Alert! ------- An Important Travel Tip for the Intrepid Self-Touring Driver!
We had rented a beautiful large Mercedes and were looking forward to a comfortable drive. Of course, we added our extra insurance and confirmed what kind of fuel we should put into the car before we left the rental agency. As usual before we drove off the lot, we located the windshield wipers, turn signals and emergency brake and played with the radio and GPS to make sure we knew how to operate them. These are the minimum any diligent rental car driver should do at all times.
Here we were, tootling along enjoying the countryside as we pulled away from yet another castle, when Jim noticed that the car was stalling while we were on the road. First he pulled off the road and restarted the car and headed out again thinking it was a fluke. When it happened again a minute later, he pulled off the road again and checked the gas. Full tank.
This is where I piped up with….. "Maybe we need to use the emergency number and call the rental agency for a tow"? But Jim wasn’t ready yet for that extreme. He told me to pull out the car manual.
What we didn’t anticipate was the German language only manual for the car. You can picture my dismay at the fact that the manual we needed to read was far above my utilitarian collage semester German.
Naturally like any good English speaking person, I ransacked the glove box, sure that I would find an English translation. I know……. very American of me…….. and of course, no such luck was to be found there.
So, paging through the German manual, I concentrated on the tiny symbols that were supposed to correspond to the incredibly intricate and complicated control board behind the steering wheel. To me the control board seemed as impossible to read as one I might find on a 757 Airliner. The weird circular symbol was unfamiliar to me, but I finally found a picture of it in the manual. Next to the symbol was some German car-speak I couldn’t read, except for one word….. Parkung……. and the light-bulb finally went on in my head.
I asked Jim if there was any way that he could be inadvertently pressing the parking brake lever while he was driving. I had seen other cars where this automatically makes the car engine turn off as a safety feature.
We decided to try to drive the car one more time. Fortunately, this time I noticed that the large “P” would blink for a short second on the control board before going away and a second later, the car engine stalled. We stopped the car, turned it off, set the brake and started over, making sure that all brakes were disengaged before we drove off.
This time, Jim made sure he didn’t inadvertently hit the parking lever (which was in a really inconvenient location on this Mercedes!) It literally stuck out from the steering wheel waiting for you to accidentally brush it.
Voila! This fixed the problem. No more stalling on the road! You would never see two people more relieved than us.
But…… this experience has made me aware that if you plan to rent a car in a foreign country, be sure to obtain a list of automobile related words as well as words related to breaking down and a translation for the dashboard symbols. The best place to get them would probably be the internet, and if you know exactly what make and model the rental car will be, you can even get an English language manual before you go! Remember, guide-books also usually provide breakdown related words in their “need to know” sections. This is extremely useful, but they won’t be specific to your model car.
Be prepared because it won’t be fun to find yourself stranded by the road in a foreign country without a clue about how your car works. Take my word for it!