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Vanlife Diaries - My first breakdown in Star the Hymer

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Vanlife diaries, my first breakdown in Star the Hymer. Travel. Travel diaries. Wanderlust. Vanlife UK. Digital nomad. Vanlifer.

It was just a matter of time until I experienced my first breakdown. That was sort of inevitable. If you're going to live in a van or motorhome for any period of time, you're going to have issues. Simple as that.

So the fact that I had a blowout wasn't really the issue. Of course, any breakdown is a pain in the backside and something we'd all totally prefer to avoid happening to us.

After a week exploring Suffolk with my youngest son, I had just dropped him off back home and leaving Suffolk to head towards Slough.

As I was leaving Haverhill, Suffolk the blowout happened.

Weirdly, I didn't hear any bang or loud noise.

What I did feel is that the van became very sluggish very quickly. As if there was simply no power. Immediately my brain went to the worst-case scenario, "OMG the timing/cam belt has gone and I've just ceased my engine!"

Knowing the bypass the blowout occurred on, I knew there were no laybys nearby for me to safely get to, so I had to pull over immediately on a one-lane, two-way bypass.

The blowout at least was rather spectacular, with the whole tyre seemingly having 'exploded'. I cannot be sure what caused the devastation to the tyre, it is my hope that I hit something on the road rather than the tyres being damaged for stopping too long etc.

As stressful as the blowout itself was, the fun and games was just getting started!

Check out the below video if you cannot be bothered to read the story for a full account of how something as simple as a tyre blowout can lead to threats of your vehicle being ceased!

Calling the RAC

The first call I made was to RAC who I was covered with through my insurance company.

This is where shit got real.

I was notified by the call handler that the registration they had on file did not match my ACTUAL registration! The registration they had was 1 digital different to my actual registration. A mistake that could only have been entered by the insurance company as I used an online comparison website to get the initial quote, during the process I had to enter my registration number and confirm my vehicle details as returned by the website. So I know for sure that the details were correct when referred to the insurance company.

Due to the fact the registration number was not correct, the RAC refused to send someone out to assist with the tyre replacement. Due to having had to pull over in a rather dangerous position, some 15m from a busy roundabout, I did not feel safe attempting to change the tyre without proper safety measures in place (cones etc). The RAC flat out refused to send a rescue vehicle despite me being able to confirm the make and model of the vehicle, plus my registered address etc. It was a very unhelpful conversation with RAC which left me rather furious.

Invalid insurance

I then called the police to report the breakdown due to the dangerous position. A patrol vehicle arrived and the officer placed several safety measures behind the vehicle.

At this point I suggested that I would change the tyre only to be told by the officer that it would not be safe for me to do so.

I explained the issue with the RAC refusing to send a rescue vehicle, and perhaps stupidly, I asked him to check if the vehicle itself was insured.

This is where shit got real once again.

The vehicle was indeed NOT insured! It appears the error made by the insurance company wasn't only with the RAC but with their own documentation. This essentially meant that despite having paid my yearly policy fee 4 months ago, the vehicle was never actually insured!

The police officer immediately suggested that he would need to cease the vehicle due to being uninsured. I explained to him that the error was out of my control and that because the insurance company were not open on a Saturday afternoon I was unable to contact them for them to make amends to the policy. I showed him the policy documentations and where the error with the registration was. I also explained that the vehicle was technically my home at this point and that if he ceased it, I and my dog would have nowhere to go.

Fortunately, I had an understanding officer who said if I arranged insurance for the vehicle there and then, he would not cease it.

So once again I did a price comparison search and on the side of the road inured my vehicle with another insurer!

As it happens I actually got a better deal with the new insurer.

I showed the officer the new policy documents and he was satisfied that the vehicle was now insured.

Now back to the original problem, getting RAC rescue out to assist with the wheel replacement.

As I had taken RAC cover with the new insurance company, I called the RAC again and this time, after a little confusion they agreed to send a vehicle out.

Some 5 hours after the initial tyre blowout, the RAC finally turned up, changed the tyre and I was on my way.

Lessons learned from this experience

  1. NEVER skim read an insurance policy! Whilst I'm confident I provided the correct registration number when I was looking for quotes (or else I wouldn't have been able to select my vehicle from the search results) I did miss the error on the policy documents when I finally received them from the insurer. Due to the error literally being 1 digit in the registration I completely missed the error when I was checking the policy documents. But after this experience, I will be damn sure to make sure I read every piece of the policy in future!

  2. Have the necessary phone numbers handy. Your insurer's number, your breakdown service number and any emergency contacts etc you may need.

  3. Ensure you have a good spare tyre!

  4. Expect the unexpected.

Until next time, be safe, be kind and be happy!

See you on the road

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