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Break Downs-Part 2: Dealing With Maintenance and Repairs on Your Van-Home
In my last post we talked about how to deal with the fear of a breakdown and the first step in preparing for it. Today we will finish the post with Step 2 and 3.
STEP 2: PREPARE FOR INEVITABLE MECHANICAL PROBLEMS
1) Have an Emergency Fund. Since it is a certainty that your van or RV is going to need repairs someday, it only makes sense to have money set-aside to pay for it. Begin today to set aside as much money as you possibly can each month. Even if it is only $10, do it, and do it every month like your life depended on it.
2) Once you have a good amount in your Emergency Fund, don’t take it out unless you or your van is dying! You will be sorely tempted to use it for the latest thing you want or some good deal that you just can’t pass up. Don’t do it!! That money is only for real emergencies. Ideally you will build it up until you have $3000. That is the cost of your two largest repairs, replacing your engine or transmission. Nothing will give you as much peace-of-mind as knowing you have an emergency fund set-aside to pay for the most expensive repairs.
3) Carry Roadside Assistance like AAA or Allstate Insurance. While it’s true some years you won’t need it, I still think it is money well spent. I look at it like the peace of mind it gives me is worth a lot more than the few dollars it costs me each year. Often you can get it through your Auto Insurance provider for very little money. This is one of those areas where you want to read the fine print. Often there are restrictions on how far they will tow you or on the size of the vehicle they will tow. Will they tow a trailer? Will they tow you if you are out of state? Will they tow your RV? Will they tow you if you are in a National Forest or on a dirt road in the desert? You want to do comparison shopping and make sure you sign up with a company that will actually meet your needs.
4) Be sure you have a spare tire (and the tools to use it) and the know-how to change it. But also carry a can of the Tire Inflator and Sealant. That will often get you home without having to change the tire. I also recommend you carry a small 12 volt tire inflator to air up the tire after using the Tire Sealant. Slime 60090 Large Tire Quick Spair – 20 oz
5) Consider carrying a bike or a scooter, or towing a car or a motorcycle so that if you break down you can get it out and ride to help. Plus, if the van is unusable for a few days while it is being repaired, you can ride it around instead.
7) Consider carrying a tent and a sleeping pad to use as shelter if the van is in the shop for a long time. If I am in the National Forest or in the desert I can tent camp and if I am in the city I can find an RV Park that has tent sites for very cheap. My dog and I will stay in the tent while the van is being worked on and ride the bike around town for transportation.
8) Consider purchasing a SPOT or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) device. To my mind this is the ultimate device to bring you piece of mind. I am often in areas where there is no cell signal whatsoever. If I break down I might easily have to walk out 10 to 20 miles to get the nearest help. But what if the weather is really bad or I have been injured or I am sick? A SPOT or PLB is a great solution! It is a small device you carry with you that does not use cell signals; it uses a satellite signal and GPS to call for help and tell Search and Rescue your exact location. I think a PLB is a much better device because it doesn’t have a monthly fee and it has much better hardware. If I knew I was going into a life-and-death situation, I would want a PLB. Click this Link to buy one: ACR PLB-375 ResQ Link Personal Locating Beacon
9) Fix things before they break and carry spare parts. If your belts are getting worn out and the hoses are getting older, change them before they break or even before they start to look bad. On my old F150 I replaced the starter and alternator the year it turned over 200,000 miles. I may have gotten some more miles out of them but those few miles weren’t worth the risk of being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
STEP 3: IMPROVISE:
I have had numerous breakdowns in the last eleven years of full-time vandwelling and while they were all unpleasant, none of them were that big of a deal. The key is to simply relax, stay calm and roll with the punches. Like any boxer will tell you, if you stiffen up and fight the punch, it will hurt much more than if you simply yield under it. In the same way you often hear stories of drunk drivers who get into terrible auto accidents and are uninjured. The reason is that they are so relaxed because of the alcohol that they yield and roll with the accident. Dealing with breakdowns comes down to the art of yielding and improvising. Here are some examples that have happened to me.
I was once on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and hadn’t seen another car or person in three days when I woke up to a flat tire. The side-wall of my tire was beyond repair so I simply relaxed and spent the day there enjoying the solitude and the view. The next day I changed the tire and carefully drove out 90 miles to the nearest town.
Once I was driving in the middle of nowhere in Nevada when the serpentine belt broke leaving me stranded. I had pulled safely off the side of the road so I decided I would just spend the night right there. After all, my van is my home so I had everything I needed. I took Homer for our evening walk, made myself some dinner, watched a DVD and went to bed. In other words, my night was no different than it would have been if I had made it to my destination. I wasn’t panicked or upset, it was just another night. I knew I had USAA Roadside Service to pay for the tow and the cash with me to pay for the repair. This wasn’t going to be anything but a minor inconvenience. The next morning I hitchhiked into town and got a tow truck to take me to a repair shop where it was fixed.
One time in Utah the ignition switch on my truck froze up and the key would not turn no matter what I did. So I called for Roadside Assistance and got towed to a repair shop. I assumed no one would have an ignition switch and I would have to wait a day for the part, so the first thing I did was tell them that I lived in the camper so if they couldn’t fix it that day, I needed them to leave it outside so I could sleep in it. Fortunately they had the part in the shop and I was back on the road in a few hours.
Another time in Alaska and I was driving my box van and one of the rear duallies came flying off. I got towed in again and this time they didn’t have the parts and because it was the weekend they couldn’t get them till Monday. So I told them I lived in the van and could they leave it out of the shop for me to sleep in it? He said that would be no problem so I slept in the van. There was a little store within a short distance so I walked down and bought dinner and rented a DVD. Instead of being a nightmare the breakdown became another pleasant little weekend adventure.
Later on I threw a rod in that van so it needed a new engine. I found a good deal on one but it meant I couldn’t live in the van for a week. I hate to ask people for help, but as an exercise in growth I asked a friend who lived close to my job if I could stay with him. Being a true friend he was glad to be of service and I stayed with him. It was a win-win, he got a chance to bless a friend and I got a chance to be blessed and grow closer to a friend. Again, no big deal!
The one thing all these stories have in common is that when the unexpected happens and you are broke down, as hopeless as it seems there is a way out. While it is happening it’s not much fun but if you keep your head and deal with everything as it comes up it will turn out just fine. One day you will look back on it and smile and remember it as an adventure you once had. Or at least that is the way it has always been for me and I think it can be same for you!