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Road trips are not without complications. You may be expecting to just jump in your wagon, hit the road, and have a smooth ride. However, this is rarely the case! Although some of the problems we have had have been pretty comical, some have set us back and cost us a chunk of our budget. We absolutely always carry basic tools with us. Spanners, sockets, screwdrivers, trolley jack to name a few. We would certainly recommend to anyone thinking of going on a road trip to do so too. We have even considered carrying with us some basic spare parts.
Before we set off in January, we got rid of our clunky old box van to get ourselves something a little better... we thought. When we picked her up, we were over the moon. She was so much quieter and smoother than our old van. She looked smart and she was even a little faster. We couldn’t wait to get to work kitting her out so we could set off on our next trip. Little did we know all the problems we’d have to face.
Before we even got her to Cornwall, we had issues with the gear locator. Luckily this was a quick fix and we carried on, not thinking much of it. A few weeks later, the starter motor packed in, leaving us a week behind schedule and with the van only half kitted out. Nevertheless, we fixed the problem and set off with an unfinished van and our fingers crossed.
The first stretch of our journey seemed to go rather smoothly. We had a slight malfunction with our swivel chair, but the van seemed sound. However the further east we drove, the colder it became, and that’s when we noticed that the glow plugs had about had it. Eventually she wouldn’t start at all and "easy start" became a necessary item. We soldiered on regardless! As we crossed over from Switzerland to Italy, we were on a roll. That is, until the sliding door fell off... Yep! We were standing in a lay by, scratching our heads and gazing at our sliding door lying neatly on the floor. Eventually after a bit of maneuvering, lots of swearing, shouting and a few extra bolts, we fixed it back on. Ever since that happened, the central locking system has been all over the place. We have to jump out, press the central locking button, and then open and lock the passenger door and sliding door. Although it’s a bit of a pain in the arse, we can put up with it for the sake of having our sliding door back.
After a little while longer, I pointed out that the windscreen seemed to be coming loose on one side and she started to make a "clunk clunk" sound as we turned corners. The track rod ends were shot, and then on top of that, the bearings started whining. Oh, no! What did we get ourselves into? If the gears weren't dodgy enough already, someone decided to drive into the side of us, somehow just clipping the front wheel and damaging the gearbox further. From then on, it started making some strange sounds. I swore that if the clutch didn’t pack in, the front wheel would fall off.
We slowly crept our way to Southern France, going as fast as we dare go. We figured we’d better get the front baring fixed. Two days and €200 later, it was done and we were poor. Not long after that, the back one started whining too. Our solution: Turn the music up louder and hope for the best. We’d made it this far. We weren’t about to let it beat us. After that the alternator died, leaving us stranded in the middle of a national park in Catalonia, forcing us to forage for food! (but that’s another story)
With our budget practically gone and our spirits clinging on for dear life, we made it back to France. What happened then? The clutch finally did pack in! By now, we were pulling our hair out and on the brink of a breakdown. We were, however, lucky enough to have broken down in the right place at the right time (if that can happen).
A Scottish man happened to be passing, a Scottish mechanic nonetheless. He helped us out and let us park up by his canal boat, where we could slowly fix the van in our own time. After a month or two of fixing, relaxing and making new friends, we set off bound for England, having missed all the markets we were rushing back to catch. We got to the first service station when the next problem hit us. The battery was flat. What? How? We’d not long ago replaced the alternator—there’s just no way! After an hour of head scratching and Googling, we found the loose wire. Thank goodness, we were off again.
We usually dread coming back to England after being on the road, but this time it felt more like a relief.
Now oil seems to have started leaking from the engine somewhere and the breaks have started to become a bit sloppy. But other than that, she's pretty sound. We'll just wait and see what the next thing will be.
Luckily, with a bit of mechanical knowledge, we were able to fix most of these problems ourselves. However, we found vehicle parts can be very expensive and hard to get ahold of in Europe. This means you need to be prepared to pay nearly €300 for an alternator or €200 for a bearing.
All this being said, we don’t want to put you off going on a road trip. There are bound to be problems, of course. However, as long as you are a little prepared with tools, Google, and have a little extra cash put aside for emergencies, these should only be minor set backs. The good times we’ve had on the road by far outweigh the bad ones and we will be off again despite everything. In fact, some of the best memories we have are from the times we’ve broken down. These times have forced us to slow down, to explore a place more thoroughly. We’ve ended up making more friends and better memories because we’ve been stuck in one place and it’s taught us to stop, relax, and let life take its course.