Saturday, December 17, 2005

Good luck and Bad luck!

Our Christmas "do" on Thursday night turned into a bit of a night from Hell for me but thinking back it could have been much much worse!

The plan was for our team to go for a meal at The Crown pub in Play Hatch, Reading and then go to Reading Greyhound stadium to watch the races.

I was driving 2 people and there was one other car following. About 15 minutes into the journey my car started making a strange vibrating noise from under the bonnet. This was accompanied by the battery light flashing on the dashboard but went after about 30 seconds.

About 2 minutes later the noise returned along with the flashing battery light. The noise stopped abruptly after about 20 seconds but the battery light stayed on. This indicates the alternator isn't charging. I guessed it was the drive belt as this has been squeaking for a few mornings and I had actually arranged for someone to look at it on Friday lunch time!

I figured we only had 20 minutes to our destination so we'd keep going and I could call the breakdown company from the pub. What I didn't count on was hitting 2 lanes of solid traffic and sitting in it for 20 minutes slowly flattening the battery. I did everything I could think of to save power, switched off the lights, aircon, even unplugged my PDA but the electric cooling fan was constantly running as the engine was getting very very hot.

I decided to try and making to a car park I knew up the road and leave it there but I didn't make it much further. My car died right at the busy A33/M4 J11 roundabout.

We pushed my car to the side of the road and planned our next move. I was determined to have a good time so just wanted to get the car somewhere safe and come back to it later.

Luckily a few cars back was an empty breakdown truck. I asked if he could just get me across the roundabout to the car park and he helpfully agreed. He got my car loaded onto his lorry a 5 minutes later offloaded it into the superstore car park, next to a McDonald's.

I locked the car and went off and enjoyed the rest of the evening. I even broke even at the Dogs :-)

The greyhound stadium is right next to the car park where I left my car so I called the breakdown company from there as I was leaving and they promised to be with me within the hour. I didn't hold out much hope of them fixing in the car park but knew they could get me home.

As I was sitting in my car waiting for the recovery lorry to arrive I amused myself watching the boy racers in their souped up Corsa's and Clio's revving their engines in the McDonald's car park thinking they were "it".

I'd been sitting there for 20 minutes before I noticed that section of the car park I was in had bollards across the entrance and exit and I was locked in!!

Arse! I had visions of sitting there all night or trying to make it back the next day. There was no one around at all and I noticed a large sign confirming the car park gets locked at 9pm (this was 10.15pm). It gave a phone number to call. I got through to a helpful chap on the phone who gave me the bad news that there was an £80 release fee but worse than that, the security guard had just got back to their depot in Woking! 45 minutes away.

As he told me this the breakdown lorry arrived and I had to apologise to the driver and give him the news. He was very helpful and was happy  to wait.

After a further 20 minutes of waiting I called again and was told the driver was 20 minutes away still. Getting very frustrated by now I let curiosity get the better of me. I started testing the bollards.

All the ones on the entrance were locked but the second on I tried on the exit turned and dropped into the floor! This left just enough room for my car to squeeze out, What a stroke of luck!!

We got my car onto the back of the lorry in record time and after I lifted the bollard back up and locked it, we got out of there, saving me £80!!

So what with the friendly breakdown lorry moving my car and me finding an unlocked bollard I think I got off quite lightly.

The car was repaired yesterday and as well as the drive belt breaking, apparently the drive belt tensioner had been shattered. Total bill for repair £160. It turns out that the drive belt drives the alternator, the power steering pump, the water pump and the air conditioning pump so is a fairly major part of the engine. I guess after 108,000 miles it's entitled to a replacement.

I have spent quite a bit on the car this year but these have all been things that I would expect to replace on a high mileage car. Hopefully the replacements will slow down next year!

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