“You know nothing Norm Snow,” I said and called the RAC
Tonight I was driving along the A5 on my way to Milton Keynes to collect my son and his friend from a laser quest party when the lights on the dashboard systematically began to flash
Flash: The ABS is broken
Flash: The VSA light is on (I don’t know what that is)
Flash: The yellow triangle with an exclamation mark on it is flashing. Emergency, emergency it shouted silently.
Flash: The wierd yellow jug thing is alight.
Flash: Flash: Flash: All the lights are flickering.
Excellent. Just what I needed when the mechanic husband was 500 miles away. I checked the dashboard again. The temperature read as normal and there was no smoke coming from the engine so I kept going because I was only about 5 minutes away from the party. As soon as I arrived and parked the car the battery light came on and once the engine was turned off, it would not turn back on.
I called the mechanic husband who talked me though a diagnostic electrical fault finder using an ap on my phone called Torque (Lite). “No Fault Detected” it said. Well that was no help at all. “You know nothing Norm Snow,” I said and called the RAC.
But then I had a brainwave. The party was at the Daytona go-karting track. Where there are cars, there are mechanics and sure enough there was a trainee mechanic on duty (Sam) who kindly came out to take a look. He and fellow parent Paul, quickly worked out that the alternator was failing to charge the battery. This was confirmed 45 minutes later by the RAC mechanic and his gadgets.
By this time there had been approximately 12,000 acts of kindness bestowed upon me by friends from the wonderful Deba who took my 8 year old home with her and her lovely boys; Jorge who waited with me for the RAC to arrive – and put his life at risk as I drove home with just sidelights on to keep the battery going (the RAC van was close behind); Paul who pulled out his jump leads and diagnosed the problem, and Paula who took home my son’s friend (because I was supposed to). The wonderful Wendy who kept my daughter for 18 hours longer than she originally planned to and the lovely Sam who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that the RAC were able to sort out the car.
So despite the fact that this is the second car failure I’ve had this month I feel lucky. Lucky to have a lot of lovely friends and a car that might break sometimes but I still have one. Unfortunately I don’t have a tumble dryer and the cash that I had ready to buy a heat pump condenser dryer (more efficient, no vent required), is going to be spent on an alternator and a battery. My dreams of a laundry free living room are on hold.
We were two independent, educated women who could add oil to the bloody engine all by ourselves. Except we couldn’t. Shit
Last weekend I went away with the girls for a leisurely 2 days of relaxing, drinking wine, sleeping for over 8 hours a night, having naps and eating food that I had not had to cook. It was blissful. I was feeling liberated after flying solo for 2 days but on the drive home the oil light started to flash on the car dashboard. What does that mean? I discussed the implications of the light with my co-pilot Jo, and then rang the husband, he is a mechanic after all. And as he is so fond of saying to me (in your face Norm): “You don’t get a dog then bark yourself.”
His advice was simple: “If it is orange stop at the next garage and put oil in. If it is red pull over now and stop the car,” he said. It was orange.
At the next garage I bought a litre of engine oil (£14.99 – what? Probably the same price as the pick and mix) and then the fun started. Where the hell was the button that pops open the hood? This was already embarrassing. Not only did I not know how to check the oil after 18 years of driving I couldn’t even open the bonnet to start to get it wrong. We even asked a stranger who fortunately couldn’t find it either. Then Jo demonstrated a flash of genius. “Where is the manual?” she said. Oh yes. I’d had the car since December and had not yet looked at the manual which was in the glovebox.
The manual told us that the bonnet button was just behind the fuel button, which it was but tucked around the inside of the panel down by the accelerator. Not obvious. Obviously.
We popped it open.
Next stop – the dipper, which we couldn’t miss because it was bright orange. We pulled it out and looked for the minimum and maximum lines. There were none. We looked harder. There were two tiny holes and the oil hadn’t even come up to the first one so it was definitely low. Excellent. This was not rocket science. Now which tank was the oil tank? “It usually has an oil lamp on it,” said Jo who, with her powers of practical deduction, was fast becoming my hero. To my mind there were three different openings that could have been the oil tank so I consulted the manual again. It was the black one, which once I wiped it clearly had an oil lamp in it. Bingo.
I tried to twist it. Nothing. Jo tried to twist it. Nothing. We alternated a few times and then looked at each other in dismay as the bloody thing refused to shift. We were on the final lap (of a very short race), we didn’t need a mechanic husband or anyone else for that matter, we were two independent, educated women who could add oil to the bloody engine all by ourselves. Except we couldn’t. Shit.
A few people had noticed our struggle most notably a bearded gentleman in overalls. We waved. He sauntered over and after a few seconds of explanation he reached down and immediately turned the cap which turned as easily as a child’s windmill in a strong breeze. “It has been over tightened,” he said kindly. Then he smiled, nodded and sauntered away as we thanked him, our politeness disguising the resentment that we had needed to ask in the first place. Fifteen minutes later we were back on the road feeling empowered. The car needs a service in January. Perhaps Norm would like me to do it instead……