Don’t Let a Breakdown Ruin Your Trip

People often wonder if I encounter significant breakdowns while off-roading. I sure do. In fact, one occurred during our recent Death Valley Adventure.

It was about lunchtime on the second day when a front coil spring broke. My first thought was, “This is bizarre. Those springs don’t break.” But I didn’t have time to analyze the cause. I had to decide what to do, and fast.

At that point we were about 200 miles into our excursion, with another 200 to 300 miles to go over the next two days. I had to get this coil replaced. But how? It was impossible to place a call; there was no cell service in that area.

The nearest town was Beatty, Nev. Just as you might have to in a similar situation, I improvised. I removed the bottom four inches of broken coil and drove into town with a heavy sag to the left. Fortunately there was enough coil left that my tire just cleared the wheel well. I also reconnected the anti-sway bar to keep the spring in place.

When we arrived I called a 4 Wheel Parts store. Turns out they had a spring at their warehouse in Compton, Calif. I got a hold of a buddy, who graciously agreed to buy the spring and deliver it to me on the route. He picked it up that afternoon, and after driving through the night, arrived early Saturday morning. (Did I say a really good friend!)

Needless to say, the weekend–and our Death Valley Adventure–was saved.

I’ve been four-wheeling for over 40 years, and an instructor for six. Breakdowns are serious matters and require careful thought. There could be more than one solution; choose the one that assures you the best chance of getting out the fastest.

Here are some very important tips to consider as you plan for a trip into a remote area, especially the desert.

  • Should your vehicle break down, do not panic. You need a clear head during that challenging time.
  • Be prepared for the worst conditions. The desert is unforgiving. A breakdown there can literally be a life or death situation. Be sure to pack a lot of water and the proper clothing for the conditions.
  • You can take only so much gear and spare parts with you, so pack wisely. Include the proper tools and supplies (including sealants and fluids), but also consider which parts are likely to fail. Don’t try to pack everything, however. It’s not feasible or practical.
  • File a “flight plan” before leaving. Let your family members know where you’ll be and when you will return. Should the unthinkable happen, they’ll have some idea of where to start searching.
  • Always travel with at least one other vehicle. Ideally another vehicle will be the same as yours, which could make repairs easier. Regardless, if you’re forced to abandon your vehicle, you will have transportation out of the area.

Regardless of the condition of your vehicle, plan for a breakdown on your trip. You will be much better prepared should one occur.

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