The Night the Mighty MINI Fell

Sometimes weekends are so packed with craziness, you don’t even know where to begin when someone asks: So, how was your weekend?

Well, oh faithful reader, I’ll give it a shot — but bear with me.

My weekend started on Wednesday (lucky me, right?). Actually, I’d say the “weekend” started on Monday when I picked up my vehicular lover the MINI Cooper S. Granted, I was supposed to have a MINI Countryman S but a booking conflict means I’m picking it up tomorrow instead. As a “sorry” they gave me the copper-coloured MINI Cooper S I had a few months ago. I wasn’t about to turn that down.

It all began on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon. MINI and I were bombing down what I thought was the right highway towards Quebec City. The sun was gently setting behind us, a frozen river was to my left and a long, winding, country road was up ahead. Bliss.

Then I got lost. Yup. I may like to drive, but I do not like trying to follow Google Map directions while I’m driving — not at all. And thanks to our province’s lovely habit of forever having construction all over the roads, I missed a crucial turn in my driving instructions.

So, after an hour in the wrong direction, I finally stopped to ask for help. I am, after all, not a man — but I do still have my pride.

I considered being upset and even a little crabby, but then I got behind the wheel of the Cooper S, merged onto the highway and all was forgotten. I was supposed to be in Quebec City no later than 6:30 p.m. I’d left Montreal at 3:30 p.m. and it was 4:45 when I got lost and was directed to the right road. I had about 1 1/2 hours to get to my destination and it was supposed to take 2 1/2 hours. Hmmm, time for the MINI and I to do some serious driving.

iPod connected, cruise control set to 125 km/hr, a Timmie’s in the cupholder and the Google Map directions spread on the passenger’s seat and I was good to go.

Or so I thought.

About 20 minutes outside Quebec City (and I was doing pretty well on time it was about 6:45 p.m. so I was only going to be 30 minutes late at the rate I was going).

A dark, unlit stretch of highway loomed ahead. Brooke Fraser crooned on the stereo and I was suddenly distracted by a row of about 5 or 6 vehicles all pulled over on the right-hand side, hazards on. Odd.

And then it appeared.

Looming in the darkness ahead was a massive, chromed chunk of something metal. Right in my lane. Directly in front of me, sparkling in my headlights.

In the 3 seconds I had to react before I collided with the chunk of metal I had time to think of the following:

– I’m going to die.
– That’s as big as me!
– God I hope no one’s in the fast lane because that’s where I’m going.
– I’m going to kill the MINI.
– Clutch.
– Brake.
– Neutral.
– Swerve.
– Pray the object actually fits beneath the MINI and I’ve aimed well enough for it to clear the wheels and the underbody.


So much for prayer.

Whatever it was, I hit it spot on while I savagely swerved into the fast lane and then straight off the highway. Thankfully, no one was around me. God knows what would have happened had there been a car in the lane beside me. I shudder to think.

Once the MINI came to a full stop, I took a moment to take a few deep breaths. I was too jacked up on adrenalin to cry, but believe me, I was on the verge.

I slowly popped the MINI into gear and inched forward on the shoulder. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Not good. It sounded as if whatever I’d hit was stuck under the car and dragging. So I hopped out and made sure I wasn’t carrying extra baggage. Nope. Nada.

Hmph, OK.

When traffic was clear I shot over to the other side of the road to join the cue of already injured cars on the side of the highway. In front of me was a convertible Volvo. The driver immediately hopped out and asked me if I’d hit something.

I considered telling him that no, I just felt like joining the party and could I have a mixed drink and some peanuts?

He pointed out that he’d hit something and had a flat; I confirmed this by spotting his rim solidly sitting on the pavement on the driver’s side and told him I’d probably hit the same thing.

I looked from his damaged car to the MINI and assessed the situation. The Civic before him had the same damage, and the Toyota in front of him and so on.

I made my way around the MINI gently prodding the rubber to assess the damage. All 4 wheels felt OK.

Then I remembered; BMW’s all sport Runflat tires. So, I bid Mr. Volvo farewell as he looked on bewildered and simply called out: “Runflats!” As I gingerly pulled out on to the highway to finish my journey towards Quebec City.

Runflats mean that even if you get a flat, you can still drive on your tire under a certain speed and for a certain amount of time depending on the damage inflicted on the tire. The tire will either stay inflated or at least leak much more slowly than a standard tire.

The MINI was not in good condition. Thank God I didn’t have far to go to get into the city. About 15 minutes later, after limping along the highway at 75km/hr with my hazards on, I arrived in the city.

Looking at my directions I was unsure of the hotel’s location and after a few small streets where every single person walking by was kind enough to point out that I had a flat (Really? Oh, I didn’t know!) I couldn’t bear the pain the MINI was in any longer so I pulled over and called BMW Assist.

Now, I don’t want to give BMW Assist a bad rap, because really, it is a brilliant system designed to help you in any situation. However, I do want to give a bad rap to the representative who helped me. It took me well over 45 minutes on the phone for her to understand who I was and what my problem was.

It went something like this:
“BMW Assist, this is Cindy, how can I help you?”

“Hi, I’m an auto journalist in a MINI Cooper S. I’ve hit a large chunk of metal on the highway and I may have 1 or 2 flat tires, I’m not sure. Oh, and I’m in Quebec City.”

“I’m sorry Ma’am. You’ve just given me a lot of information. Let’s start again.” All in a gentle, American drawl.

Fantastic. That’s what I wanted to deal with at that moment.

So, after I explained again who I was and managed to get her to understand the car VIN, the model year and the license plate we then moved on to the damage on the car.

I explained that I may have had a flat, or two, and perhaps the alignment was even knocked off. I explained I preferred to drive myself to the nearest BMW dealer if she could so kindly give me the location.

She then proceeded to give me the address for an Ottawa dealer, which confused me, until I realized the license plate was Ontario which had thrown her off. I told her so. She then told me I should take the MINI to MINI Mont Royal, or BMW Laval.

Sure, I’ll drive 2 1/2 hours back to Montreal to return the broken MINI — sounds like a plan.

Eventually she understood that I was in Quebec City and found me a dealer — one she couldn’t give me directions to, so it was a useless effort that took way too long.

Next up — getting a tow.

At this point I’d been pulled over on a random street for close to 30 minutes with my hazards on talking to Cindy as patiently as I could. I was blocking a turning lane and decided to move. Of course, the MINI proved its injuries immediately.

Cindy: “Is that the car?!”
Me: “No, it’s the radio — of course it’s the car! I told you I had a flat.”
Cindy: “I thought you said you had two flats and the alignment was off?”
Me: “I said I thought I had two flats and the alignment may be off.”
Cindy: “So, you don’t have a flat?”
Me: “I think I do.”
Cindy: “And your alignment’s not off?”
Me: “I’m not a mechanic, Cindy.”
Cindy: “Well, may I recommend that you pull over Ma’am? Your car doesn’t sound good.”

Thank-you Captain Obvious.

Once I found a safe locale across the street from a public skating rink and close to a cafe, I continued my never-ending rhetoric with dear old Cindy.

Me: “OK, I need a tow Cindy.”
Cindy: “”OK Ma’am. First off I have to tell you that because it’s an accident, you’ll have to pay for the tow.”

To which we, once again, went through the fact that I did not in fact own the MINI and was a journalist. This was a tough thing for Cindy to grasp.

Once she finally understood the situation we then moved on to my location and the tow company.

Cindy: “Where are you in Montreal Ms. Lightstone?”
Me: “I’m not in Montreal Cindy, I’m in Quebec City.”
Cindy: “Oh, right! OK, so please tell me the street you’re on.”
Me: “I’m on the corner of St. Jean and De Glacis.”
Cindy: “Saint Johns and Duh Glassy you say?”

So, I spend another 5 minutes spelling the street names out to her properly, trying to breathe deeply between each letter.

Cindy: “And where exactly are you on the street Ms. Lightstone?”
Me: “I’m parked near the sidewalk.” (I thought this would have been obvious.)
Cindy: “What are you near?”
Me: “I’m right on the corner of the street — the MINI is bright orange, Cindy.”
Cindy: “Oh, it’s orange?! Cool.”

I was so glad Cindy approved of the MINI’s color.

We then established that Cindy would have to call me back because she needed to find a French representative to communicate with the local tow company as she didn’t speak French.

I almost asked her to patch me through to the company and I’d deal with them. But, instead I kept my mouth shut and chose to use my time away from Cindy to head to the washroom and grab a coffee.

Cindy promptly called me back 10 minutes later to tell me the tow would arrive somewhere within the next hour and she hoped I had a great evening and thanked me for my patience (which was running oh-so thin). And she was blissfully gone from my life forever.

An hour and many panicked, anxious phone calls to BMW, my husband and the PR rep I was supposed to be meeting that night later, and a flatbed truck arrived to haul away the very broken, and very sad-looking MINI Cooper S.

I considered taking photos for this blog as it was loaded on the bed, but it really broke my heart. I couldn’t bear to document the falling of the mighty MINI on the streets of old Quebec City.

As the tow-truck driver dropped me off at the Hilton hotel and I watched the injured MINI carted away, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and worry all at once.

I was thankful the accident hadn’t been worse, but strangely worried about the MINI’s condition even though it wasn’t my car. I was starving (it was 9:30 p.m. by the time I was dropped at the hotel), frustrated, exhausted, and spent physically and emotionally.

The next day I was informed that the MINI’s front driver-side tire was destroyed as was the mag and caliper. Ouch. I would not be driving home with it. It truly was broken. And I felt horrible: like I’d punched a good friend square in the nose.

And yet I also felt proud. Proud that the MINI hadn’t been crushed immediately like the other cars on the highway that night. Proud that I’d kept my cool. Proud that I’d handled the situation well (and not told Cindy off at any point during our loooong conversation). And mostly, proud that I was still able to enjoy my time in Quebec City, despite such a rocky, rough start.

Drive on (without hitting large metal objects on the highway),
– M.

~ by drivingmsmiranda on February 27, 2011.

4 Responses to “The Night the Mighty MINI Fell”

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  2. […] for a MINI. I’m glad I drove the Cooper S last week (however short that week became after Wednesday night’s debacle) as I now have a direct and fresh-in-my-mind comparison for the Countryman S. It feels large in the […]

  3. […] week the MINI saga kind of took centre stage, but in actual fact it was Ford I was meant to focus on. And after I […]

  4. […] oh faithful reader, here comes another MINI post. It’ll be the last one for a while (unless BMW continues to make my week by handing me […]

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