Flight Or Fight — Our Human Response When Our Cars Break Down

I’m fortunate enough to write that I’ve only ever suffered two instances where a car of mine has, as Rolls Royce famously put it, failed to proceed. The first was when the coil went on my Mini and the second was when my XR4x4 ripped a tie-rod through a decaying bush.

Now, that’s not to say I’ve never been in a situation where recovery may have been the appropriate fix — I’ve bump-started my own car while having to push and hold the battery cable in place at the same time, I’ve vibrated an hour down the M6 with a driveshaft universal joint failure, and… well… there’s worse I don’t feel too comfortable talking about in the public arena.

I have recovery cover. I keep my card with me on all journeys, and I have the number stored in my phone. I admit I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been resourceful, hence why these days I carry more stuff in my trunk than a WRC support vehicle. That said, a lot of how we act in these situations comes down to how we operate at our core.

During the last Men In Sheds vlog, a Barn Tune episode where we replaced the turbo in Andrew’s Wagon-R, we ventured out to conduct a road test and collect some pizza. We were far too pre-occupied with the pizza. We left his home with hot tea in our bellies but no fluid checks and barely a once over of the engine bay. We took nothing with us. No oil. No water. No tools. Plus, we of course ventured out into the sticks grinning into the camera like we were invincible. We didn’t realise that our comments celebrating the Wagon-R “Moving under its own steam” would foreshadow what was about to happen.

You could argue we were lucky. Andrew was explaining his Blitz engine monitor when he saw the temp gauge reading at 120 degrees and his dashboard temp gauge pinned at the top.

He shut off the engine and hit the hazard lights.

Now this is one of the areas Andrew and myself are polarised. I am by nature a fight rather than flight strategist. This is sadly one of the reasons I’ve found myself in one too many physical confrontations in the past. My reaction is to keep the engine and vehicle going at all costs. The handbrake is not going up and that key is not being turned until there’s no other choice. I will drag a car home on three wheels if I have to. Hell, I once drove home screaming back and forth with my girlfriend who, while bracing herself against the passenger side door, was convinced the steam erupting from my 1.4 Astra bonnet was smoke. Andrew, on the other hand, doesn’t subscribe to this logic. He is prepared to stop, flick the lights off, and call in the cavalry.

So, that moment when we rolled to a halt in the pouring rain with the windows steaming up and commuter traffic swishing by, it was fascinating to see how we operated.

I wanted to move the car off the road. Andrew wanted to stay put. My next suggest was to limp it home. Andrew wasn’t going to risk it. There was this factor of the unknown. The temp reading could just be from air trapped in the coolant system which had been disconnected to perform the turbo swap. Either way, it was his car and therefore, in my opinion, his call to make.

At this point, Andrew seemed pretty much resigned to the fact his little Kei Car was immobilised and he’d have to call upon his beautiful wife to venture out and find us with a bottle of fresh H20. I myself will always avoid asking for help… or advice… or information. He had given me all the excuses I needed to turn this moment into an episode of Survivor — if water was all we needed then so be it that it was we shall fight for.

This was, of course, a case of “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink” as torrents of rain pattered on the metal over our heads. Dare we go and knock on the local farmhouse door and beg for assistance, even having to stoop to requesting a vessel to carry it in? Hell no! Not on my watch! Thankfully Andrew suffers just as much crippling social anxiety as I.

I did have a bright idea. We could squirt all the washer fluid into the coolant tank. Sure it would have a little anti-freeze in it, but that should be fine. Andrew was pretty much onboard with this and it quickly became Plan-B.

I figured all we needed was a container, something to catch the rain it. I then remembered the Wagon-R has a little plastic shopping basket under the bench seat. I retrieved it and grinning brightly at Andrew, expecting nothing but acclaim. Somewhat dryly, he said, “We’ll be waiting a while!”. I went and stubbornly put it out in the rain anyway, after snarking, “Well, what’s your plan then?”

Andrew then had a moment of genius. “The church”, he proclaimed, “They’ll have an outside tap, I reckon!”. And off he went, scooping up the slightly wet shopping basket with such haste he forgot to even take the keys out the ignition, never mind lock the car.

And the tap from the church yard did giveth.

Soaked through and hungry, we trudged back to the Wagon-R with its hazard lights weeping in the downpour with a basket full of crystal clean water cradled in Andrew’s arms. I reluctantly volunteered to vent the radiator cap and we tipped our offering into the Wagon’s tiny burping mouth.

Boy did it gulp down a lot, but with every glug the temp gauge dropped another degree. We had saved ourselves and the mood quickly turned to one of humoured jubilation.

I have to say, I learned a lot from that experience, a lot about myself, about others, and about teamwork. I learned that it’s okay to stop, that it’s okay to think, and consider assistance might be the best option. I also learned that one man’s desperate ideas may serve as another man’s eureka moment, so it’s best to share every suggestion, as ridiculous as they may seem.

Ultimately though, I’m reminded of that old adage, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” — so please, check your fluids and carry some water.

Fiat’s UK Pickup Truck May Be A Fullback, But It’s Utterly Half Arsed

I don’t need to test drive, buy, or conduct an owner’s report to tell you the Fiat Full Back is a dirty mark on an otherwise remarkable portfolio from FCA — and it’s got nothing to do with how good a truck it actually is. Continue reading Fiat’s UK Pickup Truck May Be A Fullback, But It’s Utterly Half Arsed

Now I Understand The Numbers, I Regret Every Penny I’ve Spent On Cars.

During our last episode of Men In Sheds, we covered the topic of car finance and why, what looks like hedonistic automotive freedom, is actually a horrible trap that locks you into a brand. I have to admit complete ignorance to this world before Andrew and I sat down for a cup of tea the week before and he explained it all to me.

I’m not a foolish man with money, not any more. However, when I left school, I was financially illiterate, and I think many of us are. I left college in 1998, walked into my first job, and was on the initial wave of the easy loans and credit card bombardment phase of that era. I made a lot of terrible financial decisions which I’ll get back to later in this piece.

Continue reading Now I Understand The Numbers, I Regret Every Penny I’ve Spent On Cars.