The trials and tribulations of motoring Sur le Continent

Like any responsible motorist, especially a motoring journalist, planning a long trip I prepared my car thoroughly…

Intending to drive around 1100 miles to southern France, and back, to visit friends lucky enough to have a euro bolt hole, I wanted a trouble free journey. The car I was using is a decade plus old (Classic?) Volvo estate. We needed space for 4 and our luggage.

I gave the car a full service a few days before, including checking all hoses, pipes, belts, exhaust sections, the tyres (including the space saver spare) and cleaning the entire air intake system while replacing the air filter. Oh, and I checked and cleaned the plugs. So far so thorough, but it’s an old car so the day’s work was well warranted.

Next I checked my tools and packed a small but comprehensive tool kit. A small bottle jack, a jump starter, a tyre-inflator and an aerosol tyre-inflator. A box of spare bulbs and fuses, cable ties and pipe clamps, and finally two warning triangles, two fluorescent vests and an old coat to lay on if needed. So, fully prepared for all eventualities … or so we thought .. we set off…

The first 250 miles of day 1 were all ok until the roadworks on the motorway. I still don’t know what we hit, something sharp on the road, at about 65mph. The front left tyre blew up, and tore itself to pieces.

Luckily no one was close by so we could roll to a hard shoulder halt. Triangle out, vests on, out comes all luggage on the side of the road, off comes a wrecked tyre and on goes the space saver.

It is then I noticed the right front also going down fast. Oh b#######, now we need the tyre aerosol inflator as well and a minor disaster just become a major problem.

Cue my daughter’s O level French and mobile phone skills.

She finds a tyre place in the next town still open for just 2 more hours of today (Saturday), but closed on Sunday.

They have two tyres of the right size, and good price, so we limp there.

It’s then they tell us, yes, they have the tyres, but are far too busy to fit them… “Come back Monday!!”

Enter teary grandson and pleading daughter and they say ok will do in one hour. 5 minutes later a mechanic appears, and since he has a gap he will do it right now…. brilliant.

Half an hour later we have two new tyres balanced and fitted and are ready to go after parting with 130 euros. They have even taken off the fitting charge as a gesture of goodwill or sympathy. That sum goes to 5 year old grandson as a performance fee!!

However, not all the news is good.

The mechanic explains that the wheel is slightly damaged. And so it proves. Apart from vibrating around 55mph like having a missing wheel weight… it is warped but driveable.

We gently ease speeds up to 70mph/110 kph and all is ok … phew. Let’s hope that its problems are over…

… and they were for the next 850 miles until our journey was almost over.

Leaving the ferry, nearly home, we stalled, or so I at first thought, on the ferry’s exit ramp. But car won’t restart and ALL the warning lights are lit.

I then stepped out of the car and straight into a puddle of petrol!!

Not good.

Blocking the only exit, crew and several drivers push us off down the ramp and to one side. Time to call the breakdown service, but it’s now about 4 am and they tell me earliest they can get to us is 2-3 hours. Ok, so be it… but then I put my thinking head back on…

If the car won’t start, all the warning lights come on, and there is only new petrol under the car when I try to start it, there must be a fuel line problem.

Time for a torch and a look underneath. There I find that bumping on the exit ramp has neatly separated the exit pipe from the fuel filter which sits quite low on a V70. I push it back on carefully, and the car starts 3rd turn. Hooray!!

Cancel breakdown call, and DFDS ferry staff even assist us through customs and passport control so we don’t have to turn the engine off again!

Soon after, home safely. Tired and relieved!

The moral of this tale …. You can be fully prepared for a trip abroad, reckon you’ve thought of everything, but two bizarre incidents can still catch you out.

If you want suggestions as to what to carry for emergencies take a look at our “What’s in YOUR emergency kit?” video. I was never a Scout but I do try to be prepared.

Graham Benge

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