Roadside Debacle Busters

Posted October 14, 2017 – Narrated by Jim
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Who you gonna call? What if there’s no one out there and it’s just you … alone on the highway … Think your cool Tommy Bahama shirt’s gonna save you?

16,494 miles in 15 months, and we’re grateful only two roadside emergencies are behind us – A trailer tire blowout on a 100 degree Mojave desert afternoon …

… and the next Spring, a total water pump failure while towing in rush-hour traffic on a crazy-busy highway near Bay Saint Louis Mississippi.

Those months before our haunted catalytic converter was finally rebuilt – provided us with the inspiration to plan, rehearse and equip for the dreaded roadside event of our nightmares.

Periodically – usually, after having a close one – we practice readiness.

We educate and equip ourselves for collisions, brake failures, foreign objects or animals in the road and for natural disasters like flash floods, calamities like falling trees and every other apocalyptic horror that oozes from the dark recesses of my wife’s tortured imagination … from passing quietly in our sleep due to carbon monoxide poisoning to spontaneous combustion.

In her mind, we’ve already died a thousand deaths.

So, what the heck. It’s almost Halloween. Let’s do this!

Okay, here are some Basic Tips:

Stop in a safe place – It didn’t take us long to discover the obvious. No tire or wheel well is worth putting someone in danger. If driving slowly a short distance will get the vehicle and trailer off the road quickly and safely, then DO IT! Get out of the flow of traffic and look for a wide shoulder, rest stop, emergency lane, exit, or parking area. Try not to go to the left, but attempt to move towards the furthest right lane or shoulder. Try to avoid stopping in traffic, blind corners or over hills and do not get out of the vehicle if it will put anyone in harm’s way.

The Hazard Button – Go ahead, give it the finger. The hazard button is the First Responder. As soon as possible, engage the vehicle’s red triangle hazard button, so traffic can better ‘see’ the vehicle and trailer.

When in traffic, exit on the passenger side – Crawl over the seats if you must but, do not exit the vehicle into the flow of traffic. If there’s a feeling the vehicle and trailer are in danger of being hit by oncoming or passing traffic do not stay inside.

Become visible – If the vehicle and trailer are disabled longer than a few moments, increase the visibility of the rig with flares and/or triangles. We’ll give details later in the suggested equipment section.

Don’t abandon the vehicle – Call for help and remain with the rig. It’s more expedient to stay on site at a safe distance, if necessary, to meet a tow truck, police or fire department rather than abandon the disabled vehicle.

Be prepared – Have a minimum of supplies in the tow vehicle for emergencies. This is discussed later.

Leave no trace –  Clean up any litter that could be a distraction or road hazard for other drivers.

Practice! – Even though we plan to call a roadside service to repair a flat, we still have the tools to change a tire ourselves. We practice getting the spare out of the truck and trailer. We also rehearse raising the truck and trailer into position. These run-throughs are also an opportunity to check our equipment and make sure all is in working order

Our Equipment and Supplies

So, what’s missing here? Ejection seat? Jetpack? Seriously, we have no idea. But, chances are, we’ve overlooked something.

Perhaps the LIB collective will make contributions to this ongoing “catablog” because there are only two reasons for this post:

  • Shared information and
  • An exercise in preparedness for ourselves and others. We’re not saying “buy our stuff” here. These items are just the things we use. No one gave this stuff to us to review. We researched and bought each one for our own use.

What equipment will come in handy during our next roadside emergency? Again, we have no idea, but since we travel full-time the equipment we have on hand will be of the best quality.

Tire Inflator – We like our Viar heavy-duty 12-volt air compressor. We use it to top off the tire pressure every time we leave a campsite, and – as we discovered during our tire blowout – sometimes a spare goes flat. It comes with 60 feet of hose – enough to reach the entire rig – and all in a handy carrying case.

Tire Repair Kit – We prefer to use the Victor Tubeless Tire Repair Kit instead of a can of Fix-A-Flat. With this kit, a repair done correctly is a permanent fix.

Tire Gauge – A quality tire gauge like the Accutire MS-4400B Pistol Grip Digital Tire Gauge is a tool I use every time we move.

Breaker Bar – The 15″ Neiko Breaker Bar is a necessity. This tool solves the problem of a stuck lug nut. We have the lug nut sockets for both the truck and trailer because they’re different. We slightly loosen the flat tire wheel lug nuts before suspending the tire in the air to avoid it spinning while loosening the nuts. We also carry a 2-foot pipe that fits over the breaker bar if we need to increase leverage.

Torque Wrench – Tightening our wheel lugs to the correct safe specifications is easy with our 10 to 150 foot-pound Tekton Torque Wrench. This isn’t just for emergencies. We, periodically, tighten all the wheel lugs on the truck and trailer.

Tandem Trailer Tire Changing Ramp – We have a two axel Airstream, so using a Tire Changing Ramp makes changing a tire so much easier than finding a safe place underneath to attach a jack. We practice using it.

Jumper Cables – We like these 4 gauge x 25 feet jumper cables because they’re thick cables and are long enough for most needs. We actually use these more often to help other folks.

Safety Vests – To make the only bodies we have in the world more visible to traffic, we got two lightweight High Visibility Safety Vests to wear when we are outside during an emergency. We’re also have emergency ponchos for rain protection.

Fire Extinguisher – Another necessity is a 3-Class fire extinguisher for putting out all three types of fire: Class A – trash, paper, fabric, and wood; Class B – liquids, oils, gasoline; and Class C – electrical. With the 3-type there’s no need to panic, “OMG!!! Is this the correct extinguisher!?” We use the First Alert AF400-2 Tundra Fire Extinguishing Aerosol Spray. Buying the 2 pack assures we have one in the truck and one in the trailer.

LED Flares and/or Triangle Reflectors – Self-preservation is a high priority so we use both LED Road Flares and Triangle Reflectors at the same time.

We place the first LED flare and triangle reflector 10 feet (about 4 paces) directly on the side behind the vehicle closest to the road. We place the second set 30-60 feet (about 10 to 20 paces) directly behind the vehicle, lining it up with the middle of the bumper. We position the third set 120-360 feet (40 to 120 paces) behind the vehicle’s pasenger side. We use the longer distances for faster traffic, blind curves, hills, or obstructions. We wear safety vests, carry the devices in front of us for added visibility, and watch for oncoming traffic.

Emergency Escape Tool – So often overlooked, but a Seatbelt Cutter & Window Breaker or the smaller keychain version stored in a handy location in the towing vehicle can be a lifesaver, not only for ourselves, but possibly to assist someone else on the road. We have both.

Tow Strap with Hooks – … and we carry a serious tow strap. Ours is a 30,000 pound, 30 foot Heavy Duty Tow Strap. We never know when we might need a little help or when we can offer someone a tow.

Flashlight – and extra batteries. Some options are Hand cracking rechargeable flashlights, a 5 Pack of Mini LED Keychain Flashlights, or a high quality Black Diamond Spot Headlamp like the one we use. We also have a Might-D-Light Folding LED Worklight. We have all four of these products.

Tape – We like Gorilla Tape instead of regular duct tape.  We also keep a small roll of plain old electrical tape handy. Between the two tapes, we can just about jerry-rig anything, like a broken bumper a cracked side window or a refrigerator tray.

Bungee Cords – Having various lengths of bungee cords can help tie down loose cargo or prop up a broken bumper. (always wear eye protection when using bungee cords)

First Aid Kit.  We call it our Boo Box, and we’ve assembled our own but this 291 piece first-aid kit is also a good choice. When things are used, we replace them as soon as possible. Important items are:

  • Band-Aids
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antiseptic
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Bug spray
  • Aspirin (or similar)
  • Cotton balls
  • Gauze pads
  • Tweezers
  • Bandana
  • Ace bandage

Gloves – We have several types for various purposes. A pair of leather gloves to change a tire, pull off a broken metal piece, etc.  We also have a few pair of cloth gloves for light work, and a box of reusable gloves.  We like the Ammex GWON Gloveworks Orange Nitrile Gloves. They are brightly colored for roadside visibility, strong and puncture-resistant, resistant to grease, chemicals, oil, and other toxins.

Weather Radio – We love our American Red Cross Weather Alert Radio. Any time, any place we have the updated NOAA weather report. The battery is recharged using the hand crank or solar. It can also charge a phone in an emergency.

Zip Ties – because … what if wiring comes loose and needs to be secured?  A Cable Zip Tie is the answer.

Tool Kit – We carry a tool kit of hand picked items and store most in a single tool kit roll. The kit holds the basics: pliers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, pocket knife, Leatherman Surge Folding Multi-Function Tool, razor blades, socket set, and hammer.

NOVEMBER 2021 UPDATE – After coming across a rattle snake in the middle of Shenandoah National Park with no cell service, we decided to invest in an InReach Mini Satellite Communicator. It can also be used for a roadside emergency when there is no phone service to call for help.

Some optional items in our roadside kit are:

  • Cell phone car charger: For basic safety, our phones are always charged when we’re on the road. In addition to a standard car charger, we also have a solar charger.
  • Cash for gas: If the power goes out due to inclement weather, it’s nearly impossible to get gas with just a credit card. Cash always works, keep some tucked away in the vehicle.
  • Clean, empty, refillable gas jug – We don’t have one because we’ve been told running that low on diesel might damage our engine and require a purging of the fuel lines, so we will NEVER let that happen.
  • Rags – A bag of rags handy for messy clean ups.
  • Baby wipes – Nothing removes grease from skin like baby wipes.
  • Waterless Hand Cleaner – An option to baby wipes is waterless hand soap.
  • Tarp or shop cloth – Having a tarp is great for when I have to crawl under the truck or trailer.
  • Vehicle fuses – Every vehicle has several fuses which, at some point, can fail. Check your user manual and have at least one spare for each fuse in your vehicle.
  • Emergency space blanket – When traveling unhitched, we find it useful to have some emergency blankets‘ on hand.
  • Water – A few gallons of drinking water could save your life in an extreme emergency.
  • Energy bars – Just like fresh drinking water, we keep a few energy bars in the glove compartment – just in case we get stuck somewhere – and always replenish before the expiration date.
  • Can of Fix-A-Flat – We prefer not to use Fix-A-Flat because some say it could damage the tire and void our tire warranty. But in a dire emergency, it just might be needed. It is only temporary until the tire is repaired properly.
  • A Gallon of Coolant – When our water pump failed, our emergency gallon of coolant made it possible for me to drive to the next freeway exit and to the safety of a gas station that mercifully allowed us to stay overnight … and it happened to be right next door to one of the best seafood restaurants in Bay Saint Louis. Coolant is cheap insurance, but make sure it’s the right coolant.
  • Cell Service Booster – Some might consider this too expensive, but if we break down in the middle of nowhere and the cell coverage is bad, our weBoost 4G-X Cell Phone Signal Booster can amplify a weak signal and allow us to make a phone call.
  • Jump Starter – Having the ability to jump start an engine anytime with a Jump Starter can come in handy. They come in various sizes based on the size of the engine.
  • Hand warmer – It is not a bad idea to keep some of these hand warmers handy for when you are faced with working outside on a repair in very cold weather

Road debacles can be serious, traumatizing and terribly costly. We’re grateful that, so far, ours haven’t been all bad. Two things that are impossible to plan around is where you will be and who will come to your aid and comfort. We’ve been blessed. Despite our predicaments in both Mammoth and in Bay Saint Louis we had pleasant surprises.

In Mammoth the Bluesapalooza Beer and Music Festival …

Mammoth Bluesapalooza – August 2016

… and in Bay Saint Louis we were proud to be neighbors of Thompson’s Seafood Restaurant, (now called MacBe Seafood) an RV traveler’s paradise with restaurant, fresh fish market, grocery store and they even have propane … all just spittin’ distance from I-10. Right next door to the Exxon station. Don’t pass it up!

The good folks at the Exxon station let us stay overnight for our truck repair the next day – March 2017

Okay, anything else to add? Let us know in the comment section below.