26 October 2011

Car troubles in Amboise and Vouvray

I haven't written much about life in Saint-Aignan recently. The things that have been going on haven't been interesting to write about. It's been easier to think back to the few days we spent on the road to and from Champagne, and in the village of Bouzy.

Today I'm going to get my car back. Sigh. It started acting up back in June or July, but the incidents were minor and it was hard to tell what was going on. Then last week, I drove over to Vouvray. The car stalled as I was pulling away from a stop sign just outside Amboise and the check engine light — le témoin « autodiagnostique » — lit up. The same thing had happened in July.

As in July, I coasted to the side of the road and waited a minute. I turned the key and the car started back up again. Rather than return home, I decided to continue west down the Loire toward Vouvray. Maybe it wouldn't happen again. Well, it did.

Four times. Twice I was at places where I couldn't easily get the car entirely off the pavement, so I turned on the emergency warning lights and waited a minute. Several cars had to figure out how to get around me. Then the car would start up again. I made it home.

I was lucky, because once the car was parked in the driveway here it wouldn't start again. It was Friday afternoon when I tried. Fortunately, back in the spring when I renewed my car insurance for another year, the woman at MMA asked if I wanted to pay a little extra for coverage in case of an accident or breakdown within 25 kilometers of my place of residence. I said yes.

So I called MMA Assistance and told them about the car problem. Within an hour, a tow truck arrived at the house. The man tried to start the car, but it wouldn't catch. The battery was fine. Then he told me to get in the car and try to start it. He went to the woodpile and picked up a log of firewood. As I turned the key and the battery turned the motor over, he banged on the gas tank with the log.

Suddenly the old Peugeot sputtered to life. I never thought I would enjoy hearing the noise a diesel engine makes, but at that moment it sounded to my ear like Bertie's purring. « Alors c'est la pompe de gavage », the towtruck driver told me — it's the fuel pump (which is inside the fuel tank). Gavage is "force-feeding." He said it could stop working unpredictably at any minute, and I knew he was right. He'd tow the car in for repair.

I called MMA Assistance back and gave them an update. I told them I'd need a rental car for a few days. They said they'd make the arrangements. A few minutes later, somebody called me back and said I could pick up a rental car Saturday morning from an Avis agency in Contres, which is ten miles north of Saint-Aignan. I didn't even know there was an Avis agency there. « Avez-vous besoin de taxi pour y aller ? », the woman asked. Yes. She said she'd make the arrangements.

A few minutes later, the woman called and said a taxi would arrive at my house at 10:30 the next morning to take me to Contres. The driver actually arrived at 10:15. We needed the rental car because our friend C. was leaving to return to Paris and California that afternoon, and Walt had a doctor's appointment on Monday morning. When I got to Contres, I signed a contract and was handed the keys to a new VW Polo (which is the same size as my little Peugeot).

I didn't pay anything. The taxi and the rental are paid for my the insurance company. Today is Wednesday, and I got a call from MMA late yesterday saying my car has been repaired. Would I need a taxi to take me from the Avis agency in Contres to the garage in Noyers-sur-Cher? No, I said, that won't be necessary this time.

So Walt and I are going this morning to get the Peugeot back — he says he can drive despite his neck injury — and then drive the two cars up to Contres to turn the rental car in. Then I can drive the two of us back from Contres in the Peugeot. (I wish human bodies were as easy to repair as car engines are.)

It's hard having just one car when you live out in the country. When you need to take the car in for repair or service, you're stranded. When you have to be without the car for a few days, it's nice to have coverage of the kind my insurance company provides. I recommend it.


  1. That sounds like good insurance, that's for sure. I've never heard of insurance for breakdowns, I don't think... well, AAA, I guess?

    Glad things went smoothly. I hope Cheryl enjoyed her visit!

  2. Yay for insurance. I'm glad it all worked out for you. I see another car in your future...

  3. So glad you got that extra insurance! That's why I love AAA.

    My favorite line of this whole blog was the one about wishing human bodies were as easy to repair as cars. Amen to that!

  4. It's times like this when we pat ourselves on the back for having the good sense to get the roadside service.

  5. Glad that you didn't have an expensive repair due to the check engine light. I had to replace the catalytic converter - close to $600 when the light came on a year ago.

    I've had roadside service since I started driving at 16 (40+ years)- through State Farm - I pay about $6 every six months. I think AAA is a rip-off.
    I get free towing or recharge of a battery or even a locksmith all included for that measly $6.

    How did you like the Polo? Several friends have commented recently on the new VW TDI and the terrific diesel gas mileage - around 47 mpg, I believe.

    Mary in Oregon

  6. Hi Mary, I drove VWs for years (one Jetta, two Passats) and was happy with them. I'm not sure about the Polo, however. I prefer the Peugeot I have. The windshield and rear window on the Polo are small compared to what I'm used to, and I felt like I had less visibility.

    By the way, the fuel pump repair cost 420 euros, which is close to $600 at current rates.

    I think that because I lived for so long in cities and could use public transit when my car was in the shop for service or repair, I never appreciated the value of roadside service policies before.

  7. Ken, we had a similsr problem with our 2CV when we first bought it. It would cut out just after a roundabout or a left-hand bend. Great fun!!
    Discovered that the fuel pipe had perished on the tank side of the engine and fuel pump [on the engine in a 2CV]... every time we took a left hand bend, at speed, the fuel pipe would stretch a little and air would fill the carbureter... and the car would stop. Standing still, the fuel pipe 'healed' itself... a few turns of the started refilled the carb and off we'd go again.

    We've got the same cover as you from our French insurers... there is no AA or RAC in France, so as you've found it is worth the extra!!

    Hope Walt's neck improves rapidly and he can enjoy driving again!


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