Don’t let this blog post put you off motorhome travel, because this isn’t meant to be alarmist. However, in 2016 our Campervan tyres were stabbed on a trip to Spain. So, the title sounds extreme, but you’ll see why later in the piece.
Ok, here’s the good news, because there has to be a positive side alongside this sober tale. First of all, it hasn’t put us off in the slightest!
Secondly, it’s the only time anything has ever gone badly wrong for us – Yes, a thumbs up there. Looking back, we may have just been lucky or are bad encounters more common than we think? The answer to that is a difficult one and I’ll address it a bit more as I write.
Now, let’s begin with what happened to us on that March day five years ago.
Our Winter trip to Spain had begun several weeks earlier. Leaving a cold January in Britain for the popular, warmer climate of the Spanish Mediterranean.
We’d travelled through the middle of France, just like we’d done many times before. Then, after a few days of travel, we’d arrived at the French/Spanish border and the Mediterranean Sea.
Next, came a meandering type of trip, as we slowly made our way along the coast of the various Costa’s. By the time we reached the Murcia region or The Costa Calida, it was mid-March and we’d been on the road several weeks.
Now, cast your minds back 5 years. Those of you travelling in a motorhome back then, may remember there had been some awful events in the world. It was a time of terror attacks. Including an horrific shooting at hotel and beach resort in Tunisia.
This meant many Europeans who usually travelled to Morocco for their Winter sun, chose Spain instead. By chance, this coincided with an increase in the popularity of Motorhome ownership. Not only in the UK but in Germany, Belgium, France and The Netherlands too.
As a result, the campsites and motorhome stopovers of the Spanish coast were full to bursting point. In other words, this left many people, including us, out on the streets or should I say beaches.
Yes, we found ourselves staying on any Motorhome Stopovers that had room. These were usually ones that had just been built to keep up with demand.
Otherwise, when all other areas were full, the only choice for us was “wild camping”. Despite the trend in recent years for people to do this – for us it isn’t the big attraction that it used to be, even more so now.
For some time on the trip, we’d struggled to find fresh water and a place to empty the loo and waste tank. Luckily, we’d managed to get the last pitch on a campsite a few nights previously, which was perfect for taking care of the essentials in van.
However, now we really needed a service area again and many people we’d spoken to en-route recommended a garage at Aguilas. Mainly because this also happened to have a motorhome dump area and fresh water, so everything for motorhomes in one place.
So, on arriving at Aguilas we soon found the “one stop” garage. Next, we parked up, then one of us stayed with the van, whilst the other popped to get a key that was needed to use the water tap.
Staying with the van is something we do at fuel stations, no matter if we’re in the UK or abroad. So all we do is take it in turns, whilst one pops to the loo or for food etc. Purely so the van isn’t left unattended.
This is simply because in our earlier days of motorhome travel, we’d begun to read about tricks used by thieves.
Predominantly, this involved tampering with tyres whilst the occupants had left the motorhome or when they slept. This was often at fuel or service stations and usually on French motorways or in Spain.
This trick of preying on motorhome owners was certainly nothing new, because we first heard about it around 2005. Then every so often it would crop up again in the press, reminding us that the danger was still present.
Back at the garage and after sorting out the waste and water, we decided to use the car wash. So, next we moved the campervan into a cleaning bay and set about washing the van. During this time, I waited outside the van whilst Nigel did the washing…Hmmm – crafty I know!
Finally, with the chores finished, we thought we’d fill up with fuel, so moved the van again – this time to the fuel pumps. Then, last but not least, we took the opportunity to fill up the “Ad Blue”.
Our Sprinter was brand new at the time and we’d never had to fill this up before. In essence, it was a new experience and we didn’t quite know how it worked.
The garage had a proper “Ad Blue” pump, so we moved the van yet again, but the pump needed unlocking. Now, this is where we let our guard down unintentionally.
The garage itself was quiet, so I guessed we thought that both of us walking the short distance to garage shop wouldn’t do any harm.
As we walked in, there was only one other person in there, but only one member of staff and the customer wanted a gas bottle. By the time, all that was sorted, we’d been waiting about 10 minutes, of course, that was also 10 minutes of the van being left unattended.
After paying for the fuel and the “Ad Blue”, the attendant unlocked the pump and we happily filled the “Ad Blue” tank. Finally, we could drive on.
No sooner had we left the garage than we noticed a sign for a beach, almost directly opposite. We drove down the dirt track leading towards a large parking area filled with motorhomes.
By this point, there was nothing to suggest anything was wrong and that maybe because there wasn’t.
We hadn’t planned on staying, but parked up and went off for a short walk. The beach, called Carolina is quite a pretty place, unusual due to its rock formations. There’s actually a couple of bays, with the parking area located between the two on a fairly steep, raised bank.
After about 30 minutes, we returned to the van before deciding to move on. This we did, but didn’t really go that far, probably around 5 miles or so. We had a look at a couple of other beaches – again filled with motorhomes, trying to find somewhere to park for the night.
Eventually, we decided to drive back to the first beach opposite the garage, found a parking spot and settled in before darkness fell.
The following morning my phone rang early, it was about 8am and the call had been from home to say my Grandad had passed away. From that moment on, I was constantly on the phone to various family members and taking in the bad news.
As we opened our campervan blinds, Nigel noticed a strange looking character, walking behind the back of the van. He was dressed like the TV character ‘Ali G” in a yellow shiny track suit and glasses, he soon disappeared down the steep sandy bank behind us.
At about 8.30am there was a knock on the motorhome door. Nigel opened it to find our Belgium neighbour, standing there, pointing to our wheels. He’d also stayed the night – in his Carthago, there had been around 20 other motorhomes in total, maybe even more than that.
Nigel got out but I stayed inside the van, still on the phone to relatives. He soon realised that 3 out of 4 tyres were completely flat, something had gone drastically wrong but when, where and how?
It’s strange when things go wrong, but suddenly, nothing mattered to Nigel other than getting those tyres inflated. All we wanted was to get the hell out of there.
I was still on the phone, shocked and upset due to my Grandad’s death. So much so, that I wasn’t really sure what was going on outside the van. However, I soon realised it was something quite serious and as Nigel’s survival mode kicked in, he put all his energy into getting the van mobile.
He and I knew that in cases where we know of this sort of thing happening, the motive is clear – robbery.
For us, the big question now was simply – Had someone just done this and were they waiting for us both to get out the van? Or had it happened the day before at the garage?
Now, Nigel used the only thing we had on us – the Fix and Go kit that came with the Sprinter.
For those that don’t know – these are a common weight saving accessory in motorhomes, where a spare wheel isn’t provided. They come with an all in one sealant and a pump, with the idea being to inflate a tyre in an emergency.
Of course, not only would you rarely need to use this kit, but you’d never expect to have to use it on 3 tyres at the same time.
The tyres were as flat as a pancake, by now Nigel could see a puncture mark on each tyre so we knew this was a definite act of intent.
Inflating the tyres seemed to take an eternity, the Belgium guy stayed around to make sure we were alright and another couple of people came over to see what had happened. Other than that, we have no clue if anyone else had any trouble.
At last, the tyres were inflated enough for us to move. Our aim now was to find a tyre garage, where specialists could to take a closer look.
You have to remember, the Sprinter was brand new. This was our first big trip out, other than a couple of trial overnight stays at campsites near home in Wales.
Our campervan is a 4×4 and the tyres that were on it at the time were Continental mud and snow. Even if the campervan had come with a spare tyre, it wouldn’t have helped us in this situation.
Now we had to find somewhere that was able to check the tyres for us. We just hoped that the inflation would hold long enough to get there.
After about an hour searching, we finally found a garage that could help us. Luckily, the inflation in the tyres was holding up, giving us desperate time.
The staff at the garage, which were also specialist in 4×4 vehicles, couldn’t have been more helpful. In broken English and no Spanish, we managed to convey what had happened. They moved vehicles aside so we could drive in straight away so they could take a proper look.
Then, they took each tyre off and what they found confirmed our suspicions. Sure enough 3 of our campervan tyres had been stabbed with what they thought to be a screw driver. The puncture marks were obvious but now worse was to come.
The garage had no replacement tyres available, they checked their system and couldn’t find any at all through their suppliers.
Their solution – to patch the tyres, something we were really unsure about, but the guys reassured us that it would work. They explained that they took their own off-road vehicles across to Morocco each year. During their trips they’d have to fix punctured tyres regularly and this is the method they used. They insisted each repair would hold to get us home to the UK.
We took their word for it and agreed on the repairs, costing nothing more than 15 Euro each tyre. They were really sorry for what had happened and felt obliged to help as best they could. Within an hour or so we were good to go.
We said our farewells and drove off, hoping to find another garage where we could buy replacement tyres. Although we trusted these guys, we really would prefer to get new tyres, especially as the repair they did is not legal in the UK.
That day was spent searching high and low for replacement tyres. We travelled to every garage we could find, until a lengthy spell at a large Mercedes main dealer really confirmed the worst.
Yes – there were no tyres on their system in Spain at all! The earliest they could get some would be 3 weeks later – something that each previous garage had already told us.
This was because the tyres were snow and mud, they would have to order them direct from Germany and wait. Something we couldn’t do. The only alternative was to buy a complete new set of different tyres altogether, but that meant we had no room on board to take home the 4 existing tyres.
Gosh, it’s funny how this scenario would never enter your thought zone when buying a motorhome! At the end of the day, we realised we were going to have to take a chance on the guys who repaired the tyres for us. Our gut feeling was that they were genuine in their knowledge and we just had to hope that they were.
On arrival back in the UK, we’d have to get a new set fitted and send the existing tyres off to be vulcanised.
So, with our trip cut short we headed back home, all be it in a calm manner without any rush or too much worry.
To be honest, we couldn’t wait to get out of the area either. When something like that happens, you don’t know who’s watching or what could happen next!
I’m pleased to say we made it back, the tyres held, just as the guys said. Unfortunately, the cost for a replacement set of tyres set us back around £700. On top of that, we had to pay for vulcanising the original tyres, but now we have a complete spare set – not sure what use it is when we’re away though!
Best of all, we took the opportunity to buy a different type of tyre, some BF Goodrich, off-road tyres, so all was good in the end.
Although we could have claimed off the motorhome insurance, interestingly we chose not to. This is mainly because we feel insurance is for bigger claims than this, especially with the excess.
Well this is the all important question – Why were our campervan tyres stabbed in Spain and could we have prevented it?
Firstly, we’ll never be sure where, when and why it happened, but we do have an idea. Looking back over the events we think it probably happened at the garage. We remember an old dark coloured BMW following us out of the garage – were they purely going the same way or was it something more sinister?
Knowing what we know now about these kinds of criminal acts, along with what we already knew, it seems we had a lucky escape.
The likelihood is that during those 10 minutes whilst we left the campervan unattended, the criminals used the screw driver type implement to stab the tyres. This is a well-known trick and we knew it even then, but just let our guard down.
Next, the usual tactic by the criminals is to follow the motorhome. Then as the tyres would deflate, the gang would flag the driver down by flashing their lights etc. When the driver and usually the passenger gets out to see what’s going on, an accomplice enters the van before robbing the contents of the motorhome. In other words it’s a distraction robbery.
Fortunately for us that day, luck was on our side. First of all, no sooner had we left the garage, than we turned off for the beach and parked up with others. Secondly, our tyres weren’t everyday ones, did the fact that they were mud and snow tyres make it harder to deflate them?
We think it was probably a slow deflation initially, which is why we didn’t notice anything straight away.
The only other possibilities were simply an act of vandalism, but somehow we doubt that to be the case, especially having read up on similar cases. Perhaps it was the “Ali G” character that we saw coming from behind the van that morning?
Maybe, someone else was about to tell us we had flat tyres – a thief disguised as a good Samaritan type. The usual scenario – we’d both get out the van to look and some accomplish would hop in and take any valuables.
If that should have been the case – I never got out of the van due to Grandad’s death. Such a horrible event but maybe one that protected us from worse that day.
Perhaps we just got lucky over the years, because this is the closest we’ve come to trouble in over 30 years of van travels.
Having said that it’s been a lesson well learnt. That’s because, we had got complacent – just because nothing ever happens, it doesn’t mean to say we’re immune. This was a reminder of that.
After this incident we increased our security again and our preparations for things going wrong. For example, we had Armour plates fitted to the locks and make sure the alarm, which we already had is actually set!
One important thing we now have is a good quality 4×4 compressor. It fits in the engine compartment, so takes no room in the campervan. So, if we do need tyres inflating, it’s an easy process. We also carry spare inner tubes for each tyre and a proper puncture repair kit.
Above all, we listen to other travellers, take in what they tell us about bad experiences they’ve had and try and learn from that too.
Since our incident, we’ve spoken personally to people who’ve also had issues relating to crime. This is without the usual pick-pocket type events, but relating directly to motorhomes and campervans.
On this same trip we later came across a British couple who’d had their motorhome broken into through a window. There was another German couple who had the same experience – both had electrical items stolen – laptops, iPads, phones and cash.
Another conversation with a German campervan owner in Italy brought more revelations. He told how his van had been broken into on several separate occasions – all in Spain, mostly in the Pyrenees. Despite this, it didn’t put him off!
It’s important to remember it happens in other countries too. Parking next to a Belgium couple one night near Milan, we began chatting for some time about travels. They’d had a break in during the night whilst parked in Southern France.
Then there’s a time in Lake Garda a couple of years ago – we were on an authorised Sosta with about 20 other motorhomes. The following morning, a British lady knocked on our door. Both her own motorhome and another British motorhome had been robbed while they slept.
Finally, we’d like to say we love van travel as much today as the day we started. None of this puts us off in the slightest, there are good and bad people everywhere, thankfully our travels are generally full of the good things in life.
With that, it’s time to reflect, yes bad stuff happens, but it’s very rare. So long as we’re cautious and aware then life on the road is still the best adventure and one we’ll keep on doing for a very long time to come!
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