Saturday, July 07, 2007

Third time lucky?

Louise and I have driven from Glasgow to Malaga twice before without any serious issues. This third time was something else...

We prepared the van and had a car trailer on the back to take my Suzuki over to Spain with a view to export it.

We left Glasgow on Saturday morning and travelled south toward the Eurotunnel, we pulled into a caravan shop somewhere after Manchester to obtain additional supplies for the van's conversion to a camper. Just as we rejoined the M6 I heard a bang, we pulled into the next services in half a mile to fill up and I noticed a clicking noise, that was when I noticed one of the wheels of the trailer was jumping - the bearing had sheared! We were recovered by our breakdown policy and taken to a farm in the middle of nowhere next to a village called Alsager. The mechanic there explained he would like to get us on our way as soon as possible, but he wouldn't be able to get the parts until Monday - since the van is partially converted we could stay on the farm until the Monday which was great! Unfortunately a two day delay, we found the local booze shop and were sorted for the weekend...

Monday came and we were told that the part wouldn't arrive until the afternoon, but they would stay open until the trailer was up and running for us. I rebooked the Eurotunnel shuttle and we departed the farm that evening.

After an overnight stay at Maidstone services we set off for Folkestone and arrived shortly after eleven. The Eurotunnel put us on an earlier train and we arrived in France ahead of our (revised) schedule lunchtime Tuesday! We'd made it to the continent and things were looking up!

A few hours after Calais and just before Rouen, a routine check of the trailer revealed a strap holding the Suzuki had snapped! We stayed about an hour restrapping the Suzuki to the trailer where a helpful Spanish truck driver directed. It turned out the way the straps were put on rubbed against the Suzuki suspension slowly wearing through the fabric.

All was well until Le Mans where we decided to stop off for the night. We had our dinner and were contemplating opening our wine when a Polish car parked directly in front of our car (nearly) blocking us in. A family got out and dispersed into the complex when one of the men came to my window and started asking for 2 euros so he could feed his baby. I objected to this since he was on a pay road and should use the free roads if he needed the money, 'plastico' he explained, 'use the cash machine inside then'. He haggled me down to a euro when he eventually gave up and wondered off. Louise was still in the back when I had the engine running and was round the next corner, after a quick check round the trailer and van we were on the road again!

We stopped off about 2 hours later where we had a peaceful night parked between some refridgerated lorries...

Next morning (Wednesday) we set off down the toll road through Tours and toward Bordeaux. On the last stretch of road between Bordeaux and the Spanish border I heard another bang! I thought one of the straps had failed so we pulled into the next rest stop and I checked them all over - everything appeared to be fine so we had a quick rest when Louise noticed one of the wheels of the trailer was sitting at a funny angle. The other bearing had sheared! Our breakdown covers us in Europe but I didn't want to call them out for this so we offloaded the Suzuki, removed the failed wheel of the trailer and decided to run it unloaded on three wheels - with only 900 miles to go, not a bad solution...

When checking through the documentation for the car, we realised Louise was not named on the insurance policy and doubted whether her own policy in Scotland would cover her third party in Europe. So I called Adrian Flux who ensures both the Van and Suzuki. Unfortunately their customer centre was closed and we'd need to call back in the morning, but when I explained our circumstances (200 kms from the Spanish border, etc) they found some people in the office who were able to sort this out for us. There was a charge of £40, but they said they'd put it in the post and we can pay it later - fantastic!

About 30 minutes later Louise radioed in (we had 2 way radios) that she wasn't feeling well. The Suzuki had been loaded with some heavy oils we were transporting over for her Dad - but then I remembered I'd left a bag with Glass Fibre Resin in it (very strong stuff). I repacked the Suzuki sealing the Resin in the Van and stayed the night about another 30 minutes along the road.

Next morning (Thursday) we headed straight for the Spanish border and onwards through San Sebastian. While driving through, a car overtook me and the passenger had a look right out the window back at me - I presumed he was looking at my wheel-less trailer. Then the car pulled into the right with it's hazards on when I spotted it was two uniformed police officers... About 2 miles down the road, I looked in my mirrors to spot the car with a blue light flashing in the window just behind me and in front of Louise - my heart sank! I pulled into the side of the road and stopped on the hard shoulder to watch the unmarked police car disappear off into the distance - phew!

Just south of Pamplona my van cut out... lost engine power to realise I was coasting down a hill in a 3.5 tonne van with trailer at 60 MPH... I stopped the car at the side of the road and called out the breakdown. When I gave Churchill the road (AP-15) and the kilometre marking I was told "that isn't useful because I don't have that on my map" - what? 30 minutes later the Guardia Civil Trafico arrived explaining (with a serious language barrier) that I needed two warning triangles out, not just the one I'd placed and that I'd need to pull the van further off the road or they'd have me towed off the motorway at my expense. They had a laugh at our predicament with the trailer, smiled and rode off. Another call to Churchill explaining the urgency of this assured me the driver would be with me in twenty minutes. 1 hour later a 'Grua' (Spanish for tow truck) arrived with a 'Autopista de Navarra' badge on the side - this guy wasn't our breakdown company's partner 'Linea Directa'. Off the motorway we were towed and a bill for 53 euros was presented to me, I explained I wasn't going to pay it and the guy left explaining he'd be back! Linea Directa telephoned me directly explaining they couldn't find me, so I wondered up to the toll booth at the motorway and asked them to speak to the guy on my phone (who was spanish) telling them where I was. They were on the phone for about 2 minutes when our friend with the Autopista Grua arrived at the toll booth, the phone was passed to him and he drove off with it!

Ten minutes later the Grua driver gave me my phone back when Linea Directa explained he'd charged the 53 euros directly and we didn't have to pay it. Our new friend then arrived with two chilled bottles of water for us which was much appreciated! The grua driver then telephoned our recovery company's driver to explain exactly how to get where we were and an hour later the Mapfre truck arrived and spent 5 minutes bleeding the diesel lines and starting our motor for us!

We set off for another 3 hours and stopped off at a filling station just outside a town called Medinaceli just before the A2 to Madrid.

Friday morning we set off toward Madrid and arrived without a single problem in Tembleque (our rendezvous with Louise's parents). We set off for the final leg of the journey between Tembleque and Malaga arriving at just after 10 in the evening. 6 days and 12 hours after we set off...

I've learnt a lot on this journey - all about wheel bearings, how to tie a vehicle to a trailer with straps and what to look for if a diesel engine stops running!

In summary, the wheel bearings sheared because they didn't have dust caps on them grinding dirt into them and the van motor stopped due to a blockage in the fuel line. Two simple and avoidable things!

A few months agao when I left my driving licence at home on a journey to the USA and had to make a 300 mile journey using public transport I was told it would be "Character Building". This journey to Spain was definitely a lot more than that!!

Funnily enough we both enjoyed it! Not again with a trailer though!

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