Whenever we’re asked if we’ve ever had problems with our vehicles or vans during our travels, I always think back to one particular occasion back in 2004.
We were about 20km past the Auski Roadhouse near Karijini National Park, in WA, when the gearbox in our Ford Explorer blew up without warning. There was no phone reception there, so I thumbed a lift back to the Auski Roadhouse to call Ford roadside assistance. They organised a tow truck, but the driver had to come from Karratha, about 450km away. We spent six perilous hours half on the two-lane highway as we were unable to move the vehicle. It was just past a corner and despite the fact that we had our hazard lights on, we feared that each passing vehicle might hit us.
When the tow truck finally arrived, the driver said he would take the vehicle on the back of the old truck (due to be scrapped, he told us), but he wanted $500 in cash to hook up the van and tow it in. If we didn’t (or couldn’t) pay, it would be left on the side of the road.
The truck was not set up for towing — it had nowhere to attach our safety chains and no fitting for our 12V lead, so I put our inside van lights on and we set off without any rear lights just as darkness set in.
We were in for a wild ride, as this driver had never towed a van before. He insisted on sitting on 110km/h even though there were cattle on the road. Denyse and I were scared stiff, wondering when we’d hit something or whether our van would be thrown off around a corner or simply smash to pieces with the rough treatment.
The driver had already driven more than 1000km that day and his condition deteriorated as the long drive continued. A couple of times when he dipped the lights, he forgot to put them back up and seemed to be in a delirium.
Denyse, a doctor, was sitting in the middle and hit him hard in the ribs, which seemed to bring him back to our world. I asked him if I could drive, as I have a heavy truck licence. This only made him worse and he started swearing at me.
“What do we do now?” we wondered. He refused to stop and you don’t get out of a vehicle moving at 110km/h!
We somehow made it into Karratha in the middle of the night and the van park manager who was waiting for us found us a site beside his house. At this stage, the tow truck driver was fairly worse for wear and the park manager wouldn’t let him unhook our van, let alone take it into the park.
After many phone calls, Ford eventually put a new gearbox in our vehicle under warranty and we continued on with our trip around Australia.
The sequel was that just 3000km later, the gearbox blew up again, this time near Robinvale, Vic. The torque converter had not been installed correctly so Ford supplied another gearbox under warranty. I had to talk very hard and sternly on both occasions and the whole episode was very stressful for Denyse and I. The vehicle was traded the day we returned home.
YOUR SAY: Tell us about your worst or most frightening experience on the road. Go on, get it off your chest (but keep it clean and don't saying anything libellous).