40 reasons I’m thankful I broke down

This week, on the way back from a business trip, my car broke down.  It’s now sitting in a garage, waiting to be taken apart and fixed.  I missed an important meeting, I had to spend about £250 getting my car towed home, and I haven’t yet found out how much the bill will be to fix the car.  So you might be wondering why I have any cause at all to be thankful.  Here’s the story, and why I’m thankful for God’s protection.

The business trip took me down to Wadebridge in Cornwall, a 130 mile drive from home that should have taken 2 and a half hours but which actually took nearer 4 because of the traffic.  Being a web developer, not a professional driver, I didn’t fancy doing the entire return journey the same day, so I arranged to stop off at a hotel in Plymouth and do the remainder of the journey the following day.

(1) I’m thankful that I decided to do the return journey in two parts.  If I hadn’t, I’d have broken down at the side of the road somewhere completely different, and far less convenient.

(2) I’m thankful that my wife came up with the idea of staying overnight.  It wasn’t my idea.  And, given how evident it was that God had things in hand, it probably wasn’t entirely her idea either!

(3) I’m thankful that the hotel in Liskeard had no vacancies.  That was where I had originally intended on stopping over.  But if I’d stopped there, I’d have had the breakdown in a different place.

My phone was giving me GPS directions, and was nearly out of battery, so I was relieved to see the signs for Plymouth.

(4) I’m thankful that my phone lasted.  My in-car charger wasn’t working, so I hadn’t been able to charge it as I drove, and because it had been very sunny I’d had the screen brightness up really high.  If it had run out of juice completely I might not have made it to the hotel at all.

I turned off the A38 and slowed down for the junction.  It was at that point that the engine started misfiring, making a strange clattering noise, and the engine management warning light started flashing at me.

(5) I’m thankful that it didn’t happen when I was actually on the A38.  Given what had gone wrong (more on that presently), the damage could have been a lot worse if I’d been zipping along at 70 or with the engine at high revs.

Still, the engine didn’t stall, and moments later the clattering ceased, it stopped misfiring, and the warning light stopped flashing.

(6) I’m thankful that the engine kept running at that junction.  The Marsh Mills roundabout is huge and very busy.  Breaking down there would not have been a fun experience, for me or the other drivers.

As it happens, there was a Sainsburys right next to the roundabout, so I swung into the car park and found myself a spot to stop.

(7) I’m thankful for Sainsbury’s car park.  Given the choice, I would choose a supermarket car park over the side of the road any day.

I had a look under the bonnet.  Everything seemed to be in order, as far as I could see.  Nothing was missing.  Nothing was hanging off.  Nothing was loose.  Nothing was leaking.  Nothing was on fire.  And at this point the engine seemed to be running smoothly.  I revved the engine a bit, and it obliged happily.  I concluded that it must have been a glitch or something that had sorted itself out.  So I got back in and carried on.

(8) I’m thankful that the engine clung on in there.  It gave me the confidence to carry on.

As it happens, the hotel I was staying at was on the other side of the road, also right next to the roundabout.

(9) I’m thankful that the hotel wasn’t far away.  Even given the provision of Sainsbury’s car park, if I’d had to drive much further to get to the hotel I might not have got there.

I parked at the hotel, checked in, and relaxed.  Later in the evening I had a lovely meal at the Beefeater restaurant next door.  And I put it all on my Premier Inn Business card provided by my employer, so that nothing actually went on my own card.

(10) I’m thankful that I didn’t have to pay for my stay.  Knowing that there wasn’t a big dent on my bank account was a huge weight off my mind.

Early the following morning I packed up, had breakfast, checked out, and got into the car.  It started first time and sounded healthy, so I pulled out of the car park onto the junction.  As I slowed down for the traffic lights, the engine started misfiring again, the engine warning light flashing again, and stalled.

(11) I’m thankful that it had had the symptoms again so soon.  If it had clung on until I was back on the A38, it would have been far less convenient.

(12) I’m thankful that I came to a stop at the front of the queue at the traffic lights.  If I’d been further back, I would have been more in the way.  At least here people were expecting to have slowed down, making it safer for me.

I tried to restart the engine, and it coughed into life, but still misfiring, and then stalled again.  I tried again, but it wouldn’t start at all.  Clearly the problem from yesterday hadn’t magically resolved itself after all.  I put my hazard lights on and tried to think what my next step would be.  I took the handbrake off, opened the door, and attempted to push the car to safety.

(13) I’m thankful that the traffic moved slowly at that junction.  It made it slightly safer for me to step out of the car.

However, the lights changed too quickly for me to make any meaningful progress, so I got back into the car where I felt less exposed.  In desperation I tried to start the engine again.  It fired up happily, no lights, no misfiring.

(14) I’m thankful the engine started again.  Being stranded in the middle of a busy junction is not a safe place to be.

I swung the car back into the hotel car park, seeing as the entrance was just there.

(15) I’m thankful for the hotel car park’s one way system.  It meant that getting back in didn’t mean turning around.

(16) I’m thankful that just when I needed it there was a sizeable gap in the traffic behind me.  I was able to swing across four empty lanes, without getting in anyone’s way, before turning into the car park.  At rush hour, that’s impressive.


Poorly engine.

I pulled into a space, and took a deep breath.  Not a great start to the day, but at least I was safe.  I got my wallet out, found my RAC card, and rang the number.

(17) I’m thankful that I had remembered to charge my phone the night before.  Otherwise things would have been a lot less convenient.

(18) I’m thankful that I had got breakdown cover for my car.  Ten years ago I would have considered that a frivolous waste of money.

(19) I’m thankful that the lady on the phone could look up my car’s details even though I gave her the wrong membership number.  We’ve got two cars, you see, and I only had the membership number for the other one.

(20) I’m thankful that the weather was good.  Waiting in the rain for the RAC man to arrive would have been far less fun.  As it was, I had sunshine, a gentle breeze, and squirrels playing in the trees next to me.

A little over an hour later, the RAC van turned up.  The mechanic plugged his computer into my car to find out what was wrong.

(21) I’m thankful that modern technology reduces the need for me to explain what happened.  In moments of stress, even if I’ve mentally rehearsed my lines, I don’t always remember to say everything I meant to.  As it turns out, I didn’t need to describe the problem at all for him to figure out the cause.


Spot the difference…

According to the error codes, there was a random misfire on cylinders 1 and 2.  So he started taking out the spark plugs.  Spark plug 1 had a little oil on it.  Nothing to worry about, he said, it wasn’t a huge leak at all, and certainly wouldn’t have stopped the engine running.  But speak plug 2 was missing its electrode.  That was more of a problem.  Without that, the cylinder wouldn’t be firing at all.  I said I remembered hearing a clattering noise the day before, and he said it might well have worked its way out through the exhaust.  He didn’t have any of those particular spark plugs in the van, so he went off to buy some.  I decided that it would be worth getting a whole new set, because they all looked a similar age and could probably all do with refreshing anyway.

(22) I’m thankful that the cause was easy to diagnose.  If the spark plug had merely been defective in some way, it wouldn’t have been clear what was wrong, and we’d have been less certain that replacing it would be the best course of action.  Being visibly broken made that a much easier conclusion.

(23) I’m thankful that there was somewhere nearby that the RAC man could go to buy spark plugs.  It didn’t take him long.

He returned with a fresh set of spark plugs and fitted them.  The engine started up, and he said it was running nice and smoothly.  To be honest I couldn’t tell just by listening, but I trusted his judgement!  He said that while he was putting it into his system I should drive round the block and make sure I was happy.

(24) I’m thankful that he trusted me to drive off without the transaction being complete.  I had everything with me, I could have just driven home and never signed anything.  Him trusting me helped me to trust him.

I pulled out of the car park and onto the junction, and the engine clattered to a halt again.  I had to restart it a few times, but I managed to crawl it back into the car park.

(25) I’m thankful that it stopped working again so soon.  If it had behaved a little longer it would have covered up its true problem, and I’d have been stranded somewhere else and would have had to get him called out again!

(26) I’m thankful that the engine clung on long enough for me to get back to the car park.  If I’d got stranded on the junction, the RAC man would have had to come and tow me to safety.

With that, we concluded that the electrode had in fact not come out the exhaust, but was still trapped in the engine block somewhere.  Not so good.  And not something he could fix himself.

(27) I’m thankful that it was so clear what was wrong.  If there had been any doubt, I might have been tempted to try to drive home anyway.  As it was, I could hear the electrode clattering around inside the engine, which wasn’t a nice noise at all.

The first option was to tow the car to a local garage in Plymouth and get it fixed there.  That wouldn’t have been too bad, as I could have stayed another night at the hotel.  The RAC man rang round, resulting in a ball-park figure of around £400 to take the head off and put it all back together.  But it would take several days, possibly running into next week, due to existing workload.  I couldn’t stay in the hotel that long!  So the only other option would be to get the car towed all the way back home, and I’d get it fixed there instead.

(28) I’m thankful that the decision was easy to make.  I’m not known for my decisiveness.  Staying in Plymouth for an unknown period of time just wasn’t an option, which made the alternative a clearer decision.

The RAC man took payment for the spark plugs and the transportation of the car, and left.  A different RAC person with a flatbed lorry would be in touch shortly.  So I went back into the hotel, parked myself at a table at the bar, ordered myself a cup of tea, connected to the hotel’s free wifi and replied to various emails that were waiting for me.  I got the call from the delivery man saying when he’d be there, and I took the opportunity to get some lunch in the restaurant while I waited for him to arrive.

(29) I’m thankful that I had such a comfortable place to wait.  A Premier Inn hotel and a Beefeater restaurant is infinitely more pleasant than the side of a road.

(30) I’m thankful that my Premier Inn Business card covered food as well.  My cup of tea and my lunch were therefore paid for with ease.

(31) I’m thankful for free wifi.  And why not.


Loaded and ready to go.

Just as I was finishing lunch, the delivery man arrived.  He loaded the car onto his flatbed, and off we drove.  It was slow going, because we were speed limited, but we made steady progress.

(32) I’m thankful that the driver was friendly, but not too friendly.  He didn’t insist on talking the entire journey, but left me time to be quiet and relax and look out of the window and listen to the music and rest my eyes.

(33) I’m thankful that the driver had an appreciation of fine music.  I could have been listening to mind-numbing trance music, or ear-bleeding thrash metal.  But my driver was a DJ in his spare time, specialising in jazz-funk-motown.  He put his iPod on, and we listened to some properly brilliant tracks.

Oh, and all this time I had been keeping in touch with my wife and colleagues, all of whom were expecting me to have been home already.  My colleagues were very understanding, and rescheduled the important meeting I had been trying to back for.  And Ellie was supportive and encouraging the whole time.

(34) I’m thankful that my colleagues understood that it was out of my control.  They could have insisted that I get a taxi back and abandon my car.  Or they could have held the meeting over the phone.  But they were brilliant, and gracious, and when I came in to work this morning they were very pleased I was safe and well.

(35) I’m thankful for my wife’s support.  She didn’t blame me, she didn’t put additional pressure on me to get it fixed or get home sooner, she didn’t get stressed or overly worried.  I love her very much.

(36) I’m thankful that my phone is on a contract.  I made several phone calls and sent lots of text messages, and it was reassuring knowing that it was already paid for in my monthly bill, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it.

Also, while all this was happening, our other car happened to be at the garage as well, for something completely separate.  The rear brakes had been making a weird clunking noise, so we had booked it in for that day for them to fix it.  Turns out that although they were perfectly safe and legal the brake pads were moving slightly in their seats, hence the clunk.  Seeing as they had fitted those pads only two months ago, they agreed to replace them with a different brand at no charge, because they were still covered by their warranty.

(37) I’m thankful for warranties.  So rarely do we actually get the benefit of them, they seem almost a waste of time having.  But in this case it saved me a few pennies, which is great considering that fixing the other car won’t be cheap.

The flatbed got to the garage mid-afternoon, and as we pulled up they happened to be just finishing the work on our other car.  We unloaded the broken one, and I waited in the reception for the other one to be ready.

(38) I’m thankful for amazing timings.  I could have been waiting for hours for the other car to be finished.  I could have had to walk home, and then walk back again to pick up the car.  But I only had about 15 minutes to wait.  And there was a dog to play with while I waited.

So now I’m home, safe and sound.  Our family car has its brakes fixed, and my little car is sat at the garage waiting to be fixed next week.  I still don’t know how much the repair will be, but thankfully we have budgeted for emergencies and have some savings put aside to cover things like this.

(39) I’m thankful that we can afford the repair bill.  Working through the numbers is never fun, but because we have a firm grip on our family budget we know what money we have and where it’s coming from, and have ensured that it’s not going to impact anything else.  That’s a big change from a few years ago.  We may not be rich, but we can survive quite happily, because it’s all under control.

And at the end of it all, I can reflect back and see how God has guided and protected me through this entire experience.  It could have been worse, it could have been a lot worse, but it wasn’t.  I felt cared for.  I felt safe.  I even felt comfortable.  And, most strikingly, I felt peaceful.

(40) I’m thankful for God’s peace that passes understanding.  I ought to have been stressed.  I ought to have been desperate.  I ought to have cried a little.  But the entire time I felt safe in God’s care, protected from harm, provided for.  Given how wrong it could have been, the peace I experienced is clear evidence for me that God was in control the whole time.

UPDATE: A week on…

Having left the Corsa at the garage over the weekend, I picked up a courtesy car on Monday, which would get be around while they work on my car.

(41) I’m thankful for the courtesy car.  Even if it was a Micra.  And automatic.

I heard nothing for a few days, but eventually on Wednesday I got a call from the garage with an update.  They had diagnosed the misfiring down to a failed coil pack, and had replaced it.  Not all that surprising really.  The spark plugs take electricity, make a spark with it, and that (amongst other factors) powers the engine.  But of course when the electrode breaks off a spark plug it doesn’t spark where it’s meant to, the result being that it shorted the coil.  So they put a new one on, and reported that it was running nice and smoothly now.

Most of the time, anyway.  After about half an hour the clattering noise came back.  And then disappeared.  And then came back.  So whatever was wrong was still wrong, and the coil pack was either a consequence of the real problem or something completely unrelated.  And it was at this point that the garage phoned me, because they wanted my approval (or otherwise) before proceeding any further.

It turns out that a twinport engine such as mine is much more complicated than a ‘normal’ engine, which means taking it apart is much more time-consuming, and therefore more expensive.  They said they could take it apart piece by piece, checking for whatever was wrong as they went along.  But it would end up costing over £1000.  At that point, it hardly seems worth it, given the value of the car itself.

I mulled it over when I got home, and talked it over with Ellie, who was supportive as always.

(42) I’m thankful for my wife, Ellie.  I know I’ve already been thankful for her, but it bears repeating.  She made a batch of bread rolls specially to cheer me up, because she knows how much I like fresh bread.  I love that she understands me so well.  It really brightened up my evening!

And then I said ‘hello’ to an old friend – Autotrader.  I’ve lost count of how much time I’ve spent looking at cars on Autotrader over the years.  I found some Corsas, which would be effectively a direct replacement with an almost identical model, and some Fiestas that might be worth looking at as well.

(43) I’m thankful for the Autotrader website.  It’s well-organised, useful, and I’d be pretty much lost buying a car without it.

This morning I called the garage again, with a last-ditch effort to somehow keep the car.  I asked whether replacing the entire engine might be quicker – and therefore cheaper – than taking the existing engine apart.  It was worth a shot.  However, their mechanic said that it would probably work out nearly as expensive, if not more expensive.  True, I could pick up an entire engine on eBay for around £200, but they would still have to do the swap and connect everything up, and even then there would be no guarantee the new engine would work.  I’d effectively be swapping an engine I knew for an engine I didn’t, which might have just as many problems to put right.  The only alternative would be to get a refurbished block from a reputable dealer, able to provide some sort of warranty, but then we’d be looking at spending £700 just on the block.  Whatever way we looked at it, it just wasn’t going to make economical sense to repair it.  So we agreed that we wouldn’t.  To make matters even more frustrating, the insurance is very unlikely to cover it because it wasn’t an accident, just mechanical failure.

However, just as I was about to admit defeat, a thought miraculously sprang to mind.  The maths didn’t add up.  If you know me, you’ll know that me and maths don’t always agree at the best of times, so I had to run this past Ellie to make sure I’d got it right.  If I sold the car for spares or repair, I might get maybe £500 for it at most. Paying out around £1500 for a new car would mean an overall outlay of around £1000. Which is the same as repairing the car I’ve already got. Not including whatever it would be to swap the insurance over. And at this point it suddenly seemed ridiculous to be considering replacing the car at all.

(44) I’m thankful that inspiration struck in time. God was clearly still looking out for me, and saving me from a terrible mistake.

Not quite trusting my own judgement, I decided to call my dad the following morning for his advice. After explaining it all to him, he agreed with my suspicion that it was worth the gamble to try to get the Corsa fixed.

(45) I’m thankful for my wonderful Dad. He knows cars, and I trust his opinion and wisdom. And I’m incredibly grateful that he took the time to go through it all with me so early in the morning, calmly and logically and helpfully. It may not have quite been Father’s Day, but I was thoroughly thankful for him, and I love him very much indeed.

(46) I’m thankful for maths. It may not be my strong suit most of the time, but it saved my bacon this time.

So I quickly phoned the garage (they know me by name by now) to ask them not to put the engine back together just get, and to proceed with fixing it after all. They agreed and said it would be added to the job list for the following week.

(47) I’m thankful that the garage was still happy to do the work. After all the back and forth, they’d have been within their rights to have refused!

UPDATE 2: Two weeks on…

We had survived the weekend on one car. The garage hadn’t been able to give us another courtesy car after I returned the Micra.

(48) I’m thankful that we have two cars. Before February of this year, being a car down would have been a nightmare. Having a second car meant that despite some logistical rearrangements we could still get everywhere we needed to.

I called the garage again on Monday for an update, and they confirmed that work would start on the Corsa on Tuesday, and that they were working on finding me a courtesy car for me. They said they’d ring to confirm that evening. Sadly, I heard nothing.

(49) I’m thankful that despite not having a courtesy car I could still get into work. Even if it did mean getting up early so that Ellie could drop me off and still get back in time for the school run.

So on Tuesday I rang again. This time they said that the car was already fixed! They had managed to start work on it on Monday, ahead of schedule, and we’re just test driving it to make sure it was all perfect for me. They said they’d ring me the following morning to confirm.

(50) I’m thankful that the garage could find the problem and fix it so quickly. Less time working means less cost. And less time without the car. And also that the car was indeed repairable.

(51) I’m thankful that I didn’t need another courtesy car. Especially that automatic Micra.

So on Wednesday (today) I spoke to them again, and they confirmed that the car was fixed. They were doing some final checks, but I could come and pick it up at lunchtime. Woohoo! In fact I picked it up after work, because that was more convenient, but that didn’t matter to them. The cost was around £700, including the initial investigation and coil pack, making it about half as much as it could have been.

(52) I’m thankful that it didn’t cost the earth. I have the money in savings, but it’s a relief not to need it all.

It turns out the electrode from the spark plug was indeed still rattling around in the engine. It had come out of cylinder 2, rattled it’s way into cylinders 1, 3 and 4, and bashed itself against the top of the head. Now, at the top of each cylinder are the valves. Miraculously, all the damage was done to the areas of the head next to the valve ports, on bits of metal that didn’t actually do anything or matter if they were a bit dented. On all three cylinders.

(53) I’m thankful that the electrode was found. It would have been a constant worry if they’d returned the car to me and not found it, just in case it was still in there somewhere waiting to cause problems again.

(54) I’m thankful that it didn’t do more damage. It should have damaged the valves. There is no logic to why the only damage was to the areas that didn’t matter. The mechanics were amazed at my luck. To be honest, I’m amazed too, but I believe in something more powerful and reliable than just luck!

So now the car is back home, and I’m looking forward to driving it to work tomorrow. The timing is perfect, because on Sunday Ellie and I really do have to be in very different places at the same time, so only having one car would have made things rather difficult for one of us. But now everything is back to normal, at less cost than we were expecting, and with a great story of thankfulness to go alongside it.

(55) I’m thankful for this opportunity to be so thankful. Friends on Facebook have already told me what an encouragement it’s been to them. And it’s been a wonderful experience for me, leaning heavily on God for my direction and decision making, and being blown away by how much he cares for me and continues to look out for me.

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