Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Free Vehicle Recovery

I’d always been surprised by the intent behind the signs that say ‘Free Vehicle Recovery’ where there are roadworks on British motorways. How generous that if you broke down at a roadworks and didn’t have a roadside repair policy with the AA, the RAC or whoever, you were still ok – a supporting hand would soon appear courtesy of those nice road maintenance people. There was clearly more to road maintenance and construction companies than scowling men with builder’s bums working at night under floodlights. I always felt there was something weirdly generous about this arrangement, but never questioned it beyond the odd fleeting daydream of a thought as the signs whizzed by. That was until I broke down at a roadworks one vicious winter’s night.

It was around 1997. I was driving back to London after spending the week at my folks. My car was a Nissan Micra (don’t laugh). The rain pelted down mercilessly, the sky was an inky black. All I had for company was the repetitive sound of the wipers clearing away sloshing bucket loads of rain. And then Bang! The engine died with an explosion under the bonnet that had an air of finality about it. I managed to steer the car onto the hard shoulder, by some flashing traffic cones. Opening the lid, I could see that there was a hole in the engine casing – it looked like a piston had burst through. This was serious and looked irreparable. I closed the lid and sat in the car, thanking myself that at least I’d come to a halt in a roadworks area, so finally I would get to see what the free vehicle recovery service was all about. The sadness that something terminal might have gone wrong with the engine was tempered by the comforting thought that I would at least soon be getting a lift all the way home in a tow truck. I wondered if the guy would let me ride in the car as it was being towed (I had a strange fantasy to do that when I was a small boy) – I figured this wouldn’t be legal or possible. No matter, at least I would still get home to Battersea without any issues…

Soon enough, the tow truck appeared, lights a-flashing. A beefy chap got out and steered the crane around and hooked up the front of the car. To my delight, he allowed me to stay in the car (we had yet to communicate in any way). I sat back to enjoy the ride. We set off, but strangely enough, he had yet to ask me where in London (about 50 miles away) we were going. Stranger still, we left the motorway at the next exit, and came to a halt in the nearest lay-by. He parked his truck, then proceeded to lower the crane until my car was fully parked on the ground. ‘Ah’ I thought. ‘He’s come to ask me where we’re going. He was just making sure we were out of danger off the hard shoulder first. How sensible.’ I closed my eyes to wait for him to reach the car. A few seconds later, I heard a noise. The tow truck was driving off! A helpless panic seeped through my veins. I didn’t know where I was, it was pissing with rain, my car was not working, I was not getting a free ride home.

It was in this unpleasant way that I finally learnt the full meaning of ‘Free Vehicle Recovery’ meant. I had to walk for an hour down the road until I came to a phone box where I eventually managed to arrange for a tow-truck to pick me up, and, for 98 quid, drive me (sitting in the front with the driver) and my dead car back to Battersea. I eventually got it fixed, from a dodgy mechanic in Southall with a line in second hand motors straight from Japan (pay cash, no questions asked). But that's another story...


azuka 8:37 pm  

I might be slow, but I still don't understand what free road recovery means...

Anonymous,  8:42 am  

I think it means that broken down vehicles will be removed from their workspace.

Jeremy 5:17 pm  

That's precisely what the post is about! I thought it meant that if you breakdown in a roadworks, they give you a free tow home. In fact, they drag you out of the way and drop you in the nearest place off the motorway and leave you to fend for yourself! It's probably a legal liability thing - if a crash happens in a roadworks area due to a parked car on the side of the road, the roadworks maintenance company is probably liable - hence there spending money on making sure that parked cars are cleared away as soon as possible..

Hope that clarifies. There's probably something similar in the US..

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