A car breakdown is never a fun experience, but for a touring band it can spell real problems. You might be a couple of hours from home or several days. You could be stranded in the middle of nowhere or be stuck on a city street or parking lot. Either way, if you have gigs scheduled it’s hard to figure out how you’re going to make everything work to get you to the next spot.
When this awful scenario happened to us, we had a couple of intensely stressful days where we had to just keep our heads down and solve one problem at a time until we were out of the worst of the chaos. Things still aren’t back to “normal” but we’ve had some time to recover and I feel like I’ll be ready to tackle the next hurdle when it comes. But for now, here is a list of the things you need to keep in mind/do when your vehicle breaks down on tour.
- Make sure everyone is ok
Stuff is just stuff, instruments can be replaced but your body and health is harder. If you’ve had an accident, crash, or other traumatic kind of break down, take a moment to assess everyone’s physical state and calm down. You’ll have had a massive adrenaline spike when the crash happened that is acting as a serious painkiller. Sometimes people can be in shock and walk away from serious crashes but end up with health problems later. If anyone is hurt or needs medical attention call 911 or emergency services and worry about the stuff later.
- Call your insurance or AAA.
If you are touring without some kind of roadside assistance or AAA membership GET ONE NOW. If the vehicle is drivable get back in the car and start slowly driving to either the closest exit with automotive services or your next stop if possible. Don’t try to drive it too far if you’re unsure of any hidden mechanical issues. If you need a tow, your insurance or AAA will provide it and might even cover a rental car. It may sound like an expensive option but a rental car will ensure your sanity and ability to get from place to place temporarily so that you can sort out other issues with your tour van. While we were sorting our breakdown out, we didn’t miss one gig!
Side note: if you break down in an area with no cell reception this is the time to try hitchhiking. If you can, leave someone (or a pair) at the vehicle and take someone along to hitchhike. If you’re by a broken down car people will assume you need help with that and be more likely to stop.
- Totaled or repairable?
Once you’ve gotten a tow to a repair shop (hopefully one you’ve researched while you wait for the tow truck) you can assess whether the van is a total loss or repairable. If it’s a total loss you have to get back on the line with insurance to figure out your options. Can you get a new vehicle where you’re at or do you need to keep the rental car for a bit? If the van can be repaired and you’re not found at fault for the incident you usually can keep the rental car for the duration of the repairs. If your touring takes you far away from your original vehicle you might have to find a way to route yourself back when the car is repaired. It’s a big pain but might be what you have to do. Our breakdown resulted in the van being unsafe to drive, even with repairs and we decided to buy a new car. Luckily we were already planning and saving up for a new van and there happened to be one that fit our needs nearby. Even I can’t believe how lucky we were. It only took 3 days to procure our new vehicle but we will still have to go back to where we broke down and deal with selling or junking the old one.
- If necessary, notify your gigs.
If you have to cancel any gigs, notify your contacts sooner rather than later. Most people will understand that disasters happen. Maybe they can work on rescheduling you for a later date, especially if you have to come back through the area to deal with the car.
- Payments and paperwork
Anytime a disaster like this happens, it can really blow you out of the water financially. We try to put about 7-15% of our band income into a “repairs/disaster” fund. That way when big ticket repair costs come around, we’re more prepared for it and have money put aside to handle it. It doesn’t always cover everything and you may still be paying out of pocket or calling in favors, but it helps. The paperwork is an unavoidable hassle and we’re still not done with selling the old van and getting registration for the new one. But we have a working vehicle that’s getting more set up every day!
6. The transfer
Now dump all your stuff from one van to the new one (or rental car, or friends car, or whatever). And off you go! Good luck finding everything that has been pulled apart and tossed around like a hurricane went through it. You’ll be recovering from this event for a while but keep your head up, you made it through the hardest part!
Throughout all of this I can’t thank all our friends and family enough for helping us stay sane, keep our heads down, and get through this transition. In the end we’ll be much better off and safer in our new van and I can’t WAIT to start renovations on it. This vehicle represents a big next step for us in long term livable touring. So keep your eyes peeled for updates on “Moby” or Mobilus Maximus