Picture yourself barreling down the highway at seventy miles an hour in a rented minivan with your spouse in the passenger seat, son and daughter-in-law in the next row, two children in the third row and a pile of luggage in the back. It’s pouring rain, cold, and windy. You’re on the outskirts of nowhere.
Without warning, a message flashes up in bright orange on your dashboard. “ENGINE SHUTDOWN IMMANENT.” Below that, it suggests you have three seconds to find a safe place to pull over. When you press the gas pedal, there’s no response.
Good News: The highway isn’t too crowded here, and there is a shoulder so I can drift over to the side and stop off the road.
Bad News: Everything else.
Mixed News: We all have cell phones, but service shows only one bar. Fortunately, one bar is enough.
First Step: Call Avis Roadside Assistance. They’re only sort-of helpful. Suggest calling 911 to help us get safely off the highway, then they’ll provide a tow service for the current vehicle. Replacing it is trickier. A lot trickier. She’s looking into it.
A sheriff’s deputy showed up within a few minutes of my call. Fortunately we were within sight of an exit off the highway. The car did turn on again, although the ‘check engine’ light was now lit. Still, it moved when I pressed the gas pedal. With the sheriff’s deputy following us in case the car stopped again, we made it off the highway to a Circle K convenience store near the exit. The deputy wished us good luck and departed.
More conversation with Avis: They proposed getting us all an Uber to take us to the nearest Avis office, some 40 miles away (and back in the direction we’d already come). Of course, we’re several miles outside the nearest town, so it might take a while to get an Uber large enough to hold six people and luggage. And there was no guarantee the nearest Avis office would have a six-seater vehicle available, so we might have to wait for them to find another one for us or go to yet another office. I chewed all that over and had another thought.
We were heading to Beaufort to visit my daughter and were about 80 miles from there. I called her and she generously agreed to come get us. But it would take her and her husband coming since neither car would hold six people. He had to leave the boat shop he owned to come along, but he agreed, and they set out. We could work out how to get another vehicle later, in more comfort.
Meanwhile, the tow truck showed up take the minivan. We had to unload all our luggage, bottles, and other things from the van. The Circle K has a few tables outside topped by metal umbrellas. None of them are in use since it’s cold, windy, and raining. We stow everything on, around, and under one of the tables.
The Circle K was actually quite nice as roadside gas station/convenience stores go. They had an expansive selection of beverages, including coffee and hot chocolate available. They also had clean restrooms. There were plenty of snack food options and we sampled many of those as we waited an hour and a half for daughter to arrive. We rotated people standing watch over the luggage and going in to use facilities, warm up, and grab drinks or food.
Daughter and son-in-law arrived and brought us to their home in Beaufort. We had a great visit and did several interesting things while we were there, despite the poor weather. More on those in another post.
We’ll still need another minivan to get us all back home in a couple of days. It took five calls (three to customer service numbers; two to Avis offices) and an escalation to a supervisor to resolve the issue and find that there was a minivan available at the Avis office in the New Bern airport, about a 30-minute drive from my daughter’s home. We picked it up and it took us home and took the family to the airport with no trouble at all.