By on August 12, 2006

hill222.jpgEver have one of those days where you seem to be at odds with all the motorized entities in your life? Where anything electrical fails, every warranty expires and all the things that you hope will hold out ‘til your next paycheck… don't? I had just such a day last spring, where I ended-up flat on my back, with the wind knocked out of me, lying under my own pickup truck.

The day started innocently enough, albeit at 10 degrees below zero. Needless to say, the driver's side door on my “vintage” Mazda hatchback was frozen shut. Sliding in through the passenger side and clambering carefully over the stick shift, I plopped into the driver's seat. My next indication that this wasn't going to be a shiny happy day came at the coffee shop drive-through. After realizing that my window was frozen, I tried to crank it open. With a sickening crack, the glass jumped the tracks and disappeared into the deep recesses of the door.

My patience evaporated as fast as my breath, as my fingers grew stiff in the bitter cold. I set my steaming brew beside me and fiddled with the manual window winder until the internal mechanism caught. I managed to raise the glass, protesting and clacking as it ascended. Despite the temperature, the sun was bright and my mood optimistic. I was looking forward to picking-up a test vehicle for review.

Three blocks from the dingy sprawling metropolis of General Motors, Oshawa, flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror. Sighing with karmic resignation, I pulled over and watched Officer Krupke walk to my car. In anticipation of our cheerful conversation, I rolled down the window– which fell with a resounding "thunk" inside the door. Pocketing my ticket, I followed the officer's advice and made a mental note to replace the out-of-date insurance card with the new one sitting peacefully on my desk at home, still inside its original envelope.

My hatchback spends most of its time shuttling back and forth between car manufacturers. It sits for a week in the company car lot until I return the latest press car. Most car writers I know do the same. It's poetic irony to see a well-known car critic climb out of a gleaming Mercedes E-class and jump into a rusty, flatulent 20-year-old Toyota Corolla.  On that fateful day, I was looking forward to ditching my beater and hopping into a new vehicle. I had a  reasonable chance that everything would function as it should. If not, it’d be someone else’s problem.

That week's tester was a Hummer H3, the smallest of General Motor's interpretations of the military Humvee. Feeling slightly ridiculous perched atop a wanna-be rapper’s wet dream, I was nonetheless grateful that it was a subdued, sand colored model, and not a screaming, retina-burning yellow version.  From time served at the vehicle’s press launch and drive program, I knew two things.  First, the vehicle’s in-line five cylinder engine rendered GM's mucho macho machine woefully under-powered and 2) the H3 was virtually unstoppable. Or, so I thought…

Later that evening, I headed out to a former ski hill. Its backside was a sloping expanse of rugged, tree-studded wilderness. Chugging merrily over hills, barging through woods and devouring trenches to the accompaniment of AC/DC, the day's dirty deeds seemed redeemed. And then I applied the brakes at the edge of a ditch and felt… nothing. Sheer, traction-less ice lay just under the snowy carpet. Slowly, inexorably, I slid into the ditch, nose down.  The H3 was wedged in the snow, arse in the air, with its rear wheels barely making contact with the ground.

Trudging a couple of miles to a friend’s place– cursing my cell phone resting on the kitchen counter– I called a tow truck. After convincing the wary driver that I was sober, I directed him through the woods. We located the unfortunate Humlet by pressing the key fob.  It lit up like a beacon in the blackness. It took all of 10 minutes to extricate the Chevrolet Colorado-based off-roader from the ditch (two thumbs waaay up for rear tow hooks).  While I wasn't exactly happy, I was grateful that I'd somehow managed to find the only tow truck driver in Canada who could resist the urge to smirk.

Safely home, thawing my frozen feet, I suddenly remembered that it was mid-way through the month; I had to move my truck to the opposite side of the street if I wanted to avoid a parking ticket. Once the job was done, I exited the vehicle, gingerly edging between the pickup and a frozen snow bank. My feet slipped out from under me. And that's how I ended up flat on my back, under my own vehicle, vowing that under no circumstances was I going anywhere the following day.

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28 Comments on “Bad Carma...”

  • avatar

    Misery loves company right?

    You could always bend a valve trying obsessively to verify cam/crank phasing that has worked well for 30K miles. Why? because its good to be spot on before dumping loads of cash on a custom tune on a dyno. 100*F can lead to not thinking clearly and manhandling a cam leads to a new intake valve.

    This weekend I’m going to be lying on my back under my track toy trying to extract ten year old hardware. I expect a fight akin to that of a traumatized ADHD child at first sight of the needle being used to extract a red bull sized blood sample which “isn’t going to hurt a bit”.

    As for the H3. I’m shocked you found something useful or exceptional about it. I wonder if those rearward facing tow hooks are a listed feature in the sales brochure.

  • avatar

    Bah! I own a mid-60s Jaguar E-type. Every weekend in the summer is like this (minus the fozen bits and off-roading of course.)

    And I LIKE it. =)


  • avatar

    Ahh … Carma.

    How about replacing the water pump on a Lotus Elan S3 and accidentally jumping the timing chain one tooth (the pump was “pressed” into the timing chain cover)? Bent 5 valves on first crank, including 4 sodium cooled exhaust valves?

    Or driving your dune buggy out in the desert on a Army Corps of Engineers “practice road” to nowhere at 40 mph and … what’s the dark area up ahead? Could it be a giant sewage treatment lake that’s spread across the road? Did I mention the windshield was out due to a previous water balloon incident on the last day of school? Riding a brown wave 50 feet out into a sea of disgusting, smelly slime … the memories.

    Or maybe coming down a long hill in your ’64 Comet and discovering you’ve lost your brakes. But it’s OK because you can downshift with careful clutching … which works until the “3 on a tree” lever comes off in your hand. That was fun.

    Oh: borrowing a friend’s XJ12 and rupturing the power steering hoses on a U-turn – which sprayed on the exhaust manifold and caught fire?

    Sometimes you just have to tell yourself: “this is going to make a great story later…”

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    … or wrecking the brand new car you just bought as you drove it off the dealer’s lot…

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    It got down to 40 one February…

    But my real question is — Lesley, you only have the car for a week; why not get “screaming, retina-burning yellow?” A week? Best put streamers on it. And sirens. Hell, mirror plate it.

    And don’t give me the whole “people are different up here” line, as the old man is from Canada.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    LOL, Jonny, I already felt ludicrous enough driving the thing Best of all? I got the “finger” from the cultural studies students on the university campus.

    gfrog: cam timing etc. seems to have the same numbing effect on my brain as those mental gymnastic teasers (yanno, if two people on a jet plane going x amount of miles are tossing a ball back and forth, what’s the speed of the ball??). Finally gave up and shipped my project V8 to some people who knew what they were doing. I’ve seen enough pics of busted valves and bent pushrods to know the consequences of stubborn pride. :))

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Ooooooo Frank, even worse… is being rear-ended 15 minutes into a test drive. :(((

  • avatar

    Alright, can’t resist contributing…

    At 22 yrs old, having just nabbed my first ‘real’ job after college, I purchased an ’87 Honda Accord Coupe and drove it to Minneapolis (where I was to work) from Ohio. First full day there, I ran a stoplight downtown (totally my fault) and t-boned a Bimmer. The driver of the car I ran into was a lawyer. Both cars were totalled, but thankfully all concerned were OK.

    The beauty of Minnesota is that the even the lawyers there (or at least this one at any rate) impress me as being nicer than the average joe most anywhere else. He drove me and my meager possessions back to my hotel, and then offered to drive me to the hospital.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I once went through 5 alternators in two weeks. After alternator #4 I checked my voltmeter, sure enough, it was the problem. My tools lied to me; that was some bad carma.

  • avatar

    A half-hour after getting my full license, I put my car in the ditch … doing a three-point turn.

    I drove an Intrepid at the time, which has a turning circle larger than some small towns (and as such, usually had to go for the fourth point). What looked like a hard shoulder was really just a ditch filled with snow, and, uhh, yeah, I slid in.

    Other than that, there was this past winter, where my Escort spent most of it without heat (one of the fan wires fell out and wouldn’t reconnect). I kept a scarf in the car, just as something to wipe the windshield down with.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    105,000+ miles on my first WRX and I had to change the battery at 70,000 miles….

    Oops, wrong thread.

  • avatar

    Opened the door of my Ford Pinto station wagon. The leading edge of a Monte Carlo's rear bumper hooked on the door and ripped it off the car. This happened on the same day that a a foul ball landed on the hood.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “the H3 was virtually unstoppable. Or, so I thought…”

    Seems to me that you were right. The H3 was unstoppable.

  • avatar

    What is the sound of one Hummer idling?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Uh oh… is that a koan? I’m about as good with those as I am with brain teasers..

  • avatar

    More like a Roy Cohn.

  • avatar
    Ryan Furst

    Lets here the story of where all this Bad Carma came from!

  • avatar

    Husband (then boyfriend) and I were driving around Lincoln, NE in his 91 hyundai scoupe and the muffler falls off. Well, not entirely, but it was quite noisy and not in the best condition to drive. *sigh* Being poor college students, these things happen. So we borrowed his mom’s car so that we could go to the planetarium at one of the parks. We noticed that the time the park closed was ‘sunset’, but the gates were still open (we presumed for the planetarium) and we went in anyway. Nearly get hit head on by a cop screaming down the narrow park road. He flips on his lights, pulls us over, and starts freaking out on us, thinking we’re a bunch of high schoolers off to do drugs or god knows what. Shocked the heck out of him when he found out we were both in our 20s, and that I wasn’t even from Lincoln. This guy was insane. Other cars were entering the park after us (some loaded with kids) and he was chasing after them on foot, screaming at them to pull over so he could ticket them too. This is a friday night in Lincoln, drunk drivers and red light runners left and right, and he’s giving trespassing tickets to everyone that goes into the park. We took our tickets, went home, and called it a night. We figured if we tried to go out again we’d probably end up dead.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Since I go between my hooptie – a ’72 Volvo 142E sedan, older than your Mazda – and various press fleet machines, I really like this piece, Lesley. Forgive me for phrasing it this way, but ice is indeed a bitch.
    In December 1983, I recall driving my first vintage Volvo – a ’72 Volvo 144E sedan (love those Swedish bricks) in the midst of a rainfall, with the temperature below freezing. The roadway became an instant sheet of ice, and I was on a section of road called “Phinney Ridge” since it straddles between a hill to the west and a parking lot for a zoo, on the east. Coming to a light, I slowly depressed the brake pedal and counter-steered. The car stopped with just a bit of diagonal play, coming down from a speed of 10 mph. It’s great to have just four speeds forward, with a low first, sometimes .
    Forward to February 1995, when I was in a Ford Ranger “Splash” running late on the road down to Puyallup WA to cover a collector car auction. It snowed that day – a rare occurence in a northwest February – and I was stuck behind a dually truck being driven by two blue-collar guys with lanwmowers stuck out the back. When I tried to get around them, I hit a patch of ice and the Splash lived up to its name” slid 180 degrees and then over into a minivan heading north.
    An idiot of a state trooper actually ticketed me for “too fast for the conditions,” a ticket I fought in August of ’95 and got a slight decrease in amount on. Most fortunately, no one was hurt. The Splash was still driveable and I made it to the auction and home.
    Ford’s Seattle-based rep, Bob Sundmacher, took care of the minimal damage to the Splash and the vehicle I slid into. I thought I would never drive another Ford again. But not only did I, but in October 1997, Bob allowed me to deliver a (then new) Ford Expedition to Portland, Oregon for a Northwest Auto Press Association event entitled “MudFest.”
    But don’t ask me to willingly drive on ice, ever again.

  • avatar

    Saturday: car broken into. Convertible top slashed, stereo stolen.

    Sunday: wake up to find car broken into again. Lock jimmied, nothing stolen as anything of value was stolen day before. Realize other car is not in parking spot, and has been stolen.

    Monday: Find out from cops that stolen car has been recovered, extensively damaged. Friend calls, says he saw it on the news, plowed into a tree in someone’s front yard.

    Tuesday: Driving to work, traffic is disaster from an accident. Take long way to work on alternate route. Road is wet from morning shower. Crossing overpass of freeway driving into low morning sun. Distracted from thoughts of job interview on Wednesday, and from recent bad carma. Fail to notice traffic is stopped ahead of me and rear end a Jeep Cherokee with my one functional (minus lock, minus stereo) vehicle. Minor bumper scrape to Jeep. Clean up busted glass from headlight while dealing with insurance. Assure other guy that I’m at fault, and will not try to fabricate some b.s. story to blame him. Realize after fact that crouching between my vehicle and other vehicle to clean up glass is not a great idea, should some other similarly distracted driver plow into my car. Fortunately, I avoided being the meat in a Suzuki/Jeep sandwhich.

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    I the early eighties I owned a bright orange 1975 SAAB 99. On a vacation trip with wife and kids to Denmark (we live in Sweden), the exhaust system separated into two parts inside a safari park with some thirty lions around the car, all inside the same fencing as we were. The terrible noise seemed to annoy the lions, and three big males approached but stopped within ten feet from us. Anyway, I was on my way out to look under the car. Only a hysterical yell from my wife recalled some of my senses and saved my skin. We eventually managed to drive back into the civilized world, tracking the roadway with the front muffler. Then we learned that weekend car service in Denmark was no option, so the family council decided to try to make it back home, with the muffler constantly bouncing on the tarmac and a painful uphill sound level inside the car. Luckily, Denmark is flat. Two hours later after a lunch break, we had no starting motor. But we made it to the ferry, with sore ears and feet. Back at the Swedish berth, we had to get help from the ship’s crew to push the car into the exit lane and than pushed to get started. When the engine ignited I looked into one crew’s eyes, and I’m sure he was dead for a couple of seconds. SAAB:s alleged aircraft heritage eventually came true as the terrifying sound was threefold amplified inside the empty ferry hall. It must have sounded like a B52 bomber at full speed passed over our heads.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Thanks Terry. The good thing was – there wasn’t a scratch on the vehicle.
    Unlike a Hyundai Accent GS I had 4 years ago. Had just picked it up with a friend – and we were rear-ended so hard by a lifted Jeep Comanche that I think all 4-tires left the ground. Rear end was punched right in. Taking it back, and trying to make light of a tense situation, I said “well, I might as well review this thing. I do think the rear view is somewhat compromised by the spoiler”.. to which my friend replied “well, it is riding considerably higher than when we started out.” We had to pull over, both of us lost it. Guess you had to be there. :)))

    Jan: you win. Lions????

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    Yup-it’s still there.

    I still freeze at the memory, but not because of the lions.

  • avatar

    I guess its a little much to ask for hard hitting, in your face auto-journalism 24/7 (The Truth about Cars. We report, you decide!).

    I empathize with you, but as my younger brother says “Life’s rough, get a helmet.”

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    I have one, thanks anyway.

  • avatar

    I feel fortunate to have avoided such adventures, and next winter, I can feel glad that Mass is the tropics compared to whatever party of Canada Lesley is in.

    I did once drive a Stanford professor’s Volvo wagon across the country in ’74. I’d had the car for the summer, in return for that, and taking a car load of his stuff back for him. The stuff came with a diagram showing exactly where everything went, because otherwise it would not have fit. Anyway, a rear tire began to leak in eastern Wyoming. I was very uninterested in emptying the back of the car to get at the spare, given the amount of time it would have taken to load it up again, and so I tried to convince myself that the lead was my imagination. Several hundred miles later, I became certain it wasn’t. So I pulled into a gas station in Rawlins, and told the owner what the problem was. Volvo bumpers of that era were quite strong in the horizontal plane, but flimsy in the vertical, and after casting several aspersions on “german cars,” to which I interjected twice that this car was Swedish, before realizing I wasn’t going to convince him, he began the tricky business of jacking the car. I can’t remember the details, just that it was an impressive performance. He fixed the tire, I paid him, and as I left, he told me to come back next year in a Cadillac, and to fill the tank at his station.

  • avatar

    I’ll bet these guys really appreciated their rear tow hooks

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    LOL, we do get temperate weather up here in Ontario. :))) It gets a little too hot to wear a helmet all the time, so I find that life's little pecs are best tolerated with… a sense of humour :)

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