Oil Changes: Our Road Trip Near-Miss

Australia, Car, Lost Girls RTW Adventure — By on June 21, 2007 at 4:02 am

I should probably be more embarrassed to admit this, but during the six years I held both a valid driver’s licences and a working vehicle (affectionately named White Fire, in case you care), I never actually checked, changed or gave more than a passing thought to the oil. I had some vague awareness that a dipstick was involved and my engine could potentially explode if I ran low on the stuff, but I always counted on the fact that if anything truly devastating was about to occur, a light on my instrument panel would flash and I could hasten to the nearest service station to rectify the problem.

Fast forward from my teens to circa right now, trade my trusty Chrysler La Baron for the van we scored from World Nomads (our travel insurance company) and switch the location from sprawling suburban America to the pleasant but rather unpopulated stretch of rolling woodland known as Barrington Tops National Park (about four hours Northwest of Sydney).

That’s where Holly, Jen and I were the first time a little red oil lamp on our dash started lighting up, flickering at first, then glowing steadily and rather ominously.

“Um, maybe we really should have been checking the oil and water every day like the book said,” Holly reflected, referring to the small bound pamphlet of instructions we’d been given when we picked up the van at Autobarn a few weeks prior. The guys who’d explained the features of the vehicle had take the time to show us how to lift the seat and check the oil and coolant, and we’d taken it all in as if we were watching a cooking demonstration rather than serious instructions for the care and feeding of our only method of transport.

“Of course not,” I said with conviction, certain that something must be wrong with the light rather than with our oil levels. “In my whole life, I’ve never added oil to the car so we’ll just take care of this after we get back from camping.”

We all fell into a rare silence, contemplating the wisdom of my statement, and proceed deeper into the woods. A few minutes passed as we bumped along and splashed through ford after ford which separated us from primary civilization.

In the end, we decided to risk the consequences (can an engine really blow up if there’s not enough lubricant? what incredibly an incredibly poor design feature) and continue with our planned weekend camping trip.

The gripping narrative detailing our outdoor adventures is still to come, but I’ll fast forward to Monday morning when we coaxed our van out of Barrington Tops and back down the hill toward the Pacific Highway.

Finally rolling into a 7-11 with a few gas pumps out front, we figured out how pop up the passenger’s seat and open the hatch that exposed the inner workings of our engine.

We all stared at the twisted metal guts and waited expectantly for one of us to the lead. When it became apparent that neither Holly nor I were exactly leaping to the task, Jen volunteered to check the oil. As I watched her burning her fingers trying to open up the wrong valve, I gingerly pointed out the dipstick and suggested that she give it a tug instead.

Merging what all three of knew about engine maintenance-which you may have gathered at this point is about nil-we managed to clean the dipstick, lower it again and determine….that we had no idea what we were looking at.

In the end, we ended up enlisting the help of a very kindly Indian man who managed the 7-11 and thankfully, he wasn’t too harsh when he informed us that we’d basically run out of the slick stuff that prevented our car from grinding to halt.

Together, we grabbed a nice bottle of GRX from the back of the store and took turns pouring it into our very thirsty engine. Not a drop was left when we were finished.

All topped off and ready to go, we thanked yet another great Australian who helped save us from almost certain catastrophe and got on the road again.

More soon about the actual camping part of the adventure!

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