Nomad Break Downs on the Road


When I first started living as a nomad on the road, my greatest fear was that my van would break down and I would be homeless. After all, the van wasn’t just transportation to take me around town it was my home. If you live in a house and your car breaks down you can take the bus, walk, ask friends for rides or even take a cab. But if your car is also your home it’s much worse; where do you sleep while it’s in the shop?

Just this week that happened to me and I’d like to tell you about it.

This was my camp one day last week--i don;t think it will win any awards as prettiest of the year!

This was my camp one day last week–I don’t think it will win any awards as prettiest of the year!

My van had developed a strange clunking noise in the front end and I noticed my front tires were wearing badly, so I took it into a shop I trust in Cottonwood, AZ, strongly suspecting front end work was coming. Sure enough, it needed a lot of work. It had to be done so the next day I brought it in bright and early.  Well, I spent part of the day sitting in the waiting room and part of it running around town and to the park with a friend, so that went pretty well.

This wasn’t the first day I’ve spent sitting in a waiting room at an auto shop, when you’re a nomad living on the road, it’s inevitable. It’s not the end of the world, you just do it. You’re usually in town with internet and a TV so I just take my laptop, chargers and MIFI Jetpack in with me and try to entertain myself as best I can. I’ve never been turned down letting my dog sit with me so we go for walks through the day.

If you are ever in northern Arizona (Flagstaff, Presctt, Sedona or Cottonwood, this is where you want to get you vehicle serviced!

If you are ever in northern Arizona (Flagstaff, Prescott, Sedona or Cottonwood, this is where you want to get you vehicle serviced! You can see my van in the bottom right.

At the end of the day the owner came to me with bad news, a part that they had been promised  wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow and they couldn’t push the van out of the shop because it was torn apart. Of course that was my worst fears come to life! Where would I sleep? My dog Cody was with me and where would he go?

The first thing I said was, “Well, I always carry a tent with me just for this reason, if you will drive me out to my camp I’ll stay in the tent.” Then something totally unexpected happened!!! I mean so unexpected it was shocking to me!! He offered to pay to put me up in the motel that was right next door!

He might as well have said, “Why don’t I fly you to moon and you can camp there” that’s just how shocked I was! This wasn’t his fault! The parts house told him the part was in stock and then they told him later it wasn’t. But he said, no, he kept an account with the motel and whenever his clients were stuck he put them up in the motel and he was glad to do it for me as well. I reminded him I had my dog with me and he said no problem, they took dogs (it did cost him an extra $20).

Cody and I hae been together for 18 months now, and this was his first night inside he 4 walls of building in all that time.

Cody and I have been together for 18 months now, and this was his first night inside the 4 walls of a building in all that time. He did okay. We found out he loves cat food!

I don’t like staying in motels so I protested but the more I thought about it I didn’t like the idea of a night in the tent without electricity, heat, any food or way to cook or any of my things. I could do it, but it would be a much better night in the motel so I decided to treat myself and agreed to let him get me a room. I offered to pay for half but he said no, it was just a cost of business, so I made the decision that after it was done I would ask him if I could tip his crew $40 so he could buy them pizza and beer. I did that and he got such a kick out of it and I’m sure his crew will always remember me!

And I hope all of you will remember him as well!! Anytime you are in Northern Arizona (Flagstaff, Prescott, Sedona or Cottonwood) and you need work on your vehicle, take it to Cottonwood Tire and Auto in Cottonwood. You can trust him to do right by you, but more than that, we should all reward good deeds,

945 Cove Pkwy
Cottonwood, AZ 86326
Phone: (928) 634-0705

It was a very nice Best Western and Cody and I both loved our night in it!! It was a great excuse to splurge on ourselves so I went to the Panda Express close by for dinner and to a convenience store for dog food. They didn’t have any canned dog food but they did have canned cat food! It turns out that Cody loves cat food!!! He is a fussy eater, but there was no doubt about that cat food, he devoured it! Later I realized this is the first night Cody has ever slept inside the four walls of a building since I got him 18 months ago! He seemed to be okay with it!

That should be the end of the story but they next day there was a power outage and they couldn’t get it done again!! But, at least this time they got it all closed up and started it and parked it in the parking lot so I could sleep in it. It was an unpleasant night with all the road noise but I was still very glad to be back in the van. I love living in the van and even if it’s in a noisy part of town I’d rather be in it than anywhere else!

You know what, it was not a great night for wither of us. The noise and nowhere to walk made it unpleasant, But it was just one night out of thousands of wonderful nights so we're not going to let it negatively impact us in any way. Life is very, very good!

You know what, it was not a great night for either of us. I hate concrete and the noise and nowhere to walk made it unpleasant, But it was just one night out of thousands of wonderful nights so we’re not going to let it negatively impact us in any way. Life is very, very good!

Finally, after two nights it got done and I was on the road again. I could have been mad, frustrated or upset by the whole ordeal, but what this life has taught me is no matter what comes my way–it’s going to be okay. It may not always be fun, sometimes it may even be unpleasant; but in the end it will be okay. And after it’s all said and done I will be able to look back at it and smile. Life is good!!

And you know what, as I write this out, I’ve got a big ole grin on my face!! Even when it seems like it isn’t good, or even out-and-out bad–it really is  all okay!

The next day I went in and thanked the boss for his extreme generosity; that kind of a good heart just makes the world a better place and I gave him the tip for his crew. Doing good or bad is contagious, and if we will all just work hard to spread the good and ignore the bad, the world can be be a much better place!!!

So, let me give you some hard-earned advice about how to handle unexpected break-downs on the road:

  1. Always have an emergency fund!! It’s inevitable you will break down or have some other unexpected thing come up. It’s essential you have the funds on hand to get you through that crisis! I didn’t like having to spend all that money, but I had it so it wasn’t a problem. I strongly recommend a minimum of $3000 which should be enough to make emergency repairs, pay for a night or two in a motel and cab fare. Heck, $3000 will buy a  decent older van so you can move into it and scrap the old one!
  2. Mental preparation is key! A break down is easily handled because your home is with you where-ever you are. You’ll just work out each problem, one at a time, and in the end it will be no big deal–and in fact become a memory you treasure! The key to that mental preparation is planning ahead and taking all these steps before hand so you can have confidence in your future.
  3. Always have essential supplies (food, water, fuel, bad weather gear) on hand to last at least a week or two and preferably a month or two. If your trapped by weather or broke down on the side of the road, having supplies on hand will get your through it. If a repair takes all your money, you’ll still have enough to live and to eat until more money comes in. An easy way to build up your essential supplies is when something goes on sale, buy an extra or two and put it in the pantry.
  4. I carry a tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag for these reasons: 1) If the van is in the shop I can stay in an RV park in a tent site for the least amount of money. 2) It can also hold my site when I’m boondocking and leave it to run into town. 3) A very few times you’ll be required to set up a tent to camp in a spot–I set  mine up, then sleep in the van.
  5. Strongly consider carrying a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle as alternative transportation. If you have a bike with you when you break down, you can ride for help or use it to get around town. As a great bonus, it will also save you money on gas all the time and help you get exercise and be healthier.  An electric bike or motorized bike will make it much more likely that you actually ride it.
  6. Consider carrying Roadside Assistance like AAA or a plan through your insurance company. There are lots of ins and outs of these: 1) how many tows a year, 2) how far will they take you, 2) does it work nationwide, 3) can they tow your van or a trailer, 4) can they handle an RV, 5) will they go down a dirt road in a National Forest? Do thorough research before you choose one.
  7. Be faithful to maintain your vehicle! The better care you take care of it, the less likely you are to have breakdowns happen. This could have been a catastrophic failure on the road, instead it happened in town because I saw signs of  a future problem and took care of it.
  8. Most important of all, do good, and good will happen to you! Be good, and good will be all around you! Yes, shit still happens and van parts still wear out; but in the midst of the normal shit of life will be a hidden gem that makes your heart sing.

Today, be the hidden gem that makes someone else’s heart sing!

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

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I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

88 comments on “Nomad Break Downs on the Road
  1. Juanita says:

    I remember when I was a truck driver and being broken down. I traveled by myself just me and my little dog Beauregard. I traveled all over the US and Canada. I know what you mean about being stuck at the garage. I can’t wait to get out on the road again. Happy Trails!

  2. Desert Rat says:

    Bob, your good attitude should be a model for us all. The good attitude brings happiness, not the other way around, like so many think.

  3. There are some good people in Cottonwood.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Blown outMy Profile

  4. Cheri says:

    Great advice Bob. Be prepared and follow the Golden Rule!

    Glad you and Cody are back home. (I hate motels too).

  5. Linda Sand says:

    A quote I like that seems to fit this situation, “It is a happy person who can enjoy the detour.” I hope you enjoyed a good, long shower in that motel. 🙂

  6. Cae says:

    Seems like it’s vehicle break down time. Your friends on enigmatic had vehicle problems too.

  7. Mountain Dan says:

    Good post! Keeping a positive attitude keeps others positive.

  8. BeckyIO says:

    Isn’t the universe a funny thing? I was crossing the mountainous part of I5 in southern California today between Castaic and Grapevine when the check engine light came on in my truck. Like you I feared something catastrophic so when I got to Bakersfield where I was planning on stocking up at Walmart I called around and found a repair shop able to get me in right away despite it being 2:30 pm on a Friday (I was fearing being stuck at an RV park all weekend as I didn’t want to continue driving in case it was serious).

    G&G Auto Repair was the name of the place. They ran the diagnostics without making me unhitch and discovered the problem was a bad O2 sensor. They were honest telling me it didn’t need immediate attention and as long as the truck was still running normally (it was) I’d be okay until I got to my destination. And get this, they didn’t charge me a penny.

    The place in Castaic I stopped at on a whim two days before when the vinyl cover on my A/C started tearing was also a fantastic. They custom made a new cover for it, replaced the broken clasp, had it all done in an hour, and only charged me $40.

    There really are good auto shops out there. 🙂
    BeckyIO recently posted…Spilling The BeansMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Becky, the world is choke full of really good people. It’s such a shame we only hear about the few not-so-good ones.

    • Jon A says:

      Those tired of paying a mechanic to plug in to the engine computer and merely read a code can get an OBDII code reader off amazon for a few bucks and read the code themselves. The codes are ‘generic’ and few are specific to make or model vehicle. Vehicles made on or after 1996 should have the same connector for the code reader. I bought the CP9125 reader off Amazon, but there are others less expensive that will work as well. Also allows you to turn off the check engine light which can useful if your state does not allow any car inspection to pass if the check engine light is on.

      “Your mileage may vary” – Aristotle

      BTW – Becky’s blog is another one well worth following.

      • Bob Bob says:

        Jon that’s a great tip about the code Reader, well worth doing! I agree about Beckys blog!!

      • BeckyIO says:

        Huh, I didn’t know this Jon but thinking of it now it makes perfect sense that these devices could be purchased, thanks! Also, I’m glad you’ve found IO enjoyable, thanks for reading. 🙂
        BeckyIO recently posted…Castaic, CAMy Profile

  9. Mike says:

    Timely post, relevant indeed. although being good is the lesson here, funny how that works, be good and goodness surrounds you. I think someone could run for president with that idea in their heart and head, and I’d vote for em. Keep up the nice work. Regards, Mike.

  10. David says:

    Hey Bob,
    As Winston Churchill once said, “Life’s just one dam thing after another.” Love your comment, “no matter what comes my way–it’s going to be okay.” What a great way to approach those “one dam thing after another days.” Safe travels..! David

  11. david says:

    I love the attitude. Not only did you find enjoyment in the situation, but you extended it by treating the guys at the shop. Most times they don’t get positive feedback on their hard work much less a reward beyond their normal pay. I feel sure they went home that evening and told their families or housemates about your generosity therefore extending the good feelings even further. Thank you for those folks that saw a little extra brightness in their day. Sincerely, David

  12. Mark L says:

    I wish more business people were like this. I had a mechanic down the street like this. He has since retired, and I am apprehensive about finding a new one.

    As for Cody’s joy of cat food. Both my sisters dogs love cat food as well. There must be a secret ingredient for dogs in it that lights them up (like MSG [monosodium glutamate] in human food).

    Safe Travels and keep the rubber side down,
    Mark L.

  13. joe says:

    I like Cody on the bed in the motel it seems he likes TV what was he watching ( ha) ! Hey just be glad you have the cash to get you out of your issue plus it was fun to do something different looks like a nice motel ,by the way did your ball joints give out ? Any way best of luck

  14. Nicole says:

    It’s in time of troubles that we really see the good/bad in people. It’s such a treat to read that there are still wonderful people out there. Thanks for sharing.

    To elaborate a bit more on the subject of emergency fund I’d like to add that health insurance deductible should be put aside if at all possible. We had a wake up call last week. We thought that my husband was in excellent health. He’s 65 and wasn’t taking any medication. Last week he experience chest pains. Long story short he had triple bypass surgery last Sunday. We were extremely surprise. We were fooling ourselves thinking that we were in absolutely good health and that it would continue that way forever.

    My Husband is doing very well all things considered. It’s nice to know that we have enough to cover the deductible. It’s not something we would like to worry about at this point.

    Just something to think about

    • Bob Bob says:

      Nicole, it really is an important issue. I have a $6800 deductible!! After that it’s 100% covered. I do have the money to cover it but I figure most of that will be hospital/emergency room bills and they will work with you on payments.

      I’m only 60 but I’m living like this is my last year or two on this planet! That’s my advice for everyone!!

      • Nicole says:

        John and I are Canadians. We got our green cards in 1996. We never had much to do with hospitals here, so some practices still surprise me. On the 7th day of John being in the hospital someone came to explain that we owed $200/day for the room, for the first 6 days and the rest was being picked up by the insurance. It was asked nicely but the lady wanted to know if we could pay for it now or make arrangements for later. It felt really strange to me to give her my credit card while I was standing at foot of my husband’s bed. As we get older I’m sure I’ll get use to it, since it will happened more often. Nothing wrong with the practice, it’s just very foreign to me.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Nicole, I also must add that we never hear about all the truly great people in this country, but i think they outnumber the jerks by many, many times.

      • Nicole says:

        Yep, I agreed a 100%. There are some really wonderful people doing their magic quietly. I wish they made the news more often.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Nicole, all we hear about is the few bad apples, but there is a whole banquet out there of prime apples that make out life so sweet We just have to close our ears to the bad news.

  15. Michelle (GMC Gypsy) says:

    Hey Bob,
    Although your Cody loved the cat food I hope you don’t plan to make a habit out of giving it to him. Cody looks like he may be a mutt(?) and they usually have stronger constitutions than purebreds but cat food is not really good for any dog. Here’s why:

  16. Did the mechanic say whether the front end work was related to a lot of off-road driving, or just overall age and mileage?
    Al Christensen recently posted…Smile for the cameraMy Profile

  17. Cheri says:

    Does anyone have or know of a roadside assistance insurance that will help you when you are off road? I haven’t been able to find one.

  18. tommy helms says:

    I could see Cody charging up a 500 dollar room service bill

  19. Cheri says:

    You are right Al, every time I have needed help there has been a vandweller there ready to help. Love my van family!!! I sometimes park where there isn’t anyone close though and if I need a tow or something my roadside ins. won’t send anyone to help me if I am not on a paved road. Cheri and Tony

  20. Becky coats says:

    Hi Bob, testing to see what shows up when I post hear:)

    Thanks for writing about alone time, more of us who claim it hopefully it may become more socially acceptable.

    I think there is an argument to be made the more we give to others,the more contemplation, soul-searching, connecting with something bigger than us. All rightoeus leaders did this. I for one am tired of apologizing for who I am, so thanks for saying it! Thanks always!

    • Becky says:

      Hi bob
      Above post I should probably just use my first name, although I am opposed to hiding in any form. But in case the masses are right and there are numerous crazy internet stalkers, interested in me and my boring life, I have grown girls I would never forgive myself if they got caught up in one of my making an statement causes! Thanks for all your work!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Becky, as you are well aware, you never need to apologize for being yourself! You are so right about the more you give of yourself!!

  21. Craig says:

    Plan on taking the bull by the horns, Bob. Tho I’ve avoided learning about vehicles in the past, I now own the tech service Manuals, *more than a starter tool set, and I’ve determined some take-along parts.
    I’m identifying the exact components of my particular vehicle (parts dealers will sell you anything), and self-educating on ALL aspects of it. As you wrote, its now my home!
    Tho, hopefully, there are benefits to [becoming this prepared], I KNOW there will be times that I’ll need service. Four months ago, I had never shimmied under any vehicle; now I have 3T jack stands and an impact driver. Will keep you in mind when I need a tow!

    And, after reading this, Bob– buying a small tent! (Would prefer a jungle hammock).
    And I always learn something reading your blog!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Craig, that is a great way to do things, learn how to do them yourself! I admire your determination to learn it! I have more money than time, so I’ll keep paying someone else to do it.

  22. Craig says:

    BTW, your readers might appreciate knowing what parts to keep on hand– or otherwise how to listen for trouble.

  23. Doug V says:

    Good on you Bob. The truth is; things are going to happen, thinking otherwise is having faulty expectations.

    I’ve found that putting a bit aside is a great habit, after I hit the emergency fund goal the fund just continued to grow. As I need less I find I have more.

    Scratch Cody for me. He looks good on the bed.

  24. Dasa says:

    Hi Bob!
    Good to hear everything went OK with your repair! Is that some type of ladder/footholds along the left rear of your van that you have installed to access the roof? (first photo) Looks interesting, info?


  25. Scott says:

    A common weak spot i’ve found with the several chevy truck chassied vehicles i’ve had are the wheel bearings. They don’t seem to last very long unfortunately.
    I replaced one in our Tahoe early last winter before hitting the road. Knowing that all of the previous one’s i’d purchased didn’t hold up, I spent a few more bucks for one with a well known name in the world of bearings. Finrgers crossed it’ll last a few years as they aren’t real fun to change.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Scott, I think you are right, I love my Express but it does seem bearing are a problem area. At least it isn’t spitting out spark plugs like the Ford 5.4 (and all the Triton engines) or simply blowing up like the Ford 6.0 diesel.

  26. Shish says:

    Hi I’ve been watching your video’s and just started reading your blog. Its all so amazing! I can’t wait to start my new life! I am only in the preparing stage but getting closer everyday! Thank you for all you do to help so many people! You are truly a blessing Bob! I will keep reading,watching and learning!
    Take Care and safe travels

  27. Jeff Johnston says:

    Cody is living it up with a bed of his own!

  28. Allan b says:

    No bearing issues with my 97 gmc Savannah with 240000 miles on it. Only thing I have had to fix is a fuel pump and some electronic thing at about 200000

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