Don’t be caught without these must-have tools for van life. Having these tools in your van is a must and could save the day!
Van life provides the freedom and independence we all crave. With that freedom and independence, however, comes the need to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Things in your van will break and any vehicle, regardless of year or manufacturer, can leave you stranded.
Not everyone is a certified mechanic nor do you need to be, however, having some basic knowledge of your van and its systems is very beneficial. Of course, knowing what is wrong and how to fix it isn’t very useful if you don’t have the tools to fix it.
Vans have limited space so carrying an entire garage of tools with you is not an option. There are some must-have tools for van life that any van lifer shouldn’t be without. It is a good idea to look at your van and have any tools required for specific items or repairs common to it.
In addition to those tools specific to your setup, here are some tools that should be in every van!
Jack / Wheel Wrench
No vehicle should be without a way to change a tire. Tires issues are the most likely problem with travel. The more exploring you’re doing and the farther off the main roads you get the more important this becomes.
Having a jack that is able to safely lift your van and support it is a must. Often the small scissor jacks supplied with vehicles are okay for a tire change on flat asphalt but not much else. If your van is lifted with larger tires or upgraded suspension keep in mind you will need a larger jack.
Having something flat and strong to provide a larger footprint under your jack can also be useful. If you have room, a jack stand or two can be nice as well for added support.
As with the factory jack, the wheel wrench is often not ideal when you are fighting with an extra tight wheel nut. Investing in an aftermarket wheel wrench or socket and breaker bar can make the job much easier.
Have any extra room? A torque wrench will ensure you are tightening those wheel nuts up properly. If not make sure you stop by the next garage you pass to have it checked.
Keeping with tire issues, a small 12-volt air compressor can help get you to a tire shop if you have a flat or leak. It shouldn’t be used in place of a full-size spare but can help in a pinch.
For those offroaders and the more adventurous, airing down your tires is common in certain situations. Having a compressor will allow you to air down and back up as needed.
Depending on the room you have onboard and your budget, a larger compressor can also be used for running some pneumatic tools.
Multimeters can be intimidating and are often overlooked by people thinking they are for electricians. Your van likely has a 12-volt DC and a 120-volt AC electrical system. There are tons of connections, fuses, wires, relays, and more that can fail.
Having a basic knowledge of electrical systems and how to use a multimeter will be very beneficial. Multimeters can diagnose so many problems, many of which end up being simple fixes.
Much of the cost of fixing electrical issues comes with troubleshooting and tracking the issue. The small price of a multimeter can save you huge in mechanics bills.
An additional tool for your electrical issues is a set of wire strippers/crimpers. You will need these for any wiring splices and connections you do.
Socket / Driver Kit
We can’t carry all of our favorite tools with us but having a socket set with some additional tools in it like a multi-driver screwdriver and some Torx bits and wrenches will get you out of most situations.
Often socket sets get bought or given as gifts and sit unopened but when you need it you can’t put a price on them. Not only for the exterior of your van, but the interior will need fixing as well. Rough roads shake and rattle your van and all of its contents. Many vans will have fridges, furnaces, and plumbing that can often be repaired with basic hand tools.
One consideration to make is whether you require metric or standard tools. Kits often include both but it’s worth looking into. Some basic kits only have smaller sizes so spending extra for a larger kit with more options is worth it.
Jumper Cables / Battery Booster
Dead batteries are another super common problem that can ruin a day. Having jumper cables can save your day or someone else’s.
Jumper cables are only useful of course if there is another vehicle or second battery that you can reach with them. This is where battery boosters shine. When you wake up in the morning at the remote riverside spot you found and your van won’t start the booster box will be your best friend.
Most booster systems are very versatile and can charge lots of items in your van and be used for lighting when needed.
Serpentine Belt Tool
What is a serpentine belt tool you may be asking? In vans made after approximately the late eighties, the belt that runs your engine, charging system, power steering, and AC is actually just one belt. It winds its way around a series of pulleys and spins them all simultaneously.
This is a great design and unlike older V style belts they don’t often come off of the pulleys. However, they can break or come off in certain circumstances, and if so you lose everything!
Now, the obvious catch here is you have to have a spare belt and for anyone traveling a lot, especially to more remote locations, you should definitely have a spare belt.
There are ways to remove the tension and replace the belt without the special tool but they are relatively cheap and make the job painless. Some vans will be more difficult to access and if this is your van the right tool will be easier to work with. Your van should have a diagram showing the routing of the belt for installation.
Being prepared for inevitable problems when on the road is important. Combining some knowledge of your van and its operation along with having the right tools will keep you rolling.