The open road can be a beautiful thing, but usually not when you’re admiring it from the shoulder and desperately trying to fix a busted water pump with whatever makeshift tools you have on hand. These are your craziest road trip mishap stories.
Don’t underestimate what you might find in the middle of an industrial complex. When this reader broke down, he was in for one hell of a shock.
I was driving my 50 year old Ford truck from the Twin Cities back to Detroit... the previous week was taken up with hundreds of dollars of repairs and diagnoses at multiple shops, during my vacation.
I departed Friday at 6:15am and headed for the St. Croix River.
The truck ran great. I was pumped.
Then, less than three hours into the 14-hour drive, the truck began to shudder and miss when I let off the throttle a bit. I had to keep the throttle either on or fully let off for it to run smoothly. Trying to soldier on, the problem got progressively worse until I could barely drive it at highway speeds. I pulled off at the first exit- Industrial Avenue.
I rolled past- you guessed it- industrial buildings and a Walmart distribution center. Things were looking grim. The road made a sharp right turn and just as I began to consider the empty concrete near loading docks, a small business appeared on the left and I pulled into the parking lot next to a single car.
Poking around with the hood open, I noticed a guy stroll out of the building and, just as amiable as I was stressed, ask what was wrong. We took the distributor cap off and nothing looked too bad. I turned the screws and they all seemed fine, pulled on the plug wires and they were attached. What could it be?
He led me into the building through the open garage, where on a set of jack stands sat a dark green Triumph TR7 with perfect paint and beautiful black steelies. Its transmission was laid out part by part on a table. As he told me about it, I could only think, if anyone knows how to fix car problems, it’s a Triumph owner.
He got on the phone and began calling shops. One after another. Each phone call ended with, “Well, golly, it’s good to be busy! Thank you very much.” Another phone book page was turned. I was getting worried, and just as anxious as I could be. I wanted to get home by nightfall, and this was not a good start to a 700-mile trip.
My new friend picks up the phone one last time. “Hey, it’s Steve. I’ve got this guy off the street with a sixty-five F-100... yes, a sixty-five! With a three fifty-two. Well, it’s not running right. I’ve been calling all over town, and everyone’s booked up! Would you mind coming down and taking a look at this?”
The phone clacked onto its base. Steve turned to me, “My friend is a pretty good mechanic; he’ll be here pretty soon and we’ll take a look at the truck.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Someone was coming. We had a plan. I pulled the truck into the garage and opened the hood.
Looking up from the shop manual, I saw Steve’s friend walking around an side by side ATV in the garage, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He gawks at the truck- apparently 352’s aren’t common in Wisconsin, either. Another friend shows up wearing orange tinted aviators. “I don’t even like Fords, and this thing is cool!”
We poked around the fuel system and distributor for an hour. They asked how old parts were, and I said, “one week.” Hmm. New parts, but still a problem. We kept tinkering. Someone had the idea to just double check the bolts in there.
A bolt had backed itself out, and the point gap was all over the place!
He gapped it to factory spec (thank God I bought a good repair manual), and I test drove it. Perfect. Rolling back in, spreading the good news, I offered money, beer, what ever I had to share. They refused all of it. “Just pay it forward!”
I sure will.
Suggested By: TylerLinner, Photo Credit:
In what other car might you find your own shoes being filled with gear oil? Just another perk of being a Land Rover owner.
The time my left shoe kept filling up with gear oil.
Yes, driving across Kansas in my Defender 90, on my way to Moab from NYC my left shoe was feeling weird and gross. I took a look and my shoe had gear oil in it. Baffled, I took my shoes off and put on flip flops. 100 miles later I feel a hot slimey liquid on my left foot, look down - ankle and flip flip covered in 90wt oil. I immediately pull over and have one of those freakouts where you assume there is no physical way this could happen and you start to blame aliens. So how does gear oil make it from the diff to my shoe? Whelp..
I’ll save you the long story of me pulling my hair out on the side of the road trying to figure it out but here is what happened. My car was packed with stuff and in the front foot well, on top of some bags was a big case of water. On a D90, the T-case lock moves right to left to engage the center lock and the case of water knocked it over to locked while I was on the highway. From what I was able to tell, the stress of driving on the highway at 75 mph with a locked transfer case broke the spider gears in the front ARB differential. The damage to the diff caused the carrier bearings to wobble and groove the diff housing creating an oil channel. As the ring gear spun, it essentially pumped oil out these grooves. The compressor for the air lockers was under the driver seat and when the pressure got high enough, it would pump the oil up the airline into the compressor and then it would spray out the solenoid onto my leg and into my shoe. So on the side of the highway in Kansas, I removed both front axles, dropped the front driveshaft, pulled the entire third member, reassembled the hubs and drove it to Salt lake City on rear-wheel drive where I got the diff rebuilt.
Something that random only happens to a Land Rover owner.
Suggested By: sflash868
Situations like what this reader experienced are often unavoidable and incredibly dangerous, but thankfully everyone in this story came out almost unscathed.
November of 2010, I was heading down to Baltimore for the weekend. It was with my then-new girlfriend in the passenger seat of my new-to-me since June 1997 Infiniti J30. Her cousin was in the back seat. The trip down went fine, and was mostly uneventful besides an engine miss which stopped about 30 miles into the 200 mile trip. We made the trip down, and did all kinds of driving through the city, the outskirts, and the harbor, and spent lots of money.
On the way back, things didn’t go so well. 70 miles or so from home, somewhere around 9:00 pm, I hear a pop. Tire blowout! At somewhere around 90mph, the tire blew. This car was RWD. I lost control. Details are fuzzy at this point, because of how quickly it happened. I just remember being in a 3500lb ping pong ball for what seemed like hours, but was actually over in less than a minute.
I believe I hit the guardrail first, and then I spun into the concrete median barrier, and then the guardrail again, facing the opposite direction. The airbags exploded. The dust and smell fill the interior. My first instinct is to check on my passengers. They’re both mostly ok thankfully. My girlfriend hit her already bad knee on the glovebox and bruised it a bit, and her cousin busted his leg up a little, but beyond that, they were ok. I don’t have a cut, scratch, bruise or anything on me. I wasn’t in any pain. I get out of the car. I can’t believe we survived. Nobody stops to help. Of course not. It’s Sunday night, on a busy freeway, everybody’s in a hurry. We call the police. They come look everything over. I’m not charged with anything thankfully. We call a tow truck. Rudest tow driver I’ve ever dealt with. By this time, it’s about 10pm. He drops us off at a McDonald’s in Mt. Airy. I’d called my mom not long before, and her and my stepdad were on their way to the rescue to save us. We waited in McDonald’s until they closed at 11. This was just months before they switched to 24hr operation. They didn’t care about what happened, just told us we had to leave. So, we waited in the cold for another 45 minutes when my mom and stepdad finally got there, and we finally got home. We went to the local ER first, and everything checked out fine. Then, we went home and slept.
As for the car?
It did its job keeping us safe extremely well. The girlfriend? We’ve been engaged for over 4 years now, and have a three year old daughter and a house together. Her cousin also turned out just fine as well.
Suggested By: WesBarton89, Photo Credit: WesBarton89
Cats can be cute and all, but not when they decide to crawl up between your subframe and other suspension components. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
We were in Osaka - Nipponbashi to be exact. The night air was humid, and rank, and the sounds of arcades and construction nearby was all too deafening. My friend, Kazuki, was rambling on and on about Yahoo auctions and how he’d just missed his last chance to bid on some cheap VOLK’s. Clearly frustrated by this missed opportunity, his face turned into a cross frown as he looked into his bottle of Pocari Sweat.
My other buddies, all standing around smoking, were all kind of slack jawed, somewhat in awe of Kazuki’s actual depression that he hadn’t scored those rims. Knowing Kazuki, it was a big deal for him - he had told me once that he’d rather have a beautiful car than a beautiful girlfriend, because the car required less upkeep and was definitely more inexpensive to maintain in general. His BNR32 GT-R was the culmination of countless hours of hard labor at a private mechanics garage outside of Nishinari-Ku, and it was his entire reason for living. He’d invested countless thousands into it in order to bring it to it’s current state of 420WHP.
“Kanjo-Sen?” asked one of my other friends, trying to lighten up the mood.
“Mah.. we just did the full circuit from Awaji bridge to Kobe and now here. You wanna go back on? I don’t mind, but I have to get gas.” said Kazuki.
“For at least another hour, sure.” said someone else.
“So it’s settled then.”
As we start walking back towards the cars, a small shadow runs past us and under the GT-R. Startled, we all scramble down to our knees to see what is under the car.
Lurking in the shadows sits the eyes of a kitten, clearly frightened of something. As we start whispering, and tapping on the fenders in order to lure it out, it only gets more frightened. Now scared of what it believes to be an imminent threat - it climbs over the gas tank.
Suddenly all Hell breaks loose.
What do we do? How do we lure it out? We can’t get back on the road with a kitten in there - we’ll kill it. How can we lure it out?
Finally, we decide, someone has got to get under there and grab it. I volunteer.
As I get down on my back, under the car, I bring my phone to shine a light into the underside so as to see where the kitten is. It’s pitch black, and all I can hear is “Go right!” “Go left!” and those repetitive arcade machines, droning in the background like the set of a new age Blade Runner.
I spot the kitten, and reach towards it. Before I even have time to assess the situation, it runs into the suspension assembly. Now I’m really stuck. And so are we. My hands can’t reach back there to grab the kitten - I simply don’t have enough room to crane my hand at that angle.
We spend the next 3 hours trying to lure this kitten out. Food, a stick, and even loud music, does absolutely nothing. It’s absolutely adament on staying. Finally, as our last resort, as the sun is rising, we start the car. The sound of the inline 6 gargling into life scares the Kitten so much that it darts out from under the car, scampering as speed, as it hits the pavements blue reflection under the red sun.
One night of racing was lost for a story that will last for many years.
Suggested By: The-Ever-Socially-Apathetic TBAL
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I’m not sure this is type of combustion fuel is one you’d find me running in my car under any circumstances.
Picture it...Detroit...1987...start of a 2 week family roadtrip/camping vacation through Norther Michigan. We are on our way to my Grandmothers house in Oak Park, right by where 275 passes the airport...we are in our ‘85 Ford Econoline conversion van, upon which my Father recently had aftermarket AC installed.
Normally, we’d take this van from our house in Cleveland to Granny’s and have a little over a quarter tank to spare. My Dad either wasn’t thinking or wasn’t looking, and we ran out of gas just short of Ford Rd., because AC eats gas, duh (in my Dads defense, not that he would want or need one, this was the first vehicle he owned with AC). This was about 11:30 PM. We were on the side of the highway for what seemed like an eternity to me. We had the hood up, distress flag tied to the antenna, but it was dark and even though the highway was pretty busy, no one stopped. Also not helping things- we discovered my Dad’s CB microphone wasn’t working. We could hear traffic 5x5 but we could not transmit an SOS.
So, here we are, on the side of the freeway, but not exactly anywhere within walking distance of a service station. After about 75 minutes or so, my Dad opened the side doors of the van (double doors, not a slider), says “What would MacGyver do?” and puts his foot up on the doorjam. As he puts his foot up, it bumps into a can of Coleman Lantern fuel, and the lighbulb goes off.
He says to my Mom “We got a funnel?” and, since we were packed for 2 weeks of camping, we did. He proceeds to put the lantern fuel in the gas tank, despite my Moms protests. She said to him “what happens if it explodes?!?!” to which he responds “I sure as hell hope it explodes, or else we’re not going anywhere”.
In the name of brevity, cut to the chase...it worked. Flawlessly. We were able to get to the nearest gas station, where I skipped from the car to the register to pay for the tank of gas. A week later, the Northwest flight crashed, almost directly on top of where we were broken down. Had we delayed the trip by a week (which we had considered) it may have landed on us.
Suggested By: HughMagnusJohnson
When this reader’s mother found the tires slashed on her rental, the rental company said “sorry not sorry” and left her to deal with it herself. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end.
About 1991, we took a road trip from Spokane down to Los Angeles area. A couple weeks prior, my mother had wrecked our 1990 Legacy when she ran a red light changing the tape in the deck. So in order to take this trip, she rented a car. It was a light blue Plymouth Acclaim.
The first think I remember is that a cassette tape got stuck in the player and started spitting tape everywhere. Pretty early on, too... meaning we had to listen to whatever radio we could receive on Hwy 395, I-84, Hwy 99, etc.
My little brother also had a tendency to wet the bed. On the second day he fell asleep in the front seat after lunch with a large soda. About an hour later he woke up and started crying because he wet himself. The car continued to smell like urine until we turned it back in two weeks later, and no one wanted to sit in the front seat anymore.
On the third day, when we arrived at our destination, my mother cut a driveway to closely and scraped the side of the car against a stucco wall/fence. My uncle furiously tried to buff it out, but the scratches were pretty deep. Luckily, we didn’t get dinged by the rental agency as the metal wasn’t dented.
The last thing that happened was on 4th day of the trip. At night while the neighborhood was asleep, hooligans slashed tires of cars up and down the block. On the rental car, of course they slashed three tires. My mother called the rental agency and asked what the procedure was. They essentially told her that they don’t care how she proceeds as long as all 4 tires match when it comes back to them. Well, they were OEM only tires so my mother had to purchase a set of 4 tires so that they’d all match. At least she found a sympathetic tire shop who sold her a set of 4 used but matching tires. They were probably close to being bald but they matched, fulfilling the rental agency’s requirement. They probably were scratching their heads wondering why a car with 12K miles already needed new tires when it was turned back in.
The day before we left California to head back to Spokane, I tried to get the tape out of the player with a butter knife. I was successful, buy not without breaking the head off inside the unit. So, we still had to listen to crappy AM radio and rural FM on the trip home.
We didn’t attempt another road trip for several years after this.
Suggested By: Stang1968
Always take caution when cooking, especially when that cooking is taking place in the back of an RV. You don’t want to end up like James May and Richard Hammond, or this reader.
My step dad had some kind of old home made RV and we had planned to visit Canada from New-Brunswick to Manitoba.
We left early in the morning so I decided to make hot-dogs on the Coleman camp stove in the back.
Of course the RV was not insured. Our trip lasted 23 minutes. We spent the vacations home watching re-runs of Friends.
Suggested By: Margin Of Error, Photo Credit: Margin Of Error
Sometimes you just don’t know when close enough is actually too close until it’s too late. This reader and his friends found that out that hard way.
Studying abroad during Junior year of university, my 3 buddies and I took a month long road trip across South America in my friend’s father’s pickup truck (he had a farm in Uruguay). After 3 weeks of driving through 5 countries, not getting it detained or stolen, no mechanical issues, etc, we made it to the Atacama desert in Chile.
We were a few hours from the nearest civilization, and the area literally looked like the moon- no people, cars, buildings, infrastructure - just dry dirt until the horizon in every direction. There were some salt lagoons a bit off the highway, and we decided to drive over and go for a dip. This was the middle of winter and the water was freezing and air temperature about 50F and the salt ripped your feet if you were barefoot, so we told our friend to drive right up to the lagoon so we could jump in quick and scurry back for warmth and not destroy our feet.
My friend drove the truck onto the salt from the dirt and goes about 6 feet before the entire front end sinks up to the bumper into the ground. We tried to back it out and push it and throw rocks under the wheels to get traction, but only dug it in deeper. After 30 minutes of trying to dig it out, we were screwed, stranded in the middle of the desert with no cell phones, no food, nobody anywhere near us, and about 1 car passing per hour.
After some time we flagged down another pickup truck and another car, both full with friendly Chilean men willing to help the idiot Americans. In the end, it took 10 of us and a tow from the other truck about an hour more to finally get our truck out of the lagoon. We got really lucky that day when those other guys stopped, otherwise we could have been in a really bad situation for a really long time. Here’s some pics.
“Hey, let’s go closer to the water”
Suggested By: Hoonidan, Photo Credit: Hoonidan
Being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no help is by no means something anyone should have to go through. It’s how people go insane! Luckily enough for this reader, he was able to wave someone down who just so happened to be perfectly capable of assisting him in this dire situation.
I was traveling home from Michigan’s upper penninsula at roughly 5am, racing back in my 1985 Nissan 300zx, trying to get to my parents at a decent hour (the trip is roughly 6-8 hours). It was myself, and one other car on the road. He had been tailgating me at 70mph for about an hour into the trip, and it was incredibly annoying, but his driving habits seemed to exhibit that of a person who just wants to follow the faster traffic, and not actually take the lead to continue the speed; so I never slowed to let him pass.
We get to a stretch just after Shingleton, MI. Haven’t heard of it? Yeah, it’s that big. The Z is running great, no out of the ordinary knocks, and the stereo I wired in the night before so I could use the Aux cord in, was still bumping those tasty Tenacious D jams. All of a sudden, the engine dies. I didn’t even understand it at first. It went from an obnoxious hum, to a Toyota Prius Symphony. I signal my hazards, and begin hitting the brakes to slow while my mind is just RACING with the possibilities. Did my ignition coil just toast up? Is there a fire under the hood someplace? Could it beeee SATAN!? I had no idea, but the tailgater behind me also slowed, as he watched the only car he’d seen since we left Marquette, MI, hit it’s hazards, and slow down. I’m comforted by this, I feel as though he’s been riding my ass since 5am (without pulling my hair, YET), for a reason. No.
His car drops a gear, and flies around me, as if I was just some piece of truck tire he needed to avoid. He’s left me to die, in the wilderness, on a road without street lamps, or rest areas. There’s a lot of trees, and I can’t get that generic photo of the angry Grizzly Bear’s head out of mind.
I’m stopped now. I lift the hood, and can smell something electrical has fried. I check the connections at the MAF, the IGN coil, the IGN transistor, my distributor, it all checks out. Then I smell something really nasty from within the box that holds the fusible links. There she was. Burned up like an unfortunate onion ring at the bottom of an Arby’s medium fry container.
I had my tool box with me, that had nothing valuable electrical wise, but everything valuable someone could stop and break into my car for, while I was stranded. My TV, my PlayStation, clothes, it was all tucked behind the two seats of my Z, and now sitting in a car that didn’t run, in an area that seemed like the wild west. I can’t carry all this shit.
I put what I can in my back-pack, like my computer and such, and started to walk toward Shingleton. I don’t put my thumb up for the first car, because I’m still not sure if I want to risk the possibility of meeting someone’s abusive Uncle for a ride into town. The next vehicle starts to crest the hill from down the road, and it’s a van. Pontiac Trans Sport. Not something I’d wave a thumb at, but I did it anyway. The dude stops. I’m nervous, this is afterall, a Pontiac Trans Sport from the outside, but who really knows what kind of “body mover” lays within it. I tell the dude I’m broke down, hop in his van. This is where it gets nuts.
Sitting on his dashboard in front of me is a universal fusible link, from Napa. I shit you not. I’m like, dude, I need this. This is what’s wrong with my car! The guy that stopped ended up being an Electrical Engineer from Michigan Tech University. When we get back to my car, he points out that the relay for the electric fans is wired incorrectly, and that’s what caused my IGN Fusible link to burn. The bad news, was all his tools weren’t with him, so we still didn’t have crimpers!
This guy drives me 45 minutes to Munising, MI to a parts store. Waits with me until it opens after 20 minutes of standing there talking about 3.8’s and other Pontiac nonsense. Then, drives me BACK to my car 45 minutes more. The crimpers we bought were like $5, they bend right out of the box. So we are on the shoulder of the road, using a hammer, and a rock, to crimp the connections, adding an in-line fuse to the relay and all this crazy stuff. The car fires right up with the new setup. I tell him I’m no millionaire, but I refuse to let him just ride off into the sunset without me thanking him.
I offer a paypal gift, cash, everything short of a naked hug. He settles for a cheap lunch. And it still amazes me to this day, how quickly I went from feeling totally fucked, to completely happy I ever broke down to meet someone this amazing. If you’re reading this dude, thank you! And I’ve stopped several times to help others out, because of the kindness you showed toward me that morning. I’ve also wired in new fans since then, correctly, and the car has yet to leave me stranded. Thanks dude!
Suggested By: Austin Irwin
It’s always worrying when you use one unreliable car as transportation to buy another unreliable and probably unroadworthy car.
A friend and I drove my 20 year old Cherokee 700 miles to pick up a 30 year old Checker. The Checker wasn’t running well, but it was running. We started the 700 mile journey home. There were some mishaps in the first part of the journey, but the real issue came when I noticed the Checker’s alternator wasn’t charging the battery. Not a big deal, right? We have jumper cables, and we just stop every couple of hours, and hook the Checker to the Jeep for a half hour. That was working, until I thought of a “better” plan. I’ll Drive until the Checker’s battery is depleted, and rather than charging it from the Jeep, we’ll just swap the batteries between the vehicles. In theory, this is a perfect plan, but I hadn’t counted on the Checker’s battery being so bad that it fried the Jeep’s alternator as soon as it tried to charge it without the other battery to act as a capacitor. Now we have a Jeep with a dead alternator and a Checker with a dead alternator. Of course, we didn’t know that the Jeep’s alternator was fried until the lights started to dim while we were driving through New York. Pulled off to the side of the road, and we now have 2 vehicles with dead batteries.
The tow truck driver was a bit confused as to how both of our vehicles wound up dead at the same time, but he loaded them up and asked where to take them. Now we had a solid 500 miles left on the journey home, so that wasn’t happening. “Where’s the nearest parts store that is open?” and “Will they mind if we are wrenching on our cars in their parking lot?”
The reply was reassuring. “There’s a CarQuest at the next exit, and I drop cars off there all the time.”
They have an alternator for the Checker, but not for the Jeep. Okay, new alternator for the Checker, new batteries for both, and the re-implementation of the failed battery swap plan. It should work fine with fresh batteries, right?
Wait! There is an Autozone 2 miles up the road, and they have an alternator for the Jeep! New alternator in the Checker, new batteries in both, we headed on to Autozone for the Jeep alternator. I noticed on that 2 mile drive that the new alternator in the Checker still is not charging.
Once at Autozone, I tear into the Jeep and task my travel companion with troubleshooting the charging system on the Checker. If we can’t sort it out, we’re just back to the swap plan which we were going to do anyway.
We were just about to close the hood on the Checker and head out, when my compatriot says “why isn’t there a pigtail from the battery to the alternator? It turns out the previous owner had replaced the positive battery cable with a cable sans pigtail. Without the pigtail, it didn’t register that I hadn’t hooked it up when installing the new alternator. A short piece of 10 gauge wire, and everything was working as it should.
Of course, that little pigtail wasn’t on the alternator that I removed, either. That alternator was probably okay. The lack of 10 inches of wire killed the Checker’s battery which in turn killed the Jeep’s alternator. 2 new batteries. 2 new alternators. $190 tow bill. 2 lost days of income (I had to call into work when I hadn’t made it home). All for lack of a few cents worth of wire.
Suggested By: smalleyxb122
Welcome back to Answers of the Day - our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day’s Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It’s by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!
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