When travel plans go wrong – our road trip failed!

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Making travel plans warms up the darkest of winter evenings and we motorhome owners look forward to road trips. The open road, the sense of freedom, the world unfolding through the windscreen.

But sometimes, no matter how cunning your schedule is, how open you are to adventure, things will go awry. Your travel plans will turn to ashes.

We had a road trip booked to Cornwall. Friends from Germany were visiting and they were about to experience the 385 mile journey from our house to Penzance in our old motorhome. Having read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, like us, they wanted to taste the Cornish coast. We had campsites booked, an itinerary and they had B/Bs secured. It was going to be epic – in an understated English way of course.

We had even promised them a cream tea!

But our travel plans had to change!

The day before we were due to leave, one of our elderly cats disappeared. Strange for her and we instinctively knew that something was wrong.

She returned much later…crawled back…and was obviously poorly. Our guests compassionately suggested that our best decision would be to remain with her. So they took our embarrassingly expensive railway system to Cornwall to continue their English journey.

We know that we did the right thing. Yet were disappointed not to be showing our friends the best of the British road network. Yes, the M25.

Below is a photograph they sent –

Look at what you could have won…

Cornwall

It’s difficult isn’t it…making these decisions. We had just recovered from coronavirus in time. The freshly serviced motorhome had a shiny new MOT certificate. Family were coming in to feed the cats during our absence. Everything was booked. The van loaded. Bags by the door. We were due to leave in an hour – but in pretty good English, our friend said “we think you need to stay. We will take the train”.

Once we knew that they understood – and they truly did – our decision was easier.

We realised that we would not enjoy the walk knowing that our cat was facing illness with only one welfare visit a day. Postponing the road trip was our only option.

We walked our friends to the railway station then, as we hurried back to the cat, reminisced about other road trip failures we have suffered.

What can go wrong on a road trip?

Usually if anything goes wrong, it will be the vehicle playing up. In August 2019, our VW T4 Cree was dripping fluid from underneath whilst we were parked amidst the stunning beauty of the Suffolk countryside.

Aware of the toxic nature of the liquids contained within vehicle engines and systems, we quickly collected it in little tubs placed beneath the drips. A passing cyclist stopped to wish us well. Initially he was encouraging- “not a lot of oil there, why not try to drive it to a garage”. But then came the realisation – “NO, wait…that’s transmission fluid…you cannot move her !”

Gearbox failure!

The Cree needed a full gearbox rebuild two weeks before a Scottish road trip. We were desperate to take her as she was to be our wedding vehicle there. Recovered from a remote riverbank, we had to find a mechanic competent and willing to do the work. Thanks to Last Transmissions ltd of Newbourne in Suffolk, she proudly wore the white ribbons just a fortnight later.

T4 Cree recovered after gear box leak, nearly ruining our travel plans

She has also refused to start from a busy garage forecourt!

We had just picked her up after having some work done on the habitation area, pulled in for diesel and there she was…gone! There was nothing happening when Gav turned the key to start her.

We blocked a pump at Stanway Sainsburys for several hours before being recovered.

It was awfully embarrassing as we looked like we were in the queue still. We crafted a “BROKEN DOWN” sign for the back window and waited for the abuse to begin.

Actually, people were really nice about it. Several offered to help and we gained some useful tips on how to deal with a dodgy starter motor.

However, it wasn’t the starter motor. We were so convinced that it was, we fitted one a week or so after being recovered. Still no engine! The problem turned out to be a kitchen-built immobiliser …not our kitchen we hasten to add.

Cree now proudly sports a new push-button type ignition!

We’ve been told since that many home-made immobilisers eventually fail. New owners know nothing about their construction and so it takes quite a while – and potentially a lot of money – before the malfunctioning unit is located and removed.

Bitten by the RED LIGHT MONSTER!

Then there was a “red light” monster as we travelled to Whitby. We wondered what on earth had gone wrong! Read about our red-light problem!

And other issues…

We’ve had to complete many a road trip without onboard water due to leaks. In fact, we’re used to it now!

We had the gear box linkage secured with cable ties for a few of our journeys. It was a crafty quick-fix and worked for a couple of years – until the gear box needed that rebuild.

The drive shaft rattled and banged its way through more than one of our adventures in the early days.

Oh…and the infamous hole-in-the-exhaust trip where we sounded like a tank as we roared through the mountains of Scotland. Hobo Gav’s innovative fixes lasting a few miles at best!!

RELATED CONTENT: Loch Lomond to Glen Coe

It really helps if you have a sense of humour when you own and drive these old vehicles!

There are times when we need a mechanic to fix our S.O.H. though!

Truthfully, most of our road trips go without a hitch, as they should. BUT it is the ones where there is an issue that we remember as the real adventures!

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What tools should you buy for a road trip?

We have the basic amateur tool kit – appropriately sized screwdrivers, sockets and spanners. And pliers, cable ties, tape, torch etc. Also a small hammer and the wheel brace. And a full set of replacement fuses and bulbs.

We also learned to carry Gun Gum to patch up the exhaust before our friend sourced a custom-built one for us!

We discussed buying a bottle jack in case we had a flat tyre, but Gav decided that the risks outweighed the benefits. Having a large vehicle balancing precariously on a jack beside a road thundering with trucks is not anyone’s idea of a road trip adventure. We read the tale of a man whose motorhome collapsed onto him as he worked on the wheels which confirmed our worries.

But since neither of us is particularly competent at mechanics, we leave the big stuff to the experts and purchase breakdown cover.

Is breakdown cover worth the cost?

Although ours is usually reliable, any vehicle will break down. And recovering a motorhome is a costly exercise…as we found out. Read on! A loose screw can blow away your travel plans! Our recovery policy has proven to be worth the price and we are fortunate to know someone who is an absolute wizard at fixing or diagnosing issues. And we have complete confidence in our go-to mechanics at Hill Fiveways Garage Henley and, for gear boxes and clutch issues Last Transmissions Ltd. (They have a T4 wizard there too!)

Our latest breakdown…

In April 2024 we set off for Wales for a short break. The weather was wet and dull to begin with, but the mountains had a romantic bleakness as the rain wept down onto them. Then as we drank in the beauty of LLyn Gwynant, the sun emerged and burned off the mists. We enjoyed a wonderful day at Castell Emrys before travelling on to Criccieth to test out an aire.

More about the aire another time…

Always do a check round before setting off…

We were about to set off to the Llyn Peninsula on the Saturday morning when Gav noticed the chilling glisten of fluid beneath the engine. NOT AGAIN!

Fearing gear box issues again, we quickly arranged recovery and spent a whole day travelling back to Suffolk in low loader cabs.

It being a Saturday, we were unable to gain permission to leave the van at either of our preferred garages, so we had her left at a family home.

And then we realised our mistake!

Having got her to Suffolk we would now have to pay to get her to a local garage.

How much does motorhome recovery cost?

It cost over £300 to take her 30 miles. We are certainly not questioning the cost – it was a service we needed and were grateful for. But we realised after the event that we ought to have stayed in Criccieth until Monday morning. Then we could have spoken to Last Transmissions and had her recovered by Greenflag directly to them.

We have vowed that next time she breaks down (hopefully not for AGES!) we are going to make a cup of tea and discuss our options before picking up the phone. It is natural to want to get home when things go wrong but we could have saved a lot of money by staying put.

New clutch slave cylinder fitted, and repairs to the temperature and fuel gauges as an aside, Cree was as good as n…well…maybe not new! But, we were back on the road!

Some things cannot be fixed

However, with our Cornwall holiday, the problem was not fixed by a few repairs or Gun Gum. Our cats are living, breathing bundles of bad attitude and poor behaviour. They are family.

We love them as much as the diesel-guzzling-money-eating motorhome! So, we gave the cat the time and attention she needed and deserved. She died peacefully with us and the Cree sat patiently waiting whilst we healed afterwards.

As a friend approaches the end of their life, it is a stark and painful reminder that our time is also limited. We must grab our opportunities for travel and adventure whilst they still present themselves.

Just not this time.

Oddball Cat -  Trickster, Bringer Of Snakes and Secret Agent
Rest In Peace , Oddball – Trickster, Bringer of Snakes and Secret Agent

Have you had travel plans go wrong? Let us know in the comments below…

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