QOTD: Most Memorable Family Road Trip Snafu?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The Labor Day long weekend is nearly upon us and, while your author doesn’t plan to roam more than a couple hours’ distance from home, many of you might already be packing up the car crossover for one last warm getaway.

Nothing is quite as bittersweet as packing up the fam and hitting the road to your favorite destination, knowing all too well that the best of summer is behind you and that soon things will grow cold and dark. The lowering skies will grow heavy with frozen precipitation, the north wind will kick up, and that refreshing summer beer just won’t cut it anymore. Yup, time for the harder stuff.

But I digress! We all remember family road trips that went awry, so let’s drive into the weekend on a road paved with nostalgia.

Given the automotive theme at play here, let’s avoid stories of family road trip disasters born of unexpected pregnancies, violent death, strange new adolescent feelings, or broken marriages. People are nice, but the car remains the chief focus here.

You author’s past contains numerous road trips, most of which went off without a hitch. Truth be told, during those developing years I can only recall one automotive breakdown while on the road with the family. It was an early memory, to be sure. 1986. We’d just descended from a journey up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in the family’s 1980 Pontiac Phoenix when the overtaxed X-body’s radiator blew. Despite my young age, I can still remember being impressed by how much coolant spewed out of that hatchback.

For the family’s sake, it was a good thing the Phoenix waited until we reached less lofty ground before vomiting up its precious bodily fluids.

Another averted disaster came on a hot day in North Carolina, where my youthful sister began loudly commenting on the decidedly ugly appearance of a pair of bikers who’d just rumbled up next to us at a stoplight. I’ll never forget my dad hissing a sharp rebuke that invoked both the name of the man who died for our sins and the fact that his Fairmont housed only an 88-horsepower four-cylinder. We made it to the beach without further incident.

All of this pales in comparison to a friend’s childhood tale, in which their old wagon broke down in the Everglades and was quickly surrounded by alligators, preventing any attempt at repair. A family dispute then broke out in the cabin of the sweltering vehicle, with the patriarch of the clan deciding to take his chances outside the car. He waited for help on the car’s roof.

What’s your tale of a family road trip that went sideways?

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Sep 03, 2019

    Dad's 1981(?) Oldsmobile 98 broke down in Orangeburg, SC - and the dealership didn't have the part in stock to fix it. So we got to spend a few exciting days in a place we didn't want to be; seeing the sites like bee-infested rose gardens... and uh... all while stuck in a seedy hotel with two of my brothers. I'm surprised how well my parents took it. or the car accident we had in Tennessee; someone pulled out right in front of my dad. He had to nail the brakes, all while slinging his right arm over the seat to stop me from flying. There was a third car involved, one that we hit while the scofflaw kept on going even though he caused the accident. Minor fender bender but it put the damper on the day and the old man's mood.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Sep 29, 2019

    We were coming back from Penn State in our 1984 Ford E-150 conversion van sometime around 1990. I think it was a few miles before the New Stanton exit of the PA turnpike, so almost home, when then van started swaying after a corner. Then there was a bang, a lurch and a lot of noise. Dad pulled it safely to the side of the road, the van now obviously sitting in an odd manner. Turns out the right rear tire departed the van, shearing the lug nuts with it and creasing the rear fender. All 5 of us were in the van for at least an hour. My Dad hooked up the CB radio to call for help. At some point, a kindly truck driver picked up my Dad and drove him to the rest stop where he called for a tow truck. He also called my uncle, his brother in law, who came to pick up my mother, sister,brother and I and take us home in his baby blue Pontiac Parisienne while Dad stayed with the van until a tow truck came. Seven people in that large blue Pontiac, and we aren't a small family. Sadly, since he passed in April, I'll never get a chance to ask him, as an adult, what went wrong and what he was thinking then. I know he mentioned something once that there was a problem with those vans with corrosion of the lug nuts or something. Dad didn't use a torque wrench though, so that could have been a culprit too ;)

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