The Giant Drill Bit

I have a new car. Actually, I’ve had a new car for a while now. Because every
time I mention the new car in polite company, people say “Oh Laura, you *didn’t*,”
in a pained voice, I will conveniently neglect to mention the make or model,
but I will hint that I am neither a Nazi nor a soccer mom and its a good car
so shut the hell up.

Said new car has been in the shop twice in four months, but for things that
apparently have to do with some strange curse against me and this car, and
not to do with it falling apart or anything. The first time it was in the
shop was because I got a rock stuck in the brake caliper (I took my offroad
vehicle offroad. silly me!). The second time was because of what we will call
The Giant Drill Bit Incident, and it is the subject of this here essay.

After having the car a mere few weeks and after it already been in the shop
for the rock in the brake caliper incident, I was off running errands one
day. It was an ordinary day, like any other day. I had gone into town to visit
the bookstore and the coffeehouse and to pick up some stamps, I had bought
some lunch while I was in town (some chinese noodles and a half pound of really
stinky cheese), and I was on my way home.

So there I was driving home, minding my own business, and I turned the corner
onto my road as I have done a gazillion times before. Minding my own business,
as I said, with my lunch on the seat next to me.


Eeee! Bad noise. Very bad noise. Not a good noise at all. I pulled over.
Fortunately there was a little dirt turnoff right there I could pull over
safely onto.

I got out of the car. I looked under the car behind the rear bumper. Nothing
there. I looked under the car from the right side. Nothing there. I looked
under the car from the left side. There’s an eighteen inch hunk of metal sticking
out of the bottom of my car.

Huh. That doesn’t belong there. I look closer. Its a 3/8″ drill bit, the
18″ long kind, with the pointy end facing down. I must have run over it, it
popped up, and lodged itself in the undercarriage of my car….and yet was
long enough to still be scraping the road after it got embedded under there.

So. Do I pull it out? I can’t leave it there. Maybe, I thought hopefully,
its stuck in something nonimportant, and I can just pull it out and drive
home. Yeah. I tug at it. Its really stuck. Its stuck in something plastic.
I tug harder, wiggle, yank, get down on my knees, take both hands, and finally,

And gasoline immediately begins to pour out of the hole.

I put it back. Too late, the gas is still coming. Great. Fine. Terrific.
Note for the future: DO NOT pull embedded objects out of the bottom of your

OK. This is what cell phones are for. I call Eric.

“I’M FUCKED!” I wail at him. “I’m SO FUCKED!” I elaborate. “I RAN OVER A

“OK, just calm down,” Eric says reassuringly. “Are you standing away from
the car?”

I’m standing next to the car. FWOOF BOOM goes my subconscious and I see
me and my lunch, stinky cheese and all, up in flames. I move away from the
car. “Yes,” I whimper.

Eric is totally sensible. Call 911 and have them come mop up the gas, he
says. Call the nice 800 roadside assistance line for your car and have them
tow it, he says. Call me when you get done and I’ll come pick you up, he says.

“OK,” I whimper.

I call 911 first. Cell phone 911 goes to the CHP, where they put you on
hold. I sit there on hold for HALF AN HOUR. By the time I give up, all the
gas has run out of my car and has soaked into the ground. It is a good thing
that I am not actually in a REAL EMERGENCY, because cellular 911 SUCKS SUCKS
SUCKS. Note for the future: don’t get into a real emergency when all you have
is your cell phone.

I walk up the street a quarter mile to the nearest house and get on a landline,
where 911 picks up before the first ring. They send out the fire department.

The fire department YELLS at me for dumping gas all over the road. I’m SORRY,
I didn’t do this INTENTIONALLY. They also yell at me for not calling them
earlier. EXCUSE ME I would have but 911 cellular put me on HOLD for half an
hour. Next the CHP shows up, and I’m figuring, GREAT, now I’m going to get
a ticket for unlawful dumping of gasoline or something, but the CHP tells
me this wasn’t really an accident (gee, thanks) so they won’t file a report.
They also give me the helpful advice not to pull embedded objects out of the
bottom of my car (gee, thanks).

The fire department asks me if I’ve called a tow. Well, uh, not yet. They
look at me like I’m a moron. I call the nice 800 roadside assistance number.
While I’m on the phone the fire department plugs up the hole in the tank,
which is rather pointless at this point, because there is no gas left in the
tank. They also tell me when the tow guy gets here to have them bring some
absorbent to mop up the gas. I say, uh, can’t you do that? They say, no, the
tow the guy will do that.

Oh. OK.

The fire company and the CHP leave having done little but make me feel like
an idiot and a criminal. The 800 roadside assistance number calls me back
and they’re very nice. I tell them about the absorbent. They say the fire
department didn’t do that? I say they said the tow people would do that. They
say that’s wierd. They say they’ll send a tow.

An hour later the tow guy shows up. Its rained on and off, but I’m too scared
to go sit in my car so now I’m wet. Its hot and muggy and my stinky cheese
is getting stinkier all the time.

Tow guy has absorbent. He looks at my gas puddle, which has sunk into the
dirt. “I can’t use absorbent on that,” he says. “Its too late.” “Yeah,” I
replied. “I thought the fire guys should have thought of that.” “The fire
deparment was here?” the tow guy said. “Why didn’t they just mop up the gas?”

Damned if I know.

So me and my lunch get a tow to my dealer. I had to apologize for the stinky
cheese. Repeatedly.

“What happened this time?” the service guy asked, who remembers me from
the rock in the brake caliper incident.

“Ran over a drill bit,” I replied. The service guy looked unmoved. I pulled
out the drill bit from my bag. The service guy’s eyes got really big. “Punctured
the gas tank.”

“Ah,” said the service guy. “You’ll be wanting to call your insurance.”

Here’s the funny thing, about car insurance. There is comprehensive insurance
and there is collision insurance. I had always assumed that collisions were
accidents involving running into other cars and walls and trees and things.
Actual *collisions.* And I had assumed that if I was dumb enough to run into
a tree that I could darn well pay for my own bodywork. For everything else
including bizarre freak accidents involving giant drill bits in the road leaping
up and lodging into the car, I have comprehensive. I had assumed. And so under
this theory I had a fairly high deductible for collision and a low deductible
for comprehensive.

But that’s not how it works, as the insurance gal explained to me later
on. The actual breakdown is that if the object is in motion when it hits your
car, its comprehensive. If the object is stationary, its a collision.

So because the giant drill bit was sitting in the road when I ran over it,
it counts as a collision. If the giant drill bit had fallen from the sky,
that would be different. If the giant drill bit had fallen off a moving vehicle,
it would be different. But no. (of course, in either of those cases the drill
bit might very well have come through the windshield and embedded itself in
*me* instead of in the gas tank, but I’m ranting here and don’t want to get
distracted my minor details). Because of the nature of my encounter with the
drill bit, my cost for this freak accident after ten years of total claim-free
insurance payments was miraculously four times what it would have been otherwise.


The gas tank, in addition, is some sort of fancy plastic space-age polymer
that can only be replaced, not patched, and one of the disadvantages of owning
a car from the particular manufacturer of the car which I’m not revealing
to you is that the parts are lovingly assembled by hand by elderly European
craftsman and then shipped by luxury liner to the US, or so it would seem
by the cost of the $(#*)@*# gas tank and the time it took for the damn thing
to actually show up. While the car was in the shop, however, I got to drive
my miata again, which was in and of itself an amusing experience, for having
gotten used to driving the other car and then going back to the miata was
somewhat akin to moving from a large comfy mohair sofa onto the back of an
excessively caffienated mountain goat. But an excessively caffienated mountain
goat that handles really well, I grant you.

But I have my new car back now, the insurance paid for their portion and
didn’t even raise my rates (bless them), and hopefully my service guy will
not be seeing much more of me in the near future. I still drive that corner
almost every day in that car, although I do admit to watching for rogue drill
bits each and every time.

And I’m a lot more careful about bringing stinky cheese home, let me tell