need to undercoat. Use a good quality oil-based white undercoat with a roller and spread evenly. Strongly consider two coats - you need to ensure that whatever finish you choose isn’t going to flake or peel later.
One option is to spray it. Tape the windows and edges with masking tape and newspapers, and spray evenly with spray paint cans from Bunnings.
I prefer to use an oil-based paint with high quality rollers. If you mix in some turps and Penatrol to thin the paint a little it will spread more evenly and settle nicely when you roll it. It’s an easy and cheap method and gives a spray-like effect. Try to ensure you don’t paint on a hot day as the paint can get tacky, affecting the finish.
Although the tow bar doesn’t need to be pristine, it will generally need to be cleaned up and painted. Usually there is a load of surface rust that needs to be cleaned up and treated. A decent wire brush and sand paper will get the worst off. Then treat it with some sort of rust remover and sealant. Once that’s done, paint on an enamel paint: use white, black or silver depending on your colour scheme for the van. If the jockey wheel needs replacing, these can be bought from Bunnings.
The caravan’s wheels will often need work. Use a wire brush and sandpaper to tidy them up, seal them to stop the rust coming back, and then spray them with silver paint. Tape up the tyre with masking tape and newspaper. One can of silver spray paint from Bunnings will easily do two wheels. If you feel adventurous, then with extra taping and creativity, then you can spray a colour in the centre of the wheel that matches the colour scheme. You can also get some wet look tyre shine spray to make the rubber look as good as new.
How you treat the internal walls will depend on the sort of caravan and the state the walls are in. My goal is usually to get the walls as smooth as possible and then paint them white to give the van a fresh feel. On one van I renovated, the wood finish was so clean and in such good condition that I left it as a wood effect and added paint elsewhere. Leaving the wood gave a modern, mid-century feel. In most cases though there will be chips to the walls that need filling and sanding before painting. The worst case scenario is that the walls are so badly damaged that you need to strip off the wood veneer and start again. In this instance, you will need to buy MDF panels to cut to size. Attach the panels to the van using Liquid Nails and some screws, and then fill and seal the gaps. It can look messy before you are finished, but as long as everything is smooth then the paint will ensure a great finish.
It’s very rare that the windows of an old van are in perfect condition. Usually one or two will need replacing. Instead of using glass, you can get clear acrylic sheets and cut to size. The sheets normally slot in easily after a couple of screws are loosened on the window frame. They may need some beading around them afterwards to avoid rattles, but the effect is clear and clean and is much stronger and lighter than glass.
Internal cupboard doors are often tired-looking inside an old caravan, but usually salvageable. Your best approach is usually to take them all off and unscrew the hinges. Fill, sand and then undercoat the doors with an oil-based paint. Then paint them in white or your colour of choice using a quality roller. Clean up the hinges with sandpaper and spray them silver with the paint left over from the wheels. Then reassemble everything and refit the doors.
To bring the kitchen to life and give a modern feel, it’s good to replace the work tops with some fresh timber and install a round aluminium sink to replace the old-fashioned sink. For around $90 you can get a cute sink in Bunnings and the timber yard will cut your timber to size. Cut out the sink hole with a jigsaw and seal the sink in place, then varnish the tops a few times to bring them to life.
Before painting the van inside, make sure that everything is gapped and filled. Take a gap gun and filler and carefully inspect the van a square metre at a time, looking for holes, dents and any places where wood has separated. Ensure a smooth surface with sandpaper. It will look messy until you paint, but you want everything solid and free from splits.
Give the inside of the van a complete undercoat. Two coats of an oil-based undercoat is best. Then add a top coat of white-semi gloss paint and have a careful look at the entire van again to see if any more sealant or filling is needed. Give everything a good sand, and then apply two more coats of white semi-gloss.
You must be a registered Workshop community member to comment. Please join Workshop or sign in to join in the discussion.