What It’s Like To (Safely) Total A Car
Have you ever been cleaning around the house, and almost hit your head on a shelf? Almost poked your eye on plant or something else sticking out? For a few seconds after the fact, you smile and think “boy that was close” and “I almost hit my little finger in the door, I SHOULDN’T BE ALIVE!”. Every day, people get in car accidents. Some lose a bumper or some paint, some lose much more. I was fortunate enough to experience the former, although only by inches.
I’ve always been a fan of small cars. Personally, I compare the vehicles I see and drive to the ships from Star Wars (doesn’t everyone?). A regular car is an X-Wing, capable of everything but excelling at nothing. A large Family sedan is a Y-Wing, big, slow, clumsy, but built to withstand some punishment. Shortly after getting my license I realized I was an A-Wing pilot, in that I preferred small, compact cars meant to go fast and not much else. Ironically, it wasn’t until I switched vehicles that I would make the mistake that wrote off a car, well before my trench run (buckle up, because there are no brakes on this Star Wars metaphor train)
It was a rainy day, quite the cliché for getting in a car accident. I was tasked with driving my girlfriend about 30km to work, on a road that would beat Kate Upton in the curvy Olympics. With my faithful A-Wing docked for repairs (Mazda’s old “Iron Oxide” paint finish was shining a little bright) I was forced to drive the family’s Y-Wing, a Chevy Malibu. For someone who was used to driving a small and nimble car, the Malibu had the weight of an elephant’s family reunion, the acceleration of a glacier, and the handling of a house boat. In the right hands the car is just fine; the problem is the car was in my hands.
The rain had become sporadic, stopping and starting throughout the afternoon. I wish I could tell you this all occurred during a thunderstorm at night and only through my incredible driving talents could I save everyone and sell the movie rights to Sony, but this all happened on a damp afternoon (the sun actually came out at times with the occasional rainbow, adding more clichés to my story) and I probably made things worse. As I mentioned, this road had more turns than Risk, and I wasn’t really fond of taking it, especially when my car handles like a shopping cart with a broken wheel.
We set off with nothing wrong. I had driven in the rain before, and I had put my phone safely in the console and was ready to drive distraction free. We drove talking about mundane relationship stuff, planning a vacation, talking about the weekend, which demons to name our children after in tribute, you know, all the normal things us millennials discuss. There’s a corner on this road that has a hat trick of brilliant engineering. This is a corner, at the bottom of a hill that has a dip in the road that causes the wheels to temporarily lose contact with the road. It elicits the same feeling of doubt you may get on a rollercoaster, in that “I THINK I’ll probably survive this?”
Upon getting to this spot, I turned to continue around the corner, but the car decided that that was a terrible idea, and that it would instead point itself directly towards a nearby ravine. I was able to quickly determine that driving headfirst into a 50ft ravine might be bad, so I used my finest Need For Speed Underground 2 moves and promptly oversteered towards a jutting rock face. Once again calling upon my ultra-quick reflexes, I determined that driving headfirst into a rock face could possibly also be bad. In an attempt to steer back towards the road, the Malibu’s F1-like wet grip decided that we should not bother steering at all, and continue into the rock face headfirst. When the vehicle’s front end finally left the pavement and came into contact with some dirt, the car managed to finally turn away from the rock face.
At this point, the back end did not get the memo that we cancelled the “impale ourselves on this cliff” party, and continued on into the rocks. In this process, it would remove the back bumper and the rear passenger wheel, which I wouldn’t discover until driving it through the ditch a little further (because driving a totaled 3 wheeled Malibu is cheaper than driving a Morgan 3 Wheeler) and across the road to safety. I wasn’t really sure what happened, only that I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to take that corner and that my girlfriend or I may be a ghost.
Upon confirming that no one was dead and that I didn’t need a new pair of pants, I got out of the car to assess the damage. Looking at the driver’s side of the car, everything appeared to be fine. Once I walked around to the passenger side, I noticed the damage. Having made through my teens without ever being “the kid that totaled their parent’s car” I was devastated. I had my own car to wreck, not my parents. They would sure ground me or take away my phone, if I wasn’t an adult and that was somehow still an option.
In the moment of crashing, everything really does go slow motion, only to speed up and feel like it was over in seconds after the fact. There was a split second where the car transitioned from being in my control to leaving my control, and it’s a feeling I’ll never forget. The feeling is similar to tossing a bottle to a friend. One minute you have it, the next minute it’s out of your hands, and all you can do is hope everything goes ok and nothing gets too broken. From the moment my girlfriend asked what I was doing (impressing you with my ability to write off a car, obviously) when the car was sideways, to the point where I was parked and calling the police felt like 5 hours and 5 seconds all at the same time. Losing control of a vehicle that’s driving headfirst into a cliff isn’t a very pleasant feeling, especially when you have an innocent bystander sitting in the passenger seat who’s just as afraid as you are. I made peace with the fact that this might be it, or at least the fact that I was about be in quite a great deal of pain. Once it was all said and done, it takes a few seconds for your mind to get thinking straight. I believe the first person I called before the police or my parents was my boss, to inform him that I wouldn’t be able to make it for my shift that night as I no longer had a ride.
Given that no one was physically hurt, the only thing that could be damaged was my pride and my confidence (and of course, THE TOTALED CAR). When the police arrived, the officer knew where to go, as he had been there twice in the last few weeks. Not far from where I hit some rocks, pieces of a Toyota Yaris and broken glass lined the ditch. While the tow truck was loading the car, 2 more cars nearly suffered my fate, and one more was given a warning by the officer for speeding into the corner. This helped my pride heal a little, but my confidence was shaken. I’d had the odd close call here and there, but I generally considered myself attentive and aware when behind the wheel and had been able to avoid getting to accidents during my teens and even in winter.
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to write this article today. Realizing that, I’m also incredibly lucky that my insurance policy was as an “occasional driver” and that the policy had first time accident forgiveness. This means I walked away from writing off a vehicle without a scratch, and my insurance rates were not affected in any way. One of the first things I did when I got home was to try and recreate the accident in Grand Theft Auto. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I wanted to relive the moment and get over any fears I may have developed in those few moments. Admittedly, my palms were sweating as I drove the digital “Cheval Fugitive” through a rocky section of in-game landscape. After recreating the accident and seeing what I did wrong and how I could have avoided it, I was quickly distracted by a rocket launcher and life resumed as usual. Great therapy.
What did I take away from all this? Respect the car. Respect the road. Where my little A-Wing could have navigated that corner just fine, I wasn’t driving that. I was absent minded and was over confident in my abilities, and it nearly cost me greatly. I know to never assume I’m completely proficient in driving, as there’s always more to learn, regardless of what vehicle I drive. I know that it will be a long time before I ever consider owning a large vehicle, for as much as it was my lack of abilities that may have caused the accident, there will always be a part of me that will try and blame the car (yes, I know cars are like computers and only do what you tell them, but it’s easier to say the car did it isn’t it?), but I know that honestly none of what happened was the fault of the car. To be honest, I don’t actually mind what I’ve seen of the 2016 Malibu either.
To anyone else who’s been driving a long time without any incident, take a second and realize how lucky you are. Remember that it can all change in a split second, and to be aware of your surroundings when driving. For those of you who experience this sort of thing seemingly every few months, maybe you need a different ship. Since getting behind the wheel of a new Mazda, there have been no incidences, thankfully. If you see someone young and think “They drive like an old person!” it’s because they want to live to be old. Save the speed and stunts for the track.
As a fun side note, this happened on a Sunday afternoon. The Malibu was due for a full service tune up Monday morning at 9am. It was going to need a little more than oil change now.
Have you ever been in a serious accident? Let us know in the comments!