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Tell Us Your Road Trip from Hell!

edited 8:40PM in The Show
Got a terrible tale from the open road? If so, we want to hear about it! (If you can bear to recount the sordid details, that is.)

For the next few weeks, we'll be gathering your favorite or, rather, least-favorite tales of road trips gone by. Stories of 2,000 miles spent with a brutish Mother-in-Law ordering you to slow down, every single mile. Tales of roadkill in the grille, engine fires, and vacation days spent in lonely backwaters, waiting for that new fan belt.

You can post your road trip from hell stories right here. We'll pick a few of our favorites, and share them with our listeners in a few weeks.

And, as always -- thanks!

Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers


  • edited July 2010
    When I was a kid, my family went camping every summer. When I was 12, my Dad ordered a new, much larger tent. Well, it didn't arrive until the morning we were supposed to leave, so we threw it into the box trailer without ever even opening it to check the parts, stuck the car-top boat on top of the heavily-loaded trailer and loaded me, my sister, my friend Carol, Dad and Mom and the cat into the station wagon and off we went.

    As we got close to the campground, in the late afternoon, one of the tires on the trailer blew out. We didn't have a spare, and the jack in the car couldn't lift the heavy trailer anyway. So Dad unhooked from the trailer, drove back down the road to the last gas station we'd passed, and left Mom, 3 kids and the cat in the coffee shop while he and the station owner drove to the nearest salvage yard, bought a used tire and rim of the right size, then drove to the trailer and jacked it up using the station's portable jack and changed the tire.

    While they were gone the rest of us had a meal and the station owner's wife, who thought the cat was just wonderful, gave the cat lots of milk.

    When Dad got back, he grabbed a sandwich and off we all went again. By the time we arrived at the campground, it was well after dark and the ranger was gone for the night. So we prowled the campground until we found a space that looked promising. Dad put up the old bell tent and put Mom and my sister (age 5) in it to blow up air mattresses while he and I and Carol put up the new tent. Our only light came from a couple of flashlights and the kerosene lantern. Remember - we'd never seen this tent before.

    Somehow we got it up and my parents and sister slept in it overnight while Carol and I shared the old tent with the cat.

    In the morning we discovered that we had pitched the new tent on the side of a hill and overnight the second room of it (intended to be an eating area) had collapsed, althought the sleeping area was OK. That day we moved to a flatter space. But in the meantime, the cat had gotten sick as a result of all that milk and for the next 3 days she had to spend her time outside the tents tied by a long leash to a tree in case she had an accident. Fortunately there were no bears or wolves or coyotes so she survived this experience.

    Now it is 50 years later and my sister told me this summer that she still had that tent until about 10 years ago and sold it to somebody for $150 - which was probably more than Dad paid for it back then.
  • edited July 2010
    Around 1984, my soon-to-be Wife and I took a circular trip from San Francisco to Mt. Lassen, then down 395 on the east of the Sierras past Mono Lake to Mammoth, where my Brother lived. We did a combination of Car Camping and Hotels. We stopped in Reno for a Hotel Night.

    Living in San Francisco, we ALWAYS lock our cars. No options there.

    We pulled into the El Dorado Casino and Hotel in Reno and there was a line we had to wait in, as all parking (at that time) was valet. I let my sweetie out of the car to register at the hotel while I waited in the hot sun - no AC, and it was mid-August in Nevada.

    I inched forward until a valet could handle me - "Please leave the keys in the ignition". I did so and exited the car - locking it as I always would.

    HORRORS! I've locked my keys in the car! The line BEHIND me was growing and there were now no other cars in front of me! I asked for a "Slim Jim" and got a blank stare.

    They dispatched someone to find the 'Security People' and a guy returned, holding a Slim Jim - like a dead fish - in front of him. He came up to me and said, "I hope you know how to use this thing!" My brother was a tow-truck operator and I had *some* inkling of how it was I tried.

    ...and people gathered around, scrutinizing my efforts (...was it hook to the left and pull to the right and up?). Finally, I unlocked the door to great applause.

    My car was whisked down the ramp to the parking structure and I - sheepishly - went into the casino reception area where my honey had a drink in her hand, "What took you so long?"

    I noticed a sign right behind her: "The El Dorado Welcomes the <something> Auto Theft Investigators Association!" (I may have forgotten the exact outfit, but I think that was "Western States" - it may have been a National convention).

    I bet there were hundreds of Slim Jim's in the hotel and dozens of experts that could have cracked my car in an instant.

    The Car: 1977 Datsun B210
    The Irony: Priceless
  • edited July 2010
    When my 2 daughters reached that magic age, we planned a trip to Disney World in Orlando. The first leg of the trip was from our home in Houston to Mobile on I-10. All was progressing smoothly until we were about 70 miles west of Mobile in swamps along the gulf coast. Suddenly and without warning, the engine in our Ford van stopped. We went from 70 MPH to 0 as we coasted to the shoulder. We had just filled the tank and I didn't know exactly what the problem was, but I knew it was serious and beyond my ability to make roadside repairs. I told my wife and daughters to lock the doors and stay in the van until I returned. I started walking. I had not gone 10 paces, when a tow truck appeared out of nowhere. It pulled up to the front of the van, the driver jumped out, and began hooking up to our disabled vehicle. I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life.

    As he finished hooking up the van, he apologized for taking so long to respond to our call. I told him that I thought his response time was excellent and that I hadn't called (since this was way before the advent of cell phones). It was about this time that we both noticed a driver 200 yards down on the west bound side of the freeway jumping up and down waving his arms. The tow truck driver realized he had hooked up to the wrong vehicle. But since he was already hooked up to our van, we just waved as we went by the west bound driver. When we reached Mobile, the tow truck driver called a buddy to go out and rescue the poor shmuck who had called.

    Come to tnink about it, I think the east bound driver should be submitting this story.
  • edited July 2010
    In 2002, I owned a 1985 Volvo 240 Wagon that was my fist car. It had been in a couple of accidents and I had slowly rebuilt the exterior over the years, including repainting it from gray to Coca-Cola red (that was the actual name of the color). The car had 292,000 miles on it, and I had discovered that Volvo would send you metal decals for being in the "high mileage" club. I had my 100,000 and 200,000 mile decals proudly attached to the grille and wanted my 300,000 decal.

    I was finishing my first year as a teacher at a private boarding school, and the Volvo had no air conditioner and my hour drive in North Carolina was pretty hot. A friend of the family was offering to sell me their Camry wagon and I had decided it was finally time to retire the Volvo; but not before trying to get those last 10,000 miles. During a week long spring break, I decided to get a large chunk of those miles in one long road trip.

    My father and brother and I have an informal contest to see who can go to all 50 states first. I plotted a trip that would take in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Everything went as planned until I stopped at a rest area in Fargo. I stopped to stretch, but also to check out an annoying rattle in the back of the car. I found a loose piece of plastic trim work and, lacking a screw driver, pulled out my key to tighten the screw. As I twisted the screw to tighten it, the key snapped in half.

    I was under a pretty tight time constraint, needing to be at a cousins wedding at the end of the trip. As I looked at the two parts of the key in my hand I thought that I had two possible choices. I could call AAA and have them make a new key, but that would take hours; or I could stick the two pieces of the key in the ignition and see if the car would start. If it didn't, I would still have to call AAA to have them get the key out and make me a new one and I would be in the same position. It wasn't until later that I realized there was a third option.

    Of course I decided to put the two pieces of the key in the ignition. Nervously, I turned the key and the car started right up! Knowing that if things went wrong later I might not be in such a great place to wait for AAA I turned off the car and pulled out the half of the key that I had access too, put it back in the ignition and turned it again. For a second time, success! I got back on the road and continued on my way.

    I ended that day at a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. I locked all the doors except the tailgate, since I didn't have a key to open the door. I slept well and got up the next morning ready to knock Michigan off my list and head back east. I drove from my room to the office to check out, and when I came out and put the key in the ignition I couldn't turn the key. My luck had run out.

    This is when I discovered my third option, which was that AAA could not get a piece of a key out of the ignition without drilling the ignition and needing to buy a new one. Now I wanted those last few thousand miles, but I was about to buy another car in a few days and as hard as I tried I could not justify spending hundreds a dollars on a car that I was trying to get rid of anyway. I tried sticking things in the ignition with glue or tape or anything I could think of to get the key out. When I finally admitted defeat I had to undergo the indignity of paying $50 to a scrap yard to come and pick up my car and take it away.

    The tow truck driver was kind enough to give me a ride to the Greyhound station and I was able to watch my Coca Cola red Volvo, with nothing wrong other than a half a key stuck in the ignition, as it was taken to the scrap yard. After a 25 hour ride on the bus back to North Carolina, I bought my Camry and drove to Pennsylvania for my cousins wedding. The final odometer reading was 292,840.
  • edited July 2010
    When I was about 8 years old, my Father bought a new (to us) station wagon. A Buick I think. This was the early sixties, and he never bought a new car so I bet it was a late 50ish car.
    We had owned another station wagon before, a Ford, but this was the first time we had a luggage rack on top! "Wow, what goes up there Dad?" He explained that when we went on a trip the suitcases could go up there so my brother and I would have the run of the whole back of the car and not be cramped into the backseat the whole trip. "SWEET!!"
    Later that year, we planned to take a trip to visit our Grandmother in Rochester, we lived in Hickory , NC.
    The morning of the trip we all brought our suitcases out of the house for the ceremonial packing of the car. We lined the cases up and my Dad grabbed them and pitched them up on the roof of the car inside the luggage rack which was nothing more than four rails in a rectangle about four inches high. My brother and I exchanged querulous glances and then jumped into the empty back of the wagon to stretch out and enjoy the ride.
    We took off with my Mom and Dad in the front seat. All the windows were down as it was hot and there wasn't any AC then. We were flying along on a four lane road with a large grassy median. My Dad was in the left lane passing everyone and I was sitting in the back looking at the long line of cars falling behind us. Just then, something rattled on the roof of the car and then a suitcase went flying toward the car behind us. It disappeared under the drivers side of the car and EXPLODED out the back side.
    My brother and I hollered for our Dad to stop and he jammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road.
    We all got out and ran back to where the car that was riding behind us had stopped. They got out and were obviously shaken by what had happened. When we began talking about a suitcase that had flown off the top of our car they breathed a huge sigh of relief because they thought a kid had fallen out of our car and they had run it over. WHEW!
    Then we started looking around at the mess all over the side of the road and my Mother nearly cried. "Oh no!! That was my suitcase", she said when she saw her bras and panties spread all over heck and half of NC.
    The folks who hit the suitcase helped us gather everything up that looked like it came out of it, and we threw it all in the back of the car, along with the rest of the suitcases from the luggage rack and we were off down the road. My brother and I had to spend the rest of the trip in the back seat.
  • edited July 2010
    Living on an island in southeast Alaska, our road trips begin with an overnight ferry boat ride. Thus, we booked a berth for a trip north his spring. After boarding the ship, my wife opened the door to our cabin leaving the key in the outside lock, a mistake I failed to notice.

    Within minutes she had locked the door from the inside and hopped into her bunk. Still wide awake, I decided to go out on deck only to discover I couldn?t unlock the door from the inside with the key in the lock on the outside. We were prisoners in our room.

    No amount of wiggling or prying the lock through the crack in the door with my knife would release the lock. Usually there is someone in an adjacent room on these trips so my wife hopped out of bed au naturel and started banging on the walls and door yelling help. No response.

    There we were faced with 18 hours locked in our room with no food and a dog in our car that would need a pee break at our next port of call. And no one could hear my naked wife pounding on the walls while yelling yoo hoo at the top of her lungs. ?This is not a good omen for a trip,? I muttered.

    Maybe she was lucky no one heard her and opened the door to discover her dress code. Ultimately, a lot of prying with my knife while wiggling the lock worked and we were free. Once on deck, I told my story to the seasoned night watchman who responded, ?that was a first.? ?That?s my wife.? I responded.
  • edited July 2010
    Around mid-July, 1995, a group of us decided to rent an RV and travel from the DC area up to Connecticut to attend a gathering of crazy people that love to play the fife and drum. You Car Talk guys should be familiar with this unique experience since you are in the Boston area. This is an annual event called the Deep River Fife & Drum Muster. Anyway, there were about 7 of us in what could be called a basic RV - small kitchen, uncomfortable seats, teeny bathroom and just enough room to fit everyone. We soon discovered that the gas tank was small and ate that gas at an alarming rate but what really started this hellish trip was when we just filled up and on the NJ Turnpike, the poor engine started to chug, then sputter then finally quit - fortunately, we were able to pull over to the side. We frantically called the 800 number given to us for emergencies from the rental company and they said they would be right there! Actually, it only took about an hour but in the meantime, humans being humans, we had to relieve ourselves of food and drink (this will be important later.....) The wonderful mechanic showed up and it turned out that fuel filter had eaten itself and little bits of filter clogged up the system but somehow, he fixed it and we were on our way again. By this time, someone had noticed a strange odor eminating from the teeny bathroom. It turns out that the flusher did not flush properly so the teeny toilet was now chock full of "stuff"! So, when we arrived at our camping area, we made a mad dash to the porta-potties. But returning to our home away from home, the odor was still rather awful - until a couple of us were goofing around the drivers area and bumped the horn - and lo and behold, we heard the potty pump start to work! So, we always had to beep the horn when visiting the teeny bathroom. Needless to say, we all knew who was doing the potty dance. And fortunately, we returned to our respective homes in the DC area none the worse for wear but with a road trip story we would not soon forget!!!
  • edited July 2010
    A few years back, my kayaking buddies and I decided to take a long weekend out in the mountains of Virgina. We were determined to tackle Balcony Falls on the James River, though my ambitions were bit more modest; like tackling a six-pack. The plan was to "caravan" out there, each driver with their boats and cars staying more or less in a pack on the highway during the six-hour drive. The lead car was driven by an older gentleman who was extra, extra cautious and drove well under the speed limit. I wasn't expecting a prolonged trip and I ran out gas, as did several others, as there was no stopping allowed. (I can tell you about the horrors of trying to use a marine toilet in a car, but that's another story.) Several calls and a long time waiting for AAA to arrive with gas later, we were on our way. But my 2005 Jeep Liberty ("Libby"), pushing 80 tho and cantankerous at best, didn't like the sludge she had sucked up at the bottom of the gas tank I guess. She did this bump and grind thing in protest. And horrors! I hadn't thought to check the straps on my kayak. It'd been sitting on the top rack of my car for almost 12 hours now. The straps had apparently loosed. My bucking car sent the kayak flying off the roof. It rear-ended the car in front me. I stopped. The car in front of me stopped. And once again, the long caravan ground to a halt. The damaged car's passengers disembarked. I didn't know them. And they were some really mean-looking, biker, surfer dudes with lots of snarly tatoos. This is when being a "girl" really helps; I flashed a.." did I do that?" grin, which eased some of the tension. My kayak had seriously dented the back of their SUV, damaging the bumper too. I touched it and it fell off. But the carnage didn't end there. My kayak ended up in the opposite highway lane and got promptly creamed by a semi. I was left with some very interesting wall art, an aborted kayak trip and some really unhappy dudes.
  • edited July 2010
    Years ago Jim and I headed from California to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with 3 little kids in the primer black 70's Econoline Van we had bought from his brother-in-law. The first thing to go was the heater so we took turns driving in double sleeping bags which didn't prevent frostbite of the toes. Somewhere along the East Coast Jim looked over and saw an old high school buddy beside us on the freeway. We all pulled over and he gave us a kerosene space heater which we fired up to warm us so we could continue to drive. After a few days with the relatives, we headed home with half dozen gallon jugs of water in case we overheated. Less than an hour out, we did overheat but Jim decided to drive on to the next exit where he hosed down the scorching engine compartment, cracking the block. As we waited at the coffee shop to be rescued by his relatives, he realized he had left his wallet at the pay phone and all our money was gone. After returning, we towed the van with a chain, he and his friends rebuilt the engine in an unheated carport with money from selling my wedding rings to his friend who said she would sell them back to us. We eventually made it back to California but he never bought the rings back. We are divorced.
  • edited July 2010
    Does a 30-minute ride from Ridgewood, Queens to East Williston on Long Island in New York count as a valid 'road trip"? Well, hell comes in all shapes and sizes and duration so...!

    About 20 years ago, I was on a yearly visit to my family in NY where I hadn't lived for a good ten years so I had to borrow my sister's car to get to see the cousins. My sister's last words to me were, "Don't forget to fill the radiator before you leave there!" I did.

    On the way back, on the Grand Central Parkway, I happened to notice a red light on the dash but, since I only needed glasses for reading, I didn't have them on and couldn't see what the red light indicated. I drove on in blissful ignorance but then, even without glasses, I could see smoke escaping from the hood and went onto the exit ramp and then the shoulder. Evidently, somewhere between East Williston and the Grand Central, the radiator cap got lost. No one stopped to help this poor damsel in distress and who had a cell phone back then? I decided to walk up the ramp and find a phone before the sun set. Halfway up, a Volkswagon Beetle inched slowly closer to me and asked if I belonged to the car back there. The driver, a tall, lanky, clean-cut looking man about in his 30s, told me he was a cop and would drive me to a phone booth. Yes, I got in! I shouldn't have but I did and sat as close to the door as I could. He told me his name, showed me his badge and ID but, of course, without my glasses.... What I could see looked authentic and so he took me to a pay phone near a set of apartments and kept waiting for me to finish the call. I thanked him and told him my sister would arrive soon. After a while, he finally left.

    My sister, however, was more concerned about her car being stripped and went to check on that first. The sun slowly set and the area around the pay phone was getting lonelier and lonelier. Finally she showed up and, in typical New York fashion, could not believe I would accept a ride from a complete stranger. So I explained he was a policeman etc. She asked me his name and, only later, did I understand why she screamed when I told her he said his name was Norman Bates!

    P.S. I checked with the precinct he said he was with and was informed there was no one there by that name and that a 'real' policeman would have told me to return to my car while he called for help. Who knows? Maybe because the name "Norman Bates" made no impression on me...?

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