8 Weeks of Rental Van Life

Disaster Averted: Repairs On the Road in a Rental Van

“Check tire pressure.” The blinking instructions on the dashboard were new and alarming. We were driving out of a dispersed camping area on dirt roads and pulled over immediately when we reached asphalt.

We’re on the adventure of a lifetime, but it’s not all mountain vistas and relaxing in hot springs. Sometimes our gear breaks.

A close inspection of the tires revealed a nail head, and strangely, a different tire that looked a little bulging and low.

Nail head in tire

I’m no stranger to tire problems. I recalled hearing a hissing sound while driving down a dirt road in my Honda Civic from our dispersed camping spot in NH. After confirming it was coming from the tire, I quickly drove on to the next flat spot we could pull off the road. That tire had five minutes left if I was lucky. We swapped for the donut then slowly (sloooowly) continued down the hill to cell service and flat paved ground.

But back to our van tire problem. I couldn’t hear any hissing. The tires didn’t look deflated. I confirmed that we had a whole spare tire underneath the vehicle (better than a donut) and the case of tools required to swap it. My immediate alarm subsided.

Because of the visible nail head, and the lack of cell coverage in the park, we decided to take the van to a tire shop (open that day, closed on the impending weekend). It was a 30 mile drive to the nearest tire shop (almost $20 in gas to get there and back, not to mention the afternoon that we weren’t hiking).

This is the point where you start to doubt yourself and your plan. Yeah, just drive around parks without cell coverage in a questionably maintained rental vehicle. What could go wrong?

The van parked in a forest, driver side door open

I’m a really slow driver when I’m thinking about the lack of structural integrity of my tires. The curvy, winding road didn’t help.

Five miles into our drive, we spotted a ranger station and pulled in. The ranger listened to our explanation of the tire pressure issue and offered to pump the tires to get us into town for the fix. He brought out a compressor with tire pump attachment and gauge and fired it up. We pumped all four tires to about 80 psi. They were looking better! Very grateful for the assistance, we continued on to the nearest town.

The tire place was a fast stop. The mechanic came outside with a soapy bucket, brush, and pliers. He quickly found an additional nail head in the tire and pulled both, showing us that the pieces of metal were less than a quarter inch and had not penetrated deeply. “You’re all set!”

We were grateful and relieved to have the tires checked out and the nails pulled by an expert. We pulled over in a nearby parking lot and carefully checked the other three tires ourselves, but didn’t find any more nail heads. It turned out we were indeed all set.

In our next Walmart order, we got a tire pump that runs off the 12v output of the van. It was about $20, returnable, and lends a great sense of security in case our tires slowly deflate.

The only thing worse than a possible van breakdown is a shoe breakdown, especially having only one pair of hiking shoes. Maybe it was the corrosive mud from the hot springs. Maybe it was the long days walking sharp rocks. But my partner’s shoes started to explode, coming apart where they met the sole. That happened on a Sunday, which I know because only one out of three thrift shops within an hour drive was open that day.

Tall evergreen trees in twilight

The novelty of not knowing the towns becomes a liability when trying to fix an emergency. Would the store have hikeable shoes in my partner’s size? Only one way to find out: a half hour drive. Somehow, solving any problem out here seems to require driving.

We did check the sports store in addition to the thrift store. They had $150 hiking shoes and ShoeGoo, an epoxy that takes 24 to 48 hours to set and might or might not fix the shoes.

The thrift store had a pair of boat shoes, flat canvas sneakers. For $15. Much deliberation later, my partner decided on the flat sneakers and negotiated the price down to $5. Problem solved, at least for the moment until we find some actual hiking boots.

We’re lucky to not have any actual emergencies that we can’t solve in a day so far (knock on wood). Hopefully our streak of resourcefulness will continue!


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