Thursday, 16 September 2010

Rhóne to Champagne, first major car problem!

Oh dear, my head hurts. It's about half past nine & I need to get up, get some coffee & cereals down me, get everything packed away & get my arse out of here & up to Champagne country.

Well, I achieved all of that & with a bit of a spring in my step as well. I jumped in the car & headed out, stopping at the site office on my way to pay the extortionate bill. Only I almost missed the office altogether, when the brake pedal hit the floor boards with minimal stopping effect!

By now I'd become quite accustomed to talking to myself, I've always done it to a certain extent, but during this holiday, especially whilst in the car, it seems like every thought has been broadcast. I heard myself say "ere, what's happened to my brakes?" I jumped out & for some reason went straight to the drivers side rear first, which was wet, telling me that this particular brake slave cylinder had obviously sprung a leak & had even sprayed brake fluid up into the wheel arch. The other wheels were all fine though, thank god!

I've had it happen before, it's usually a rear one that goes, which is slightly better as the rear brakes do far less work than the fronts. I knew it was either time to try out my breakdown cover or find some replacement brake fluid & use the tried & tested "get me home" solution. I only wish I had checked my breakdown cover more thoroughly before I left, the wording seemed quite contradictory & at worst I reckon I was going to be left at a French garage with a huge bill or was entitled to about £500 worth of tow. Either way I thought I would try my best to get myself out of trouble.

First of all, I had "some" brakes, but stopping accurately required a certain degree of "thinking ahead", which would be fine for a 10mile trip, but not 800km of French roads. I thought I would take a short drive down the road anyway, just to see how bad the situation really was, all the time thinking over my possibilities.

What I needed was; some brake fluid, some kind of clamp (the stronger the better) & some hard, level ground to jack the car up & do the job. For some reason I had decided not to pack brake fluid before setting off. I had taken plenty of tools, oil & water, & my dad had offered me a small pot of brake fluid, which I had declined, saying how unlikely it would be to need any. I did have a reasonable tool kit, but wasn't sure if I'd packed my "mole grips", the ideal tool for clamping brake hoses. My particular pair of grips weren't the best & I had a distinct feeling I'd left them behind.

Hang on, what's that over there??!!! A large supermarket, open, on a sunday? (oh yes, it was a sunday as well, & I needed petrol, when I do these things, I do them properly!). Sure enough there was an "Atac" supermarket, open until 12:00 noon, which sold brake fluid & had a nice level car park, perfect for jacking the car up & crawling underneath.

So I purchased the brake fluid, filled up the reservoir, pumped the pedal until I was sure I'd got as much of the air out of the line as possible, jacked the car up, secured it on an axle stand (I had a pair of fold-up ones, purchased from Lidl, which sit nicely under the rear seat) I even got my warning triangle out to make sure nobody ran over me when I was under the car. By this time I had got myself quite an audience as well, I'm sure one guy knew exactly what I was doing, & was probably hoping I wasn't going to drive all the way back to England with only 3 brakes. Anyway, I found my mole grips & managed to locate & securely clamp the correct rubber hose. I secured the grips to the car (wouldn't want those falling off now, would we?) & was on my way, with 3 out of 4 brakes working perfectly. The car seemed to handle no better or worse than before, although I was in no mood to push it, I found a petrol station as well (lucky old me) & just hoped the weather would hold up, which it didn't........

P.S. please don't try this at home folks. I have a reasonable knowledge of mechanics & it's a job I've done before. I'm guessing most "normal" people would have adequate breakdown cover, & who knows, maybe I did as well, I just chose not to use it & everything worked out fine.

P.P.S. I have to apologise for the lack of photos from here onwards. The weather wasn't up to much, I was running out of time & had other things on my mind. I will do my best though. Here's a couple of the French Italian restaurant I went to, very decadent for someone on my budget, & boy did I regret it the following morning.

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