I feel like I should immediately clarify that this is an automobile break down and not a mental health break down. When I first started working on this post I didn’t even think about how this title could be interpreted in multiple ways. If you are looking for support for a mental health break down please call a hotline, or a therapist if you have one. (Canadian mental health hotline: Crisis Services Canada – call 1-833-456-4566 anytime or text 45645 from 4pm to midnight or 911 if you are in crisis) and please take care of yourself <3.
Anyways, on the way back from my weekend in Thunder Bay I could tell that there was something really wrong with my car. The unfortunate part was, I was in Thunder Bay, about 4.5 hours at highway speed away from home. And the noises that started when I got over 60km/hr made me definitely not want to go anywhere near highway speed (90-100km/hr is typically the highway speed limit in Ontario). I had noticed that something was off the night before but it wasn’t obvious enough that I could tell if it actually was different but when I got in the next morning I don’t think I got more than 10 minutes down the road before I pulled over and did what every self-respecting 20-something does when their car isn’t acting normal, called my dad. He had me take some pictures. So let’s have a quick lesson.
To drive straight, I was holding my steering wheel about 45% turned to the left, this is not normal and not good. Also, as you can see in this picture, my passenger side front tire isn’t pointing straight ahead, even though I had my steering wheel pointed straight and my driver’s side front tire is point straight ahead. This is not a good thing.
Also, it may seem like this is a very slight turned to the right, and it is, however, according to my dad (who does most of his own truck and tractor repairs and does actually know what he’s talking about) it being perceptible just by looking at it and in pictures is really off.
So then we had to decide what to do. It was a Sunday and I was about 400 kilometres away from home. We discussed getting a tow all the way back to Sioux Lookout, staying in Thunder Bay another night, leaving the car somewhere, and then taking the bus up the next day (there is only 1 bus between the cities a day and I’d already missed it for the day), or trying to get home. We decided on trying to get home. “Limping home” as my Dad called it.
I don’t know if I would recommend this option; I would never do it in a busier stretch of highway or in Southern Ontario. But I started to drive home, I didn’t go over 65 km/hr the whole drive and kept my 4-way hazard lights on the whole drive. Between Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout you cross over a time zone line (Eastern-Central), and there is a park there (with porta-potties, hot tip), so I stopped there and after that I noticed that I was holding the steering wheel a full half-turn to go straight, it was also while I was stopped here that I realized how much the tires must be rubbing, my car was covered in black bits that were being shed off the tire. Shortly after there was a gas station (I wish I hadn’t stopped, there’s like $35 of gas in the tank that will never be used) and I stopped and put gas in. It was gravel, not paved and I could feel the car slipping and sliding across the gravel, like the front tires weren’t connected. Then I went through Upsala and was noticing that the car was starting to vibrate. But I passed through and saw the 80 kilometres to Ignace sign, about 10 minutes later my driver’s side tire blew. This I wasn’t expecting, I was so focused on the weird stuff happening with the passenger side that it never even occurred to me that the driver’s side would be the side to go. Thank god I hadn’t hit the part of the highway with no cell service and that I was going slower. I can only imagine how hard it would be to steer through that at 100 km/hr, but I got off to the side of the road and once again, called my dad. Also, the tow truck driver looked at my skid marks and was impressed at how well I steered through it *hair flip*.
From there we started calling tow trucks. And no one was working that day, some places were answering the phone, but they didn’t “have any guys out that day”. We called all the neighbouring towns, even Thunder Bay, and eventually got through to someone who was working here in Sioux Lookout. Still over 200 km from where I was stopped.
Now, I know that most people will ask, but why didn’t you just change the tire. We thought about that, but since we didn’t know what was rubbing, what else was broken to cause me to have to hold the steering wheel at a half turn to go straight or the vibrating, we chose not to do that and to call a tow truck. Anyways, back to the tale. (Also, me writing this from the future having changed the tire, now knows that the spare didn’t have any air in it so I would have had to call someone anyways).
So it was going to be at least 2.5 hours until he got to me (it ended up being close to 3.5) and so I have some thoughts on things you should have in your car if you ever break down in the middle of nowhere. This will probably be different in the winter, so plan accordingly:
Water: I am so glad my mom told me to buy a couple water bottles before I left town just in case. I broke down around 2:30 pm on a 32 Celsius day. It was hot, and my car was still running, so I had my air conditioning, but if you break down so that your car isn’t running, then you won’t have that and you will get dehydrated fast. The water can also be used if your car is overheating and you have steam pouring out your hood to refill your engine’s water.
Napkins/Tissues/Toilet paper: I was also extremely grateful that I had napkins stored in my centre console. All that water has to go somewhere and I had already been planning to stop in Ignace for a restroom break. I think I’m going to put a roll of toilet paper in the bag I’m going to put together as a result of this.
Snacks: I was also very glad that I had bought some candy over the weekend and hadn’t eaten it, because I hadn’t stopped for lunch anywhere and so hadn’t eaten since first thing that morning and I got hungry! I wouldn’t have had any other food otherwise, so snacks like granola bars, jerky, stuff that doesn’t require cooking, has long expiry dates, and won’t melt are also going to be going in my bag.
Car phone charger: I think these are a good idea anyways, especially if like me you drive an older car that doesn’t have an in-car nav system and so you use your phone for directions. Also, if you do breakdown you’ll likely need to google tow trucks, call them, call your people, so you don’t want your phone to die. Also you may be using it for some entertainment depending on how long you are there.
Entertainment: Again, I got lucky, I had just spent all my birthday money at a bookstore over the weekend and so had a stack of 13 books in my trunk. Obviously you don’t need to carry a library with you at all times, but a book, a book of crossword puzzles, sudokus, word searches, colouring books (especially if you are travelling with kids) will be crucial. It will keep you from dying of boredom and stop you from draining your phone battery.
Hand sanitizer: This was also just a luck thing that I had, I was never a hand sanitizer user before the pandemic, but now I have one everywhere and I was very glad of it after each of my roadside bathroom trips.
Now I got lucky, and didn’t need these things because of the season, time of day, and reason for my breakdown, but they are going to be going in my kit, a hoodie and blanket (for colder weather), flashlight (for night time), jumper cables, kitty litter (great for getting you out of the snow, if that’s why you’re stuck), fire extinguisher (I have to admit that I was worried that the friction of the tire rubbing was going to catch my car on fire, probably irrational, but I was worried!), paper road map, and reflectors (you can put them on yourself if you have to be outside your car at night, or on your car, so you don’t get hit on the side of the road), and an empty gas can (apparently you don’t want to store a full one for a long period of time, so unless you are someone who always drives on empty, don’t keep it full).
All in all, I got very lucky and I’m very grateful. It was pure chance (and my mom) that I had water, snacks, something to read, and emergency roadside urination materials in my car for my first breakdown and I am super glad of it. My tow truck driver was also very nice and not creepy at all. Looking back now, I’m struck by how much I thought about whether the tow truck driver would be safe or not, but that it was safer than sitting on the side of the road (just girl things I guess). And poor Phoebe is off to the scrap yard and the hunt for a new-to-me car has begun! Obviously, you don’t have to get a new car for a blown tire (and I did change the tire), however, it is the reason why the tire blew (something in the steering/front wheels is broken and she’s 13 years old and it’s not worth it to fix – gotta love planned obsolescence) but I’ve known that this was going to be her last summer, I was just hoping for a few more months of money making before this was necessary!
Also P.S. when you are changing a tire; when you are first starting to loosen the bolts on the tire, don’t try and haul on them with your arms, you’ll just tire yourself out. Attach the wrench properly and then give it a good kick. It will loosen the bolts right up. This tip is probably only for people who are significantly stronger in their lower body than upper, but that’s most humans right?
Here’s hoping you never need these tips!