THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Day One - to Épernay
Alternator update

First drama

Ok I didn’t even make it to the autobahn this time! Pulling away from the Aire de Verdun St Nicolas Sud on the A4 in France I got an alternator failure warning light and a dramatic burst of smoke from the engine compartment. Not good. Not good at all. The battery doesn't get charged now (and may have been damaged). Key  systems like power steering don't work. She was incredibly hard to steer as I did a U-turn to get back to the service area, but I managed,

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I’m covered by the AA but they told me they can’t come onto the private French motorways so I must call 112 and be recovered by Sanef, the road owner, to a garage where I can call them again. Sanef said they’d be with me in 30 minutes. I called my guys in Wandsworth while I waited to get an idea of how much trouble I was in. It might just be a drive belt or the unit might need replacing. Not fun, but clearly not in the league of last year's disaster and – once more  – I was lucky to be somewhere safe while it's dealt with,

The recovery truck was actually quicker than promised.  I drove Speranza up the ramp and rode in her as we were carried to a depannage place off the motorway – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Amusingly my telepeage gizmo triggered the barrier for the tow truck to leave the autoroute. 

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From there, it all started to go less well. The guys with the truck had no repair facilities and the AA (when they finally answered the call) were unable to contact anyone else to evaluate the problem as by then it was the extended French lunchtime. Also, it's a "special" car so while they're not insisting on a Ferrari dealer (the nearest, hilariously, is the one in Luxembourg who had Speranza for six weeks of last year) they will have to find someone local prepared to look at it. The AA lady said it would be "a few hours" before they called me back. 

I suggested they simply recover the car to my guys in the UK. I could then continue my trip in a hire car. While my policy covers such repatriation, that couldn't be agreed until the problem was evaluated as being beyond local help. Fair enough. So I said I would sit tight with the car and await said evaluation. That was clearly unexpected and caused consternation. The recovery guys didn't want me hanging around. They came up with a cock and bull story about having to close up and leave me outside if they were all out on calls and suggested to the AA that they drive me to a nearby restaurant. "Nearby", turned out to be 20km away in Verdun. I sensed I was once again through the roadside assistance looking-glass.

Nothing in the demeanour of the AA lady on the phone inspired any confidence she was better able to deal with this than I am. If I didn't have the AA policy I would have called a truck by now to take Speranza to the Ferrari dealer in Strasbourg, which is along my route. If the fix was going to take longer than 48 hours, I'd hire a car from there and be on my way.

I am now installed in a bar in Verdun with power for my devices and wifi. I begin to wonder if I was wise to leave my baggage with the car. I have put my reservation in Ansbach back by one day as I am clearly not going to escape Verdun today.  Updates will follow. In the meantime, wish me luck! 

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