Breaking Down In France (Part 2)

With Victor the van finally able to move again, we set off to the beautiful port of La Rochelle, which was a two hour drive away from Chauvigny and where we agreed to meet up with our new French friends for a drink! With our hearts in our mouths and fingers firmly crossed, we drove all the way and made it there in one piece. We stayed in La Rochelle for a couple of days but were itching to get moving quickly again after being immobile for the week before.

We had another long drive to the island of Oléron, arrived in the dark and set up for the night. All good so far! It was the next morning when Ross opened the bonnet to check our coolant tank when we realised we had a big problem…

The week that we had spent repairing the system and cleaning out the hoses, radiator and coolant tank had been for nothing. The entire system was filled with black oil. Our problem had actually got worse! Ross is very competent with the engine and the parts he replaced had still needed to be done. But it had become apparent that the trouble was more extensive and therefore needed a garage to fix it.

We decided to see if we could make it to a Ford garage an hour away and started the gloomy drive there. We eventually arrived but the Ford garage had an arched entrance that our van was just about too tall to fit into! So no luck with the first garage… The helpful head mechanic at Ford had a look under our bonnet anyway whilst we were parked on the busy road nearby, and rang other local garages to see if they’d be able to do the work. He spoke slowly and clearly in French to us, making sure that Ross understood exactly what he was saying. A thus far rare occurence with mechanics in France! We were given an address for another garage ten minutes away and limped over there, knowing that our coolant system was filling with more and more oil the further we drove.

We just about made it, only to be greeted by muttering French mechanics who did *not* look happy… Ross couldn’t understand the quick murmurs so we sat waiting, not knowing what was going on, while a few mechanics hurried around the van, frowning and not talking to us. Eventually I told Ross to ask them outright what was going on. He asked and I could see the head mechanic shaking his head a lot and pointing at the engine. Ross returned and broke the news that the garage was turning us away because of the engine size. Apparently they didn’t have the equipment necessary to lift our engine out if needed. Having just been rejected by garage number 2, we were feeling quite hopeless. It was getting dark and the French garages were closing. Our day had consisted of hours of waiting and hoping, to no avail. They gave us the address of a third potential garage that might help us but it was 45 minutes away, back towards Oléron, where we had been that morning.

However, we were fortunate that garage number two was round the corner from a motor home park site! We drove the van there but knew our Victor had had enough. It was decided that we would call the insurance company in the morning and have a recovery vehicle take us to the third garage. Comfort in the form of a McDonald’s feast was needed and we went to bed early, dreading the next day.

Our morning started as planned and we had a French recovery lorry rescue us. It was a bit of a struggle to get our huge van on the lorry and it took a couple of goes (Ross blamed it on how much of my stuff was weighing the van down!), but we were quickly on the move. However, our anxious waiting was not over yet. Once we got to the garage, it was midday – i.e. the time that the French go to lunch for two hours. We sat sadly in Victor until 2 o’clock and then were left for a further two hours, despite us asking what was going on.

Eventually, someone came over and said they would take us on! But that they couldn’t start until the next day. Luckily the insurance company we were with were fab and arranged a hire car for us for the time that the van would be repaired. We decided to explore the nearby island of Oléron properly and found a very cheap but lovely AirBnB maisonette there for five days. That night in the van was spent in the garage’s car park which wasn’t very pleasant but we were happy knowing everything was sorted for the week ahead.

Despite the initial wait, the garage was very quick and efficient in fixing Victor, and the problem was a biggy so we couldn’t have done it ourselves. Over one month on and our van is still going strong as we explore Spain so they did a great job.

At least one breakdown was always inevitable in our long trip around Europe. But despite the frustration at not moving and the long hours slogging away at the problems ourselves, our relationship survived intact and that is what matters. Before we left, everyone warned us of the “tests” we would face on the road, but we came out of the breakdown smiling and knowing we did everything we could. Hopefully we won’t have too many more break downs, but at least we can be confident that we can handle them together!

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