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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Smouldering car
10th May 2006
Car explodes into fireball, we barely survive

Bear with me, I have to hype this one up a bit as it's the most exciting thing that's happened so far.

Tuesday saw yet another very pleasant night on the beers in Zürich, this time with Kiki's mates Tanja and George. Tanja is former-UBS and they're also unemployed, having spent over a year pootling around the place, including six months living on a boat sailing around Australia. Which they made sound rather fun, but I'm not exactly sure where we'd fit it in.

Anyway, early start to Wednesday because they'd stayed with us in the caravan and George had to pick up his camper van from where he'd left it in town before the parking charges started at eight thirty. This also meant that Kiki and I started early heading to Interlaken, which was actually only around 150km away. Thanks to Nev Woods and UBS London (for doing some superb research on what to climb up near Interlaken, and for paying him as he did it) we had some fine ideas. I'm sure Nev wouldn't mind if I quote his text messages verbatim, just in case anyone else was looking for stuff to do:

"Walk up to Keine Scheidig, or catch the train and walk back to Grendelwald"
"Mannlichen is very nice but may be too high this early in the season. Interlaken is lovely and low or get the Grindelwald yellow bus to Bussalp"
"From Kscheidegg there's the Eiger trail, walk to Lauberhorn, or into Alpiglen at the base of the north face"
"Was it you that borrowed my Grivel G12s?"

Despite all this fine research, it's now looking a bit less likely that we'll do this. About two thirds of the way to Interlaken you pass through the village of Lungren. I probably couldn't tell you much about Lungren as it's just outside one the tunnels the Swiss enjoy making so much - once your eyes have adjusted to the light, you've already passed through the town.

As it happens, though, I can tell you plenty about Lungren, as that's where I'm sitting now. There's a steep hill coming out of the south side of it, and almost as soon as the car had grumpily kicked down a gear and started hauling our home up it, there was a rather loud "pfffsshht" noise and a not inconsiderable amount of steam and liquid started pouring out from under the left hand side of the bonnet. It's a busy single-carriageway road and not a very wide one, so as it looked like steam and not smoke I elected to look at the temperature gauge instead of out of the window, and stop in the next place we possibly could. As we struggled up a steep winding hill many miles from home in a foreign country pulling an enormous caravan with clouds of smoke billowing around the car, the BMW chirped up with its typical German humour. "Ding!" it said, in that soft way it does, as if the elevator you're travelling in has now reached the executive washroom. "Ding! Check coolant level", it said on its little LCD screen. Then, as the clouds of smoke began to obscure my view of the steep mountain pass ahead, it did it again, just in case I'd missed it. Perhaps I was asleep.

Fortunately there was a small level-ish gravelled area in a hundred metres or so, at which point we turned the engine off and peered at the steam for a while. I began to feel a little uneasy. Kiki's heard me rambling for hours in the pub about cars of all shapes and sizes, and as far as I could see she had decided her role in this escapade was to sit there muttering "bollocks" and sighing every so often, whilst mine was going to be to fix the car. Not wanting to be shown up as a tire-kicker, I announced that I was going to fix the car. I'd taken the precaution of once finding out where the bonnet release catch was, and so I pulled it energetically. The bonnet opened nicely on some little hydraulic pistons (ah, BMW) and there was lots of shiny engine stuff for me to get started fixing. I expected a few more silvery bits, but it seems 7-series BMW owners prefer to be confronted by lots of bits of black plastic instead, no doubt to make it all a bit quieter. Quite a lot of the black plastic had been sprayed a fetching shade of green by copious quantities of coolant, so using my Car Fixing Skills I followed the trail of the greenest parts to the radiator, where a rather large hose appeared not to be connected to a rather large hole nearby. "Ahah!" I said out loud, to impress Kiki. "I think the Radiator Hose Connector has become disconnected". I thought for a while as to whether there was a more impressive automotive word which meant disconnected, but I couldn't come up with it. "Bollocks", said Kiki. The hose had one of those hose tightening clamps around it but it still appeared to be holding onto a little ring of plastic inside the hose - there was yet another small broken-looking ring of plastic lying on top of the headlamp cover. The part on the radiator also looked sheared, so it seemed that somehow the connector had really just shattered as we started climbing up the hill, leaving the hose and probably the radiator spraying coolant everywhere.

It was at this point that my automotive knowledge somewhat let me down. How much pressure is there normally in a radiator hose? Since the Lancia blew up I always watch the temperature gauge like a hawk and I knew we'd not been overheating - was it coincidence that it had sprung off as soon as we started climbing a hill? Or just coming out of a town with slow traffic? Was this a symptom of some much greater car malaise? Blocked radiator?

Kiki had started to read a book and I could see my "useful man to have around" points diminishing at an alarming rate. Everything had cooled off a little bit now, and I undid the hose clip on the waggly end of hose. And here, dear reader, I did the only piece of Motor Diagnostic Work that I was quite impressed with. To stop the broken end of the radiator connector disappearing down the hose into the engine, I held the hose pointing down at the ground as I squeezed it gently to see if I could get the bit of plastic out. The bit of plastic shattered into three bits, which fell out onto the ground (phew). The lone ring of plastic that had flown onto the top of the headlamp cover broke just as easily when I prodded it. Was it because the plastic was hot? Are they always this brittle? All these are actual questions, incidentally, please send me text messages if you know the answer. Anyway, there did seem to be juuust enough plastic left on the radiator's connector to reattach the hose to it using the circlip, so I did. I managed to get Kiki out of the car - superficially in order to inspect my superb motor handiwork, but mainly so that when the car burst into flames it wouldn't have been wholly my fault. "Let's call the AA", she said.

The AA wanted £500 to cover me for six months, so I explained that that wasn't an option. "Bollocks", said Kiki.

We decided to refill the coolant and try and see if the car would drive at all with my bodged repair. After putting all of the coolant I had with me (500ml) in, carefully using the 50/50 water mix stated in the car manual, we started just pouring in water. The outside temperature was somewhere around 20 degrees C, so I reckoned the chances of freezing at night weren't all that high, and if we overheated we could just wait for a bit. After using up all of our drinking water I checked the manual to discover that the coolant system holds a flabbergasting twelve litres of the stuff. Kiki wandered down the hill to the town to get some more water, and when she got back announced that she'd spotted a campsite on the other side of the lake. I ran down to the site, knocked on doors, tapped on the window, rang the phone number but found nobody and waddled back up to the car. Basically the options were:

Plan 1: Carry on over the pass (about 6km, and we'd no way of telling when it stopped going up and went down) to Interlaken (about another 20km on motorway on the flat), which is a large town and will almost definitely have a BMW dealer
Upside: Whatever happens, it'll be closer to a BMW dealer
Downside: We could get stuck somewhere on pass that's not as easy to stop as where we were already; car could overheat and, well, die

Plan 2: Pitch the caravan where we stopped in the lay-by and try to drive the car to Interlaken
Upside: The car will be stressed less if there's no caravan, so we might get further
Downside: Caravan might get nicked/broken into

Plan 3: Head back down to Lungren, plop the caravan in that campsite in the hope that they'll not throw us out, and then work out what to do
Upside: Very good chance of making it there, as the car won't have warmed up before we stop
Downside: The car may need to be towed somewhere with a garage

Plan 4: Call ADAC (German recovery company which operates across Europe)
Upside: Car will get fixed, somehow
Downside: May cost £££ as we're not members; caravan will cause problems (will they take us to a site? Doubt it)

Plan 5: Pitch caravan where it is; call ADAC
Upside: Car will get fixed
Downside: One of us will probably have to stay with caravan for... days?

If you choose option 1, turn to page 14. If you choose option 2, turn to page 6. If you decide to stay and fight the dragon, roll one dice and turn to page 4. If you skipped through these options, I can't really blame you. I did when I was rereading it, so they might even be wrong.

We went for Plan 3. Fortunately, just before we left, the chap at the caravan site phoned me (I assume they must have got caller ID, as nobody answered when I phoned) and told me we'd be welcome to stay there. We crawled down the hill with the car dinging and telling us about how much coolant we didn't have, crept slowly into the campsite and pitched up. I walked back into town and fortunately found a general car repair place with a Swiss gentleman who spoke excellent English and told me he'd turn up at our campsite the following morning to peer at the car.

Well, it's now the following morning and he's just been. He thinks (as I do) that it may well need a new radiator, which is probably going to be expensive and time-consuming. I'm going to drop it off there (I can get to the garage before the car gets warm) at 11:30 for a better diagnosis. Whilst we are technically itinerants, we're due to be back in Reims (about 550km away) for Mark and Marjorie's wedding on Saturday, and we've also pledged Vassili and Anna and lift there from Paris. Right now it's Thursday and we're stranded in Switzerland with an undriveable car which probably needs a part that's going to come by post. Hmm.

Distance travelled: 4872km (it's no good, I'm switching this to Metric)
Books read: C:2, K:4
Bottles of wine remaining: 5
Countries visited: 5 (UK, France, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein)

Next: Some hiking; wedding in Reims; continuing car saga
Previous: Lichtenstein

Diary Photos

Smouldering car

Problem with car

Stranded in middle of nowhere

Coolant, anyone?

Caravan or house?

Campsite at Lungern Obsee

Cooking or art?

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