Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

The Audi and a Breakdown

September 3rd, 2013 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, UAE

Five days. That’s how long it took for the Audi to go dead on me. Five days. Bought it on Thursday, was sitting in a dead Audi on Tuesday. In the middle of the day. In 110-degree heat. Far from home.

Of this I can be sure: Never did I imagine I would be pushing a dead Audi through a parking lot in the blazing early afternoon sun of Abu Dhabi.

So, we bought the car. Last week. We knew it was a 2004 model. We knew it had about 95,000 miles on it. We could see this, that and the other bit of it looked thoroughly unlike it did when the car came off the assembly line in Germany, back before the 2006 World Cup.

But it had been 10 years in the harsh climate of the Gulf … and well, let’s see how it went. It was running when we got it, right?

Oh, and we had some sense that the car had been “checked out” recently, and had been approved as OK. The brakes had been fixed, I believe, too.

I climbed in to drive to an appointment downtown, and it when I turned the key it made that creepy “straining to turn over the engine” sound that makes any veteran driver think, “That battery is about dead.”

I needed it to start only once more, on the way back, and I could leave it in the parking garage, under the apartment building, and have a new battery brought there. “Only one more start; that’s it.” That was what I thought as I drove away. “Maybe I will get lucky.”

An hour later. Appointment over, down near the Corniche (which is really like another city, a far more crowded city, compared to where we live), and I climbed inside the car, stuck the key in the ignition, turned it and … nothing.

A resounding nothing.

Not even a pitiful attempt at turning over the engine. Not a single pulse of energy. Not a cough of a half-turn. Just nothing. Like turning a key in a steering column not actually connected to anything. Oh, and it was so dead … the electric windows wouldn’t even role down.

So, a call … to get a call … to the company that is supposed to give us free roadside assistance, and the word comes back that it will be “a half hour.” Which means at least an hour, here. I knew that right off.

Remember, it is well over 100. Heading for 110. At that moment, at 11 a.m., it was maybe 100. Almost balmy. Right.

What strikes a person, when sitting inside a sun-exposed and dead car … is how potentially dangerous it could be if you were outside the city.

At least three people have died of dehydration in the country this year, after motor breakdowns. And sitting in a car with no power, you suddenly get a glimpse into how such a thing could happen. In not too long a period of time. Your first instinct is to turn on the AC but, of course, no power, no AC.

Luckily, I was not deep in the desert, as were the three people who died this year. Actually, I was about 50 yards from a Subway sandwich shop, and I decided to make that my headquarters while waiting for assistance. I bought a refillable drink because I already was overheating.

I took a seat by the window, where I could see cars coming and going, and presumably spot the tow truck, if/when it showed up. And I drank a lot of iced Sprite.

After about an hour, the roadside assistance people called to say they would be there in about 45 minutes. Apparently, that first hour was just to think about finding me, there on Zayed the First Street.

An hour after that, a guy driving a flat-bed truck pulled into the narrow parking lot, and I was pretty sure that was my man, and I went outside clutching my stuff, including my cup of ice, and yes, he was the roadside assistant.

I am fairly sure he is Pakistani, and it was not clear who was more surprised: Me, that he could speak no English; or him, that I could speak no Urdu.

Now, I’m just standing in the heat, as he is maneuvering this long vehicle into a very tight space, parking it about 30 yards away from the Audi, in a spot in front of the sprawling Range Rover dealership.

He came over carrying a smallish battery, with cables connected to it. Then followed a ridiculous five minutes in which he managed to communicate to me that he wanted me to open the hood … and I told him in English (that he did not understand) that I had no idea how to pop the hood, having had the car for five days and driven it maybe twice. I held up my thumb and four fingers to demonstrate how long I had owned the car. He probably wondered if I wanted a high-five.

No release on the dash. Nothing in the door or the floor. But no one has hoods that open from the outside, do they? Not in the past 25 years. He no doubt was thinking, “This guy knows nothing about his own car?” and I was thinking, “This guy jump-starts cars for a living and he doesn’t know how to pop a hood?”

Finally, he reached around under the dash — which both of us already had tried — and found a trigger, and there was the hood cracking open an inch.

More ludicrous scenes followed. He looked for a battery … and could not find one. I looked, as well. Nothing obvious. Was it hidden somewhere else in the car? Would the German engineers have stuck it in the trunk? Under a seat?

While I mulled this, my helper walked away to move his truck — so that someone in a monster SUV would stop blowing his horn and get on with backing out of a tight space — and reduce the ambient noise to a dull roar.

During this interval, I focused on a strip of rubber, about six inches wide, from fender to fender, on the engine side of the firewall, just under where the closed hood would be.

The middle of three compartments could be pried up at one end (the Phillips-head screw attaching it to the car being gone), and when I picked it up … voila. A battery! I pivoted the cover on the one screw still connected to the cover (at the other end) and now I was ready for a jump.

By now, my man was back — and not nearly appreciative enough, I thought, for my discovery of the dead battery.

Oh, and staring at the battery, I saw why/how it was dead. Not only did it look like it might have come off an assembly line in a previous century, grimy, baked, discolored … it also had a massive green bloom of acid around and above the positive post of the battery. (The miracle was, for five days the car had started despite a battery that was so choked by corrosion that it should never have worked. Not that it comforted me, at that moment.)

And long before this, I was questioning the wisdom of purchasing a car in the UAE. When you rent, you get something new-ish, and it may be a motorized roller-skate, but at least the battery is no more than a year old. Ten months of renting and not once did a Hyundai or Mitsubishi fail to start. Five days of ownership, and I was frying in the open sun with a dead battery.

The situation still had a significant chunk of stupidity to go.

First, the twentysomething guy in the shalwar kameez asked me if I had a “tissue” (using the English word) so that he could get at the acid mushroom. Actually, I did not. Not one shred of paper. (And he didn’t have a rag in the truck?) He looked around and found a scrap of a paper napkin on the asphalt, and knocked loose most of the corrosion mushroom with that. (Then he asked for water to rinse his hands. Didn’t have that, either.)

He placed the portable battery on the fender, carefully attached the clips to the posts, and we should be ready to crank it!

Key in ignition and … nothing. Roadside assistance man, apparently by now not sure I knew how to start a car, replaced me in the driver’s seat and, no, the car really is still dead.

He decides we need a second battery, for the extra juice, and he intends to use the battery in the truck.

Trouble is, the one lane behind the Audi is practically a superhighway for cars and cabs going through the narrow lot, and he is going to have to back up his truck to get close … and wait, he’s not going to do that at all.

He gets in the car, takes the automatic transmission out of “park”, gets out, leans against the door frame and, yes, intends to push the car to his truck. With me helping.

In 110 degree heat. At an age when you do not really expect your day will include pushing a dead car in 110-degree heat.

I wondered if it were somehow a tribute to my “everyman” appearance (cargo pants, Adidas tennis shows, blue golf shirt) that he expected me to help myself. Or maybe he decided that I was not as old as I, in fact, am. Or maybe he just wanted to move the damn car, asap, and I was the only guy standing there.

I was in accord in wanting this stupid scene to end, and the fastest way that would happen was with me pushing, even if it brought on cardiac infarction right there in the shade (well, I wish it had shade) of the Subway shop.

So, now I am steering, we both are pushing … backwards, into the lot. He shouts out a word that I realized, eventually, must be Urdu for “stop!” We then begin to push the car forward, him steering and me pushing (as cars and cabs are clotting up, behind us, honking at first, then realizing those two idiots are going to be at this for some time, and they need to find another way out of the lot). As we are going forward he realizes we can’t turn it past the car parked in the diagonal slot next to us.

So, pushing backwards again. Stop! Forward again. (And an Audi is not heavy, but neither is it a Mitsubishi Lancer.) And I am thinking of a blocking sled, during football practice, a very long time ago, and thinking how quickly it can make your pulse soar.

The fender just misses the SUV hog next door, and we are nearing the truck — 30 yards away, then 20, then 10 … and he again shouts whatever the word for “stop”, and at this point I just need to get in the shade for a moment. I have been standing, hatless, in the sun for 30 minutes, by now, and (at times) been pushing a car through a parking lot.

He pulls the covering off the big battery that powers the truck. More cables come out, and he makes a second connection to the rotted-out old battery in the Audi … and now we wait for a bit. He gets into the truck and revs it. He tries the key. Nothing.

He gets back in the truck and revs it again. By now I’m thinking the car is gonna end up on the flat bed, and that will be that … but after a couple minutes of revving (something I thought would have made a difference in 1972, but not now) … he tries it again, and the Audi comes to life.

After revving it up a bit, he gets out and disconnects the cables, and I drive the car up to an empty bit of asphalt to allow the mass of cars waiting for us to get-the-bloody-hell-out-of-the-way so they can slip past. The drivers glare at me; I pretend not to notice.

I signed some paperwork (I would have signed anything, at that point), and after three hours I was ready to leave that cursed parking lot. Straight to work, back the car into a spot, turn it off … and wait for the battery-delivery company to show up a few hours later with a new battery ($150 for that) … and that was the end of it.

Car ownership. Not all it’s cracked up to be. A lot less, actually.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Sep 6, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    OMG. What a horrible experience, but it does make for an interesting story.

  • 2 Marivi // Sep 6, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    She told you so! Always listen to your woman, man!
    Glad you came out alive. Interesting facts and some funny moments. May the force be with you.

Leave a Comment