Belgian Breakdown

Image of damaged engineSo, this happened. 

Diesel injectors are complicated things that squirt fuel into your cylinders. They are under immense pressure and so are held in place by a large, solid metal clamp which is bolted onto the engine block. When you change an injector, or take it out to clean it as I did you must take off the large bolt and clamp and then pull the injector from it’s seat. The bolts that hold the clamp down must be in very tightly due to the pressures involved, otherwise the injector would simply shoot out of the hole and punch right through the bonnet.

They can be responsible for poor fuel consumption and as I am plagued by that I have been refurbishing an old set of injectors. So I was parked in a layby in Belgium swapping the injectors for the replacement set but when I was taking this one off, the bolt head snapped clean off. Oops. You can see the threaded part of the bolt still in place arrowed in the picture.

With no way of holding the injector in place the engine simply won’t work. To get the bolt out I need a screw / bolt extractor and I haven’t got any. I could try drilling the bolt and hammering a small flat screwdriver into the hole, but if it doesn’t work I could damage the engine irreparably. 

Luckily I have breakdown cover for Europe so I rang them and after establishing where I was they said they’d send someone. I was on the computer and kept looking out of the rear window for the breakdown truck and the guy in the car behind kept smiling. I think he thought I was looking at him. I glanced around and it was obvious that this was like some layby’s in the UK, a place for men to meet other men. I tried glancing without him noticing that I was but he did anyway and he probably thought I was simply being coy!

Anyway the truck arrived and the although the guy spoke barely no English this is Flemish Belgium so everyone speaks French so we managed to get by, resorting to using Google translate on our smart phones when we got stuck. The guy from the car behind came out and started stroking Jack as the recovery man was getting my camper onto his truck. He tried to speak to me a couple of times and it was slightly embarrassing because his intent was obvious and yet given the circumstances he was not prepared to give up.

If I was a woman and had to put up with that shit daily I’d buy a bloody big baseball bat…

Anyway we finally got on our way and Mr Breakdown texted almost the entire 40 minute journey grr. I tutted a couple of times as he was veering toward the side of the road but he seemed totally unperturbed. I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

We finally arrived safely at a garage and he handed me over to the mechanic who spoke even less English. I am not sure if he was putting it on cos he seemed not to even understand “OK!” However with sign language and my little French we got the van parked in a bay on the street outside the garage, as of course I’d be sleeping in it that night. I felt more settled as the AA had rung me twice to check progress and when I mentioned his lack of English and my poor French they said if I got stuck they’d liaise with the mechanic for me. 

Parked outside the garage in BelgiumSo, here I am outside the garage after a good nights sleep. Notice anything? Yeah…my van is 10 and a half feet tall and the garage doors are about 7 feet tall. So there’s no way he can fit me inside, and it’s raining outside, so…

And yes I was right, it was 2 days before he finally got round to repairing the van. I phoned the AA again to let them know what was happening and he had told them they did not know where I was. They did however know I was sleeping in the van so I think they were simply avoiding doing the work in the rain outside.

He came out anyway and I had googled the words I needed and explained what I wanted doing. Pointing at the bolt I said “Percer” to mean drill it. Then “Extrait” for extract, then “Remplacer” for replace. He nodded and went off (presumably to get a new bolt) and was back and had the job completed within an hour! Merde! I was secretly chuffed cos although it took them ages to attend to me, the job was done quickly and the bill was high for what they did, but within reason.

Anyway I was just chuffed to be fixed so I paid the €112 bill (Daylight robbery!) and took off. 

So, I’m driving down the motorway after leaving the garage and after spotting sign for a rest area I decide to pull in for a cuppa. Guess what? Yeah, the exact same one I’d been taken from a few nights ago by the breakdown truck. Given that you join the highway about a mile before it, and leave the highway about 3 miles after it to get to the garage, how come it took 40 minutes to get there last night? Well I did a bit of Sherlock thinking and came up with this:

I was a foreigner and stuck. He was an independent breakdown operator. He texted almost throughout the journey. He brought me to a garage that could not fit me in. It took 2 days to get round to fixing my van. For what was actually done to my van the price was steep.

I think he was texting the whole journey because he was trying to ‘sell’ my breakdown to a garage. He must have been driving around the streets waiting for a good price before settling on the one he took me to. Conspiracy theory? Or truth? Who knows. Anyway, I’m off to France now to find some screw extractors and some new parts cos if this ever happens again I can do the job easily myself.

Oh and no…the guy in the car behind me wasn’t there when I returned! lol