How To Prepare For And What To Do If Your Campervan Breaks Down

What To Do If Your Campervan Breaks Down

Living in a campervan comes with ups and downs. Anyone who has owned any kind of vehicle knows how repairs and maintenance can cause headaches and be quite costly. It can be especially tricky if you’re living in the campervan and your bedroom, kitchen and living room along with all your personal belongings are stuck in the repair shop. That’s why is essential to prepare your campervan and yourself for any kind of unfortunate situation before taking off and make sure your campervan runs smoothly.

The excitement of exploring the world and getting into new adventures while living in a campervan is really priceless and provides a whole new level of freedom. But let’s face it; vehicles can be unpredictable, and even though no one likes to think about a break down or an accident beforehand it’s always a good idea to hit the road ready and prepared. So here we will share some important tips about what do to in the case of a break down and ways to prepare for it.

Make sure to check some basic things like brakes, tires or motor oil, take some tools and get insurance before starting your trip. And in the unfortunate case of an accident or a break down, don’t panic – it will get in the way of thinking clearly and figuring out the best way to get out of that situation.

Prepare your campervan

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so it’s very important to check if your vehicle is ready before your trip.
• Do periodic safety checks to see if your vehicle is operating like it’s supposed to.
• Important things to check/replace:
– Tires
– Brakes
– Transmission fluid
– Motor oil
– Suspension
– Air filter
– Spark plugs

• Things to look for:
– Tire wear
– Coolant levels
– Oil levels
– Sounds of the engine
– Lights

• Things that should never be ignored:
– Strange noises. Your engine will always signal that something is wrong if it sounds a bit off.
– Leaking fluids
– Bare tires
– Check engine light – In some cases, it’s nothing, but it can also signalize something more serious.

• Get a free AAA safety charging system test.

• Read your manual and understand which dash lights indicate what and how to respond to those situations.

• Learn as much as you can about basic mechanic repairs. Since repairs can be quite expensive, some googling about your specific model and how to change tires jump the battery or fix a flat can save you a lot of trouble and money.

• Bring tools. We know how important every storage space is, but having some basic tools with you can come in handy more often than you might think. Some tools that we would recommend taking are:
– Fix-a-flat
– Jumper Cables
– Roadside breakdown kit
– Extra fluids – Coolant, Power streering fluid and oil
-Screw gun and bits
– Torque wrench and jack
– Tow strap
– Extra gas can
– Pex plumbing tools
– 300 piece ratchet set
– Belts
– Spare parts
– Safety triangles
– Reflective vests
– First aid kit

• Get AAA membership. They offer roadside assistance and if necessary, tow your vehicle to a repair shop.

Prepare yourself

• Make sure you’re well rested before hitting the road.
• Plan really well you’re route and tell someone else where you are going exactly. You can even agree to telephone and notice them when you arrive.
• Check the weather conditions
• Be aware of any construction sites on your route
• Don’t use your cell phone while driving, minimize conversations with other passengers and keep the music at a low volume.
• Always buckle up
• Don’t drive if you’re under emotional stress, under the influence of alcohol or are feeling fatigued
• Remember that there may be more traffic around school zones, chopping centers or any entertainment complexes
• Think about taking a refresher driving course

(Related: 20 Van Life Safety Tips To Protect Yourself And Your Property)

What to do when your campervan breaks down

• The first important thing to do, if you encounter a problem while driving, is make sure you are aware of your surroundings and note your location. Look if there are any gas stations, restaurants, shopping centers or well-lit areas around you. If you’re on a highway, look for the last exit number, the mile marker and the nearest emergency call box. You will probably need this information if you’re calling for help.
• Pull off the road. Pull over to a safe distance from traffic and turn on your hazard lights. If this happens at night put on your reflective vest and never stand right in front or behind your vehicle, so other drivers could see you from far. If you cannot pull off the road and your vehicle is inoperable, turn on your emergency flashers and don’t risk your safety by trying to push it to a safe location. If you are uncertain about your safety, do not stay in your vehicle.
• Alert other drivers. Remember that other drivers might be driving at a high speed and they need to be able to see you from long distance.
• Raise your hood to let other drivers know you’re experiencing trouble.
• If you smell fuel fumes, do not use anything with a flame.
• Place the first triangle 10 feet directly behind the vehicle, the second at 100 feet behind and the third one 100 feet if you’re on an undivided highway or 300 feet if on a divided highway. When you’re doing this always watch for the traffic.
• Once you and any other passengers are safe, use your cell phone to call for help.
• In most cases, if you are able to get away from traffic to a safe location, it’s better to stay in your vehicle with your windows closed, until service officers come.
• If by any chance other driver stops by to help, ask for their name, address and mobile phone and write this information down and leave it in your vehicle, explaining what happened and where you are going and when you hope to return.
• If you see that help is within walking distance, see if the roads are safe for pedestrians and if other passengers will be safe for a short period of time.
• If you stay in the vehicle and someone is harassing you, honk repeatedly and flash the lights to attract attention from other drivers.
• If you are doing repairs yourself, make sure to stay at a safe distance from traffic.
• If you call AAA or other service providers, it’s helpful to have the following information ready:
– Your AAA membership number
– Your phone number
– Your exact location or nearest exit number
– License plate number
– Description of your vehicle (color, model, year)

AAA technicians can provide fuel, change the tires or jump the battery. In some cases, they provide basic roadside solving techniques without the need to tow your vehicle or if the damage is more serious they will tow your vehicle to a repair shop.

• Once help arrives, try to be cooperative and remain calm. The technicians are trained and know what to do in these kinds of situations.
• AAA officers should have an approved AAA emblem on their vehicles to provide identification.
• If you’re still uncertain, you can verify the name of the garage of the provider.
• If the technician doesn’t ask for your assistance, do not try to help them.
• Some services allow direct billing, while other may ask you to pay the full amount and reimburse you after paying the full amount.
• If you are not a member of the AAA and call them for help, you may have to pay the entire cost of the call with cash or a credit card.
• Always get a receipt for any repairs done.

If the costs of the repairs are as high as the campervan is worth, it’s maybe a smarter idea to get it replaced that repaired.

If your campervan is being towed and you have no way of staying in until it’s repaired, the last thing you would want is to add an expensive hotel bill, so you might try looking at cheaper solutions like CouchSurfing, AirBnB or staying at friends’ house.

If you were expected somewhere, be sure to let people know what happened and cancel any reservations you might have had, to get your money back.

However, some shops will be happy to let you stay onsite and throw you a standard 20 amp power cord. If that’s not enough to run everything in your campervan, it’s great to have a boosting inverter and lithium ion battery bank. It will come in handy if your house energy system is setup to be versatile.

The battery bank and inverter can run all basic household things for a few hours while being completely off grid while the inverter allows you to take advantage of external power sources.

Of course, you cannot run multiple loads at the same time so you have to be more conscious about the usage of hot water, microwave and cooking. You will need water for showering, cleaning, dishwashing and flushing.

If there is gym with showers or any other way to shower elsewhere, it’s a great way to save up a lot of water. You will also need a sewer clean-out access point nearby.

A good rule of thumb is to collect dishwasher and showering water for flushing the toilet. (How To Conserve Water While Living In A Van)

An alternative to washing hair with shampoo would be baking soda and some apple cider vinegar. This will also save you a lot of water. Using paper plates as to avoid washing is another great way to save water, although you wouldn’t want to make much waste so it’s more of a short-term solution. When washing the dishes, you can use a spray bottle with soap to scrub them good and use a minimal amount of water for rinsing.

As for the internet, you can always ask for the shop owners to share their password and research all you need to know to continue on the road.

When thinking about which repair shop to choose, it’s always a good idea to consider how close they are to shops, dining and restaurants are. These kinds of situations are already stressful, so you wouldn’t want to go far away to get a quick meal or other essentials.

A Bonus Tip: If you are interested and willing, with the approval of the mechanic, you can take a closer look at the repairs being done and maybe learn a thing or two for similar situations in the future.

These were some of the most important things we feel everyone should know, especially if getting ready to go on a longer trip. As we said, it’s more important to be safe than sorry, so make sure you prepare yourself physically and mentally for any unfortunate event. Remain calm, don’t panic and try to get your emotions out of the way, at least until you figure out your situation and help arrives. Stress, anger or sadness are not helpful in these situations, they can even make it worse.

A quick recap: Have your vehicle inspected by a technician before hitting the road, learn as much as you can about how your vehicle operates, take basic tools and spare parts and get car insurance. In the event of a break down or accident, stay as far away from traffic as you can, make yourself visible to other drivers, turn on hazard lights and determine your exact location. This will come in handy when calling for help. And remember, no matter where you get stranded, there is always something to see so make most of your time there!

Until something unfortunate happens, enjoy the adventures and life on the road – it truly is a precious and unforgettable experience!

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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