Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vacation Update

If you read my previous post, you know all about how our car separated from the RV while being towed down the road. We've learned much since that post was written.

On Wednesday, the insurance adjuster declared the car to be "totalled". (The check is in the mail.) So the next day we drove out on the same route that we had gone on the day of the accident. It was a little spooky driving by the scene and still seeing the spots where the two vehicles were stuck.

We got to the storage lot and began pulling out all stuff. So many things in so many places. Don't forget the license plate. Don't overlook the mailbox key. Look under all the seats. And then there was all the big stuff. Julian had packed a lot of our supplies in the Vue for the drive to North Carolina. There were folding chairs, fishing equipment, a cooler, a small smoker/grill, and so much stuff.

Once we were finished with everything we wanted, we asked if they could remove the parts of the towing apparatus that were still attached to the car frame. We wanted them to help determine the cause of the accident. In fact, that faceplate and its attaching arms are what failed, not the car. Anyway, they said they could do it, but the guys had already left for lunch. So we went to lunch also.

When they did start working on removal, it was VERY difficult. The three bolts on each side are designed to never come off. They had to use all kinds of power equipment, including a saw, to finally get the first piece off. It had taken at least a half an hour and we knew that this was the side that failed. We decided not to have the second piece removed.

This picture shows the towing faceplate (the long square pole-like part) and the connecting section that had broken in two. The guys at the impound lot said that it was obviously weakened for some time as there was already corrosion/rust on it.

On Friday, we went car shopping. As it happens, Julian had started looking at cars, thinking that we would possibly want something different within the next year or so. That meant that he had a bit of a start on the narrowing-it-down process. We left the house planning to take a look at the Ford Edge, Ford Escape, and Chevy Equinox. We did look at them all before the day was done, but the Escape won us over. It had all the things we were wanting and a lot more. Here's our new 2010 Ford Escape:

The car in the background is the rental car we picked up on Tuesday. It's tough to be a one-car family and lose your one car!

On Saturday morning we listened to our voice-mails from Friday evening, when we had gone to a friend's for dinner. The first was from our friend who also has a Vue and a Blue Ox towing system just like ours was. He's in a campground with several others who tow a Vue with Blue Ox. Everyone has serious concerns, so Larry called Blue Ox and explained our "adventure" and his concerns. They were VERY receptive and wanted our phone number, which he gave to them.

The second voice mail was from Blue Ox. They told us they were very concerned and wanted to get as much information as possible regarding the breakage so they could do what was necessary to help us out. So we expect a call back from them on Monday. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but it looks like we may have some recourse with them.

Later, we took the new car and the broken tow bar to a local RV shop. The plan was to see if and when they could get our new car fitted with the required hardware to allow it to be towed. Jim, who said he'd worked with metal forever, stated the problem was caused by "metal fatigue" in his opinion. We all decided to wait until Blue Ox has their say on Monday and then go from there.

So, again, the weekend has us "on hold". The new car has SYNC, so I've been getting that set up for hands free telephone calls and getting that and the MP3 player voice activated. It's WAY cool!

We intend to go to NC as soon as we can get the towing part handled. If we can leave by next Saturday, that will be super - and get us back on track. Like everything right now, though, that's all up in the air.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Six-Hour Vacation

We brought the RV over to the house on Thursday morning and got busy cleaning and packing it up. Everything went very smoothly. We started talking Friday morning about leaving in the afternoon instead of waiting until Saturday morning. We could leave after lunch and get about 100 miles into the drive towards North Carolina. So that’s what we did… or tried to do.

We pulled away from the house at about 1:45pm. We were finally on our way after a delay of nearly two months. Life was good.

We were about 45 miles into the drive to Flagler Beach when things took a bad turn. We had just pulled onto SR 40 from CR 465A. In less than a half mile, Julian says to me: “the car is gone”. Panic! I looked at the monitor pointed at the rear of the RV and saw the tow bar with almost nothing on it. Super panic! He had looked out the side view mirror to see the car rolling across the other lane and into a ditch.

He was able to pull the RV off the highway fairly quickly. We got out of the coach and went to the back to see what was left. The tow bar was intact. The bumper and grill of the car were still attached – but that was all. We looked back down the road and could see the car in the ditch up against a tree.

Already a car had stopped at the crash site to see if anyone was hurt. (Restores my faith in humanity some.) We carefully cross the busy two-lane highway and made our way to the car. It was up to the frame in mud. No glass was broken. The airbags had not deployed. The radiator looked tilted back but not seriously bowed. We could see no scratches or dents anywhere on the car.

We went back to the RV and unhooked the front end from the tow bar and put all that equipment away. I wish I’d taken a photo of that before we dismantled it, but I wasn’t thinking that clearly at the time. I did grab the camera then and we went back over to the car.

By this time the police showed up as passers-by had called in the accident. We couldn’t do it because our cell phones didn’t have any signal there. We felt pretty helpless. The officer let us use his phone to call AAA to get them to pull the car out of the ditch. Once we knew a tow truck was on the way, the officer asked us to pull the coach around in front of the car to shield the view so no one else would call in the accident. We complied.

The officer left and we waited a short time for the tow truck to arrive. Once he got there and we surveyed everything, Julian planned to move the RV forward to give a better angle to the driver. That’s when we discovered that the RV was now stuck in the grass-covered mud!

We borrowed the driver’s phone and called the RV insurance company in order to get a larger tow truck out to get us freed from the mud. This became a difficult process, but eventually we were assured that someone was on their way. The same policeman returned to tell us that he had talked with his boss (who just happened to be at the towing company) and they would be out in 30 to 45 minutes. Then he left again because his shift was just about over.

In the mean time, the car was successfully pulled out and put on the truck bed. The car had actually been high-centered on a huge log. We gave him the bumper and grill parts and he took the car away.

Now we just had to wait for the second tow truck. It seemed like forever, but they finally arrived. The pulled in behind us and set the chains in place on the front end of the RV. I stayed inside with the dog, so I didn’t know why they just stood around after that. It turned out that they had to wait for a police car to arrive and stop the traffic on our side so that the wrecker could position itself on the road and be stable enough to pull us out. Once he got there, I got out of the coach. Julian got behind the wheel and steered it directly at the road. The truck was able to pull us out without mishap.

What a relief to be on the dry road and moving again. We stopped at a pre-determined spot to finish up the business with the towing company. The policeman even followed us and apologized for how long it had taken to get someone there to hold the traffic back.

All we could do now was to drive back home. What a long drive that was. We arrived in our own driveway at about 7:45, six hours after leaving home in the first place. Five of those hours were the most surreal I think I’ve ever been through. Who would ever imagine having your call fall apart while pulling it down the road?

On Saturday morning, a friend called to say that he had been telling our story at coffee that morning and someone told him of a possible front-end defect with ’06 Saturn Vues. This, of course, is what our tow vehicle is/was. So we will follow up on that and let the insurance people know, too. But with Saturn out of business, who knows if there is anything we can do, even if the issue is or was known to them.

This is the second time this summer that our vacation plans have been derailed. The first time was in May, when Julian required a hip replacement. That delayed us by almost two months. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous and he was SO ready for this trip. It’s too early to tell if there will be any vacation for us this year at all.

In spite of all that happened, we are incredibly thankful of the way it happened. We had driven through several towns before getting to this particular highway, but the car held. We were not in any town when we got to this point. State Road 40 is a very busy, two-lane road. Miraculously, not one car was anywhere near us when the Vue broke loose. It could have been tragic if anyone had been coming in that other lane. Besides that, our original plans took us up Interstate 75 on Saturday. If the car had broken away on the interstate…   *shiver*   I don’t want to go there.

I know this has been a long and detailed narrative. I’ve done that partly so that I have a clear memory of what took place, should that become necessary down the road. Besides, if you’ve read my posts in the past, you know I can be a bit wordy! J

So, thanks for following me this far. I’ll try to post some updates here as we get them.