What to do when the beater quits

Vancouver’s intersection of Main Street and Terminal Avenue is a busy one, even when the rest of the city is experiencing little traffic.

Serving as a hub for passenger cars, commercial vehicles, public transit, pedestrians and cyclists, this intersection is an integral component to the smooth ebb and flow of the city’s daily commute. A stall or a collision at or near this intersection has the potential to tie up traffic for hours and backlog feeder routes.

So you can imagine how I felt when, several years ago, my old beater of a station wagon stalled while waiting in one of the intersection’s left-hand turn lanes. That old car and I had an uneasy relationship, which directly correlated with the fact I had shelled out more for one year’s insurance than I did to purchase that pile of scrap.

It was long and sleek, its aged gun-metal blue exterior rivalled only by its matching interior. And, if you consider the 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon was touted as the protégé of America’s best-selling car in 1986 (the sedan version), I should have been honoured to own such a piece of history. Instead, I was cursing the day I ever laid eyes on it, when, after waiting for our turn light to go green, my car’s ‘go’ got up and went.

I remember the sinking feeling in my gut and being mortified that I was about to become the reason behind an epic traffic stall. I remember putting the hazard lights on, popping the hood up and waving other cars around, all the while with a cellphone pressed to my ear in a frantic attempt to get immediate roadside assistance.

I remember standing on the wide, grassy centre median with other drivers passing me with disgusted looks on their faces – it got so bad that I finally slunk back to the driver’s seat and hunkered down, praying no one from work would see me.

The low point happened when another driver – a woman my mother’s age – got behind me and, after failing to notice my car’s hazards or raised hood, screamed a litany of profanities in my general direction.

Luckily, the high point in all this occurred seconds later, when a nearby road crew took pity and asked if I needed a hand. I gratefully accepted their offer.

I only wish I had had a camera on me, as the road crew, lead by a flag girl waving her stop sign like a parade marshal, pushed me and my car through the intersection and into the parking lot on the south/west corner where I could wait for roadside assistance in relative peace. The only thing missing was a marching band, and maybe an elephant or two (in the corner, of course).

I sold that car for parts not long after, knowing I would never, ever again purchase another vehicle less than a couple of years old.

I also learned what to do when your car stalls at a critical traffic point like a main intersection, bridge or tunnel. None of these locations is ideal (mind you, a stall itself is never ideal, either), but stalls always occur on them. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, do the following: If you are driving when your car’s engine malfunctions, gently take your foot off the accelerator, signal, check for traffic, and steer as to the far right side of the road as safely possible. Then turn on your hazards (also known as emergency flashers).

If you are already stopped in traffic, like at a red light or a merge lane, or in heavy traffic on a bridge or in a tunnel, put your hazards on.

In both cases, call roadside assistance or a tow truck.

In my case, I exited my car and put the hood up to make it more obvious I was having car trouble. You can do this as well, as long as it can be done safely.

Vancouver Police Const. Sandra Glendinning blogs at behindtheblueline.ca. Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board.

Photograph by: Spencer Platt, AFP/Getty IOmages