Vanlifers Best Friend – The Hero That Is The Mechanic

Van in mechanics shop

“Hey Tomas, what’s the thorn in the side of vanlife?” That’s a question I get a lot. You see, folks often gaze at the glossy, Instagram-perfect side of vanlife – the breathtaking landscapes, the minimalist charm, and the awesome community. But they’re curious about the not-so-shiny bits. It’s not that these gritty details are top secret; it’s just that they don’t get as much airtime as the #vanlife glamour shots. So, when I’m put on the spot about the not-so-great parts, my mind goes straight to mechanical woes.

Now, nobody likes car trouble. It’s a pain whether it’s your daily commuter, your teen’s beater car (cue eye-rolling and deep sighs from the younger generation), or even a lawnmower turning your front yard into an Amazonian landscape. But in vanlife, mechanical issues take on a whole new level of “ugh”. Picture this: when your van needs a check-up or repair, it’s not just your ride that’s going to the shop. Your entire home is, too. Yep, that’s a whole different ball game. So, let’s dive into the peculiar challenges of vanlife mechanical hiccups, what they mean for your day-to-day life on wheels, and some nifty tricks to keep your rolling home humming smoothly.

Scheduled Pit Stops: Navigating Mechanics with Foresight

Ah, the scheduled visits to the mechanic’s – the calmer seas in the ocean of vanlife maintenance. Regular check-ups for your beloved van are like a day at the spa, but for your home on wheels. Even if you’re a DIY wizard who can handle an oil change with your eyes closed (and I bet you’ve got skills if you’ve built your own van), there’s value in a professional once-over. A good mechanic, with their eagle eyes and experience, can spot potential problems while they’re mere blips on the radar, saving you from the dreaded scenario of being stranded on a desolate desert road.

Planning these maintenance rendezvous is a bit like chess. You strategize, thinking a few moves ahead. You get to pick your mechanic – an opportunity to bond with someone who knows your home-on-wheels inside out. And location? You call the shots. Maybe you’ll choose a shop close to family or friends, turning a routine service into a mini-reunion. Need a place to crash? Line up an Airbnb or bunk with a buddy. This way, the inconvenience of parting with your van becomes a chance for a little change of scenery. But let’s not dwell on this too long – there’s more to cover.

Unplanned Pit Stops: When Vanlife Throws a Curveball

Now, let’s talk about those moments when your well-laid plans go awry, when even a meticulously maintained van decides to throw a tantrum. These unforeseen mechanical hiccups can turn into real headaches, especially if you’re in the boondocks or, let’s say, navigating the complexities of a foreign country. It’s not just about not knowing the place; often, it’s a language barrier that turns a problem into a puzzle.

Let me share a little tale from my travels from sunny Spain through the diverse landscapes of Europe, all the way to the fjords of Norway. Picture this: Just a couple of days into our journey, starting from the Malaga region, our trusty van (a Mercedes Sprinter, to be exact) began to act up. The engine warning light flickered on like a bad omen, and the van’s power dipped – not the best sequel to recent major engine surgery.

There we were, stranded at a gas station near Murcia, with worry lines deepening on our foreheads. The first step in these scenarios is to keep a level head (easier said than done in the Spanish summer heat, I know). We began our quest for a Mercedes truck center – our first hurdle. But finding a mechanic is one thing; finding one with immediate availability is quite another, especially when you’re midway through an adventure and every minute counts.

Then comes the language barrier. My partner and I, having lived in Spain, had a basic grasp of Spanish, which was a lifesaver. But if you’re not as familiar, remember this golden rule: Your phone’s translation app can be your best ally. It’s amazing how far you can get with technology and a bit of patience, and we very often forget these little cheats in the heat of the moment.

Once we located a potential workshop, the next step was arranging for roadside assistance. This is where having comprehensive insurance that covers you worldwide (or at least wherever your van roams) is invaluable. After the call, the wait began – and in Spain, the ‘mañana, mañana’ attitude can test your patience, especially under the scorching sun.

With our furry companion in tow (more on traveling with pets later), we eventually got the tow truck and made our way to the shop.

So, there we were at the Mercedes Truck shop, ready to tackle the next round of the Vanlife Olympics. Communication was our first hurdle – trying to explain in our patchy Spanish that our home-on-wheels needed urgent attention. It’s one thing to fix a van, but it’s a whole different ball game when your entire abode is on the line, right? Patience is key in these scenarios. And with some makeshift translation via Google, a call to a buddy who’s fluent in Spanish, and a tow truck driver who became our unexpected hero, we managed to make a plan.

Our van was to rest in the parking lot overnight, right outside the workshop. Let me tell you, bunking down in an industrial area is no beachfront campsite, but it’s all part of the adventure!

The next day, armed with hope and broken Spanish, we approached the workshop. Lo and behold, the mechanic, our new best friend (right after the tow truck hero), found the culprit – a wire-harness snuggled too close to the exhaust, a little mishap from the previous engine surgery (pick your mechanic with care, they’re not all equal). If that was the only hiccup, we’d be back on the road soon.

But here’s the twist – we were technically homeless for the day. Being vanless in the sweltering heat of Spain, especially with a four-legged furball whose paws couldn’t touch the scorching pavement, was a challenge of its own. Our mission: Find a refuge for the day. Thanks to Google Maps, we stumbled upon a truck-stop diner, a slice of local life about a 20-minute trek from the shop. It wasn’t the cozy nook of our van, but it had its charm, and more importantly, breakfast. We made our way there early in the day, before the heat really started to beat down on us, so the pup made it just fine.

As the day rolled on, and the diner’s closing time loomed, we faced the reality that our vanlife pause might extend beyond a day. Finding a dog-friendly Airbnb became our next quest, which, in case you haven’t tried it, is like finding a needle in a haystack when you have a German Shepherd for a companion. Fortune smiled on us, and we secured a spot for the night. But, in a twist fit for a novel, just as we confirmed our booking, the workshop called – the van was ready! Talk about timing!

With the diner closing and our Airbnb booked, we had to make quick decisions. I dashed back to the workshop, while my partner and our canine companion awaited my return at the diner, hopefully in a fully functioning van. Between running back to the shop in the sweltering heat and negotiating Airbnb refunds (thankfully, the host was an angel), it felt like juggling in a circus.

If you think that sounds a tad chaotic and stressful, you’re spot on. It’s one thing to read about vanlife adventures, but living them, especially the mechanical misadventures, is a whole different ball game

Oh, did I forget to mention the complete lack of pavement from the shop to the diner? Yep, that’s right, no sidewalk in sight. Just us, a bustling road, and a high-stakes game of real-life Frogger with a German Shepherd in tow. Talk about adding an extra layer of adventure to our already eventful day! This is the kind of stuff you don’t typically see on those glamorous Instagram posts, but hey, it’s all part of the vanlife charm.

And as if navigating a busy road without sidewalks wasn’t thrilling enough, we also had the clock ticking against us. We had to reach Norway in time for a family commitment, adding a whole new level of urgency to the mix. It’s like vanlife decided to throw us a combo challenge: mechanical issues, language barriers, heatwaves, and a race against time. Who needs an action movie when you’ve got this?

This little saga I’ve just shared? It’s pretty much standard fare when you’re living the vanlife and dealing with mechanical gremlins. Believe it or not, I’d call this incident one of the more straightforward ones. Over the years, I’ve faced a slew of these mechanical mishaps, some stranding us for what seemed like an eternity. Each time, it’s a fresh set of challenges, a new puzzle to solve. But that’s the essence of vanlife – it’s unpredictable, it’s a bit wild, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

So what’s the solution?

Alright, fellow vanlifers, let’s talk solutions. While I can’t offer you a magical fix-all for every bump in the road (unless you count ditching vanlife altogether, but let’s not go there), I’ve got some tips to make these hiccups less of a headache.

  1. Two’s Company: First things first, having a travel buddy, whether it’s your significant other, a pal, or even a furry friend, can make these unexpected detours less daunting. Yes, adding a dog (or heaven forbid, a tiny human) to the mix does up the ante, but it’s all about the company you keep.
  2. Emergency Kit: Always be prepared. This isn’t just a scout’s motto; it’s a vanlife mantra. Stock up on the essentials: water, snacks, a breakdown triangle, reflective vests, a working spare tire, and the trusty jack and tire wheel. These are your tools for survival in the wild world of roadside emergencies.
  3. Have a Plan: Know who to call and how. Keep roadside assistance on speed dial, and if you’re venturing into the great unknown with spotty signal coverage, consider a satellite phone. This isn’t about being paranoid; it’s about being prepared.
  4. Financial Cushion: Keep a little extra stash for those “just in case” moments. Trust me, when your home-on-wheels decides to take an unscheduled break, you’ll be glad for that extra cash to cover unexpected Airbnbs and taxi rides.
  5. Flexibility is Key: If possible, avoid strict deadlines. I know, I know, sometimes it’s unavoidable, but the less you’re tied to a schedule, the less stressful these situations become. Vanlife is all about the journey, not the destination, right?
  6. Choose your mechanics: Last but not least, spend some serious time researching the mechanics in your area, or whatever place you end up calling home base (most of us have someplace we consider a bit more of a home than the rest of the world). All mechanics are not equal, in fact perhaps depending on where in the world you are, a lot of them are really not good at all. It pays in the long run, to pay a little extra up front at the shop, to avoid big bills and a lot of worries down the road.

Vanlife with Furry Co-pilots

Alright, as promised let’s wrap this up with a topic close to my heart (and van) – traveling with pets. For those of us with a four-legged companion, they’re not just pets; they’re security guards, adventure buddies, and the best road trip partners you could ask for. Our big dog is a vital member of our vanlife team, providing an extra sense of security in remote spots and adding a layer of warmth (both literally and figuratively) to our travels.

Now, let’s get real – vanlife with pets isn’t all tail wags and head scratches. It’s like inviting an extra person into a space that’s already as snug as a bug in a rug. They need room, and let’s face it, that’s a luxury in a van. Plus, their care becomes a bit more intricate. We’re talking climate control, up-to-date vaccinations for border-hopping, and the constant battle against a never-ending flurry of fur (seriously, it’s everywhere).

And then there are those “are you kidding me?” moments. Like buying dog shoes to protect those precious paws from scorching pavement, only to watch them fly off faster than you can say “fetch”. But honestly, despite the occasional headache, I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. Our vanlife journey with our furry friend has been filled with incredible memories – from frolicking in the Norwegian fjords to lounging on Spanish beaches.

For those considering diving into vanlife with a furry companion, here’s a piece of friendly advice: maybe take a trial run or two before bringing a pet into the mix. But if you’ve already got a furry family member, don’t let the challenges deter you. With a little preparation and a lot of love, it’s more than doable.

In fact, we’ve got a whole article on this very topic. So, if you’re itching for more insights on traveling with pets, check it out. We’ve packed it with tips and tricks to make your vanlife adventure with your furry friends as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Happy travels, and give your four-legged co-pilot a scratch behind the ears for me! 🚐🐾

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