Some years ago when I was married, we had an old VW Beetle. This thing was truly falling apart. (Things were even taped on with duct tape.) When you wanted to stop, you had to brake with one foot and keep the gas going with the other, or it would stall out. And considering it was a stick shift, that made using the clutch quite a feat of coordination.
The marriage ended (not because of the car) and we were lucky enough to be one of those "ex-couples" who continued to feel a deep sense of care and respect for one another, even in the midst of all the anger and sadness that is part of grieving the end of a relationship.
I was especially lucky because my ex- was very good at fixing things, especially that old Beetle. When the brakes were feeling a bit... well... not what they usually were, he came over with his tools one day and went to work fixing it for me. (Bless his heart.) Afterwards he came inside, wiping his greasy hands on a rag, with a concerned look on his face.
"Well, I've done the best I can," he said. "But I'll be honest. It's not looking good. The whole system is pretty much shot."
"Oh," I said. "Well, um... Thanks for doing what you can. You know I appreciate it. But... what does this mean?" I asked, trying to mask the panic that was welling up inside me, that he could see right through because he knew me so well.
"That means... You gotta know something important. You gotta know that the parking brake is on a different system. So, if the brakes ever give out on you when you're driving, I want you to pull up hard on the parking brake. It won't be pretty, but it could save your life."
"Um... OK." I said, staring off into space the way I do when I am processing new information.
"I'll show you," he said. And out we went for a short drive. He showed me and then he stopped the car and got out. "Now you do it," he said.
"Nuh uh. That's OK," I said.
"NO, it's not. Remember, this could save your life. Drive!" He said, opening my door for me.
We switched places and I tried stopping without using the brake pedal. It was a lot of lurching, but it worked.
I was grateful that he'd been able to tighten up the brakes for me, but it didn't take long for them to loosen up again. Not two months later, the brakes failed completely. I was going down a big hill, towards a set of lights that were about to turn red. I remembered the parking brake trick and tried it. Thankfully, it worked. (I was VERY glad he'd made me practice it!) I'm not sure it saved my life, but it did prevent a fairly major accident.
The car went into a "real" mechanic after that who promptly told me that it was completely unsafe for the road, couldn't believe the amount of duct tape that had been used and said that yes, I could repair it, and no, it would not be worth it because for the same amount it would cost to repair it, I could buy something better.
Long story short: Bye bye, Beetle.
The moral of the story? The parking brake trick was information I hoped I'd never need to know, but I was sure glad I did know it. (And I was especially glad that I was on on good terms with my ex-!)
Needless to say, I've since graduated to a much newer car in much better shape. I'm still not the world's most confident driver and given the choice, I'll almost always let someone else drive.
But yesterday, I was driving alone, in yucky conditions. Over the past few days we've had a lot of snow for Calgary and it's been bitterly cold (around -20 C).
Last night I got stuck going up a hill on the way home from seeing my massage therapist. Luckily it was a residential road and it was after the rush hour. But still, it wasn't fun. There I was, sliding, with wheels spinning and the car was not happy. I was not happy.
It took me almost a full 15 minutes, but I managed to get up the hill. I had to roll back down, almost to the bottom again, and then take it quite slowly, avoiding the trenches of my own previous tracks.
When I got home, I relayed the episode to my room mate, who knows more about cars than I do. (Most people do, really...) and I learned another bit of information that I did not know. After explaining that my car was most likely a front wheel drive and the basic physics of what happens to a front wheel drive when you're going up an icy hill, he said, "Well, if you get caught like that again, the best bet might be to see if you can get yourself completely turned around and try going up the hill in reverse."
He explained that it has to do with getting the weight of the vehicle over the driving wheels.
Huh! Who knew? (Obviously not me!)
But there you are... More information I hope I never have to use... but damn it, if I need it, I'll be glad to have it!
I want my next car to be a Hummer... with a driver, dammit!