How to Keep Your Tour Bus/Van Properly Maintained
If you are going to be doing any kind of extended touring, it’s important to do some basic maintenance and preparation on the vehicle to prevent any unexpected breakdowns.
Some of the basic things that you can check on your vehicle and/or trailer should include:
- Tires: Inspect all tires (including spare tires) to make sure that they are properly inflated and are not worn out or damaged. An easy way to check tire tread is to use a penny: simply place the coin into the tire tread with the head facing toward you and down. If the area above the head is visible, it’s time to replace the tires. Remember, tire pressures change during cold weather so use the measurements inside the driver’s door rather than the ratings on the tire during winter months. Keeping tires in top condition also helps increase fuel efficiency.
- Fluids:You should continuously check the oil, coolant, and transmission fluids. Keep a log of when you change fluids – regular oil changes are one of the most important things that you can do for your vehicle.
- Brakes: If you notice any vibrations, grinding, or pulling to one side when applying brakes, you should have them checked.
- Battery: Before taking a long trip, take the battery out and have it checked by any parts store. Batteries are usually good for 3-5 years…but they are easier to replace before you leave for tour rather than the middle of one.
- Belts/hoses: Take a look at the belts and hoses under the hood for cracks, soft spots, or wear. Be sure to give extra attention to the hoses going into the radiator as well as the condition of the serpentine belt.
You should also have an emergency road kit with extra fuses, a flashlight, road flares, jumper cables, and spare bottles of fluids. I also recommend keeping a small tool kit as well, especially if you have someone traveling with you who knows a little about maintaining vehicles.
Before you leave for tour, you should do the following:
- Get any scheduled maintenance done: This includes everything from major repairs to a basic tune up.
- Check the air filter: The air filter is inexpensive and easy to change. They should be changed every 10,000 miles or so. Keeping a clean air filter also helps improve fuel economy.
- Consider roadside assistance: Whether you join AAA or get roadside assistance from another source, it’s a good idea to have. If you’re worried about the added expense, you can usually add roadside assistance to any cellphone plan for about $5 per month. At the end of the tour, simply remove it from your plan.
- Check all of the above: Before you head out, check the fluids, tire pressure, battery, etc.
- Load your gear evenly: Try to distribute the weight of your equipment evenly from side to side (whether it is in a trailer or inside a tour bus). It’s best to keep the heaviest items over the axles, as opposed to the very front or rear.
A little preparation in advance can help prevent costly breakdowns on the road. If you don’t have a regular mechanic or want to save some money on maintaining your tour vehicles, consider contacting your local community college with a certified auto repair program. They often provide the service with little or no charges for labor. However, they usually need more time to work on the vehicles, so be sure to communicate with the auto instructors in advance.
Activity 1: Assign Vehicle Maintenance Responsibilities
If you have a shared vehicle (tour bus, tour van, etc.), it’s important to have someone accountable for keeping it well-maintained. That person should be keeping track of regular, scheduled maintenance, oil changes, etc. If you share that responsibility, keep a log in the vehicle so that everyone can check up on what needs to be done. Also, keeping a mileage and repair log is useful when filing for taxes, since the IRS requires these types of records anyway.
On tour, it’s important that basic safety and maintenance checks are conducted throughout the trip. Doing so allows you to help spot potential hazards in advance and address issues before you have lengthy stretches of travel without many repair shops en route. In many of the bands that I’ve been in, each person is responsible for a task (oil, tires, transmission fluid, etc.) and we check those items every day during regular stops (gas station or before leaving a city).
Activity 2: Do Safety Checks While on Tour
On tour, it’s especially important to have a regular system of doing basic safety checks. This includes checking the oil (especially if you have an older vehicle), tire pressure, radiator fluid, and transmission fluid. If you’re unsure how to do these things, there are great videos available on YouTube.
Some items, like checking the oil, should be done on a flat surface and before you begin a long drive. Others, like the transmission fluid, should be checked after the engine has been running for some time. If you create a regular pattern of checks in the morning (before the drive) and afternoon (after some distance), you should be good.
You might even have a clipboard, calendar reminder, Google spreadsheet, or whatever system you like to serve as a checklist. Either way, just make sure that you get it done.
Activity 3: Get a Tune-up Before the Next Tour
Before you hit the road, make sure you take your vehicle to a mechanic to do an overhaul. If you let them know you’re going on a big trip, they’ll be sure to take care of any major safety and performance issues so prevent any breakdowns and to improve fuel economy.
You can usually save money by working with a friend or going to a community college with a certified auto program. However, you could also consider talking to shops about a potential sponsorship, endorsement, or partnership deal as well. If you work with a regional chain, you might be able to have an even stronger safety net when it comes to tires, brakes, or other common repairs on the road.
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