A comedy of errors in which we learn the hard way to never, ever, ever take a used vehicle on a cross country road trip within 48 hours of purchase. Please, learn from our mistakes.
Perry had me climb into the driver’s seat while he looked under the van. At his signal I pressed the brake pedal, and his suspicions were confirmed: brake fluid spurted from a break in the line on the driver’s side.
The gas station was open all night – thank God! Even better, it had a bulletin board with a business card for a 24 hour mechanic!
This was before the days of cell phones – at least for us. We used the payphone to call him and tell him our predicament. He answered his phone and listened patiently, but said we would have to wait until the parts stores opened in the morning. He couldn’t do anything for us until then.We were stuck in Bucksnort, Tennessee. There was a hotel on the other side of the highway, but I talked Perry out of paying for a room for the few hours we would need. The kids were sleeping and it was only a few hours until morning.
Perry and I climbed back in the van and leaned our seats back, resigned to a few hours of sleep when we had hoped to be driving. Out of the darkness, a 5yo voice wailed in despair. “I didn’t want to go camping!”
Neither did we.
At 7 o’clock that morning, the mechanic arrived. After a quick look, he confirmed that the driver side brake line had rusted through. We realized that it would have been a good idea to replace the brake lines on both sides before we left home, since we had already learned the hard way that they were damaged. Oh well; live and learn. We were wiser now.
The mechanic left for parts. The nearest store was in Nashville, almost 50 miles away, so he would back in about 90 minutes.
3 hours later, he came back. On foot. On the highway. Our mechanic was walking down the highway. He chuckled self deprecatingly. “My engine blew up.” We thought it was hilariously ironic, but maybe we should have taken it as a bad sign.
He was carrying the parts and tools he needed to finish our job, so all was well for us. We were back on the road by noon with a new brake line on the driver side to match the one we had replaced so recently on the passenger side, still laughing about the mechanic’s bad luck.
We breathed a sigh of relief as the miles flew by. The kids were restless, but we were moving again. About 2 hours later it was time for our first potty stop. I tapped the brakes as I exited the highway, and nothing happened. I floored the pedal, and the van slowed to a stop in the nearest parking lot.
Perry and I traded places and he tried the brakes several times, starting and stopping. They weren’t entirely gone this time but they were very soft. He had done enough brake jobs himself to recognize the problem: our roadside mechanic was cutting corners with his time. He had either forgotten or neglected to completely bleed the air out of the brake lines. Our brakes were only barely functional.
This was bad.