18 Nov 2012

Stupid stuff we do in cars (and on bikes)

We first encounter cars at our most tragic phase in life - the late teens.  It is at this point in life we seek acceptance amongst our peers and attempt to show off our attractiveness to the opposite species.

And in doing so we do silly things.  We dress in strange clothes, we talk a strange language and we show off in order to impress.  Add in mum or dad's car or, if you are lucky, your own car and there you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

And from then on in, to the point we are too frail to drive, we do stupid things in cars.

My own experiences include such things as taking a hump backed bridge at much too high a speed in order to get 'air', and smashing the front spoiler when back in contact with the road, getting lost in Manchester and ending up the going the wrong way on a one way street only to find myself facing three lanes of oncoming traffic, throwing a cigarette butt out of a closed window whereupon it bounced down between my back and the seat and caused me to nearly crash the car whilst screaming like a little girl, but the stupidest self inflicted stupidity involved a Mini.

In my late teens I bought a Mini.  It was a red 1 litre and was great - although it didn't have a stereo.  So I took myself down to Halfords, bought a cheap stereo brought it home and thought I'd do the install myself.

The work took place in my dad's double garage and, for some reason, I left the garage door shut.  As with all men I pulled the shiny new stereo from it's box and ignored the instruction manual.  It looked easy - peel back the plastic on a few wires, find the same coloured wires that lurked in the back of the dashboard, twist them together, apply a bit of gaffa tape and job done.

So I set about my task with alacrity.  Wires stripped, wrapped around the corresponding ones in the dash and...  At first there was a smell.  A not good smell.  And then came the heat and finally the realisation the car was on fire.

So absorbed was I on the stereo and fiddly little wires I failed to notice the fumes were affecting my vision and breathing.  In a moment the garage had filled with putrid smoke.  I rushed to open the garage door and sank to my knees coughing and rubbing my eyes.

What I had done, in all my teenage confidence, was forget to disconnect the battery which, in a Mini, is in the boot.  So I had connected the wrong wires and the entire wiring loom from boot to dash had overheated and set on fire.  I managed to put out the various fires and sold the car 3 years later to a friend, with no stereo.

It's also worth saying that doing stupid things isn't limited only to cars.  For example I learned to ride a motorcycle late in life.  I was 33.  My first bike was a gold coloured Yamaha Fazer 600 -  and I loved it.  I'd moved to the congested South East and used it to commute every day to work.  Unlike with cars some bikes don't have dipsticks but a sight glass in the engine.  My Fazer's sight glass was pretty cloudy but I could see the oil OK enough, in a good light.

One day I was travelling back home when I called into a petrol station for fuel.  I checked the sight glass and couldn't see any oil.  So I bought a litre and slowly poured it in until it reached the level.  It didn't.  So I bought another litre and poured it in.  Still no oil.

Thinking that there must be enough oil to get me home I set off.  Almost immediately the engine felt strange.  Like there was too much resistance.  I pulled over into a lay-by.  I revved the engine hard.

It was at the moment the engine exploded, via a one inch square hole punched in the casing, that I realised my mistake.  As the boiling hot oil spurted all over my left foot the realisation came to me - there had been so much oil in the engine already that it was above the level of the sight glass.  And I'd poured two more litres in it.  This had caused the engine compression to increase by a massive factor and as I revved the engine I had stressed every component to the point of breaking.

It was on my next bike that one of the most embarrassing, and self-inflicted, incidents of my motoring life occurred.  It was a hot and sticky day in central London.  I had arranged to meet my work colleagues.  I was wearing the bikers uniform of head to toe leather.  I pulled up next to where all eight of them were waiting for me.  The only available parking was adjacent to a completely full bike bay.  I was just on the double yellow lines.

I pealed off my leather jacket, gloves and helmet - sweaty and uncomfortable - and attached a disk lock to the front brake disk.  Just as I'd finished a traffic warden arrived and told me to move the bike.  My work colleagues, already amused by watching me undress in the unforgiving heat, thought this was hilarious.

So I pulled everything back on as quickly as I could - in a complete state of fluster.  Put the key in the ignition, fired the engine and pulled forwards.

It travelled about 18 inches and then stopped when the disk lock, which was still attached to the front brake disk, hit the fork.  I was so shocked I didn't even put a foot down.  My colleagues helped me pick the bike up, between their guffaws.  Happily it was unbroken, although my ego wasn't.

At this point in life I was a parent.  And at that point in life, along with out teenage years, lies our second major period of stupidity.  As parents we have given up on trying to fit in with society and just do whatever we want to do without fear of embarrassment.

My mother in law demonstrated this when my wife was a young girl.  They were farmers, and my wife's mother took the kids to market to see what was what - in their Ford Cresta saloon car.  Mother in law ended up being swept along by the whole thing and bought two sheep.  She obviously hadn't thought how she would get them back to the farm, so my wife and her two sisters shared the back seat on the way home with two Jacob sheep.  The sheep were so alarmed by the whole affair they emptied the entire contents of their bowels over the interior of the car.

One of the most legendary examples of automotive stupidity can be found here (thanks to @audisportnet for reminding me of it).  You need to read the first few pages but in short a young man with a Suzuki GSX-R (a powerful and expensive sports bike) poured two cans of what he thought was fuel additive in his tank.  Over the course of three painful and hilarious pages of the Suzuki forum the man and the other members of the forum slowly come to the realisation he has poured two cans of an energy drink, with the same name, into his bikes fuel tank.

A friend of mine used to race his MG Maestro in the MG Owners Club championship.  During one qualifying session at the Mallory Park racetrack he was rather annoyed to see the marshals were waving him down.  He ignored their call for a whole lap but could see, in his mirrors, other cars flying off the track.  It wasn't until he finally stopped, and was given a particularly vociferous dressing down by a marshal, that he realised what had happened.  He had given the car an oil change just before the session and hadn't tightened the sump plug up.  It subsequently fell off whilst he was on track and left a trail of oil around the entire circuit.  The other cars had been spinning off on his oil.

Everyone has their own tales of stupidity in cars and when I asked, on twitter, if anyone had their own tales received some great replies.

@hioctane308 told of when learning to drive he arrived back home in a Mk1 Vauxhall Astra and drove up the back of a Citro├źn 2CV which was pushed through the garage door and into a Lambretta scooter.

@jonbradbury told of a journey in his VW Golf with his (ex) girlfriend's mother in the passenger seat.  He approached a hump backed bridge and didn't realise he was going too fast until it was too late.  The car got 'air'.  Girlfriends mother flew up in the air and banged her head on the roof of the car.  Jon said that didn't go down too well at the time.

@mephilhudson recalls when he was younger his dad being sent out to buy a pound of carrots.  Dad came back home with a brand new Rover 216HSE

@lancashirelady said she'd never forget the 'tree incident' when she was 7.  Her dad brought an apple tree home sticking in/out of his old Fiesta.  Her mother was sitting in the passenger seat with the tree in her lap.

@dogknob1 remembers the trip back home from Paris on his BMW GS1200 more than the trip there.  Whilst in his Parisian hotel room he went to sleep whilst drunk, and still wearing his glasses.  The glasses were destroyed during the night and, without a spare pair, the journey home was conducted without the aid of focal adjustment.

And finally, our very own @sweeping_curves recalls transporting a 4 foot tall, potted Christmas tree home - in the top box of her Honda Melody with rather alarming vision and stability issues.

So it's not just me and my family who do stupid things in cars.  It's everyone.  Tell us below - what stupid things have you done in a car, or on a bike?