What To Do When You Break Down

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“What was that?”

The truck lurched.

Was that a pothole in the road?

No - the road was smooth. New, in fact. We were in the middle of the construction zone doing the repaving work.

It lurched again. When I pressed on the accelerator it spit and sputtered. Like we were running out of fuel - except I had 2/3 of a tank showing.


We were halfway through a 75-mile move in West Michigan. Trailer attached. With a schedule full of appointments and expectations.


The truck kept running roughly.

We were going to come to a full stop, it was just a matter of when and where.

The construction zone was full of semis, dump trucks, and paving equipment. I didn’t want to be in their way.

An exit sign loomed.

I grabbed it.

We’ve been in this area a few times over the years. I knew there was a small town off this exit. There would be help available.

Lessons Learned

  • Be prepared to make some quick decisions
  • Trust your gut
  • Try to get to a spot where you’ll have space

Full Stop

We made it to the bottom of the exit ramp. We were in the middle lane - blocking the view of left-turners and in the way of right-turners.

I didn’t like it. I wore the battery down trying to start the truck enough to move us around the corner onto the shoulder.

No go.

Lessons Learned

  • Sometimes you just aren’t in control of where you end up.

Commence Phone Calls

We needed a tow truck.

Two, actually. One to get the truck to a repair shop and one to get the trailer somewhere we could set it up while the truck is repaired.

MsBoyink grabbed her phone, found the insurance papers, and called the insurance company to start the process of getting tow trucks lined up.

I used my phone to start researching local repair shops and campgrounds.

Lessons Learned

  • Having two phones is handy
  • Yelp is great for finding nearby repair shops
  • Allstays is great for finding the closest campgrounds

Insurance Confusion

Progressive Insurance covers both our truck and RV. While they’ve been great to deal with overall, the challenge is they are separate policies and for all the world they are handled by separate companies.

You have to call two different phone numbers to log two different claims and never the twain shall meet in a database or share data. If you start with the wrong agent and they pass you off to the another agent, you have to start all over again.

MsBoyink still isn’t sure the auto agent understood that we needed two tow trucks. He spoke his “script” so fast she couldn’t understand him over the road noise.

She had trouble even getting him to understand where we were.

I can drop a pin on a Google Map and send that to my son’s smartphone, but can’t do that with a company whose business involves getting help to people stranded in unfamiliar places.

MsBoyink hiked back up the exit ramp to confirm the exit number. The insurance agent told her it didn’t exist. He couldn’t even find the town name.

Finally I found a street address on a nearby building and gave them that instead of the exit number and that worked.

So one tow truck was on the way.

Lessons Learned

  • You are stressed, but the insurance company reps are just having another day - expect frustration
  • Try to find an exact address of where you broke down, vs. describing where it is

Angel #1

In the midst of our flurry of phone calls a diesel dually pickup pulled up behind our fifth wheel. I waved him over - letting him know we were stranded and he could go around.

He got out and asked if we were having trouble. When I described what was going on he brought over a booster box to attach to the now-dead battery. Our hope was to get the truck running long enough to get us out of the intersection.

It didn’t work.

So he got a chain, hooked up to my tow hooks, and pulled us around the corner.

Angel #1 was John from Colorado. His father-in-law is here in Michigan, just went on a ventilator, and isn’t expected to live.  John and his wife are here to say goodbye and settle his estate.

Angel #2

After John left we were still finding a repair shop for the truck and a campground for the fifth wheel.

Angel #2 was Mike, owner of the plumbing business we were in front of. Mike came out carrying cold water bottles and told us we could park the RV in his yard if need be.

All the campgrounds I was finding were 8-10 miles out of town and away from any repair shop where the truck could go. We have bikes - but being able to stay closer to the truck would make it easier all around.

I thanked Mike and told him it was likely we’d take him up on his offer.

Angel #3

After Mike had walked back to his house another young man walked up. I didn’t see where he came from.

He asked if there was anything we needed or anything he could do. We had a tow truck on the way and a place for the trailer so I thanked him and said we were set for the moment.

I didn’t see where he went, and didn’t think to get his name.

Angel #4

Angel #4 was Chad.

Chad drove up in his lifted red Ford truck and asked if we had help on the way. I said we had a tow truck coming but didn’t know if it would also be able to move our trailer.

He said “I wonder if that’s my buddy?” He got on his phone, called his buddy and yes, confirmed it was him coming to tow us. No, he doesn’t have a fifth wheel hitch.

That’s OK. I’ll run home and get my hitch.Chad

He roared off, and a yellow tow truck showed up.

Angel #5

Angel #5 is Dan - the tow truck driver. His shop was just around the corner and he was onsite in less than 20 minutes.

We quickly agreed on a plan:

  • Disconnect the trailer
  • Pull the truck into Mike’s parking lot
  • Hook Chad’s truck up to the trailer
  • Get the truck towable by the tow truck
  • Have Chad park the trailer in Mike’s yard

We chatted at times while setting the trailer, telling Chad and Dan our story, about homeschooling and traveling. They outlined various businesses that were within walking and biking distances of where we were.

With the trailer set, they left and took our truck with them.

Angel #6

Who said you could park there!?Jim

That’s how my conversation with Jim started. He owned the gravel business behind Mike and wasn’t around when we setup.

I explained our situation and let him know I understood his concern. I’d be asking that question too if an RV showed up in my yard.

By the end of the conversation Jim was offering us power and water from his shop. I said we were good on batteries for now, but we’d see how long the truck was going to be and let him know if we needed power or water.

Lessons Learned from Angels

  • Humility - we (mainly I) pride ourselves on self-reliance, but God used this breakdown to remind us that he’s got our backs
  • Nice people exist
  • Help can appear seemingly out of nowhere
  • People will take time out from their own issues to help - maybe we should be more like that
  • A smile, a look in the eye, and introduction, and a calm voice can go a long way to diffuse a potentially stressful conversation

We Wait

With the trailer setup and our angels all gone, we collapsed. I laid down and was immediately asleep.

We didn’t know how long we’d be here. This all happened on a Thursday. The shop could “probably” look at the truck on Friday, but any delays and it would be Monday before any repairs were done.

We’re good on batteries for maybe 3 nights. I didn’t know how much fresh water we had on board. I could see a plug and a hose on the side of Mike’s building but hated to take advantage of his hospitality.

We went into extreme conservation mode. We played games and read while the sun was out. Once the sun went down we went to bed.

Lessons Learned

  • We need to learn patience
  • Unplugging is good - even if forced
John pulled us out of the intersection and to the curb.

John pulled us out of the intersection and to the curb.

Chad parked our RV using his truck.

Chad parked our RV using his truck.

Mike let us overnight in his yard.

Mike let us overnight in his yard.

A small town parts and repair business fixed us up in short order.

A small town parts and repair business fixed us up in short order.

Loudest Site

This was a loud spot to be:

  • To our rear was the highway exit ramp - with trucks from the construction project jake-braking down
  • On our side was a busy road and the highway entrance ramp
  • In front of us was Mike’s parking lot and Jim’s dump trucks coming and going

This was the noisiest place we have ever tried to sleep. It all finally quieted down around midnight, but I slept poorly.

Lessons Learned

  • Any port in a storm
  • Beggars can’t be choosers
  • Focus on the positives - shade, cool breeze, and a level spot

A Morning Walk

We slept in.

Why rush to get up when there isn’t much to do?

Once up I got online and did a few things while all the batteries had life. By noon everything was dead, the truck hadn’t been looked at yet, and we needed something to do.

A walk into town it is.

Just over two miles.

We aren’t great hikers, and less-so if we are carrying all the things.

On the upside - there’s a bike path that runs into town. It crossed the road we broke down on just 100 yards from our trailer. Once on the bike path it was a quiet walk in the Michigan woods.

We walked to the local library and commandeered the first plug strip we found.

Lessons Learned

  • Breakdowns can be a great reminder of how previous generations lived
  • We’ve gotten comfortable and lazy
  • Appreciate the simple things - a bike path, and a nice day

All Set

Around 3:00 I called the repair shop and got the happy news that the truck was repaired. I had hoped it was just a fuel pump -  and that’s indeed what it turned out to be.

Simple, yes. But not cheap.

A fuel pump in my old Jeeping days would be $30, two bolts, two hose clamps and a 1/2 hour to swap out. These days fuel pumps are $200+ and mounted inside the gas tank.

$500, a shake of Ron’s hand, and we were rolling again.

Lessons Learned

  • Quick turnarounds can be worth more than discount prices
  • It’s helpful to have experience repairing vehicles

On the Road Again

Once back in Mike’s yard we quickly got the bikes back up and hitched up. I went and knocked on Mike’s door to thank him again but there was no answer (We’ll send a card).

We hit the road just a bit over 24 hours from breaking down.

Lessons Learned

  • We felt more homeless without a truck than without a trailer
  • We’ve been blessed in nearly 6 years of travel - this was our first true (non-flat-tire) breakdown
  • If nothing else, we get a blog post out of it


When you live on wheels it’s easy to fear breaking down. And it could have been worse. It could have happened 3 hours from anywhere, or in the middle of a large city.

But angels showed up for us. I’ll bet they will for you too.

Shout Outs

Your Story

Have you had a breakdown? What angels showed up for you?

10 Comments What To Do When You Break Down

  1. Picture of Eric Eric August 31, 2016

    You learned a lot of lessons that day ... the world belongs to those constantly drawing learnings from their daily highs and lows.

  2. Picture of John John September 01, 2016

    Just starting out on a two year tour of the “lower 48” states myself and don’t look forward to my first breakdown but know it’s inevitable. Your post was a good reminder ... stay calm and keep the phone charged!

  3. Picture of Jeff & Sarah Jeff & Sarah September 01, 2016

    This was a great article—super encouraging to our family.  We are about to head out full-time next week, and are praying that the Lord will prepare our hearts for the unexpected and hard.  Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Picture of Connie Connie September 01, 2016

    Thanks for your story on breakdowns.  It showed me that there are angels all around us when we need help!!!

  5. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink September 05, 2016

    Thanks for reading and commenting Connie.

  6. Picture of Brandon Brandon October 30, 2016

    Really enjoyed reading this!  Sometimes I spend too much time watching mainstream media and hearing about all the awful things the world offers, but reading this restores some faith that there are still great people out there, and I can only hope to be one of them someday. Thanks for the read. Glad it all worked out.

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