In which I wreck my car

I have a perfect driving record. I’ve never been in an accident while I was driving, though I have been as a passenger. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket. The worst I’ve gotten is numerous parking tickets (thank you, NYC), and once, a fix-it ticket for a busted taillight.

Until the other day.

I was on my way to work, at 8:30am. I was on the same freeway I travel every single day, less than a mile from the exit I take. I was annoyed because I was behind someone that was going 50mph in a 60mph zone. I probably could have passed them, but I was so close to the exit that I figured I would bear it for a few more seconds.

And then I saw a sea of debris on the road. Shredded truck tires along with numerous other unidentifiables sprinkled across the freeway. I swerved to miss one thing, but ended up hitting another. I didn’t have a choice, but I instantly realized my mistake. The most horrifying noises were heard as whatever I’d hit ping-ponged around the undercarriage of my car until I watched it jump several feet in the air via my rear view mirror. As I pulled over (luckily I was already in the right lane), I noticed that the left side of my car was smoking. I got a good bit onto the shoulder, even mostly on the grass, threw my hazard lights on and waited for a safe time to open the door to get out and investigate.

I went around back first, since I had seen it fly out there. No damage that I could see. Even though I was in my work clothes – which that day included a form-fitting pencil skirt – I got down on my hands and knees to peek under. There was definitely something amiss towards the front. So I walked around the other side of the car (still no visible damage) and checked out the front. This is what I saw:

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(I know it’s not the best picture, but remember that I was on the side of a busy freeway. I didn’t want to trade picture quality for the possibility of being smashed by an 18-wheeler.)
That dark shape in the middle of my car is the oil pump. This was verified when I stuck my hand under the heavy stream of liquid pouring out of it. I briefly entertained the thought of toughing it out the last mile or so to get to work, so at least I’d be in a safer place, but the heavy outpouring of oil quickly dispelled that idea. So I called AAA for a tow.

Interesting note: the first question AAA asks is “are you safe?” I said that no, I was not safe, I was on the side of a busy freeway. Keep that in mind for later.

I explained that I needed a flatbed tow truck, and then argued that there should be no additional fee as my car requires a flatbed – mini coopers’ frames are too light to be towed the traditional way without ripping the car in half. I still had no idea of what actual damage my car suffered, so I did not want to add to that by getting it towed incorrectly. The lady told me it would be 45 minutes. Since I was on my way to open the shop, I called my boss and explained that this would not be happening.

Since I had some time to kill and watching the steadily growing puddle of oil was not as fun as it sounds, I wandered off to find out what I had hit. Since I had pulled over immediately and had seen the piece briefly, I didn’t have to go far before I found this:
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I was informed by many people later that this is a hose coupling from a pump truck. You know, the big cylindrical trucks that you often see at gas stations? Well someone hadn’t secured the pieces on before driving off on his merry way. What I think happened is that either the truck lost its own tire or swerved to miss one of the existing tire bits on the road, and it jostled this piece loose (probably with a few others). It then sat in the road until my poor little low-clearance mini cooper found it. There is no scale for size in the photo, but the diameter was probably 8-10 inches, with a few more added on the random handle looking thing. I included the part number because it was the only identifying property, and if it can somehow be traced to the truck that lost it, that guy will be buying me a new car. Also, I know this is what I hit, because when I found it, it was already covered in my fresh, warm, oil.

After this, I headed away from the road to sit in the grass and wait for my tow truck. I updated facebook and took in this view.

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I’m glad the weather was nice so I could sit outside and contemplate life, though eventually I did grab the umbrella that’s always in my glove box so I would have some shade. Notice how my car looks fine. It was so sad just sitting there pretending there was no damage. (You can see the evil hose coupling next to it.) Also, since it was still before 9am, I-26 East was still not that busy. That was a nice reprise from what could have been a very noisy (and more dangerous) adventure.

One good Samaritan did stop and ask if everything was ok, but it was right after I’d received the call that the tow truck was 3 miles away, so I sent him on his way. I found out later that if I had really needed help, I should have popped the hood on the car. Also, I think that if I’d really been in distress, I could have attracted some attention because I was still wearing my pencil skirt. I hate to use my femininity as a tool like that, but sometimes that’s what needs to be done. I did actually have a change of clothes in the car, oddly enough, because I was scheduled to get more work done on my tattoo after work that day. However, I did not want to strip down on the side of the freeway, and I still did not feel safe inside my car so close to traffic.
Remember how AAA asked if I was in a safe place? Apparently it didn’t matter that I said no, because I sat on that damn grass for an hour and a half before the tow truck finally showed up. And it wasn’t the tow driver’s fault – he showed me his phone record and he had only received the call from AAA at 9:25. I had made my call at 8:32. In fact, he had even seen me sitting there with my umbrella while he was on another call.
The driver, Jason, was very nice and was glad I had pulled over immediately. He pointed out where I got hit and where the oil trailed to the current spot, so he knew I was in charge. I had done everything right, and I realized that so many people lack common sense and end up making a situation like this so much worse.We talked a bit about the hose coupling I had hit, and as he was hoisting my car up onto the flatbed, he made a face and said “ooh…” This alarmed me – no, no, Driver Jason, don’t make that face when you see the undercarriage of my car. That’s a bad reaction. He asked me if I had seen the engine. Since it was on the side closest to traffic, I had not. (That whole “risking my life for a clear picture” thing.) He said “I’m no mini mechanic, but the entire left side of your engine has been sliced off.” That set my face to maximum frownage. Mini coopers are already expensive to fix. Engines are already expensive to fix. Hearing that a large piece of yours has been sliced off – well, that’s never been good news for anybody. Then Driver Jason asked if I knew my tire was bent. No, I didn’t. But apparently somewhere in all that metal-on-metal banging I heard, my axle got bent, shoving my tire into my car frame. Also, he had “never seen an oil pump dangling like that.” I told him that he was not rising my hopes any higher. He got the car on the flatbed, and we departed.
AAA covers a few miles’ worth of towing, so initially I said to take the mini to the nearest shop. I was still hoping that maybe my oil pan had just been knocked loose or something. But after hearing his account, I knew it would not be such an easy fix so I said go ahead and take it to the mini mechanic in the next town over. Might as well pay for the tow now rather than later. This gave us quite a bit of time to sit and chat. He assured me that insurance would cover this, as it was not my fault. That made me feel a lot better, because I have never filed a claim with car insurance before and it didn’t even occur to me that a random piece of metal junk in the road would not be my fault.
When we arrived at the mechanic shop (I had called ahead) they situated the car and I gave out my info. Driver Jason knocked the towing fee down a bit for me and continued to be very nice and helpful. He left, and I proceeded to call my insurance. In describing what happened, the lady said “Oh my gosh! How did you not crash and die?!” I didn’t know how to answer that, so I said “I just didn’t, ok?” I answered all the standard questions (no, nobody else was involved, yes this is my preferred repair shop) and then proceeded to wait. I let work know that I was still delayed but I would try to come in later. The insurance said an appraiser would be contacting the shop within 24 hours, So there was nothing left to do, I called my boyfriend and politely asked for a ride home, 30 miles away. While I waited, I got to stare at my poor mini, still appearing to have no damage. The oil by now had all leaked out, so there wasn’t even a puddle to hint that something could be wrong.
I ended up calling out of work that day, my first time in 2 years at this job. And that’s when I finally broke down in tears. I had been in a daze all day, getting things done and facts straight. But then when I was finally safe in my boyfriend’s car, having eaten and on the way home, I lost it. The stress and worry had been built up and finally released. It was the first time my boyfriend had seen me cry (not even when I hurt my ankle) but he said it was a perfectly good reason, and that he was surprised I had lasted that long. (My coworkers said the same thing – I sounded very calm on the phone while they would have been hysterical messes.)
Of course, I did not receive any car-related calls the next day, even though the insurance said within 24 hours. I checked my phone constantly while I was at work, but no word either way. And now, it’s Labor Day weekend, so I won’t hear anything until at least Tuesday. (The accident happened on Thursday.) I’m still holding out hope that my poor little mini is fixable, but that hope declines a little with each person I describe the accident to and they make the same face that Driver Jason did. So, what’s probably going to happen is that the insurance will end up declaring the car totaled and cutting me a check for what it is “worth*”. I will keep you all updated if/when I hear anything.*I am not looking forward to that, because I know that my 11-year old car isn’t worth what I would need to get a new car.

I know the situation could have been much worse. I was not hurt in any way, nor was anyone else. If, for example, a car or motorcycle had been behind me when the hose coupling jumped in the air, they definitely would have had a worse day than I did. But still, I’m sad about my car. Yes, it’s a material possession that can be replaced, but it was my car, not just transport.
**UPDATE**
It took a little bit more than a week, but I finally heard back. The mini was at 83% damage, so the insurance declared it totaled. They offered me enough to pay off the remaining balance on the loan and still have enough for a good down payment on something else. Almost at the same time, the mechanic / shop owner offered to buy it from me. He explained how that would work with the insurance, so I asked the insurance what they would give me if I wanted to keep the car. It turned out to be a lot more than they were already prepared to pay me, so I took it. Plus I’ll be getting even more money when I sign the total over to the shop owner. This means I will have a very nice down payment – almost 50% of the new car I want. This also means I can get the car I want – I don’t have to settle for anything less.

So, in conclusion, everything worked out in the best possible way. If I had to wreck my car, I mean.

In which I battle a corporation for money

You may remember when I got my mini cooper a while back. Not long after acquiring said car, I needed to replace the power steering pump. It was a known defect in certain cars, and though it worked most of the time, it was not fun to be driving when suddenly my power steering went out. Luckily, it was tax time, so Uncle Sam gave me back some of my money and I was able to get this fixed.

Not long after that, like less than a month, mini sent out a recall notice. They stated specifically that if we had already replaced the part, they would issue a reimbursement. I got all my paperwork together and sent it in on June 5, 2013. I was told to wait 6-8 weeks.

So I waited. And heard nothing. I gave them a call, just to make sure they received everything. They had, and Good News! They were reimbursing me the full amount, with parts and labor came to almost $1000. So that was excellent. Also, by this time I had a new address, so I gave them that so there would be no confusion. Then I continued to wait, already making plans on what to do with the money once I got it back.

And I continued to wait.

Every 3-4 weeks or so, I would call mini again to find out the status. Every time I called, I had to verify all my personal info, including the address (which I had changed, remember). This is an important detail to stow away for later.
Every time I called, they promised me a different release date for the check. First it was the original 6-8 weeks. Then it was “by the end of the month.” Then, the end of the year. Then, they just stopped giving me estimates.
A few times, they couldn’t find my records at all, which was hilarious and maddening all at the same time. Lucky for everyone involved, I myself had kept detailed records. When I gave them this information, my “case” was finally found again. I even asked to speak with supervisors and managers. Once I was transferred to the “I want to be financed for a brand new BMW*, please” representative. That was just all kinds of wrong. They are supposed to pay me! 

Eventually I got the news that an actual physical check had been cut in my name. So I checked the mail every day, and continued to wait. After another month or so, I called them again. Much back and forth led to the discovery that my mystery check had been sent to my old address. You know, the one I changed about a month into this whole ordeal, and had to verify with every biweekly phone call? So I re-gave them my new address, though at this point I’ve lived here for about 9 months.

And I continued to wait.

(I did receive an email asking me to participate in a customer satisfaction survey. I decided they didn’t want me to fill that out until I actually got the thing I’d been fighting almost a year for, so I saved it til later. I’ll still fill it out, but at least now there’s closure to my case.)

Until today, Lo! A Fedex envelope that required a signature. The return address said BMW. I was almost in tears as I opened it. Did I really get my check, after literally 50 weeks? I had almost started to believe it was a myth. My elation was cut short, however, as I noticed several pages attached to my check. Did.. did they send me extra money? No. They sent me 5 other people’s checks paperclipped to my own. Some goon at the BMW head office was handed a stack of checks, instructed to mail them, and didn’t bother to see if they were all going to the same place. Mine happened to be on top, so they all came to me.

Interesting side note, they spelled my city incorrectly. Apparently I put in additional syllables and letters when I say my address. Or someone doesn’t bother to double check anything. Just one more thing that may have been able to speed the process up.

My own check went immediately into the bank, before there was any case of BMW calling backsies. I was tempted to call  (or at least reply to the email) to let them know of their error, but then I figured that if I had fought this long and hard for my check, these people probably have too. If I tell BMW they effed up, they’ll cancel the checks and those poor bastards will have to start the process over. So, I’m going to write each person a little note explaining what happened, and send the checks out myself. Maybe there will be some karma, or maybe these people will flip out and call BMW themselves. Either way, my battle is finally over.

The end.

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UPDATE, JUNE 5:
in the three weeks since writing this post, I’ve heard from 4 out of the 5 people I sent checks to. I received 2 emails, one handwritten card, and one person even found me on facebook. They all had the same story: they’ve been battling for at least a year for this money with no end in sight, and they were all very grateful. Not grateful enough to send me a portion of their newly acquired money, but that’s ok. 😉

 

 

*BMW is the parent company of mini.