Essential maintenance for your vehicle

May you never find yourself stranded

Vehicle maintenance while living on the road isn’t much different from what you would have to do anyway, but there is more of it. There are many things you can do to reduce wear and tear, or to prevent small issues from becoming a major problem.

Finding a trustworthy mechanic can sometimes be a difficult and stressful affair, compounding the stress of having an inoperable vehicle in the first place. People often find their favorite mechanic through recommendations from friends, which may not be an option if you’re stranded in a new city or some remote town. Check sites like Yelp and even Google for mechanics with good reviews. (But wear your skeptic hat; reviews can be gamed by exactly the type of unethical service providers that you’re trying to avoid!)

Maintain engine health

Avoid idling for long stretches of time, which can cause carbon buildup and reduce the life of your engine. In general, as long as you are diligent about fluids and belts, and you’re not a crazy driver, the engine itself should not need a lot of maintance over the life of the vehicle.


If you have the resources, install the largest and highest quality battery and alternator that will fit under the hood. This is to add a margin of error and reduce your chances of getting stranded with a dead battery. Extra electrical capacity also brings greater flexibility in terms of heating, cooling, working, and entertaining.

Roadside assistance

Many van dwellers will insist that you spend a bit on AAA or another roadside assistance program, perhaps through your car insurance provider. Roadside assistance offers some extra peace of mind in handling flat tires, running out of gas, or a mechanical problem that requires towing your vehicle.

Maintenance checklist

Below is a short list of maintenance items that need to be checked regularly.

  1. Engine oil. Older vehicles very often end up with small oil leaks and need to be topped off occasionally between oil changes. The best time to check oil is after the engine has been running for a while, but after it has cooled down to a safe temperature. Checking the oil in a stone-cold engine will give a slightly high reading, but that is not a big deal once you know your engine.
  2. Engine coolant/antifreeze. Engine coolant is essential to the proper operation of the engine. Note: Never open a radiator cap while the engine is hot! The scalding-hot liquid will be under pressure and can spray out, causing severe injuries.
  3. Power steering fluid. If the power steering fluid runs too low, it can damage your vehicle’s power steering system and make a heavy vehicle very difficult to steer.
  4. Brake pads. Brakes will usually start squealing when in need of replacement, but you sould also visually inspect the breaks for signs of any problems that may be brewing.
  5. Tires. Check for screws/nails, unusual bulges, decay, and excessive tread wear. If you purchased a vehicle that was sitting for a long time (especially in sunlight), the tires may be significantly decayed despite showing adequate tread. Also check for uneven wear caused by poor wheel alignment.
  6. Belts. Look for any signs of cracking, chipping, fraying, or looseness. Remember also to check the underside of the belt.

In summary, you should follow a regular maintenance schedule and learn as much as you can about vehicle repair. When you have some free time, pop the hood and get familiar with your vehicle. And if you change your own oil, always dispose of the waste oil properly!