Breaking Down in Gerlach
Every year coming off the Playa, I see the same thing over and over. People who are stranded in Gerlach waiting for auto repairs. I see it every year. People waiting for water pumps, radiators, fuel pumps, coils, tires, transmissions, the list goes on.
They wait for parts to arrive from Reno which takes 1-3 days. They wait for the tow trucks to arrive. Due to the fact that other people have broken down as well, the tow trucks are so busy that a wait for a tow of 24-48 hours is not uncommon. Seriously, I heard AAA quoting people that the tow truck would arrive sometime in the next 10 hours, but they will not guarantee it. During that time, the car owner has to wait by their car awaiting a tow truck. Since cellular phones do not work in Gerlach, you have no choice but to wait. If the tow truck never arrives, your only choice is to wait for one to arrive.
In reality, you do have a choice. You can choose to do routine maintenance to your car before you leave for Burning Man. You can choose to have a mechanic look over your car. You can choose to stop by a tire stores like Les Schwab or Costco and have them look over the tires on your car and your trailer. Or you can end up stranded on the side of the road for a few days. It's your choice.
Check Your Tires
My advice comes from years of helping myself and other people out of jams after the event. Most of them were caused by the failure to prepare in advance. I write this in hopes that you will not suffer the same fate. For instance, one year I got six flat tires during my trip from Seattle to Gerlach and back. This included flats on my trailer tires as well. All of the flats could have been alleviated if I had taken the time to look at my tires and realized that I needed to replace them before I left. New tires would be a cost that might be hard to justify before I left for Black Rock City, but when you factor in the cost of replacing blown tires on the road, it becomes very cheap to have new tires installed in Seattle where I have a selection to choose from, instead of being stuck at the Lakeview Les Schwab store taking what they have in stock. This is no dig at Les Schwab. I think they do a fine job with tires. But why not visit one before you leave instead of visiting one riding in the cab of a tow truck?
Tune Up Your Car
One of the easiest ways to catch problems is to have your car tuned up before you leave. A professional mechanic can look over your car for any possible serious problems that could leave you stranded on the side of the road. Worn belts, hoses, radiators and water pumps all have tell-tale signs that they are about to fail. A new water pump can be as low as $15 if you do it yourself or a bit more for a mechanic. Bill at Brunos Shell Station will be $150 for the same pump, if he feels like he has time to fix it. You will not be his only customer.
The other advantage of a tuned car is that it will get better gas mileage. Seeing how someone leaving from Seattle and heading to Gerlach is about to drive around 1500 miles, this is really worth doing.
For only $85 a year, you can get all of the maps you want and up to 150 miles of free towing. The cost of towing a car runs about $3.50 a mile and since Reno is 107 miles from Gerlach, it's really cost effective as well. You can also get towing coverage with most cellular phone plans. The cost is about $3.00 a month and is worth doing if you do any traveling.
In the end, the choice is yours. I do not wish to panic people into getting a car tuned up before you leave. You have enough stress to consider before heading off to Burning Man. However, if you are looking for ways to have a stress-free journey, I recommend you start with the car. You will never regret it.