A simple breakdown or minor accident could be enough to turn your carefree road trip into a bit of drama.
Breakdowns are an inevitable part of van life.
Even on short road trips, flat batteries and tyres can happen.
And as sure as eggs is eggs, when it happens, you’ll be in the middle of nowhere without a cell signal and it’ll probably be raining too!
So while you’re fully prepared with all the campervan accessories you need for a comfortable van life, you need to be prepared for the roadside emergency too.
In this post, we’ll take you through everything you need to look for in a roadside emergency kit with a few useful tips and tricks too.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Preventing breakdowns and emergency situations is far better than needing roadside repair or recovery.
Here’s a few tips to consider before setting off on your camper travels and long road trips.
- Keep your camper regularly serviced
- Have a good quality set of tyres for the driving conditions
- Avoid driving at night or in inclement weather where possible
- Undertake a basic first aid course
- Take an advanced driving course before long term road trips
Of course, you can’t rely on even these tips to keep you out of trouble.
If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, a well equipped roadside emergency kit will help you out of most situations.
Get yourself and your passengers to a place of safety away from traffic and your vehicle.
Keep calm and consider your options.
If you plan on taking you campervan off road, make sure you have a well stocked 4×4 recovery kit and you know how to use it.
What should be in a Roadside Emergency Kit
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You can buy roadside emergency kits off the shelf and they include most of the kit you need.
There’s other things you’ll need to include too.
The following section takes you through everything a roadside emergency kit includes.
You can either put the list of tools and gear together yourself, or use it when comparing off the shelf products so you can see what’s not included and what you’ll need to buy separately.
You can print or download free roadside emergency kit checklist at the bottom of the post.
Hi-visibility Safety Vest
If you need to get out of your RV or motorhome in an emergency, you’ll probably be on a live carriageway with potentially fast moving traffic.
These reflective vests make sure other road users can see you much more easily, especially at night.
Some country’s regulations require the driver and all passengers to have a hi-visibility vest for use in the event of a breakdown.
Regardless of the mandatory rules, it’s much safer to have them anyway.
They’re really low cost and compact enough to store in the door pockets.
Made from reflective material, well placed warning triangles give fair notice to oncoming traffic of an accident of hazard up ahead.
It’ll help prevent multiple pile ups and making a bad day, worse.
Top tips | Place one warning triangle directly behind your vehicle nearest the road.
Place a 2nd warning triangle about 50 metres behind, lined up with the middle of your vehicle.
Don’t block any hard shoulder or emergency lanes with the triangles as this would hamper the progress of any emergency vehicles.
Full size Spare Wheel
Some newer vehicles come with space saver wheels. Even some 4wd cars like Land Rovers do. We know!
We once went to the Sahara Desert straight from a Land Rover showroom in the UK, only to find a space saver fitted when we had a flat!
Some vehicle manufacturers don’t even bother with a space saver anymore, preferring to cut costs by fitting an emergency repair kit.
A space saver or emergency repair kit might be ok for vehicles spending most of their time in urban areas.
But once you start taking long road trips or venturing off the beaten path in your camper, they’re not good enough.
You can only drive on a space saver at about 50 mph.
The emergency tyre inflater won’t fix a major split. If the wheel rim is damaged it’s useless and if it doesn’t work, you’ve still got a flat tyre.
You should carry a full size spare tyre, ideally mounted on the back of the vehicle for easy access.
Many spare wheels are stowed underneath but in the rain or stuck in mud or sand, they can be difficult & messy to get to.
Which reminds us, a good set of overalls helps keeps you clean and keeps your van life laundry down too!
We fitted our spare to the back of the van and used the space underneath the van where the spare was designed to go for an extra tank for our campervan water system.
Don’t forget to check you have a suitable size jack for your RV weight and wheel brace for removing the wheel too.
Jacking pads are a great addition to your kit too, so the jack doesn’t sink into soft ground.
Pair of Mechanic’s Gloves
One of the worst things about changing a wheel is getting your hands wet, dirty and cold.
Include a pair of mechanic’s gloves in your roadside emergency kit to avoid this. They also help prevent your hands from cuts, scrapes and grazes.
We carry a pack of cotton backed rubber gripped gloves we rate highly.
It’s surprising how often we use them too for other things like setting up the campsite fire pit.
Tyre Repair Kit
If unlucky enough to have 2 flat tyres at the same time or get a 2nd flat before you’ve had chance to fix or replace the 1st flat, these tyre repair kits are great.
They’re basically plugs so you’ll first need to find the hole before inserting the plug.
They’re no use if the sidewall is split though.
We’ve used them for years and some repairs have lasted thousands of miles.
Also be warned in some country’s, you couldn’t pass the vehicle safety inspection regulations with a plugged tyre but they’re brilliant for getting you out of a sticky situation.
Keep a handy size box in your door pocket.
Tyre pressure has an enormous effect on vehicle traction.
On loose tracks, soft sand and mud releasing air to reduce tyre pressure helps widen your footprint and improve grip.
Once clear of the soft slippery surface you should air up again because under-inflated tyres are dangerous at speed.
On some long road trip routes, like the northern part of Ruta 40 in Argentina, stretches of soft sand tracks alternative with loose gravel ripio for miles.
Inflating and deflating tyres is a regular occurrence on these kinds of routes.
If you expect to drive on anything other than tarmac roads, include a good quality 12v piston air compressor and a long hose to reach the rear tyres.
Some overland campervan builds include permanently fit air compressors with a pressurised air tank for this type of work.
If you have air brakes on your camper, a permanently installed compressor might be convenient though it is more kit to fit.
A portable compressor is just as good though. In fact in scenarios where someone else is in trouble, it’s better they borrow your compressor than you drive into potential trouble to help.
Make sure your air compressor has an integrated tyre pressure gauge too.
Tow Rope & Shackles
You could find yourself completely broken down or so stuck you need a tow to help you back on the road.
A good quality tow strop needs to be rated for weights heavier than you vehicle with a soft eye woven into each end.
You can hook the strop to the vehicles with a D-Shackle. Try to avoid using more common hooks as they tend to be much weaker than these robust D-Shackles.
Electric Jumper (booster) Cables
It’s easier than you might think to flatten your battery, especially in an RV or camper that doesn’t warn you when you’ve left your headlights on.
A set of jump cables are a good investment.
They should be at least 300 amp rating or higher.
Make sure they’re colour coded – black for negative and red for positive – and they have strong, insulated spring grips.
Long cables, will help you reach vehicles parked further away, whether they be helping your or vice versa.
How to use electric jumper cables
- Connect from the low/flat battery earth point to the charging battery earth first.
- Connect from the low/flat battery positive terminal to the working battery.
- In neutral gear, start the vehicle engine of the working battery.
- Apply engine throttle to 2000 rpm to kick start the alternator’s output.
- After a few moments, try starting the engine of the flat battery vehicle.
- Once running disconnect the positive cable from both batteries.
- DO NOT touch the cable ends or allow them to touch the vehicles or the ground. It will cause an electrical discharge and may hurt you!
- Disconnect the negative cables.
- Let the vehicle run for at least 1 hour, without lights or ac fans working to give the flat battery a chance to store up some energy.
Empty Fuel Can
It happens to the best of us. The campervan splutters, gets going and then stops.
Shock! Horror! That low fuel warning light burning brightly for the past 50 miles wasn’t kidding.
Now you might thumb a lift to the nearest fuel stop but mark my words… not all fuel stations have takeaway fuel cans.
Carrying an empty fuel can in your camper makes a stressful situation a little stressful.
Top tip | Only fill your fuel can with as much fuel as you need to get back the fuel station.
Every litre of fuel weighs about 1 kg so if you have much walking to do, you want to keep your load t a minimum.
A fire extinguisher can help prevent a small fire turning into a blazing inferno, writing off your camper.
There’s loads of different types of fire extinguishers to handle different types of fires.
A fire in your RV is likely caused by cooking, an electrical fault or a road collision.
A dry powder or foam extinguisher certified as dielectrically tested is the best all round fire extinguisher for your camper.
We recommend fitting at least 2, one accessible from the driving positions, another in the living quarters.
A fire blanket is a good addition too, although not necessary as part of a standard roadside emergency kit unless you’re in an RV or camper.
A safety hammer with an integrated knife to break the windshield or side windows and to cut seat belts should be in your roadside emergency kit.
We always have one fitted securely in the driving area so convenient in the unhappy scenario where we’d need to use it.
Make sure either the driver or passenger can reach it from a seated position.
Worst case, you’ll need to use this when the vehicle is upside down and submerged in water so accessibility is critical.
A good metal bladed spade with a strong handle is ideal for clearing away earth obstructions or filling in holes to assist with recovery.
Some cheap folding military style spades save on space but often not upto the job of heavy digging.
We mount ours inside the back doors of our campervan with our outdoor gear.
First Aid Kit
A well stocked first aid kit is critical in the event of an emergency.
We’re dedicated an entire article to a good travel first aid kit for you camper but to summarise the key points here:
- Have a safe and convenient store for it in your van
- Make sure everyone who lives with you knows where it is
- Keep it well stocked
- Replenish ages supplies regularly
- Keep a copy of your travel insurance policy with the first aid kit
Miscellaneous Odds and Sods
Add these miscellaneous items to your roadside emergency kit and you’ll be good to go.
You probably have many of these items already included in your campervan accessories somewhere.
- Selection of electrical fuses
- Bungee cords
- Cable ties
- Para cord
- Electrical tape
- Heavy duty gaffer tape
- Ice scraper
- Head torch
- Selection of lighters
- 12v phone charger
- Notepad & pencil
- Light sticks
Off-the-shelf Roadside Emergency Kits
If you’d rather buy an entire kit with everything you need, there’s some off-the-shelf kits you can buy.
Here’s three of the best roadside emergency kits we’ve found, already made up and covering most of your basic needs.
Just make sure you compare the contents with our checklist so you’ve got everything you need.
Roadside Emergency Assistance Kit – Packed 110 Premium Pieces
The comprehensive kit from Roadside Rescue Solutions is almost the one stop shop for all your emergency needs.
This Texas based company only produces roadside rescue kits and is recognised as an up and coming brand.
It is not the cheapest but the kit includes items not normally found in other manufacturer’s kits including a 5t tow strap, bungee cords and a multi purpose tool.
The 8 foot long jump leads are rated at 300 amps, so they should be good for a campervan starter battery.
The 64 piece medical kit is also quite extensive.
Despite all the components it doesn’t take up that much space either.
Given everything it comes with then you might only need to get a couple of additional items such as a fire extinguisher and a phone charging cable to be sure your are covered.
Evaq8 Car Survival Kit
Evaq8 is a London based professional safety organisation providing product emergency and survival kits.
They only use well known branded items and are recommended by some Auto magazines as the go to company.
It includes everything you need to keep you and your passengers safe so if you’re not a hands on repairer, it’s probably all you need.
Alongside your roadside assistance policy.
Top Gear Roadside Assistance
The Top Gear Roadside Assistance kit is a cheap, budget option.
It has good reviews but you will still need to add a shovel, fire extinguisher, tow rope and window hammer at the very least.
This budget level kit contains only some of the very basic needs.
If you’re on a serious road trip, or living in your RV full-time, you’ll need something more reliable and robust.
You even get an “I AM STIG” badge sticker to confuse the border police. Maybe don’t have it on display in Argentina though.
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