Overland travel: Truck troubles


It’s a warm spring evening and we’re enjoying cold drinks with our friends Holger and Moni. In two days we’re making our way to Poland. We will leave a day earlier because we want to make a stop near Berlin.
Around 10:30PM a phone call put us all into action. We fill up the trunk of the car with ladders, bolts, ranges, cords, grinders, …. All the material we could think of to help a truck in trouble. Luckily, the two women – Moni and I – are still good to drive.
The Iveco Magirus, who will join us on our off-road week in Poland, has nipped a parked semi-truck on a highway parking lot 70Km away from us.
On arrival we see how the parking lot is filled to the brim. The damage to the trucks is still “okay”. The right mud-guard did not survive the collision. Also the driver’s cab has to be re-secured, so I can’t tilt forward. But most importantly both drivers are ok. By 12:30 AM we are ready to slowly drive the truck back to Holger’s and Moni’s, where it hopefully can still be repaired in time.

Oh yeah, did we already mention that Moni’s and Holger’s DAF Leyland also has problems with the clutch that need to be “fixed” if they want to make it to Poland? Hmmm, this is not a good start. Bad omen, maybe?



Saturday, May 21st. After a slow morning at a peaceful bushcamp (sorry no longer have the coordinates – the reason why will become clear soon), we drive to Oranienburg. Here we visit the concentration camp Sachsenhause; where Elmer’s dad was imprisoned during WWII. Nowadays, it’s a museum with free entrance (and the voice-recorded guides only cost 3€). You can spend hours here listening to what once took place here. However, after an hour, we feel like we already reached our limit of horrors. With an unsettling feeling we climb back into our truck.

It’s now our truck, the STEYR 12M18, who starts to act strange. For no reason, the windshield wipers jump on. It does this a few times and our first impression is that it happens every time we use the blinkers. “It’s probably a bad connection. We will fix it once we arrive at our destination.” But not 10 KM later, shit hits the fan. There is no way we can turn off the wipers. They go faster and faster; to the point that I expect them to break off. A burning smell now starts to accumulate inside the cab. I quickly park the truck on the side of the road.

Too late, damage is done.



Nothing on the dashboard works. The new LED headlights we installed 2 days earlier are dead. Elmer’s charging Iphone and Ipad are fried as well. The starter batteries cooked…. This is not good!


As if it all was planned this way, Moni & Holger are nearby. They had made good time since they left early that morning. But once they were in our vicinity their GPS made sure they would stay near, by sending them straight through Berlin instead of around. And as such they are quicker by us than the ADAC (the German road assistance).
With the help of a very friendly ADAC mechanic we find the cause of our troubles within 30 minutes: The alternator controller broke down. Instead of 24V we had 54V running through our cab when we put the foot on the gas pedal.

But what now? It’s already 6PM and tomorrow it’s Sunday. Nothing can be fixed before Monday. Technically we can still drive. We can start the engine through the NATO-connection with the household batteries inside the camper. And luckily the Steyr is built in a way that the alternator has its own belt, so by cutting the belt we no longer generate +24V but the cooling system stays intact.

That is how we find ourselves a few hours later driving with only 2 small orange emergency lights (one in front and one in the back) on the narrow polish back roads. In front of us we see only the red lights of the DAF Leyland and if we look closely we see the shadows of the large trees on each side of the road.  [If there is no video here yet, then you will have to wait a little longer until we have a better wifi connection OR time to upload the video 🙂 )


Be careful what you wish for




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4 thoughts on “Overland travel: Truck troubles
  1. Wow! Good info on what to watch out for and a great solution to keep going. I’m sure the part was readily available…can’t wait to see Poland! Have fun the rest of the way!

    Bill & Wendy

    1. Well the same one (from Bosch) would have been easy to find. But since we had to buy a new one anyway, we decided to make the investment worth while and bought a stronger one (and had shipped to us). It arrived nicely on time and now we have more than double the Amp’s, which will come in handy during the winter times (run the engine as a generator to top off the batteries).

      Happy travels!
      Nicole & Elmer

  2. Ouch! We ruined 2 batteries, one after the other, last year when our controller allowed too much power from our solar system. First battery was old so we didn’t fully realise our problem until the second exploded 2 weeks later. Fortunately most our interior stuff is connected to our lithium battery, did kill our reversing cameras though.

  3. Elmer,

    I’m building an M1078 Overlander and am looking for Cab parts from Steyer.
    Can you suggest a good source in Austria or Germany?

    George Swetland, USA
    [email protected]

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