Emergency Roadside Repairs – The Way It’s Supposed To Be (Originally Published Dec 2003)
By Bob Gordon Co-Publisher The Auto Channel
Well it was bound to happen sooner or later…kinnda like Russian roulette I imagine. On a return trip to home base in Louisville from Detroit, where I was trying to drum up some advertising for The Auto Channel, my faithful 1992 Volvo 940T with 177,324 mile under her rubber decided that enough was enough, and my being cocky and inattentive to her needs was just too much …so she decided to give me a lesson in humility and knock a peg or two out from under me...and most important of all, give me a lesson in exactly how reliant I am on a well running car.
Well here goes the saga, which has a happy ending…so those of you horror story lovers in Virtual World might just as well click over to something more to your blood thirsty likings.
I was cruising along at an almost legal 72MPH on a beautiful sunny late fall Ohio day, as I rounded the I-75 curve heading into downtown Dayton it all started…an accident right up the road in front of me…instantaneously taillights flashed on …emergency vehicle bubblegum lights flashed on …tow trucks appeared out of nowhere...as I slowed to a stop, I used the rearview mirror to keep three eyes on the 18 wheeler coming up behind me, and then used a mind-over-matter intensity to help apply Bubba’s or Bubbett’s airbrakes before my Volvo became an accordion… happily the air brakes did their job.
Whew…I’m ok, now I thought, I just have to coast to a stop…but to show me who’s the boss, my well broken in car stalled...no biggee, the car did have 177, 323 miles on her and this happened before during sudden braking …just get off the road and out of the way man I prompted myself.
Because of my many years of driving experience, after I coasted to a stop on the shoulder, I intuitively knew that I should look over at the dash, I noticed that all the idiot lights were lit and to my surprise and horror my temperature gauge was pinned to the right….ok so what to do…do I just pull over and have one of the extra tow trucks that arrived at the accident scene take me who knows where, or do I try to make it down the road to the exit, which was just over there...what to do, what to do
Ok I says to myself with disillusioned optimism, the car just probably needs some more coolant…after-all, 4 hours at subsonic speeds can raise even a new car’s temperature and my car was no newbie. So I just started her up and she responded, her engine sort of purring I stayed on the shoulder and aimed for the exit ramp…but I was stalling and stalling again…but thanks to my new Diehard (which just the week before had replaced my 8 year old diehard) and my nerves of steel I made the exit…coasted down the ramp into a former service station which was now a social center and lottery sales location, where the sales clerks are ensconced safely behind a protective 3 inch thick bulletproof glass separator…you know the kind of place. Now on to what I thought would be a simple task of topping off the old radiator with coolant that I carried in my Pandora’s Box trunk…hey when you take a car that has more than 175,000 miles on it, you had better be prepared for anything.
I found the coolant behind an empty box and a full case of oil…opened the hood then opened the coolant all under the watchful eyes of the al fresco Malt 45 drinking resident locals who watched me fill the radiator with coolant but just couldn’t figure out why a guy wearing Larry King suspenders and a starched white shirt was even in the neighborhood at all...and so was I.
The Story continues and gets really good from here.
After filling the coolant reservoir I thought that I was set to continue my trip home…I started her up (nice Diehard) and figured that I would cruise the surface streets until the temperature gauge moved to the middle…and if that didn’t happen I would pull up to a 4 star repair facility that could solve my problem quickly, simply and cheaply…but I was sure it would never come to that.
Which direction should I drive? To the left were Dayton’s three tall buildings and the heart (?) of downtown so I went right on Main Street (as it turns out it was more right then I could have hoped for).
The temp reading continued to indicate that my “repairs” did not work and that I had a real problem, so with the temp gauge still pinned to the right I pulled into Auto Plus Sales & Service's car lot, a buy-here-pay-here sort of place that at one time must have been a fancy new car facility, but as the neighborhood changed so did the merchants.
On the lot a young man named Mike was getting the line ready for the next day hot Saturday of car sales…he saw me pull in and he listened to my tale of woe, and not wearing a starched white shirt and Larry King suspenders and knowing what to do…Mike crawled under the car and informed me that the Volvo was hemorrhaging coolant from a cracked hose.
Ok its Friday evening in a strange town I have a broken car and suspenders holding up my pants…not a good combination to expect fair and honest emergency road repairs my pessimistic side thought. I asked Mike if he knew a repair shop that could fix what was broke…yes he said “just pull around the side of the building to our repair shop”…oh yeah…now the chicken enters the wolf’s den.
“Its only a broken hose” said Robert the technician as he emerged from under the car, “it’s the hose that carries coolant to the oil cooler and its a goner”…only a hose, only a hose… upon retroflection I should have been joyous that it wasn’t the oil cooler or worse…but I was thinking and hoping that a clamp had worked loose…”yeah yeah that’s it a little clamp had come loose allowing the coolant to escape”.
Oh yeah it’s just a split hose that needs replacing that stands between me and my continuing my journey…oh yeah its just a broken hose …thanks Sven, thanks Olaf…how could you build a car that needs to have its hoses replaced before 200k miles…only half joking.
Now that the culprit was identified a new hose had to be procured and it was now even later Friday evening in downtown Dayton Ohio. Finding the hose became the job of the service manager, Miki, an attractive young woman with grease smudges on her beautiful open face. Miki got on the phone and searched for the part…she dialed-spoke-waited, dialed-spoke-waited, dialed spoke and this time told the parts counterman on the other side of the phone that her driver Mike would arrive shortly to pick up the hose…Yea!
She found it. Miki had found this funky out of the ordinary hose, she asked Mike to run down to the Volvo Dealer and pick up the hose. While we were waiting for Mike to return I got nosey…what was a young woman like Miki doing here as an auto service manger no less, well, she told me she was a working mother of three beautiful wonderful and brilliant children, and that she learned auto mechanics as a defensive measure as a teenager, grew to love cars and made it a career.
Editorial Insertion: As many of you know, today there is a need for auto repair technicians here in the US, at last count there is more than $60 Billion in unperformed auto maintenance because the industry is 60,000 technicians short…so what does the auto industry do, it does not budget for a campaign that encourages teens to investigate becoming an auto technician as their career. The auto industry spends $14 Billion dollars on advertising, it has budgets to promote the crap out of new car sales but no money to ensure that when those cars break in the future, that there will be someone to fix them…shame on you. The inalienable right to freedom that our country’s founders promised, today means that the citizens must have easy access to competent auto technicians who can help solve mechanical problems that prevent the freedom of the owner. Now back to my saga.
Well Mike got back with the part…Miki installed it…and the car was ready to go. Miki presented me with a more than fair invoice which I happily paid and I was off.
All I can say is THANKS MIKI, THANKS ROBERT, AND THANKS MIKE for turning what could have been a nightmare, into a sweet dream and the idea for this story.
Miki thanks for sharing your story with me and allowing me to share it with The Auto Channel’s worldwide audience, good luck and I expect to see you in Detroit some day…telling it like it is.