Van Lights & Nights
There are so many stories about VW van breakdowns that I am hesitant to add another. Our 86 VW Westy has been in our family since my parents bought it new in April of 1986. It has provided an endless source of “entertainment” in how it breaks down. Jorrie and I decided to take the VW from Vancouver to Alberta instead of the Tesla as we would been staying in Central AB with unknown access to recharging and many gravel roads that may not be great for a new vehicle. We quickly missed the AC, very quiet interior and self driving but the unpredictability of the van is always the unknown factor. It reared its head quickly on the trip. We started driving at 5 pm from Vancouver en route to Hinton and just decided to see how far we would make it. We knew the whole journey would take about 10–11 hours of driving and thought we would stop somewhere to rest. Having a van always gives you the option to stop and sleep at a rest stop, but it is not always where one wants to wake up and “wash up”. We were in Kamloops by 11 pm and it was dark. Shortly after passing through the headlights briefly went out on a dark stretch of road. Try shutting off your headlights while driving at night and see how that feels. I assured Jorrie all would be well, but I knew if it happened again or persisted we would not be able to go on. We kept driving through the night and it happened three more times for just a few seconds and every time I was ready to stay the night if it persisted. We made it to Hinton at 6 am and our night driving was done for that leg of the trip so I didn’t worry about it. You learn not to take the van’s occasional neurosis too seriously.
A couple weeks later I was meeting Jorrie’s parents for the first time and she was showing me all her hometown sights and where she grew up. It was all great and predictably we were there longer than expected. We headed back to where we were staying in Hanna about 1.5 hours away at around 10:30 pm. It was dark and hazy due to smoke but a nice quiet Sunday evening. The biggest problem would be a deer jumping in front of us so we were on the lookout. Half an hour (35km) from Hanna the headlights went completely dark and nothing I did helped bring them back. We put on the hazards and parked on the side of the road. I ran through the diagnostics, fuses, playing with switches but within 5 minutes blue and red lights are flashing behind us. Actually, two police vehicles were stopped and checking on us. They were just seeing what happened and after telling them they offered to escort us to a stop off the highway ahead. We accepted and one police vehicle in the front and the other behind us escorted us 10km closer to Hanna. We contemplated asking them to escort us the whole way to Hanna as it was already almost midnight but I thought maybe a quick fuse change would solve the problem. They escorted us to a ghost town on the side of the road. We thanked them for the escort. Sitting under a sole street light with the ghosts of a lost settlement watching to see what we are up to we tried to fix the problem. Nothing helped. We could have called a tow truck but we were uncertain how that would go so we decided to drive slowly without headlights for a bit and see how it goes.
It was dark and desolate on the road with the occasional vehicle going by. We had our hazards on slightly illuminating the road with a flashing orange hue on the road giving us about 2m visibility. A transport truck even put on their high beams when heading towards us blinding us especially because of all the dead bugs on the windshield. We quickly realized this was not the best idea. We would not see deers or any turns or hazards on the road in time to stop. Ok new plan. Let’s stop on the side of the road and wait for a vehicle to go by and then get behind it and catch up to it and drive behind. A transport truck flew buy and we raced to catch up as fast as a VW Van can race to catch up to a 110km/hr vehicle from a dead stop. We managed to do it and though it probably looked weird to have a hazard flashing van behind them they didn’t seem to do anything. It went well until they decided to turn off 9km from our destination. Driving for a little bit again unescorted quickly showed it was not a good idea so we stopped again and got behind a truck soon after stopping. We made it to the Hanna turn-off and discussed avoiding driving by the RCMP detachment so as not to get in trouble for driving without lights which was on our mind the whole time. We made it home with the few cars we passed probably wondering what the heck we were doing. If they were ex-VW Van owners they would understand and know not to ask questions.
We made it to our new apartment at around 1 am, happy to have made it without incident. Chalk that up to another VW story, they seem to never fail to give their owners/drivers “entertainment”. The next day I spent a little time trying to diagnose the problem and it looks like the ignition switch failed. I have ordered the part and we will see if it solves the problem. They asked at the time of ordering the part if I need any other parts and it flashed through my mind to order at least one of each of the 5000 parts in the VW as a precaution to avert the next incident. I answered I am ok for now and we will see what is the next issue. We recently rewatched the movie Little Miss Sunshine and found out that the movie events and stories were not autobiographical at all except the VW stories which had all happened to the writer. We were not surprised. All those stories had happened to us in one way or another.