THE 120 MILE HEARSE or SCREWED BY MY CAR CLUB
OK, so here I am with my best friend Claudia; I have decided to buy a 1976 Austin Princess hearse in England. Why buy an Austin Princess (I already got flak for that!) in England? Well, a British hearse is very unique in Germany, since their style is completely different than "ours". So, besides being something special, this gives extra value at home as well. What can be better than spending a weekend in England, buying a hearse for relatively little money, take it home where it is worth significantly more?
However, driving a 26-something-year-old car over 1000 miles home is alway a bit of a gamble, so I call my Autoclub (the ADAC) where I've been a member for 15 years. I ask whether my recovery police would also cover me in England with a car that I just bought there. What would they do if the car would really break down, leave me out there? Nooo way they say, your recovery would bring you and your car home. Home meaning Germany. Cool I say, lets go.
So Claudia and me flew to England to look at the car; of course we ended up buying it; not for too much money, so all in all, including the flight, it should be a good deal. Arriving in Sheffield, I look at the hearse (a true Princess) and the summary is pretty easy. Minor rust (nothing that cannot be repaired easily), the drivers compartment needs minor cleanup, a door hinge is worn out, but the most important things, the glass, the wood interior, the fittings, the custom body parts, all that is in pretty good shape and complete. The engine looks good as well, the valve cover gasket need eventually be replaced, its sweating a bit of oil, but nothing major, the rest is looking clean and dry. Power steering is working without making weird noises as well. The exhaust is pretty new, the carbs look great, radiator doesn't leak, what more can you ask for? A bit of welding has been performed and now the Princess has a brand new MOT, not bad for a car that age.
Next thing is to get an insurance, then the tax disc (aka registration), and wow, we are all set. Claudia and me spend the night at a pub located right next to a cemetery, imagine how cool the Princess hearse looks on the parking lot. It certainly is a head turner! Going for a shopping trip with the hearse is ever so cool. This is also a good extended test drive for the car; gear change is smooth, the engine purring like a cat (nothing better than the sound of a carburetted engine), and the suspension just suits the size of a car; it rides like a boat!
Next morning we leave Sheffield. The baggage goes in the lower storage compartment. Actually, a British hearse comes in very handy for traveling; all your bags go beneath the coffin table and the car always looks empty! The weather is great and we go to the Motorway, heading south. The ferry is booked, the engine purring, we take it easy with just 60 mph, crusing easily. Unfortunately, we manage to go exactly 120 miles, just before the service stop we were aiming at, the engine makes a loud "brrrrrr" sound and stops dead. Great. Found on Road dead.
Hang on - there is always the road assistance sponsored by your friendly car club. Right? Ummmm, well, lets call them first, and yes, a Big Truck appears pretty quickly, getting us off from the motorway. To a totally-off-the-mark parking lot of the towing company. I call my car club, from abroad with my cellular, costing just about nothing per minute. I explain them what happened, ask, how can we proceed. Then they explain to me, that they will NOT ship the car home. Why? Because shipping cost would be equal to what I paid for the car. Now, you can always argue with them, that this is CONTRARY what is stated in their terms and conditions, but they know, and you know, that you are the one who is stranded in an area where you do not know anybody, that it is your car that is out there, and that it is you who needs a towing, and not them. I discussed with them, even explained to them their own rules, to no avail. Their decision was final, from remote distance they explained to me that the car was totalled, without knowing what type of car it is, without having even seen it. Great. I wish I could do that sort of remote diagnosis of cars, I'd made a fortune out of it!
Finally I manage to find some sort of engine shop not too far away, where I can have the car brought to next Monday to take a look at. Beware, someone tells me, these guys are good but expensive. Great, especially as I have a friend at home who owns a garage shop, knows a thing or two about British cars, and where I can leave the car until I find the replacement parts or work on it myself. But, what can you do?
So, we eventually get a rental car organised by the British AA and drive all the way back to the airport where we came from. Luckily we had return tickets, who knows what odyssee we would have been in otherwise. The Princess waits for me to pull all the strings from Germany, 1000 miles away. Everyone would love to do that!
From Germany, I call the engine shop. They would charge 400 British Pounds (600 US dollars) minimum they say. Great, for all thats probably wrong is a broken crankshaft bearing. I try to find a replacement engine, which is not easy and close to impossible from abroad. No luck. The engine shop calls, I should have the car removed within the next 8 days. Where to put it? I call the guy I bought it from and a friend of his can repair the engine in his spare time. Slow, but affordable. The only problem is to bring the car back to Sheffield. I call my auto club again, they will only pay for haulage worth 100 pounds (150 dollars); they say to get it back to Sheffield is about three times as much. Even more good news, huh? Eventually I organise (from Germany) to have it flat-bedded to Sheffield for 140 pounds. Go figure, I always thought the auto clubs had the great connections and good deals. I slowly wonder where our membership fees are ending up.
Now the guy in Sheffield is working on the car. Slowly. I guess it will be four months that it is away, four months for which I am paying insurance and taxes without using it. The complete story is still ongoing, I am paying more for the repair of the car than I intended to, simply because the ADAC is not living up to its own rules. For your information, here is what the car clubs statues say and what they claimed when I requested the services I have a right to:
I am not complaining that the Princess broke down, those things have happened to newer and more modern cars as well. I am just complaining about people, companies, car clubs that promise things they never live up to. For the time being just be warned, it seems if you are not driving a Volkswagen Golf or other family car, the ADAC is not the club for you.
Pictures by Claudia. Thanks Claudia, not only for the pictures!
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