After Two Years of Living in a Van

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Dolores under an oak tree in Daumazan

The biggest change this year was my girlfriend Sally joining me recently on the journey. It required further minimisation, few tweaks to the layout and purchase of a double mattress but we’ve somehow managed to squeeze two people’s belongings in a space designed for one. We’re able to get changed, cook, slide past each other, pee in each other’s presence and even do yoga in the morning together – all inside the van. I do think, however, that if I was to redesign it from the ground up to accommodate for two, I’d have a radically different design. But I don’t have that time, the resources or the inclination to do it, so we’ll just have to make do with what we have.

Breakdown

The day I arrived in the Ariege region of France last October, my van broke down completely. The engine would not start. It took two months of back and forth to get the van properly back to normal.

  1. Replacing the crank shaft timer started the engine. But the engine lost power at 2000rpm. I had to keep restarting the engine on the motorway which was pretty scary.
  2. I initially had the turbo cleaned but the issue continued and after diagnostics, I had the turbo solenoid replaced.
  3. Then the clutch started to make rattling clunking noises. A possible case of a cracked flywheel so I had the whole clutch replaced, only to later realise, looking at the extracted old clutch, that it still had quite a number of years left and the noise came from a loose fitting and not the flywheel as suspected. But, me relying on the internet and the mechanic with his years of experience wouldn’t have been able to diagnose it properly without opening the engine. So now, I have the added peace of mind knowing that at least the newly installed clutch will last another 100,000 miles.
  4. The front ball joints were gone and my front tires were wearing out on the inside so I had them replaced too. And I thought fuck it, get the engine oil changed and wheel alignment done in one go too.

All in all, the repairs came close to £2000 and I did seriously consider at one point to ditch Dolores and buy a bigger van here. It meant that I wouldn’t have to go through the laborious bureaucratic process of re-registering her in France and better equipped to travel with two people as I mentioned above. But at £2000 price mark, the vans available here were from the early 90’s with much more miles on the clock than Dolores. And there is never guarantee that the older used vehicles will not fail immediately and cost even more to fix.

In the end though, the thing that convinced me to keep Dolores was the embodied energy of a vehicle. The extraction and manufacture of metals, plastics and rubbers and the waste produced as a result of discarding the vehicle. Although at 14 years old, it’s not the cleanest or the most efficient diesel engine, I calculated that repairing bits and pieces and using it for as long as I can will consume the least amount of energy and produce the least waste overall.

The positives to come out of it (because it’s always good to look on the bright side) were that I had good friends who could help me in towing the vehicle, driving me back and forth from the garage throughout the ordeal and help with the translation. And we found a very good garage where they were well experienced, trustworthy and patient. A lucky find when so many of the garages (all over the world) are swindling imbeciles bordering on criminal.

The Next Leg

Outdoor bath under the stars

Our plan for the next year is to continue to volunteer at farms, communities and individuals living sustainably/regeneratively and learn the best practices. Mainly around South France and possibly over on the other side of the Pyrenees in Catalonia. We aim to share the knowledge and experiences gained on this platform at a weekly pace. If you see the value in the information shared, please support us by buying us a coffee!

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