There is a very big hole in my bank account

As I wrote at the end of my previous post, on the afternoon Sunday 28th February, I was driving back from Decín to my home in Stará Oleška, when the car accelerator went limp and the engine died. I was fortunately able to roll to a halt at the far end of a long lay-by, part of which is a bus stop, which at least meant I didn’t foul up the traffic on route 13 / E442.

A cri de cœur to my neighbour, Lucie, resulted in her younger brother Pavel, driving out to rescue me, accompanied by her daughter Lucka, who I help with English for an hour each week. Pavel and Lucka helped me unload my supermarket shopping and my new toaster from the boot of my car, into Pavel’s vehicle, and then drove me home.

It took me two bus journeys to return to the car the following morning. The bus that goes through Stará Oleška, doesn’t take the direct route to Decín but instead goes through the upper part of Huntírov and the village of Dobrná. So I had to take that bus all the way into Decín and then another one back out again to Ludvíkovice where the car was stranded. Fortunately, by being over 65, each bus journey only costs CZK 5 / £0.15 🙂

My blue VW Golf loaded up to be transported for repair © Ricky Yates

My Czech friend Kát’a, kindly made the necessary phone calls to arrange for a tow truck to come at 11.00 and it duly arrived on time, about ten minutes after my arrival. After some necessary paperwork, a few photos on the drivers mobile phone, and paying CZK 1400, my blue VW Golf was loaded up and we drove to the premises of Gerhard Horejsek a spol., s.r.o., the VW dealer in Decín.

That day was the beginning of an even stricter period of lockdown, trying reduce the spread of COVID-19. So whilst the service and repair centre was still working, I was met outside by the service manager, Mr Kocour, rather than in his office. Whilst I normally go to my friend Adrian Blank at Nepomuk, for the car to be serviced, my details and those of the car, were already on the Horejsek computer as I’ve twice previously got them to replace a headlight bulb when it failed.

I was just about to complete my third bus journey of the day, making my way back home, when my phone rang. It was Kát’a. Mr Kocour had rung her, rather than me, with the bad news. The cause the car breakdown was the failure of the cam belt or timing belt, which had totally wrecked the engine. It would cost in excess of CZK 50,000 to repair, roughly what the car was worth with a functioning engine. In simple terms, my car was a complete write-off 🙁

My failed cam belt with half of its teeth missing © Ricky Yates

On Thursday 4th March, I once more took the bus into Decín, met up with Kát’a, and we walked to the VW dealers’ premises to meet Mr Kocour. He showed us the wrecked engine and presented me with the failed cam belt. He again confirmed that the car was really beyond repair.

The one small spot of good news was that one of the mechanics working there, was interested in having my car as he could use some of the parts. He would give me CZK 2000 and also take responsibility for eventually legally disposing of it. I later learned that the mechanic had a VW Golf similar to mine, which he had bought off a man who was a dog owner. He wanted the seats out of my car, as they were in excellent condition, to replace those in his car which had suffered at the hands/paws/teeth of the dog 🙂

Although, because of the lockdown, all car sales showrooms were meant to be closed, Mr Kocour said we could go and walk around to the other side of the building and look at the used vehicles that they had on display for sale. Before our visit. I’d had already had a perusal of their website, to have some idea of what might be available.

I eventually settled on another VW Golf, first registered in 2015, but with only just over 21,000 km on the clock. Mr Kocour gave me the business card of the used car sales manager, Mr Hajný, and said I should drop him an email expressing my interest.

That evening, I compiled my email in English, including asking if it would be possible to swap the wheels and winter tyres on my old car, for the wheels and summer tyres currently on the new one. I sent this off to Kát’a who, in turn, translated it into Czech and sent it on to Mr Hajný the following day.

On Monday 8th March, Mr Hajný replied to both of us, offering me the possibility of a test drive, but first wanting scans of my ID and my driving licence. Having received them, I was then offered the opportunity of a test drive on Wednesday 10th.

Late in the morning of Wednesday 10th March, I arrived with Kát’a, for my test drive. Mr Hajný spoke to us from the door of the showroom, seeking to keep appropriate social-distancing. He told us that the car was ready with the key in the ignition, on the forecourt of the used car sales area. I did wonder about the risk of somebody driving off in it but apparently the area is fully covered by security cameras 😉

The test drive was more than enough to convince me that if I was going to get mobile again fairly soon, then this was my best opportunity. So on our return, I confirmed that I wanted to proceed and purchase. Then came the one item of bad news. The wheels and tyres on my old Golf were not the same size as those on the new car. So swapping them over wasn’t possible.

In anticipation of agreeing to purchase this new car, I had arranged to transfer a large part of the contents of my UK bank account, into my Czech bank account. This is money that I was either going to spend on having further major work done to my house, or going travelling, once some form of normality returns. But needing to once more be mobile again with a reliable car, it had to be done.

That afternoon, I received an invoice to be settled by bank transfer. Mr Hajný also put me in contact with an English-speaking friend who works for Kooperativa, an insurance company with whom my house and contents are already insured. As I discovered, the contact is actually the Russian wife of his sales colleague 🙂 On Thursday 11th, by a succession of emails, she arranged insurance for the new car. Because of being an existing client of Kooperativa, I got an additional discount!

My new VW Golf © Ricky Yates

Therefore on the morning of Friday 12th March, after eleven days without a car, I became the proud owner of the one in the photo above.

There are two footnotes to this tale.

Much to my surprise, my new VW Golf doesn’t have a handbrake. It has an automatic brake which comes on as soon as the car stops and is released as soon as my foot touches the accelerator. Whilst it works perfectly, I still find it rather strange and frequently find myself reaching for a handbrake that doesn’t exist.

On Saturday 13th March, the day after I collected the car, I drove into Decín to go shopping at the Kaufland supermarket. Just as I was leaving the supermarket car park to drive home, there was a ping and the petrol warning light came on. Therefore on my way home, I drove into the petrol station that I frequently use, located four kilometres from my home.

I went to press the button between the two front seats to open the flap covering the petrol cap. However, unlike in my old Golf, there wasn’t a button. Nor could I see any other means of releasing the flap. Inevitably, the manual for the car in the glovebox, was in Czech. I had already asked for an English manual and Mr Hajný has promised to order one from Volkswagen HQ in Germany and provide it free of charge. But he said it would take at least ten days to arrive.

I ended up driving home and googling my problem. Fortunately, I found this video. It is American, so it inevitably tells you how to access the ‘gas cap’ 😉 But after discovering the secret, I drove back four kilometres and filled up.

4 comments to There is a very big hole in my bank account

  • Kathy Ferguson

    Oh, poor Ricky, what an costly few months you’ve had. I’ve just read back through the posts I’d missed and it’s been quite a saga for you. Your new car looks very smart indeed and I hope it gives you long, faithful and inexpensive service.

    You mention being in strict lockdown. Is there any indication of when that may start to be lifted or is it too soon to tell? Here in Wales we went into lockdown on December 20th and this only began to be lifted on March 15th with the return of the first 3 years of primary school to in-person learning. The Welsh government won’t put dates on re-opening different sectors until a very few weeks ahead, a caution John and I fully approve of.

    • Ricky

      Thank you for the sympathy, Kathy. ‘Quite a saga’ is an apt description, culminating in my previous car becoming a complete write-off. Whilst the CD player and my new will were matters of choice, rather than necessity, I don’t regret either of them, especially the new will. As I wrote, in my years of ministry, I have on several occasions had to try and support the next-of-kin of a sudden death with all the additional problems of the lack of a will. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience too. I don’t want that for my two children.

      The new car is very smart🙂 I’m enjoying driving it and looking forward to the time when it will be possible to travel further than supermarket shopping in Decín, or medical appointments in Prague. Any problems with it in the first six months will be put right by the VW dealer, free of charge.

      Regarding lockdown restrictions, the hope is of a gradual easing soon after Easter. The number of new cases of COVID-19 is coming down and the vaccination programme is beginning to accelerate at last. The over 70s have been eligible for a few weeks & the over 65s should be able to register for vaccination in the next couple of days. Being a youngster of 69, that includes me 🙂 Much as the past year has been frustrating, I’m glad to have been living in a fairly isolated place in view of my age & pre-existing health condition.

      Thank you for visiting & commenting here again.

  • Seán McCann

    Hi Ricky,

    Timing belts have lousy timing! 😉 I’ve been there and had a similar experience a few years ago, but escaped having to replace my car by some miracle of engine timing and mathematics which smashed the valves but did no further damage to the engine; and I escaped with a relatively small bill (by Irish standards) for my troubles.

    I sympathise with your ‘ghost handbrake’ difficulties, my problem was with the ‘auto-starter’ thing where the engine stops when you brake at traffic lights, junctions, etc and re-starts when you press the clutch pedal- it took weeks for me to get used to that thing!

    I wish you many years of safe and happy motoring in ‘Golf Carly Dva!’ and also on this Holy Saturday evening; Vesele Velikonoce Ricky.

    Take care and keep safe,

    • Ricky

      Hi Seán,

      Is there ever a good time for a timing belt to fail? At least it happened when I wasn’t that far from home & my lovely neighbours came to my rescue. Mr Kocour, the service boss at the VW dealers, said that the timing belt should have been replaced at 100,000 km. My guess is that it wasn’t and there were 140,000 km on the clock when I bought it & 182,000 km when it failed. However, there were no warning noises which my internet research since has said that there normally should have been. I’m sorry to hear of your similar experience but glad to know that less damage was done.

      I’ve now just about got used to the ‘no handbrake’ situation. No doubt the idea is to make life easier for the driver but when you are my age, adjusting does take time 😉 However, I’m glad I don’t have an ‘auto-starter’ to cope with as well.

      I certainly hope that ‘Golf Carly Dva’ will give me many years of trouble-free motoring & thank you for your good wishes. And I reciprocate your Easter good wishes.