Risk: Heater on high, lights on, plenty of music.
After a night in a camper van the birds chirp and morning dew lies on the windscreen. It is fresh and the day is still young, nevertheless everyone is ready to drive on. All passengers are strapped in, you turn the key in the ignition and … nothing. Just a tired clack from the starter instead of the familiar engine humming. The van doesn’t start at the second or third attempt either. Tired from the night it suddenly seems obvious: yesterday the headlights stayed on for too long, the battery is flat and without electricity the van is not going anywhere today. Especially on cold nights, when the van is stationary for a long time and the battery and engine capacity drops, the power storage unit is in danger of breaking down. So that you are prepared for this kind of situation, we have compiled the best tips for you on what to do if the battery goes on the blink.
A view under the hood of the Citan.
- Take a deep breath.
The most important thing is to stay calm! This applies above all to breakdowns on busy motorways, but also to incidents that occur far from popular routes.
- Warn other road users.
The first thing to do is to use the hazard lights, because rear-end collisions can also happen on forest roads. If these no longer work, the accident site must be secured.
- Out of the danger zone.
If the van can still be moved, look for a safe parking area. It is best to find a breakdown bay on the motorway, otherwise on the hard shoulder. If you are off the beaten track. Be sure to find a place where no approaching truck can hit you.
- Do not do anything risky.
If the van cannot move or as soon as it is parked, take care not to get out without observing your surroundings carefully. Always get out on the passenger side or away from the road.
- Always wear a safety vest.
Orange suits everyone. In Spain and Italy the safety vest requirement has been in force since 2004, in Germany since 2014, and in the USA only in some states. However, it is always advisable – no matter where – to have a couple of safety vest at hand. If you want to be on the safe side, it is best to pack one for every passenger, so they can draw attention to themselves in the event of a breakdown.
- Set up a warning triangle or flare.
In Europe, a warning triangle is mandatory in almost every country. Depending on the surroundings, this must be installed 50 to 400 m away from the scene of the accident. If a curve obscures your view, set up the warning triangle before the beginning of the curve. In the USA or other countries like South Africa, accident participants often also use “flares”. These either light up with LEDs or are ignited to warn other road users. Be careful not to endanger yourselves when setting up.
- Get help.
As soon as the breakdown has been secured, you can take care of the problem. When waiting or thinking, it is essential to keep behind the guardrail in a safe place. As a member of an automobile club, you can contact them, otherwise a call to a towing or breakdown service will help. Important: Always provide the exact location. With a smartphone or GPS device this can be precisely identified.
- Do it yourself.
If you want to tackle the problem yourself and have packed the necessary equipment, you can use our breakdown tips as a guide. Here, too, it is important to make absolutely sure that nothing can happen to you and that you are parked in a safe place.
Please absolutely make sure, you know the specific laws of the country you are travelling through.
Jump-start with “helper vehicle” – a give and take.
If the van suddenly does not start any more, a jump-start will help. This requires a spare vehicle – a helper with a car or a van. If you have not packed a starter cable yourself, you will have to be able to find a sufficiently dimensioned jumper cable in the vicinity. Therefore, it is best to always stow one in the van and make sure that it is sufficiently long and strong. Here you can find clear instructions on how to get started.
Especially on remote roads it might be difficult to find a spare vehicle – so keep your eyes open!
- The two vehicles must be parked as close as possible to each other, be in neutral with the handbrake on.
- Now open the hood of both vehicles and connect the positive poles of the batteries with the red jump lead. First start with the donor vehicle and then connect the receiving one. Then start the engine of the helper vehicle and switch on the lights.
- Only then, connect the minus poles of the two batteries with the black lead. As well start with the donor vehicle.
- Carefully start the engine of the receiver van and do not forget to disconnect the cables from both vehicles in reverse order.
- As soon as the van gets driving again, make sure that it does not turn off again, but that it runs for a few kilometers. However, avoid routes with traffic lights or traffic jams! This way the battery re-charges via the alternator.
Charging the battery – What is important to remember.
Preparation is everything: for example, if the van is parked in the garage over the winter, it is best to charge it overnight before the first trip. How long the charge takes varies greatly and depends on the capacity of the battery and the charger. To charge, remove the battery or disconnect it from the van.
Charge the battery without removing it.
You can also charge the battery without removing it from the van. To do this, however, it must be disconnected from the vehicle. The battery connections should be loosened with a wrench. First, remove the nut of the black cable from the negative pole and then remove the cable. Now the power circuit is interrupted. Then fold the opening of the positive pole upwards and loosen the screw underneath completely. Finally, disconnect the cable from the positive pole.
- First of all, you should make sure that the vehicle is parked safely, that first gear is engaged and that the parking brake is activated. Then remove the ignition key and make sure that all power sources are switched off.
- As with cooling water, it is a good idea to check the acid level of the battery regularly. To do this, open the plug and check the acid level. If the display shows an acid level below the height mark, it can be filled with distilled water.
- There are ventilation flaps at the top of the battery. These must be opened before and during charging, otherwise the battery could explode.
- Charge the battery in a closed room, make sure to open a window or ensure good ventilation.
The dashboard of the Mercedes-Benz 207 D shows battery problems.
For some Mercedes-Benz models it is advisable to have a footstool ready.