By Francesca Prescott
(Warning: this isn't a horsey-issue, but it's an issue that's affecting my horsey activities big-time this week and potentially for the weeks to come, and it's on my mind, so I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you.)
Saturday morning, lovely sunny day, I’m driving along the motorway looking forward to a lesson with Qrac, singing along to songs on the radio. The traffic is heavy as carloads of people head off on holiday, and trucks rumble along, laden with all sorts of things that need to go to all sorts of places. I’m in the fast lane, overtaking a series of trucks driving far too close to each other, when all of a sudden something in the engine of my car goes kaboom. My car, a BMW X3 with 143’000 kms on it, lurches to the right, jumping dangerously close to the truck I’m overtaking. The steering goes all floppy, my adrenaline surges as I wrestle with the steering wheel to regain control of the car. I feel a sudden loss of power and immediately downshift, trying to regain some forward thrust, but the accelerator doesn’t respond. I flick on my indicator and bully my way between two trucks, then pull over into the emergency lane and slam on the brakes before it comes to a temporary end because of a bridge. I squeeze as close to the barrier as possible, click on the hazard lights and with my heart racing, grab my bag, clamber over the passenger seat and get out of the car.
The traffic is crazy; cars and trucks race by, a mere metre or so from my car. I consider opening the trunk and finding the emergency triangle as I know I’m supposed to walk down the road and put it down to warn oncoming traffic of my predicament, but the intensity of the traffic is such that I just don’t dare. So I climb over the barrier and squeeze along the narrow space between the hedge and the barrier, heading for a small patch of grass just before the bridge where I can see I’ll be less likely to be run over.
I know I need to call the police, or the emergency towing company, but my mind is totally blank. We don’t have 911 in Switzerland; is the police’s number 118 or 117? I can’t remember, my heart is pounding, I’m scared someone is going to slam into my car, I’m scared there’s going to be a big accident. So I call home and my daughter says she thinks it’s 118, so I hang up and call that, but it’s the firemen, who tell me to call 117. I do so, and the policeman is very nice, asks me if there’s been any accident, or whether my car is blocking traffic in any way, and when I tell him it isn’t he tells me to stay put and that he’ll get in touch with the emergency towing company, but that chances are I’ll have to wait half an hour. He asks whether I’ve put the emergency triangle in place further down the road, and I tell him I haven’t, that I’m terrified of going back to my car because there’s so much traffic. I guess he hears the fear in my voice, as well as the vroom-vroom-vroom of the traffic and although putting the triangle in place is mandatory, tells me to stay in my little grassy green zone. I take deep breaths, trying to get my heart to slow down.
It’s boiling hot, but there’s no shade, so I suck it up, and call my husband to tell him what’s happened. He goes to find our emergency towing company membership number and texts it to me so I can give it to the man when he shows up. I call my trainer at the stables to tell her I won’t be coming today and she tells me not to worry, to take care, and that she will ride Qrac for me. The emergency towing man arrives thirty minutes later, slides into the escape lane and reverses close to my car. I squeeze back between the barrier and the hedge and head towards him. He tries repeatedly to start my car, hooking it up to some sort of computer, and putting some sort of magic product in the engine, a product he says never fails to start an engine unless the problem is very serious.
Clearly, the problem is very serious.
Half an hour later he admits defeat. He can’t tow me away as we’re too close to the bridge, there’s not enough space to pick up speed before merging into traffic and because there’s so much traffic attempting this would be far too dangerous. So he calls a colleague who drives the breakdown-truck and asks him to come and load my car and cart us back to the BMW garage where I always have my car serviced. Of course, the truck is an hour away, and I’m going to have to wait, all alone, on the side of the motorway in the heat. Which kind of sucks, but what else can I do?
Finally, the big truck arrives and I have more palpitations when the driver lies down underneath my car, his body inches away from speeding traffic. He attaches the cable, presses a few buttons and my car is dragged onto the lorry. We drive back to the garage and almost have an accident when someone in a little car overtaking us starts drifting towards us, narrowly avoiding slamming into us on the driver’s side! I guess I’m having a dangerous-to-be-on- roads day!
Finally, close to three hours after the kaboom, we pull into the BMW garage and deposit my car. Of course, it’s Saturday so there are only sales people there, and nobody in the mechanical field to talk to about what might possibly be wrong.
Monday morning, my husband and I drive over to the BMW garage to explain exactly what happened; they loan me a Mini for Frs 70.- per day (it’s about $ 70.-) and tell us they’ll be in touch within 48 hours to give us an update. It’s now Thursday afternoon, and despite various telephone conversations with the garage and a personal visit to return the Mini (I’m going to London for the weekend), nobody still seems to know what the problem is, but from what we’ve understood it’s not exactly looking good. Neither my husband nor I are knowledgeable in BMW techno-speak, so have a limited understanding of what the lovely young man at the reception was telling us, but from what we’ve gathered, we need to pay vast amounts of money to even begin to determine whether the car is salvageable or not, which totally sucks. Another issue is that my car’s clutch has been making funny noises for some months whenever I floor it completely, yet whenever I’ve mentioned this problem to the garage they’ve told me there’s nothing wrong. Hmmm…. Also, they haven’t seemed to be too concerned about the rather disturbing clanking sound when I turn the steering wheel fully to the right or to the left. Normal? Somehow I doubt it. And even if it is, it’s not exactly reassuring, let’s put it that way.
So here I am, carless until at least next Wednesday, which is when the garage can next loan me a car as they don’t have anything to lend me on Tuesday (I return from London on Monday evening), and can’t extend the loan beyond forty-eight hours. However, they’ve kindly told us that they won’t be charging us for the four days with the Mini.
Meanwhile, I’m stuck, and the general vibe I’m getting is that this is going to take some time (two, three, four weeks?), especially if the mechanics still can’t figure out what’s wrong by tomorrow, despite having spent about eight hours scratching their heads. I mean, we don’t want to pay thousands of francs for them to dismantle the engine only to be told that the car needs a new engine! And what about the rattly clutch and the clanky steering? Are they going to fix those problems, too, for a couple of extra hundreds or thousands? Seriously, there comes a point where we’re better off buying another car from them, which we’re happy to consider as long as they treat us fairly, properly and commercially.
I’ll probably go and rent a car from a regular rental agency next week in order to go backwards and forwards to the stables and to generally get around. But I have a dressage competition in early September, and without my car (or a powerful car) I won’t be able to go as I won’t be able to pull my trailer. I was in fact supposed to be competing next weekend but have been humming and hahing over actually taking part or not as my son is having ACL (knee ligament) surgery the day before my show, and as a world class worrier I doubt my head will be screwed on properly while he’s in hospital. Now, with the car kaput, there’s no way I can go, anyway. At least that problem is solved!
I know cars break down all the time, and that worse things happen (and trust me, I shudder to think what it would have been like if the car had gone kaboom while I was hauling the trailer), but it’s just very frustrating to be hanging around, waiting to know what to do for the best. Also, whenever I look back on the moment when the car went kaboom, I get shivers thinking about what could have happened had I not been able to regain control of it when it lurched to the right, the steering went floppy and the accelerator failed.
Have you ever broken down in heavy traffic? Did your car do weird, scary things? Worse, have you ever broken down hauling horses? If so, what did you do?