The Car Saga

So remember how I’ve been travelling across New Zealand this whole time in my little cheap Mitsubishi Lancer? Well, I recently left the North Island and – trying to stay optimistic – paid $200 to take myself and my car across the Cook Strait to Picton. I spent a couple of days in Nelson, then drove from Nelson to Motueka (near Abel Tasman National Park along the northern coast of the South Island) on the morning of Sunday, February 19th. I was excited! I didn’t really have any plans, but I went to the weekly Motueka market, and walked around town replenishing my supplies of all sorts of toiletries (big bottle of conditioner? check! big container of lotion? check!) and other odds and ends (big tarpaulins to cover my non-waterproof tent, if I ever decide to use it again? check!). I could buy all of these things because hey – I had a car to put them in! I felt very proud of myself and put all of my new purchases in Miss Mitsi, to be sorted later when I felt the need to organize things. Then, I decided on the spur of the moment to drive up the coast to explore Harwood’s Hole and a bunch of cave systems and other natural phenomena that are hard to experience without a car. (Plus, the weather was terrible, so it was a perfect opportunity!)

So, I started my drive up Takaka Hill – a particularly wiggly, steep road (even by NZ standards, the experts on wiggly, narrow, steep roads!). Along the way, I thought, ‘Glad my car is still working! Hope this keeps up! I’ll drive extra carefully and slowly to enjoy the scenery since A) no one is tailgating me (because in NZ, if you’re not driving at least 10km over the speed limit, you’re going to be tailgated), and B) the scenery is gorgeous!’

And then, halfway up the hill, going around a curve, with my foot on the gas pedal, my car just suddenly… stopped… working. No fuel to the engine. Slow, quiet halt. Oh… shit.

Mild panic. Turned off car. Put on parking brake. Prayed that no one would come barrelling around the corner and slam into me. Turned the key and put my foot on the gas. Engine revved. Gas pedal fully pressed. No engine turnover. More bubbling panic. Tried again. No dice. SIGH. Stepped out of the car. The next driver to come around the corner (mercifully slowly) pulled up, tried to help by performing the same routine. No dice. Another car full of 4 guys and their girlfriends pulled up. Same routine. Lots of boys poking their heads in the engine and trying to look like they had some idea what could be wrong (none of them did). (“Is your battery dead?” “No… my radio and lights are still working, even though my engine won’t turn over.” “Let’s give you a jump anyway!” “Ok….”  – doesn’t work – “Are you get of gas?” “No, I have more than half a tank left.” “Oh…. um…. well….. ok”)

Instead, the 4 boys pushed my car up the hill to the nearest roadside culvert (only a few meters away). They left. I calmed my nerves by removing my belongings from every nook and cranny of my car and trying to organize them into some remotely manageable pile. (Of course this happened right after I bought bags of extra toiletries and camping gear, and had a HUGE cooler full of fresh produce from the market in Nelson.) Called AA. Gave them my location with the help of my GPS (thanks, Dad!), and waited.

Of course, this was also on a Sunday afternoon, so there were no garages (mechanics) open. Eventually an AA contractor showed up, and decided that it was probably the fuel injector that died. Greeeeaat. So he gets his friend to show up and tow my car back to Motueka from the back of his truck (ha!). Stows my car, gets my details, will call me in the morning.

So I spent the night in a hostel in Motueka, waiting to hear about my car and trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. My thought process: ‘I’ve already spent $800ish on repairs. Plus, gas is nearly $10/gallon (in US prices). I don’t think it’s worth it to spend even more on this car. So I will probably sell it to a junk yard, (unless someone wants to buy a car with a broken engine, which I doubt.) What am I going to do in the morning, when the mechanic calls me and says it will cost $500 to fix? How am I going to move it? In fact, how am I going to move myself? What am I going to do with all of this beautiful fresh food, and my tent? Are they worth it to carry around? Where am I going to stay next? Shit, it’s going to cost so much money to stay in hostels, now that I can’t sleep in my car anymore like a hobo. In fact, where am I even going? I hate you, adulthood! Why couldn’t you send me the hint about spending less money, traveling lighter, and sleeping in a bed in a less dramatic way?!’

UPDATE 2/20/12: Mechanic calls me in the morning, and yep – he’s spent half an hour looking at my engine, and he can already tell there are going to be $400-500 worth of repairs. I decide to bite the bullet, and call it quits. So the mechanic says he’ll put my car outside, and it’s up to me to decide what to do. Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t buy cars and doesn’t know anyone in town who does – I’ll have to get to Nelson if I want to do that. Greeeeaat. Call AA – can they help? No – they’ll only tow cars (for free) if you intend on having them repaired. Okee dokee. Next step: call a towing company in Nelson, and fork up $200 to have my poor Blue Lady towed to a salvage yard, where they may or may not buy her off me.  I feel like an owner abandoning a puppy. Like a trusted caretaker giving up on a hard-working but ill-fated individual that just keeps getting into trouble. Like an ice-hearted wasteful capitalist throwing away a big hunk of metal to rust away for hundreds of years in a junk yard, my biggest lasting contribution the world. And I’m still listless, with no plans or direction past Nelson. It’s been a long couple of days…

FINAL UPDATE: After a short trip back to Nelson, I ended up selling my poor Mitsi to a junker for $300. It should have hurt, but I was actually relieved to get it – I was afraid they’d offer closer to $100, or say no altogether! I walked away with a check made to cash, and the tow truck driver even dropped me off at a hostel down the road. I ended up having to walk into town anyway since they didn’t have any open beds, but the day ended much better than it began. I finally put down my (stupidly heavy) bags, settled myself in Nelson for two nights, and have started the process of cutting down my baggage (of all sorts). It’s going to be very different traveling on bus schedules, but something tells me it’s all going to be ok. I feel lighter already. My only regret is that I didn’t take one last photo of my poor Blue Lady before I left her there :(

In memory of the friend that traveled more than 5000 km’s with me across two islands in the South Pacific

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One thought on “The Car Saga

  1. j says:

    It’s going to be ok, Claire..

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