6 Basic Vehicle Skills Every Camper Should Know How to Do

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When it comes to preparation for a camping trip, do you overlook your vehicle? You have the camping gear, and all the camping meals planned out, but what about your vehicle? That’s exactly what we’re talking about in this blog post!

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Below you’ll find how to prepare your vehicle for a trip, the repair and maintenance skills every camper should have, and the importance of situational awareness while you’re on the road.

What if you get a flat tire? What if your car battery dies? Get the answers to these questions and more in this blog post.

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Camping Trip Preparation – Vehicles

There are several parts to this blog post.

First, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to know these things and I’ll share some examples.

Then we’ll move into proper preparation and the things you should check before a trip.

Lastly, we’ll talk about the skills you need.

Why are basic vehicle skills important?

To start things off, I really want to highlight why this topic is so important to talk about. When I first started camping and exploring the forest and desert, I did not have any of these skills.

How will you handle a flat tire or a dead car battery if you have no cell service and you’re in the middle of nowhere?

These are probable scenarios that are easy to handle if you have the skills but would create a very stressful or even dangerous situation if you don’t.

When you’re trying to enjoy yourself off-grid, these skills are crucial to have.

Amanda and Nick

Real-World Example:

A couple of years ago, Nick and I went out on a backpacking trip. We had to drive to the trailhead deep in the desert, with no cell service.

We went backpacking for a few days only to get back to the trailhead and see that my vehicle had a flat tire.

It took us about 2 hours of driving to get to the trailhead. Imagine how long it would have taken us to walk that distance to get help or wait for someone else to come by in this remote part of the desert.

This situation was so easily and quickly handled by packing the right tools and having the skills to go along with it.

Knowing how to do these basic things pays dividends off-grid when your supplies and ability to communicate are much more limited. So it’s important that we talk about this topic.

Car camping off grid in the forest in Utah

Importance of Proper Preparation

So many problems can be avoided with a little awareness and preparation at home before you even leave for a trip.

Below are a few things to check on your vehicle before a trip:

  1. Your tire pressure
  2. Make sure you have a working spare tire
  3. Check the oil to make sure it’s not low
  4. Check your windshield wipers and make sure there’s enough windshield wiper fluid
  5. Check under your vehicle for any leaks that you can’t identify
  6. Listen for any abnormal sounds

Checking these things on your vehicle before a trip will help you catch any problems or leaks before you leave.

Another very important part of proper preparation is telling a few people back at home the 4 W’s – who, what, when, and where.

Leave all the details of your trip with friends and family back home.

That way if you do run into problems that are out of your skillset, people know where you are and where to come to look for you.

It’s also good practice to have extra provisions such as food and water to last a few extra days if needed.

car in front of red rock in southern utah

Scene Safety is a Priority

With any of the skills that we’re going to talk about below, it’s always important to make sure that the scene is safe for you to do any of these things.

Your safety is a priority.

Sometimes even if you have the skill, it’s best to call for help (if you have service) or wait in a safe location for assistance.

For example, the shoulder of a busy highway is not a safe place.

Vehicles are driving by you at 70 or 80 mph and people are on their phones not paying attention, so that’s an example of a time that, although I have the skill, I’m going to call for help.

Maintenance and Repair Skills to Know

Now that we’ve talked about pre-trip preparation and scene safety, it’s time to dive into the actual repair and maintenance skills that are good to know.

The following is a list of the most probable skills you’ll need out on a camping trip. While it’s not a complete list of every possible scenario, it’s a great place to start!

Amanda changing a tire

1) How to change a tire

Again, please make sure you’re in a safe location to do this!

I think this is the most likely skill you’ll need out on a camping trip. A flat tire deep in the forest is something I’ve personally encountered.

In addition to knowing how to change a tire, you also want to make sure that you have all the tools you need to do so.

Your vehicle should have a kit to change a tire. Know where it is and how to use it. Note that sometimes the tire changing kit is buried in an odd place. For example, in my Xterra, it’s under the back row of seats.

You might want to consider upgrading some of the tools in the kit as well.

Whatever tools you choose, make sure that you know how to change a tire with the tools in the car that you’ll be driving.

2) How to Jumpstart Your Vehicle

I think this and changing a tire are the two most likely skills you’ll need.

Someone leaves a light on in the car overnight and you wake up in the morning to drive home only to realize that your car battery is dead. This happens.

In order to handle this situation, I carry two things: jumper cables and a portable jump starter battery pack.

With jumper cables, you need another car and you must know how to use them correctly or you can really damage a vehicle.

The reality is, on camping trips, you might not have another vehicle around, in which case the jumper cables are useless.

That’s why I also carry a portable jump starter battery pack. I’ve tested it several times and can confirm that it’s pretty awesome!

This battery pack is so easy to use, it tells you if you’ve put the cables on correctly, and it’s perfect for when you’re by yourself and need a jump.

I highly recommend that you have one of these in your vehicle.

Checking tire pressure while out camping

3) How to Check Your Tire Pressure and Add Air

Next, we have the task of checking your tire pressure and adding air if needed.

This is a very simple thing to do and it’s a good idea to get in the habit of just visually looking at all your tires regularly to catch any leaks.

To check the tire pressure, you’ll need a pressure dial tire gauge. I got mine at Walmart for about $7 and I always have it in my car.

If I notice that one of my tires needs some air, I prefer to stop at a gas station and fill it up there. Many gas stations have air hoses that are either free or a couple of cents to use. That is the easiest option.

Adding air to my tires at a gas station

But for the times when I’m off-grid and far from a gas station, I carry a bike pump in my car. Vehicle tires use a Schrader valve and so do a lot of mountain bike tires.

A simple bike pump that has a dial pressure gauge and works with a Schrader valve will allow you to add air to a tire. The downside is that it will take a while to pump enough air in the tire, but it will work in a pinch.

Nick carries an air compressor in his truck which is definitely a more efficient option, but that’s expensive and I prefer to just carry a simple bike pump.

If you’re out camping and notice that you have a really slow leak, sometimes you can add air to the tire that will be enough to get you to a place that can provide further assistance.

A bike pump can also be used to add a little extra air to a spare tire if needed.

Nick changing windshield wipers

4) How to Add Windshield Wipers & Fluid

This is another really easy and simple thing to know how to do.

When you’re driving through the mountains, you might use your windshield wiper fluid a lot faster with all the bugs hitting your windshield!

Knowing how to add more will come in handy.

In addition to the windshield wiper fluid, you also want to know how to change your windshield wipers and make sure they’re in good working condition before a trip.

checking oil in the car

5) How to Check Your Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle! You want to know how to check the oil levels in your vehicle and add more of the correct oil if needed.

If your vehicle is older, it might burn some oil and you might need to add oil in between changes.

Car camping near Kanab in Utah

6) How to Avoid Getting Stuck

Lastly, you want to avoid getting stuck. This seems like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised by some of the places people take their vehicle only to get stuck!

Off-roading skills are a little out of the scope of this post, but in general, you want to be aware of your surroundings.

If you’re driving down a dirt road in the forest and you come upon a huge muddy pit, hop out and probe the mug with a stick to see how deep it is.

Deep sand is another place people get stuck.

Be aware of these types of things and find a different road or place to camp if you need to.

Paying attention to your surroundings is always important and it can prevent a lot of problems on the road.

Car camping in the desert near Moab, Utah

More Car Camping Skills

So there you have it! These are some of the scenarios you might encounter and some of the basic vehicle skills to learn so that you can be prepared to handle them quickly and easily out on a camping trip.

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On a personal note, learning how to do basic car maintenance has been one of the most empowering things I’ve ever learned.

Gaining new skills and becoming more self-reliant is one of the best feelings ever.

So if you don’t know any of this stuff, you’re in for a fun journey! Grab a friend or relative who knows how to do this stuff and ask them to teach you.

Have questions? Chat with me below.

Have you used these skills out on a camping trip? Please share your story in the comments!

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