Reader Submissions: Top Five Reader Submitted Road-Trip Breakdowns

Top Five Reader Submitted Road-Trip Breakdowns

By Petrolicious Productions
November 6, 2014

A few weeks ago we asked you to share your worst/best stories of road trip breakdowns. We received a great response with lots of stories of misfortune found far from home. It seems that perhaps Candide’s advice to “stay home and tend your garden” isn’t such a bad idea. But who can blame us? We love adventure, crave the open road, and being a Petrolista demands you enjoy the experiences that accompany our passion.

So following, in no particular order, are five tales of varying degrees of hardship and their resolutions. Enjoy and try learning something–not to stay home–just pack more spares!

Ray Houghton – This was back in the ‘80s and is a motorcycle story rather than car. Several years running, my friend Tom and I would go to the unofficial BMW motorcycle owners of America rally in Death Valley. One year the ride home was cursed. It started with me getting a flat tire on the way out of the valley. That ended up being way more trouble than it should have been, and held up leaving for a day, but was a minor problem compared to what followed. The next day we got an early start, we were having fun carving roads out of the valley till Tom hit a patch of gravel in a turn, his front wheel washed out, and down he went. We were both riding old air-head BMWs His was a race prepped R90S with an over-sized touring fuel tank and every speed and handling upgrade offered by BMW of San Jose, mine a dead stock short swing-arm R75/5. As you might guess sliding across the pavement on an air-head boxer engine he ground a hole in the valve cover. Not a problem. We patched the hole with duct tape and were back on our way. We made our way out of the valley, hit a long straight desolate road and opened up our throttles. I was in Toms draft trying to keep up when I saw puffs of white smoke blowing out his tail pipes then saw his rear wheel lock up. I quickly got on the brakes and moved over. We pulled off to the side to find his engine seized. When he ground the hole in the valve cover it must have scooped up dirt and rocks that got into the oil pump and that was all she wrote.

I left him there and rode miles to the next town. BMWMOA gives all its members a book with phone numbers of other members, where they live and who’s willing to help out. Luckily there was member about 50 miles away that, after a quick call, said he was willing to follow me back to Tom and his bike, pick up the bike, and store it in his garage till we could get back for it.

That out of the way, we were back on the road two up on my bike. We were taking turns driving, and Tom was driving as we got to the long, hellish strip of pavement we call Interstate 5. Tom switched to the reserve tank as we rolled past a gas station. I tried to get him to stop, but he was used to his bike with a good 2 gallon reserve. As you can guess about 5 miles down I-5 my bike sputtered to a stop. We started pushing in the heat of the central valley as the sun slowly and mercifully set on two sweaty motorcyclists in full leathers pushing that bike a good two to three miles to the next off ramp and gas pump. The rest of the trip was uneventful, but for a short trip from Death Valley to San Francisco, man, was I beat when I finally rolled into my own driveway.

Rip Curl – Years ago my friend had a breakdown in his Lotus Esprit and needed help getting home. I opened the engine compartment to find that the throttle cable had snapped. We were about five miles from his house so I devised a plan to get us home. I grabbed a wooden stake from a nearby real estate sign and climbed into the rear trunk compartment (behind the engine). While my friend drove I used the stake to operate the throttle as it was too hot and remote to use my hands. During the drive two problems arose. The first was that my friend was not a very good manual transmission driver so I had to keep track of the traffic lights, road conditions, and engine speeds to lift off and do all the appropriate revs during gear changes. The second problem was that as we picked up speed the air pressure on the large rear hatch (that was partially open with me in the trunk) starting to get rather high putting quite a strain on my neck that was supporting the whole assembly open. It all must have looked rather interesting from the outside but we managed to make it home without any police intervention.

Andrew Salt – It was summer 1983. I was riding my new 250cc Honda motorcycle up the M6 motorway through Cumbria from Birmingham on my way to the Isle of Skye – about 200 miles done of my 500 mile journey. The bike was loaded to the gunwales with camping gear, and thinking I was a cool dude, a huge Ghetto Blaster stereo strapped on top of it all. I barely had room to sit on the bike! It was slow going. My mate, on a bigger bike, lost patience and went off ahead. As I was riding up Tebay Gorge, with the bike struggling to cope with its burdens, it just died. I pulled in the clutch and rolled to a stop on the hard shoulder. I guessed I was out of fuel. I opened the filler cap and coudn’t see any fuel. I tried shaking the bike to listen for fuel, but with the huge load, it started to fall over and I was completely powerless against the force of gravity. With my new bike lying there dented, its wheels sticking up in the air, the load in the ditch, and passing motorists slowing to wind their windows and laugh, I felt a right chump!

I unloaded, righted the bike, re-loaded, and started pushing for the services and petrol station in-sight about a mile away up the hill. After about half a mile, fit to drop and soaking wet with sweat in my black leathers in the summer sun, I looked down at the tarmac slowly inching by, the fuel tap under the side of the tank caught my eye. Only then did I realise there was a reserve setting. I turned the tap 180 degrees, pushed the starter and the engine burst to life. Exhausted, I tried to get on the bike – but fell over, again this time to my right. I unloaded, lifted the bike, re-loaded, rested, mounted, rode in to the petrol station and filled up. When I eventually got to Scotland, the Ghetto Blaster still worked!

Sid Widmer – I was driving a ’72 Datsun 240Z at about 65 MPH when I came to a small town where the speed-limit was quickly reduced to 45mph then 35mph. When I went to apply the breaks they were to my surprise, completely gone. There were cars slowing down to the appropriate speed in front of me and I was coming up on them fast. With nowhere to go but a small grocery store parking lot to my left I swerved across traffic into the lot at speed. I went blasting past the front of the store and around the outside of the lot, tires squealing. Luckily half the lot was empty and I threw the Z into tight circles in the vacant part of the lot until I slowed enough to pull my e-brake to aid in the stopping without spinning me out. I must have looked like a complete crazy idiot racing around the lot. The culprit was a worn out break booster. Thank God I had an opening with no people in the way or I would have had to crash her into the trees to keep from hitting anyone.

Focodave – 34 years ago, while I was attending college and commuting about 40 miles each way from home to school, my ‘72 Super Beetle went dead on the highway at 60 miles per hour. I gracefully steered it to the shoulder of the road, opened the hood, and found that the throttle cable had snapped. I was on my way to school for an important exam so I did not try to flag anyone down for help. Instead I scoured the shoulders of the highway to pick up whatever wire, rope, string I could find. I connected several mis-matched pieces together and proceeded to thread the new “throttle cable” through the louvers in the hood, up alongside the car and into the driver’s window. I used my left hand to pull on the throttle, my knees and legs to steer, and my right hand to shift. Pretty traumatic in highway traffic, but it worked.

I drove to school and back home with my makeshift cable. Nothing graceful about it, but I got where I needed to go.

I miss that VW terribly. Those were the days…..

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Jorge Salazar
Jorge Salazar
9 years ago

My first car was a old VW Brasilia, a station wagon variant of the beetle. For whatever reason, the pedal assembly on this car was a few mm offset from the one in the Beetle. Issues with a snapped throttle cable, like Focodave described were common. The service shop would open several bags of spare cables to find the longest one to try to minimize the issue. However, on my way to an exam, it was the shifter cable that snapped. No issue to upshift, but I’m glad I remembered those articles in Road & Track magazine about double clutching. It was fun to attempt, and I’m glad I made it to the exam, but for the way back, I definitely waited until I rigged a temporary cable. Fun times…

Sid Widmer
Sid Widmer
9 years ago

Hey, I made it in the top 5. Honored. Thanks!

9 years ago

Great stories! Worst thing that happened to me was pushing my 1967 Barracuda 1 mile to work after it broke down.

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