Lonely Planet Writer

Real-life Breaking Bad? Second-hand campervan buyers in NZ warned to check vehicle history

Fans of the hit series Breaking Bad will no doubt be very familiar with the mobile methamphetamine lab that its lead characters created but it seems that others may have drawn inspiration from the show.

The Breaking Bad RV is well known to all of the show’s fans. Image by Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Owners of second-hand campervans in New Zealand have been warned that their purchases may have once been former drug laboratories and that there may be health risks involved. Breaking Bad is the fictional story about Walter White, a high school math teacher-turned-crystal-meth-maker and dealer who operated initially from a worn-down RV. “The poor person that ends up subsequently buying one has obviously no idea of what it’s been used for and what sort of contamination is in it,” Detective Sergeant Rhys Wilson of the National Clandestine Laboratory response team supervisor told Radio NZ.

The warning comes following an investigation into the country’s meth problem that was researched by Radio New Zealand who say that “the number of people referred to Auckland’s regional drug and alcohol services quadrupled between 2008 and 2017”. The detective noted that often the labs will be not operational while moving but does add portability. Instead the vehicles tended to be parked in a location before being cleared out and potentially sold to unsuspecting buyers.

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Campervan labs are said to be not mobile when in use. Image by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

“The few that are found are not often mobile and are typically found parked up on remote properties”, Detective Senior Sergeant John Brunton, National Organised Crime Group told Lonely Planet. “Vehicles are sometimes used to transport lab items from one location to another, usually in the boot or concealed in suitcases, chilly bins etc” he said. “This does not in itself suggest high levels of contamination. Some solvents and other chemicals may leave a residual smell for a period of time”. According to Brunton, anyone concerned about their campervans can test the vehicles using “indicative field test kits available online or find a testing company”. “Police do not, as a general rule, test vehicles,” he added, “as it is not possible to age methamphetamine residue, any found would be of limited evidential value”. Brunton advised purchasers to refer to New Zealand’s Ministry of Health for information if concerned about unsafe levels of methamphetamine contamination.