Breakdown …

I was born in post war London. Things have surely changed.

I saw a motorbike and sidecar the other day. Our first family vehicle was a motorbike and double sidecar. The bike was a Panther, dad was of course the pilot, mum on the back, me age 10 in the front of the sidecar, little brother age 7 in the back. The sidecar was made out of three-ply. I was lucky to grow up.

After a couple of years travelling that way the motorbike started to play up. Dad was quite the amateur mechanic. The bike turned into an exploded diagram, on the lounge room carpet … for two years. Interest waned fairly quickly because, by emptying every money box in the house we had managed to buy a second-hand Morris Minor. The street lights in our street had been converted from gas to electric (before I was born). However they still had an arm on the side where the gas lighter used to rest his ladder, every evening, when he lit the lamp. Dad and I used the arm on the street light and a block and tackle to lift out the old engine and put in a reconditioned one. I was entrusted with the job of adjusting the tappets.

In those days a trip to the beach would entail a major ritual of checking the water, the oil, the tyres, the spark plug clearances and praying to the gods that you wouldn’t break down.

If that last disaster eventuated you called on the services of one of two entities, the Royal Automobile Club or the Automobile Association, whichever you had chosen to join. Indeed, whilst stranded you might well be discovered by them as they rode about on patrol in their liveried motorbikes and sidecars. If you were displaying the appropriate badge they would salute and offer assistance. There was every chance that they would have you running again quite quickly.

The amateur mechanic thing took for my brother, he was nick named spanners for his ability to stand next to dad under the car and hand the appropriate tool on request. I couldn’t stand the boredom. Just as well, the amateur mechanic these days is confined to the lawn mower, the modern car has no user serviceable parts within.

When I arrived in Australia I bought a car and joined the RACV. It was 1974.

The lovely Gayle joined the RACV when she got her first car 34 years ago.

So with 74 years of combined membership we found ourselves broken down on the Western Highway between Bacchus Marsh and Myrniong and for the first time we called on the services of the RACV. In less than half an hour the RACV man arrived and confirmed that we had broken down. And that there were indeed no user serviceable parts within. He suggested that we be towed to a Mazda dealer. We could be towed back the way we came or a bit further to Ballarat, which was more attractive because we would be nearer our destination and the car when it was repaired. He was kind enough to call the tow truck and it arrived within the hour. We were entitled to free towing for thirty kilometers, the remainder of the trip cost us 90 bucks. We then had to source a hire car to complete our journey. The Mazda was subsequently repaired under warranty, faulty turbo booster thingy.

So for all those annual subscriptions, on the day that we were stuffed the RACV supplied a man to confirm we were stuffed and 30 km of towing (at $4.50 per km … total value $135).

Given the distances that travel in Australia entails you have got to wonder if the RACV still has a business model. Modern cars break down rarely and can’t be fixed at the side of the road. The nearest capable mechanic is unlikey to be within 30km. I’m a member out of habit. It’s a habit that might wear off very quickly.



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