More Pit Stops on the Highway to Hell: Road Trip Horror Stories, Part One

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Sep 10, 2010

I'm a big fan of Highway to Hell: Great American Road Trip Horror Stories, and Car Talk was kind enough to let me sift through the overflowing in-box of submissions to throw a few more gems your way.

But first, to whet your appetite, here's a road trip story of my own:

Sometime around 1978, when I was heading out of Connecticut in my packed-to-the-gills 1969 Volvo 142S (which smelled strongly from a bottle of soy sauce my girlfriend at the time spilled on the cloth seats), the exhaust pipe hit the highway with a clatter and began shooting off sparks in a dramatic fashion. I had installed the exhaust myself, prompting my mechanic to proclaim that it looked like "some kind of animal" had done the wrench work.

A flatbed AAA tow truck arrived quickly, helmed by a youthful operator, with his gum-chewing girlfriend (who he was trying mightily to impress) in the passenger seat. When I questioned the security of the car on the flatbed, the driver--an experienced professional--waved me away impatiently. But when we took the exit for his garage, my car decided it had other ideas. It rolled neatly backwards off the truck with a huge crash, and headed straight for the river on the other side of the road--fortunately stopping just short of the water when it reached the end of the 30-foot chain that remained attached.

A trusty Volvo 142S. (Flickr photo)We loaded it back up, and strangely the driver had lost none of his confidence. We made it to the garage, but I cringed when the unloading process began--we were dangerously close to a parked MGB. Again, I got the look from the driver (whose girlfriend was now whining, "Let's go-oo, Mark"). And the car rolled straight into the MGB, heavily damaging the latter. Aside from the still-broken exhaust, the Volvo was none the worse for wear. I drove it for years afterwards, still smelling of soy sauce.

These stories are edited for length and coherency, and sorry if they have a slight scatalogical tinge. This is Part One; there will inevitably be a Part Two:

Chunk-a-Chunk, Phew...

We drove from New Jersey to Disney World following the path of the tail end of a hurricane. The rain was constant. Our car top carrier was not guaranteed to resist two days of torrential rain, and our belongings, including the tent, were soaked. The next day we arrived at Disney World and enjoyed the attractions. At the campground, the car's generator went out and my husband spent the following day under the car, lying on a beach towel. The car was now operable but the beach towel was ruined with dripping oil. Meanwhile the mosquitoes and sand fleas had a feast on our three daughters.

At 3 a.m., the miserable itching of the mosquito and sand flea bites kept the girls awake scratching and crying. At the campground director's suggestion, we bought ammonia as a treatment for the sand fleas. We headed out again and the girls sat in the back seat covered with a bedsheet and daubing themselves with ammonia. They accidentally spilled the pint of ammonia, which could be described as smelling like three-day-old urine-soaked diapers. The car was operative but at this point the fan was hitting the radiator and making a racket. We crawled past a construction site with the car sounding like a pile of junk and smelling like a gigantic diaper pail. The look on the flagmen's faces were priceless. We broke into gales of laughter.

Barbara Derrick

The Rock and Roll Blowout

I was a musician for a long time and did several national tours. The story I will tell is one of insanity and stupidity beginning with a flat tire in our big conversion van pulling a 15-foot trailer full of amps and pianos through the desert.

We had quite a blowout late one night on the highway somewhere between South Dakota and, well, nowhere. But we were prepared because our drummer's father had graciously given us a spare tire from his junkyard. So, we pulled to the side of the road, took a quick look for rattlesnakes and vipers and bears and apes and whatever else might have eaten or poisoned us, changed the tire--and watched as it completely deflated.

We had AAA, but they actually laughed when we said where we were. We did finally get a tow truck said he could fix the tire and it would cost $40. I gave him $40 and he went back to his truck and returned with a can of that flat-fix stuff that everybody knows doesn't work. And it didn't. I expressed my extreme displeasure. He took our original rim with the mangled tire and said he would come back with a new one mounted--for an additional $150. He left with our original rim and mangled tire and we never saw him again.

Finally, the lead singer got behind the wheel and, with the flat tire flapping, took off down the road. Did I mention that we were pulling a 15-foot trailer? I jumped into the passenger seat and asked him oh-so-politely, using several words that would get Car Talk canceled immediately were they uttered on the air, what he thought he was doing.

But actually this story ends up in a bit of a freakish way. With the car now driving on the disc brakes, we saw up ahead a mirage that in fact turned out to be an actual junkyard. We found a tire that would work, got back on the highway, and made it to a Wal-Mart where we got a new rim and tire. We were only out about $350.

Adam LoPorto

Keys to the Kingdom

I've told this story at two different "get-to-know-you" social situations. In the competition for Most Embarrassing Story, I won both times.

I'm on a road trip from Chicago to Jackson, Mississippi. About 750 miles, about 12 hours. My traveling companion starts driving at 8 p.m. and wakes me up at 5 a.m. to take a turn at the wheel. An hour and a half later, I make a pit stop and go into a popular fast-food restaurant to use the restroom. I do my business, lean over and flush the commode...and the keys fall out of the pocket of my sweatshirt, into the toilet, and are woooooshed away by the industrial flushing action. As the keys fall, my reflexes kick in and I reach directly into the water to grab the keys. No luck. I'm staring in the water, hoping that the keys will float back up like a stray piece of tissue. No luck.

I am horrified. I walk out and ask the restaurant manager if he has a plunger. When I explain my situation, he laughs and says, "Oh those are goooooone!" We are 90 miles from home. My traveling companion is none too thrilled. But the Force was with me and I found a spare car key deep in my purse. No spare house keys, though. I had to wait on the front porch for two hours after a 750-mile road trip, waiting for the locksmith. Then convince him to break into the house for me.

Bridget Barisonek

Read the Signs

Here is a little road story that should have a moral to it somewhere. I was on the interstate when the coffee reminded me that coffee is what coffee does. I found a gas station and decided to take care of first things first before I would fill up with gas. I ignored the sign on the restroom door that said out of order. The door was open so I went in and flushed the toilet. It worked so I felt confident. But when I was ready to leave, I found out that the door was what was out of order. It wouldn't open. I banged on the door from the inside until the two women who ran the place came out and asked me if I'd seen the sign. After some negotiating, a man from the garage next door slid a knife under the door so that I could jimmy the latch open. By the time I finally got back in the daylight, a small crowd had gathered to see what all the excitement was about. I just got in my car and got out of there as fast as I could.

Tom Prahl

Wedding Bell Blues

Last July, my buddy asked me to be his best man at his wedding. I lived in Kansas City and the wedding was in Ft. Worth, Texas.

I drive a 2004 Madza RX-8. Before this trip, there was never a problem with this car. Sometime on the trip down, the A/C sensor went out and it only blew hot air. I did the rest of the trip with both windows down. We did the bachelor party, and the groom stayed with me at the hotel. The morning of the wedding we get into our tuxedos when I realized that I didn't bring any black socks. I put on white ones, but there really was no way to hide my embarrassment. So we get in my hot, no-A/C car and went to a Wal-Mart that was on the way to the church.
I grabbed a $2 pair of socks, and threw the white ones in the trunk and slammed it shut, then realizing the keys were right there, inside the trunk. So here we are, two guys in tuxes, in 105 heat, running around trying to find a way in the car. The wedding was in 45 minutes. The roadside assistance said that since it was Sunday it would take a while. So my buddy and I used up about $30 of hangers and garden equipment trying to bust into the car. After many calls from the bride to be, crying on the phone, I ended up punching in the driver's window, popped the trunk and we were on our way. As I was pulling out, the lock guy showed up at the parking lot looking for us.

A Mazda RX8: Sometimes reliable. (Flickr photo)

We get to the church completely soaked in sweat. We were still a tad hung over from the night before and we haven't eaten or drank anything yet. The ceremony started and everything was going well. But the video shows me fainting right in front of all the bridesmaids. The EMTs explained that I was very dehydrated.

Stan Mimo

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