After months of planning you’ve moved out of your traditional home. You’ve sold all your belongings and you begin your van life venture in your sweet new ride. You’ve never felt so alive! Then suddenly the pride and joy you’ve nurtured from pipe dream to reality betrays you. Stranded in the middle of nowhere your rolling home is rolling no more and you have no idea what to do next.
We’ve totally been here and it sucks. During our time in NZ we were forced to deal with a ton of mechanical issues. So – although we know some of these are no brainers – we’ve decided to share with you everything we’ve learned. In doing so we hope we can minimise your stress and anxiety if your tiny home gives out on you.
For people who live in the UK – who’re paying astronomical annual insurance fees – it may be frustrating to hear there are many countries in the world where vehicle insurance isn’t compulsory. If you happen to live in one of these wonderful places we advise you get it anyway. You may even find if it’s non-compulsory it’s a lot cheaper.
For example, in NZ we paid 325NZD for annual insurance on our mini van camper. On returning to the UK to start our build we paid 10 times as much for annual insurance on an average size car. Additionally, if you plan on leaving your home country you’ll want to be sure there’s no limit on the amount of time you can spend exploring.
Another obvious one is breakdown cover. Our policy in New Zealand cost us 200NZD for 12 months cover. We only had to use this once but it really put our minds at ease knowing we were covered. Policies can range from basic recovery services to cover for mechanical work. We’ve even heard of some insurers footing the bill for hotel rooms whilst their van is being repaired.
Carry spare parts
If you’re planning on driving your van 30k, 40k or maybe even 60k miles there will come a time when parts need replacing. Most basic commonly replaced parts such as oil filters, wiper blades, air filters, glow plugs and headlight/taillight bulbs can easily be sourced before hand. This can potentially save you heaps of time and money whilst you’re waiting on a mechanic to order in parts.
Some vans are known to be more reliable than others but no van is perfect. Before you start your big adventure you’ll want to take some time researching common faults. For us, that’s drive shafts and gear boxes. For your van it might be something completely different. It’s definitely worth getting an idea of what these might be. This way you can always keep an eye out for the warning signs on the road.
Get a breakdown kit (Eur)
In some countries in Europe, it is compulsory that you carry specific items in your vehicle in case of emergency. For more information about this, the AA has provided a handy free PDF guide on their website. If this isn’t the case it’s still worth taking into consideration items that might be useful. As our next trip involves a tour through many European countries we’ve purchased this European Travel Kit which contains everything we could possibly need and more.
Another no brainer here but it’s surprising how many people can’t change a tyre. Definitely get confident with this before setting out. Calling vehicle recovery for a tyre change is a waste of time and precious travel funds. Another tip – in order to keep your tyres in the best shape possible get to grips with maintaining your tyre pressure. This will also lessen your fuel consumption saving you money in the long run.
Have an emergency fund
We feel this is the most important piece of advice we can give you. We’ve even covered this subject before in our post Practical Advice For Anyone Considering Van Life. Get yourself an emergency fund to keep you on the road if the worst does happen.
Get a diagnostics checker
A great piece of advice we’ve taken from Sprinter Van Diaries – get yourself a ScanGauge diagnostics checker. This little piece of kit plugs straight into the OBDII port and the live engine sensor keeps you updated with how your van is doing. If you encounter the dreaded check engine light the ScanGauge also provides you with the fault code. A simple Google of the code can tell you if anything really nasty is going on.
Get a portable jump starter
If your van doesn’t have leisure batteries you’re going to be at risk of running your one and only battery down. If this is the case we recommend you get yourself a portable jumper starter. This means even if there’s no one around for miles you’re still able to get back on the road. The Anker Compact Car Jump Starter was a life saver for us in NZ. The 400A is suitable for up to 2.5L diesel engines. If your van is any bigger than this chances are you’ve got yourself a sweet set of leisure batteries.
If you came here because your van is dead on the side of the road this is probably the last thing you want to read, but seriously, it’s time for a van life pep talk. Van life is just like real life and it has its ups and downs. Being prepared is only part of it. Don’t let these things get you down and remember this is all part of the experience.
Looking for more van life advice?
The great leap into van life starts with buying your campervan. Whether you’re looking to become a weekend warrior, take a long-term trip or make a full-time commitment many people feel this is something completely unattainable. That’s why quite often when we tell people we’re converting our own off-grid camper the most common response is ‘I wish I could afford to do something like that’. Well we’re going to tell you that you totally can!
We’ve been forced to deal with a ton of mechanical disasters. So – although we know some of these are no brainers – we’ve decided to share with you everything we’ve learned.
An early morning yoga session, deeply inhaling the fragrant scent of fresh pine followed by a short hike over earthy, volcanic terrain. A late afternoon swim in sun warmed pristine, glacial fed lakes accompanied by a campfire dinner as the sun sets over great snow topped ridges.
Are you currently planning your van life venture or are you an experienced van-dweller?
Let us know in the comments below or get in touch if you think we’ve missed something.
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