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Ice Accident 15 January 2004

It was inevitable: After years without any problems, I had become complacent about the icy dangers near Blackwood Lake - fortunately only my car (a 2000 Saturn LS2) suffered the damage.


The left turn from Church Street onto Blackwood-Barnsboro Road, next to Blackwood Lake, goes uphill. I had never taken that route until I got my house in 2001; now I take it all the time. It was a concern back then on how dangerous it might be in winter, if it were icy. I had thought that during icy conditions I would simply avoid it and take other routes.

But after two other winters where I didn't have any problems, I had taken for granted that it wasn't as dangerous as I had thought before. So on the morning of Thursday, 15 January 2004, although I did slow down, it wasn't enough.

It was a dark and icy morning...

The weather forecasts had called for 1-2 inches of snow that night, ending in the morning. I had decided to get up early to brush away the snow on the driveway and to allow for slower traffic to get to work. The snow on the driveway itself was light and powdery, and therefore easy to brush away. I left the house around 0615.

The roads were partially plowed but still covered with snow. And on Blackwood-Barnsboro Road I did feel the tires slip a bit, so I slowed down. Approaching the downhill turn to Church Street I slowed down even further. Not enough - the car started to slide and wouldn't stop. There were 2 cars at the foot of the hill, so when my car started to slide towards the edge of the road to a gully I was actually relieved, thinking at least I wouldn't hit anybody else.

There was a gutter grate in the gully, so I hoped it would stop me. It did. Hard. Luckily the air bags didn't deploy; I was probably going 20-25 m.p.h. I switched to reverse, and was amazed I could actually back out of the gully and get back onto the road. However there were lots of clunking noises, and the steering was very sloppy. It sounded like I was driving on rims instead of tires. Once I got onto Church Street and was heading towards Black Horse Pike I pulled over to a side street to check things out.

The front right tire was flat. Not only that, but the wheel was notched and looked damaged beyond repair. So I replaced the tire with the emergency tire, and tried to drive on that - still on the side streets, which had little or no traffic. The car still made clunking noises as I was driving, and after a minute it still sounded like I was driving on rims. I pulled over to take another look.

The emergency tire was flat. I carry an air pump, so I tried pumping air into the tire. The tire remained on the rim, and I was able to pump air and reinflate the tire. I tried to look for the recommended pressure on the tire but couldn't, so I guessed 50 p.s.i. (Emergency tires are usually inflated to a higher pressure than regular tires, but I couldn't remember to what pressure.) Driving around a little, steering still felt mushy and the clunking noises still remained, but at least I wasn't driving on rims.

I gave up on the idea of driving in to work and just went back home. I did drive up the hill without any problems. The salt and additional traffic had done wonders to melt the snow in the 45-60 minutes since I had left home.

At home again, collecting my wits

I parked in the garage, thinking I'd like to inspect the damage - but first I just got inside to calm down and think. I sent an Email to work, to John Scarrow and Steve Eng, informing them of the accident and that I would be out for at least the morning. I also left a message with Rich, thinking I might need a ride from him at some point.

When I did take a look, the axle, suspension, steering and CV joint looked bent, and the whole wheel looked pushed back. How the heck was I able to drive home at all, I thought. The emergency tire just cleared the wheel well, an ordinary tire wouldn't have had any clearance to turn.

I was able to drive home - but was the emergency wheel actually turning, or just sliding along on the icy roads? Could I drive to the Saturn dealership, or should I just get a tow? I do have AAA membership so I wasn't worried about getting a tow, but I figured they might be busy that morning and would take a while to get an actual tow. Plus, the tow truck would take me to their own shop, not the Saturn dealer (not without any additional fees, anyway). And if the tire were merely sliding along the icy roads, what would happen if I waited for the ice on the roads to melt?

Conditional decision: Try to drive to Saturn dealership

I decided I needed information: was the emergency tire rotating? So I decided to try to drive to the Saturn dealership. Assuming the tire was rotating, I would take the easiest route to the dealership, but if I had any problems I'd just drive back home and call AAA for a tow.

I did look up the pressure for the emergency tire: 60 p.s.i. I pumped the tire up to 60 p.s.i. I also cleared out some junk from the trunk - and got Boris out of the car too.

Pulling out of the garage, I studied the tire track in the snow. It was a clean impression of the emergency tire's tread - so the wheel was indeed rotating, not just sliding along the ground. I drove straight along Woodbury-Turnersville Road (a.k.a. County House Road) all the way to Black Horse Pike, then down Black Horse Pike to the dealership. All along the way there were clunking noises, and steering was sometimes mushy, but overall it wasn't so bad driving there.

At Saturn of Turnersville

It was about 0945 when I got to Saturn of Turnersville. Fortunately the service department was already up and running. I told Pat Definizio, a service consultant on duty, what had happened. They were able to take a look at it immediately.

The damage was worse than I had thought. The subframe was also damaged, in addition to the damage I had seen. Parts cost alone was estimated at $2500; including labor, between $4000 and $4500. Pat recommended I call my insurance company, to check with them about how much my insurance premium would increase, and also if they would cover the cost of a rental car.

I did call, and found out that my premium would increase $920 a year for the next 3 years, and that a rental car would be covered, up to $30/day up to 90 days. The Allstate person seemed familiar with Saturn of Turnersville, apparently having an accident herself, and recommended the Enterprise rental agency. Pat called the local Enterprise rental agency, and soon afterwards I got a ride there.

At the Enterprise rental agency

I got in touch with Allstate again while at the Enterprise rental agency, and gave them details of the accident. I got a 2004 Chevrolet Impala, white metallic, 3.4L engine, with about 660 total miles - it still had new car smell. I would have to pay $30 for the first day, the insurance company would cover the rest of the time. I also signed up for the damage waiver insurance, at $14.99/day - at that point I was scared lightning might strike twice.

I got home around 1135. Nothing left for me to do - I went into work. Although I would normally have had Friday off, I went into work Friday morning to make up the lost time.

Cancelled the damage waiver

The weather forecasts showed no further precipitation that week, so on MLK Day, Monday, 19 January, I went back to Enterprise to stop the damage waiver and the $15/day it was costing. My intention: if there were any precipitation forecasts later I would return and reinstate the damage waiver.

The following weekend the weather forecasts were calling for more snow and ice, Sunday evening. My intention was to go back to Enterprise Sunday to reinstate the damage waiver. Sunday afternoon I double-checked their hours - they were closed Sundays!

Fortunately I had no accidents nor damages during the snow storms. Instead of getting up early, I purposely got into work late, after the plows, salt and other traffic would have pulverized any ice on the roads. I made up any missing time on Friday, 30 January, when I would have normally had that Friday off.

My car's ready!

On Friday, 30 January, I called the Saturn dealership to check if my car were ready, and it was! They had first repaired the suspension, then took it to a body shop, then back to the dealership for final alignment check. I drove the Impala to Enterprise to return it, then got a ride (in the Impala) to the Saturn dealership. The insurance company had a check there for me to endorse, and I paid the $500 deductible by credit card.

After driving the Impala for over 2 weeks, my car felt smaller. (It is smaller, but I had gotten used to the Impala's bigger size.) Driving up Black Horse Pike, I needed some time to readjust to my car's handling, braking and noise. But at one point, when I thought about accelerating, my car responded to my thoughts - ahhh, feels like normal!

I couldn't feel any difference in the car before and after, so they must have truly returned the car to its normal condition. Compared to the Impala, though, it felt like driving a sports car!


When I got my car back I tried to open the hood - but pulling the hood release had little effect. Typically it took several tries over a minute or two before the hood would finally be released. Lubing the hood latch didn't help, but adjusting the cable housing finally did.

They had replaced the blown tire with an exact replacement: a Dunlop SP Sport 5000, 205/65HR15, load rating 92H. It had been a while since I had rotated the tires, so I rotated the remaining 3 tires:

The actual sequence was:

Boris had spent most of the time off in my living room. He got addicted to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Although he's back on duty guarding my car, he's looking forward to his next vacation, and says he wants to meet Terri's Cokie. (grin)

Comments on the Chevrolet Impala

The current Impala replaced the Chevrolet Caprice, a whale-looking car. Opinion on the Impala's styling is mixed: some people don't like it, others do. Compared to the Caprice-whale, I've always like the Impala's styling.

The Impala's suspension really absorbs road bumps, transmitting little noise nor vibration to the cabin. Maybe too much, for my tastes anyway, I felt too insulated from and couldn't really feel road conditions.

The 3.4L engine on paper has similar power and torque to the 3.0L engine in my 2000 Saturn LS2. But it doesn't feel as energetic.

The Impala does have some nice features for a driver.

Overall, even though it's meant to be Chevy's flagship sedan, it still looks and feels like a Chevy, if you know what I mean. The Impala is marketed to 55-65 year-old drivers, who maybe would prefer a Buick, who want nice, even stylish transportation but don't see driving as a fun activity in and of itself. My mom would like it, I think. I actually feel older driving it. The Impala is available in sportier versions, with better suspension, tires and engine; perhaps I might like the Impala SS. Still, the Impala impresses me for what it's meant to be, and I have a more favorable and confident impression of Chevrolet and GM than before.

Who's Boris?

I drove to my cousin Janelle's wedding in Wisconsin in the summer of 2002. Terri had given me a Beanie Baby-type bear to keep me company on the drive there, someone to talk to on the long drive. If he were to ever talk back, I'd know it would be time to pull over and rest. We named him Chris, for St. Christopher. I sat him on the top of the passenger seat back, for a view of the road ahead.

During the drive to Wisconsin, he let me know that he preferred to be called Boris, the Big Russian Bear. He did keep me company on that long drive (13 hours the first day), so I humored him, though I call him Boris for short. He still does a good job guarding my car - after all, if you were a car thief and the car you wanted to steal had a big Russian bear snarling at you, you'd move on, wouldn't you?

Boris is also a trend-setter. Terri has a polar bear, Cokie, in her car. Suzanne Chinicci had a tiger, and Heather Doherty had a black cat.