My eldest son and his wife recently set out on a six hour trip North to spend the week with us, and three hours into the trip, called to let me know their van had died on a rural stretch of I-55 (dead alternator). Being past mechanics hours on a Saturday evening, there was nothing left to do but hitch up the trailer and go get them. So what’s the longest trip you’ve either made, or been on the receiving end of, for a Search and Rescue operation?
QOTD: How Far Have You Gone to Rescue a Disabled Car?
– Posted on January 15, 2014
Around 120 miles to tow a dead Renault (con rod snapped) from Birmingham to Blackpool in 1983
My older son rear ended someone up in Portland (110 miles away) with our ’92 red Grand Caravan, and I retrieved it by renting a dolly and hitching it up to my ’66 F-100 with the the 240 six, three speed stick and drum brakes. The Caravan weighed at least as much as my truck.
The van was parked way in the corner of a crowded gravel lot that had quite a slope to it. Getting it going at all was tough on the clutch (no granny low gear), and the damn thing wouldn’t turn very tight. I had to circle around a bunch of cars parked in the middle, while headed uphill. I was sweating bullets, because there was no way I could see being able to stop and back that rig up if I couldn’t make the turn, and get started again. I was going to have to call a tow truck!
But I just barely made it around those parked cars, in the narrow gap available, and the Ford chuffed away, threatening to die on me. It was a moment that I relive from time to time, one of the hairiest ever.
Once on the freeway, the combined F-100-GCV rig rolled right along, but I did keep plenty of space in front of me, given the crappy little drum brakes! I can’t even imagine trying that again now…. A real PTSD moment, relived again now. Thanks for asking this question, making me relive it again 😉
Big wrecks on dollies? I can relate.
K1500 + dolly + Express 3500 cube van (16′ box, duallies), 100mi trip. Nerve-wracking to say the least.
G20 van + dolly + 26′ Itasca motorhome (another dually), 50mi trip (breakdown site to shop). Flat-out insanity. The SOB wouldn’t quit swaying.
Express 3500 LWB + same dolly + same motorhome, 20mi trip (shop to final destination). MUCH better. The longer van made all the difference.
That dolly of mine was severely overbuilt (even had electric brakes). It really earned its keep – but still, I’m *so* glad I now own a flatbed 🙂
Paul’s story above also brings back countless bad memories. You simply CANNOT back up with a loaded dolly, especially not a swivel dolly (as most are).
Only once did I ever get myself into a spot that I couldn’t get out of – took a wrong turn, ended up down a dead end street with no turnaround at the end. I had to unload the disabled car from the dolly, turn the truck and empty dolly around, disconnect the truck from the dolly, and use the truck to push/pull the car around. THEN, and only then, could I reconnect and reload everything and get the heck out of there! A fine waste of 30 minutes, indeed!
One day I’ll have to tell some of my rented dolly stories. Some of them are real nightmares – so much so that I finally bought that “heavy” dolly of my own back when, to avoid getting stuck with such worthless equipment again.
Why could you not move the Grand Caravan?
The front end was pushed in from the accident, and the radiator had spilled its fluid, among other things. I ended up fixing it all in my driveway, using a come-along to pull the main front radiator/hood support brace back out, and installed junk yard fenders, hood, grille and lights.
Interesting because I totaled my 95 Voyager after clipping the corner of a Nissan Murano and the only thing that kept it from being driven long distances was the busted radiator. Even after it was totaled I kept it around as a storage locker while I lived in Sacramento and occasionally drove it up to a mile and a half with the AC blasting. Once the brake lights stopped working I no longer drove it outside the complex. I really loved that vehicle, but it was too rusty to bother fixing and nearly a year of hardly being driven was quickly killing it.
That is nice you rescued them and hope it was not too hard to replace the alternator. That Minivan looks good for being in Illinois.
When I ran my 87 Caprice out of gas my dad and I borrowed a friend’s Jerry Can out of the blue, drove a few miles to a gas station, came back, and emptied it into the Caprice. Then we went back and refilled the Jerry Can before returning it.
My “favorite” though was when I was driving on Ohio I-80/90 around Midnight in July 2011 and got pulled over by the Highway Patrol for going 80 in a 70; guess I was really excited that Ohio finally raised the speed limit from 65. Anyway, I got out of a ticket and when I tried to start the 05 Sedona all I got was cranking and I realized that the worn out battery had finally died. So, I got out of the Minivan with my hands up as the officer was walking away and asked the officer for a jump which they did and I then drove to a rest area to take a leak. I happened to have two keys so I left the Minivan running, but locked the doors and chilled out for a while letting the battery recharge.
What’s more impressive is their (formerly ours) GC is pushing 280,000 miles…
I’m sure others will have me beat by a mile (or a few hundred), but most of my roadside rescues tend to be 50-75 miles away. The lucky times – such as last night, when a relative went into the ditch and needed to be yanked back out – might only be 20-30 miles.
For me, the worst ones are measured not by miles, but by the extent of the problem. Most recent example? Last fall, when little bro’s girlfriend busted a balljoint… in the middle of a busy intersection, 5pm on a 90°F day. I showed up with the pickup and flatbed, and lots of wooden blocks.
I fired up the amber wig-wags on the truck, brother directed traffic, girlfriend stood at the curb and watched. Then I got to use a ratchet strap to pull the wheel back into some form of alignment, and do a tedious procedure of winch-jack-block, winch-jack-block, over and over again until the car was onto the trailer.
After that, it was off to the junkyard to sell the wreck (since it had a myriad of other issues and wasn’t worth fixing). Upon arrival, the owner informed us that his loader was being repaired – the car would have to be rolled off the trailer rather than forked. As if.
Needless to say, this time I sat back and watched while the happy couple fought the wreck off the trailer. It was fairly entertaining to watch… right up until they dragged one of my trailer fenders.
I have been spending a lot of time recently in states that do not have safety inspections and/or state wide emissions testing and some of the vehicles I have seen are amazingly scary. It does save people and the state money though, just look at New Jersey.
Most of my rescues have been the across town variety, and not too dramatic. Very common to see my old car on one or the other end of a tow rope in the 1980’s.
One of my cousins called me up a few years ago, she was visiting in Albany NY and the rear strut had punched out the top of the tower on her Escort wagon (common Escort rust failure) and she didn’t know what to do.
I was drawing up the list of tools I was going to need and planning the 1200km round trip drive when she called back that her father was going to come and pick her up, and the car was going to the scrap yard.
That was a big relief for me, but she got in big trouble from customs going back into Canada for leaving the car in the US.
That issue happened to my dad’s 93 Legacy back in 08 after 343K miles and most of those in New York. He limped it home 30 miles on the axle stops and then mom limped it 20 or so miles to a shop where someone wanted the tranny.
The same issue caused my mom’s ’95 Escort wagon to be retired. It was a sad day, that little wagon was a damn dependable little beast. My mother was 80 when we junked the car… it was a stick shift and she drove it every day. How many 80 year olds can still drive stick 😀 ?
Not exactly a rescue, but I once got a cousin to fly from Chicago to LA to drive home a car. I had too many cars and not enough parking spaces, so I offered him my 1987 2.3 liter Mustang convertible gratis.
Before calling him, I had tried to sell the car for several months, but the combination of four cylinder engine and clutch pedal made the car impervious to sale.
My cousin didn’t really want it, but he reveled in being different and tweaking social conventions, so he found the prospect of flying across the country to collect a free car too compelling an offer to pass up. That was ten years ago, and he still has it- It’s going to be his kid’s first car.
Does that one count? That one was roughly a 4000 mile round trip and the car ran when I got it… poorly. I wouldn’t have dared to drive it. U-haul trailer the whole way.
It wasn’t technically disabled but it was a rescue.
When our (former) 2007 Outback blew its headgasket in sub freezing temps, around Sublett, Idaho. No tow truck (I had a warranty and roadside asst) could come out due to higher paying emergency work. My father in law found a trailer and rescued us, from
Boise. About 220 miles. He made it in 2.5 hrs and damn near burned thru both tanks to get there so quickly. He didn’t want anything to happen to his daughter or g-kids.
That was with his 90 F350 duallie with a 460 and 5MT. Awesome truck.
Subaru/Larry H Miller did come thru on both the repair and even refunding the fuel for tow.
Most of mine have been probably 10-15 miles, but two stand out. Both times I was in the disabled car. First, was with my buddy in his dad’s 73 Dodge van when the newly installed water pump killed itself. I got to a phone and called my sister who brought my 67 Galaxie convertible. There was a stout rope in the van so we rigged a tow rope. We drove (slowly) from northeast Allen County Indiana to southwest Allen County, a trip that took about an hour. At least I was in the car with power steering and brakes.
Second was my 29 Model A, which urped up its coolant on its initial drive from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis. Everything underhood was soaked, and I had just bought the car, so I was in the dark about it. Fortunately, the future Mrs. JPC was with me. We drove her car the 75 miles home and borrowed a pickup/trailer from a neighbor. Got the A up on the trailer and drove back home. Before wrestling it off the trailer, I tried one more time to start it. Damned thing started.
380 mile round trip to fix a failed fuel pump on my ’83 Silverado. Was driving to Albany, Ga. from Atlanta (Work related), and had just topped off the tank. I was thinking how smoothly the truck was running, when all of the lights came on, and I coasted to the roadside. LSS, determined that the fuel pump had died (thank goodness for external-engine mounted!), had AAA haul it to the hotel. Got a ride back home w/ a co-worker. Best thing, though, since it was work related, I had a brand new Surburban rental, which was just barely broken in, which got 25 mpg @ 75 mph for the return repair trip! 🙂
I’ve made that drive before… It’s a long, boring one, mostly. Plus, paper mills!
Many, many years ago I rescued my sister and her dead car from about 120 miles away. As I recall the rocker arm hold down nut backed off to the point where the rocker arm was no longer rocking. Fortunately I was able to tighten the nut good enough for her to drive home. Of course I didn’t have another valve cover gasket and the one on the car disintegrated when I removed the valve cover. Naturally it was late enough that no auto parts store was going to be open; I just tightened the valve cover the best I could without the gasket and followed her home. It threw out some oil on the trip but made it home without any more trouble; it is hard to kill the understressed V-8’s that powered most cars from the sixties.
One rescue trip I actually went on was recovering a friend’s Nova from Dragway Park in Cayuga.
It was a 350/4 speed car, and had blown the Saginaw gearbox while shifting into 3rd. We tied it to Dad’s 81 Impala and the mighty torque-less 273 dragged everything 50km back to my house, luckily my parents didn’t mind such shenanigans as replacing transmissions in the driveway.
What made the trip noteworthy was that Saturday was the annual Canada Flag Day Parade, and the last vehicle to drive through before the road was blocked off was the Nova/Impala combo. As the owner of one of the fastest cars in town I’m sure my friend was mighty proud to crawl down Main Street being towed by a brown 4door Impala in front of hundreds of people waiting for the parade to start. 🙂
I have vivid memories as a 6 or 7 year old in the late 60s, of waiting by a cold, rainy toll plaza on I-95 somewhere in southern Connecticut. My uncle had to come down 2 hours or so from Providence to rescue us – Dad, Mom, me and baby sister — when our Saab 95 died on our way from Philly to visit for Thanksgiving. Actually, this may have happened more than once. As I’ve probably mentioned before the Saab hated wet weather, which isn’t exactly a rarity in the northeast. Once it dried out of course it would run just fine.
I towed my brothers dead 58 Holden ute over 100 miles home with a rope behind my HQ Belmont over the Brynderwyn hills he had little in the way of brakes but without a live engine he couldn’t get past
I’ve never rescued a disabled car, but that 3rd generation Grand Caravan hits my minivan spot dead on.
That’s because the Gen 3 is “Peak Minivan!”
Helped tow my friend’s 96′ Camry from St. Paul MN to just south of Sheboygan WI along Lake Michigan. The fuel pump had given out and we rented one of those u-haul dollies to tow it with his brother’s GMC Yukon. Got it back to their parents home and installed the new pump. Trying to push that bloody thing up onto the dolly was like the “Adventures with Bill” portion of the Red Green Show. Our landlord (ironically named Bill) pulled up in his BMW 328i F30 and just laughed, then asked when we’d be done as we were blocking him in. haha
This article reminds me of why I need a truck and trailer. Think I can convince my wife?
When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, back in 1983 or 1984, my Dad had a sales job. His territory involved most of Eastern PA, East of the Susquehanna River. My Dad had a Pontiac station wagon at the time. I’m not sure of the model anymore, but the station wagon broke down. He was on Interstate 78 near Harrisburg.
It was a Friday evening in the spring. He managed to get to a pay phone and call home. This, of course, long before the days of cell phones. My mom rounded up my brother and I, and we headed out to get my dad. At the time, she had recently purchased a very used 1962 Chevy Nova. It was primer color. The interior was red. My dad found it at the side of the road for $150. (They were just getting back on their feet after some financial problems back then.)
On the way to pick up my dad, which was probably about a 50 or 60 mile ride from our home, it started to rain. My mom started to complain that her feet were wet, but we finally got to my dad, picked him up, and brought him home. The next day he went out to deal with the station wagon.
Flash forward, a couple of months later: my grandfather offered to have my mom’s Chevy painted. He knew a guy who owned a body shop, and my grandfather offered to pay. My mom was all excited. They took the car in, and after giving it a look see, it was discovered that there were holes in the floor. My poor mom was all upset. She loved that Chevy. She said it was made the year she learned how to drive, but there was no way my parents had the money to fix it up. So, my dad sold it to someone who we think was restoring a car of the same year and model.
This really doesn’t follow the rescue theme, but it’s one of my favorite car memories as a kid. My mom, who is not a car person, loved that Chevy. It’s a shame, that car was reliable and it never left us stranded. It always started.
Hey, that’s a very touching story. And I think it fits the theme.
+1 Thanks for sharing this.
I drove an hour and a half each way to help a good female friend of mine. She needed the radiator replaced in her car, so I pulled it and put a new one in so she wouldn’t be stuck while her husband was out of town.
My best friend’s brother-in-law had the transmission of his Saturn Vue crap out on him right in the parking lot of Morongo Casino in Banning, Ca., while my friend and I live in Inglewood- a two hour drive. I hopped in my F250 and the two of us made it to U-Haul just minutes before they were due to close. We rented a tow dolly and were off.
We got there, hooked his Saturn up, and began the 2-hour and 45-minute drive back to his house in Lakewood. He gave me $50 for fuel, bought us dinner, and we got back home by 11:00 .
The major bummer was this- I got the call from my buddy just when I was about to secure a last-minute “booty call” with a lady friend of mine who was in town only briefly. In the end, I wound up spending that evening fondling cold, hard plastic ( the Saturn ) rather than warm, soft female flesh. Needless to say, I was NOT happy about that.
Fortunately, the transmission ( previously rebuilt ) was still under warranty, so it didn’t cost him a dime. It certainly took a toll on my love life though- at least that night. 🙁
I jokingly told the brother-in-law ( who’s also a friend ) that he owes me THREE dinners at Fuddrucker’s or Daphne’s Greek Cafe for making me pass up some prime whoopee to rescue him and his busted ride.
I was on the receiving end of a dead car pick-up…back in April 2009, my Partner’s sons were visiting us in Phoenix and wanted to go to Payson, about a two hour drive north. We loaded into his 1990 Camry and were off. I noticed it was shifting oddly but didn’t think too much of it. As we were going around an uphill curve north of Payson, everything stopped and we came to a screeching halt. Putting it in park then drive did nothing but rev the engine. I was finally able to coax it to the side of the road out of the lane of traffic. I called AAA and they towed us to the local big-box store parking lot, which used up my five miles of towing. I then called my brother who was back in Phoenix. He just made it to U-Haul just before they closed and got the last tow dolly. He drove two hours up, hooked up the Camry and took us the two hours back home. Turns out the tranny was fried so we sold it for next-to-nothing and bought a PT Cruiser.
I have to say that after a bunch of years tow my race car on a dolly backing up can be done given enough patience and luck. The worst thing I had happen while towing with a dolly was when I borrowed a friends because the inspection was expired on mine. About 20 miles from home the tounge sheared and left the car and dolly unattached from the truck. Two ratchet straps and a peice of plate steel and I was able too limp too my buddy’s place to have it welded up.
The farthest I’ve travelled to fetch a car was 300km one way to grab a scrap tercel that payed me 120 bones and cost me 140 in diesel.
I had a cars engine blow while returning from a road trip. I towed the car about 1000 miles using a uhaul and trailer. This was in 2004 I believe. The car was a 1998 Saturn Sc2 with 110k miles. We were not far into our last leg from El Paso to Loss Angeles when it died.
DING DING DING!
Aaaand we have a WINNER!
Transmission went out in our 90’s era Suburban a mile outside French Glen, Oregon (go ahead, try to find it on a map). Me, my wife and dog in June with 90 degree heat. Got a tow truck from Burns (60 miles), then learned a new transmission would take 3 days to ship. Rented a U-Haul truck and towed the Burban from Burns to Eugene (258 miles).
This trip was the one time I left my tools at home, but the GMC/Buick dealer in Burns loaned me his tools so I could attach the hitch to the Burban front bumper. He owned the dealership and had a full set of tools. Great guy!
Don’t need a map; I’ve been there. And that’s almost about as far away as you can get from civilization to have a breakdown. Awesome place…sorry that trip got ruined for you.
Towing home alone from an SCCA regional, the tow vehicle (’86 F150) died about 100 miles from home, in the middle of nowhere. Pulled the IT Mazda RX7 off the trailer, no mufflers, no plates, numbers on the doors. Opened the hatch and filled the car with all the spares and tools, didn’t want to run the risk that the truck would be empty when I got back. About 20 miles in, I ran into a surprise Border Patrol checkpoint in my loud car stuffed to the gills. For some reason the agents took pity on me and waved me through. Borrowed my brother’s truck, and brought my truck back on its own trailer. Realized that having a trailer large enough to carry its own tow vehicle is a very good thing.
Drove 60 miles on outback Australia 2 wheeled tracks. These were ungraded roads suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles only on a station/ranch that was about 500,000 acres. I used a Toyota Land Cruiser diesel to drive 30 miles to the “neighbors place” to tow a broken down Land Rover that also had no brakes. I picked up one of the jackaroos, who steered the Land Rover. I used a chain to tow the Land Rover, and a Remmington 222 to shoot the wild pigs I encountered on the return trip. It was a slow old trip over red rocky country and across the odd creek. I had no cell phone, no radio, no A/C – just a reliable Land Cruiser, a reliable rifle, and a good memory for remembering which track to take (those things aren’t marked).
Had a water pump go 500 miles from home, but already had the tow car and trailer as I had towed the car there in the first place (it wasn’t broken then but I was making a trip into the desert afterwards). The tow home was about 1000 miles without the desert stuff I did without the trailer.
Ignition failure in my then Cadillac. I have AAA Plus which allows 100 mile tows. It was go to their “recommended service station” somewhere near the parking lot, or get towed the 100 miles and an hour and a half or so in rush hour traffic back to my guy. I opted for the latter. Other than that, 10-15 miles, max.
Most of mine have been relatively short distance (less than 30 miles), but two times stand out for me. The first time was when the clutch went out in my 1990 1 ton dually Chevy pickup. A few days before, I had been out on state land with friends, and the truck broke through the ice. Took a couple hours with an ice spud to break it free and get it out, at the time my biggest concern was having less than a quarter tank of gas to feed the thirsty 454. Turns out I should’ve been more worried about the clutch, as it gave out when my friend’s dad borrowed it a couple days later to drive to work.
The second time was when the timing belt broke on my Geo Storm (which I mentioned in the “AMG” Geo Metro post comments) 2 hours from home. My friend and my future wife drove my 95 half ton Chevy down along with his stepdad’s homebuilt tow dolley (Belt snapped Saturday night, and I didn’t want to have to take Monday off as I would’ve if I had rented a dolley). The dolley was not really up to snuff for long distance travel as we found out. Only one lug nut per wheel was tight when I checked them, and 2 were missing on each side. It had no straps or binders, so we wrapped a chain around an A-arm and used 4 racheting tie down straps to secure it, as we had nothing else available. When we checked them midway (after having stopped to pick up the dolley’s fender that flew off on I-75 and miraculously avoided hitting anyone),. we found that 3 of the 4 tie-down straps had broken! Somehow we completed the white-knuckle drive without further incident, and I sold the Storm without fixing it.
We had kind of a comical thing happen coming back from upstate NY in Pop’s 1950 Packard in 1951. We were on some 4-lane road – my memory fails me after all those years – and the fuel pump went out. (Yes, on a one-year-old car.) Soon a coal miner on his way home from work pulled up behind us in an older Packard, and it turned out that he knew the way to get to a repair shop, and it was all downhill except for one two-block spot where we needed a little push. Pop was really grateful for the help, but the miner refused any kind of a reward, saying “Us Packard guys hafta stick together!”
Last year my son got in an accident in his Volvo 850 wagon on the way back to school and I had to drive about four hours to rescue him. We had it towed to a local body shop and it became quickly apparent that as the estimate was being written that this wasn’t going to go well. I jumped on my phone and about 5 minutes later found a non-running Volvo 850 that was the same color as his with a good front end for $550. Less than two hours later I gave the owner $400 in cash for his car and really impressed my son that I had found every part needed to fix his car for less than the cost of a used hood.
Was driving from Buffalo to CT one summer evening in my dad’s ’99 F150. My brother was riding with me as well. The alternator gave up the ghost somewhere west of Albany and we had no place to stop as my folks were still 3 hours or so behind us as they left Buffalo a little later.
Bro and I decided to make a break for it and drove the truck the 200 miles thru the Berkshire mountains on to Torrington, CT. The truck’s electronics slowly faded out and then died completely as we got of the highway and coasted into a parking lot at 11pm.
The closest person to me was my buddy Greg. I called and had him give me a ride the 10 miles or so to my house to grab my ’85 LeSabre. I got the LeSabre, drove back to Torrington and charged up the F150 enough to get it home on the battery. Greg left, my brother took the LeSabre home following me.
All this after 8 hours of driving and was up for two nights partying. Fun times 🙂
Interesting enough, that was the ONLY trouble that F150 gave us in over 10 years and 200k miles of service.