Monday, August 18, 2008

If bad things really do come in threes, then it’s time for me to find a rock to hide under…

On Wednesday evening my husband was scheduled to take an evening flight to Joburg for a two day sojourn at corporate HQ. So, being the organized sort that I am, I scheduled us a trip to Canal Walk, the big mall, to run all the little before-travel errands…like refilling his prescriptions for insulin and other meds…for Tuesday evening. Since the mall is open until 9 but the little local shops close at 5 we decided to stop by the aquarium shop on the way to the mall and collect some new filter fluff and a few new snails to graze the algae off the glass. Imagine our surprise when we returned to the car, bagged snails and aquarium filter fluff in hand, and Bertha wouldn’t start!

For the edification of new readers, Bertha (pronounced “BEAR-tah”) is my Mercedes ML430, a great lumbering beast of a car that has enough cargo space to actually carry a refrigerator…we carried one just a few weeks ago to our maid’s place for her, and I’m not talking a puny little bar fridge, either! Hubby has the spiffy little petrol-sipping 2 litre sports car, I have the massive gas-guzzling cargo hauler…she may be a luxury SUV to you, but I use her like a bakkie (mini pickup truck). Why? Because we need a car that will seat the whole family when the family comes to visit, but will haul bricks and trees and bags of compost and mountains of groceries and bookcases…and refrigerators…in everyday use. No, a double-cab bakkie would not have worked…Hubby’s grandmother is 80 years old and frail…we’re not cramming her into the back of a bakkie!

Lest anyone get frothy about the lips about my fuel-sucking automobeast, however, allow me to point out that I seldom use more than a single tank of fuel a month...considerably less than the average commuter…because I don’t drive that much and when I do, a round trip is usually less than 10km (1.6km = 1 mile).

So Tuesday evening saw us stranded in the parking lot in the winter twilight, shops closing all around us, the darkness rapidly gathering. My friend Sally came and picked us up and, after an hour of searching documents and the internet, we finally found a telephone number for the Roadside Assistance for our insurance…why isn’t it prominently displayed on their website??? We hopped into The Pretty Baby, hubby’s sports car, and returned to the parking lot where Bertha sat alone in the dark.

While waiting for the tow truck, Hubby stuck the key into Bertha’s ignition and turned it and, to our amazement, the car started! He tried it several times and each time the car kicked over. When the tow truck arrived, however, another attempt at starting the car failed. The engine cranked and cranked, but it did not catch. Off Bertha went to the tow truck company’s impound yard where she would spend the night and then be carted off to the nearest Mercedes dealership.

The following day the dealership gave us an estimate of R3000 ($400) to replace the crankcase sensor. The day after that I was delighted to hear from Mercedes that the job was done, the bill was only R1750 ($233) and they were delivering the car to my house! They took my credit card info over the phone and just an hour later Bertha arrived, freshly washed and sparkling clean.

Hubby was in Joburg all this time, the Baby tucked away in a parking garage at the airport. I can’t shift with my left hand (we sit on the wrong side of the car, here, and drive on the wrong side of the road…it’s too much to add shifting with the wrong hand, too!) so he didn’t bother to leave The Baby home for me to drive while he was away. But Friday night finally arrived and at 9:30 I got the customary SMS “Arrived safely,” which meant he’d be home in half an hour. I got up and started tidying things in anticipation of his arrival.

Half an hour later, just about the time I expected him to come through the door, my cell phone rang. It was my husband.

“Dear,” he said, “I’ve got a little wrinkle here and I’m going to be home late.”

Late? It was after 10 already! “What kind of wrinkle?” I asked him, suddenly worried.

“My car won’t start,” he replied. I was dumbstruck.

He and some fellows at the airport tried jumper cables but no go. Eventually they pushed the car and Hubby was able to start it by popping the clutch. The battery was well and truly dead. He was able to get home and put the car in the garage whereupon he shut the engine off and then, just to test it, turned the key again. Deader than a doornail.

Of course, by this time it was after 11 pm and you can be sure that there was nobody hanging around at our preferred Honda dealer. It wasn’t until Monday morning that he was able to contact the dealership and it won’t be until tomorrow morning that they’ll come to collect her.

So, two identical car breakdowns in a single week. Both of our cars are top-of-the-line for their makes (at least as sold in South Africa), both are regularly maintained. I am now sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop…so far only two disasters have befallen us and I dread to think what might be the third.

1 comment:

  1. You're safe unless you have three cars :-).

    It sounds like an alternator - at least they are not usually too expensive. Not very convenient, though.



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