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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .

(November 2015)

This diary begins on a dark evening in late September...

Tuesday: driving my VW Golf along Mill Lane, Bracknell (to weekly choir practice), busy road, weather dry. Arrived at large, poorly lit roundabout, stopped at line, in middle lane of three. Always hard to assess traffic movements here, looking right, so was cautious in moving off. As I released foot-brake, loud bang from rear, head-rest proved its worth. My first shunt.

Switched hazard lights on, turned engine off, got out. Forgot to put on hi-viz vest, or to collar witnesses, or to try to photograph scene. Young driver emerged from white Fiesta behind, said: Sorry, my fault, thought you were moving. Then said to phone in hand: Speak to you later. (Was he already speaking to ďyouĒ at moment of collision? Did he not see my brake-lights? I could & should have asked...) Exchanged details, inspected cars: rather more visible damage to front of Fiesta than to rear of Golf Ė plastic bumper obviously impacted, plus couple of bulbs blown.

Wednesday: in daylight, could see dents above bumper along tailgate, which had also become hard to close. Phoned IAM Surety (my broker), now part of Cornmarket (so letís call them C), to report incident. They said claim & repair would be handled by firm P, in conjunction with another firm K.

Friday: firm K phoned to confirm independent engineer coming Tuesday to inspect Golf. Repair to be done locally at Sunnyside Autos, of Reading (reassuringly, I later found excellent reports of them, on internet). K also offered free hire-car. I said: Not needed yet, thanks, maybe during repair?

Tuesday: engineer (all the way from Bristol!) said bumper & tailgate to be replaced, probably internal panels also, could take a week. My insurers KGM phoned to confirm other side accepted claim Ė but why hadnít I reported accident direct to them? (Because insurance certificate has Cís number on it, not yours.) Anyway, they were closing their file, but could reopen if I needed to claim.

Monday: firm K (I never did hear from P) phoned to arrange repair Ė booked for Tuesday week at Sunnyside. And will deliver the hire-car. Actually, on thinking about it, I can manage without that, thank you, as we have my wifeís. But if you donít take it, sorry, canít arrange repair, itís part of package, you will have to go back to your insurer. Oh... OK, will take it, though canít promise to use it. But if you donít use it, sorry again, we will have to charge you for the hire. What? Then how low a mileage will you accept on it, without charging? (No clear answer.)

Phoned C to ask why they had put me in position of first having to take hire-car, and then having to use it. They didnít explain satisfactorily, but did apologize for being unclear initially.

Tuesday week: took Golf to Sunnyside for repair, Mrs S drove me back home. Trailer arrived with hire-car on back: another Fiesta, what an affront. Driver said he had come all the way from Hayling Island! Produced paperwork for signing, asked me also to fill in Statement of Truth (er, what other sort of Statement would they require, if not of Truth?), being detailed account of accident. Just as well I started keeping this diary...

Meanwhile driver unloaded car in rain, then tried to wipe every inch dry while noting down each scratch on new hire-sheet (why couldnít we simply agree on any scratches that hadnít been noted for previous hire?). Explained to me controls and T&C which included £500 excess, departed.

Later (in the dry) I checked hire-car over, discovered 8 lb pressure difference between rear tyres, 4 lb between front tyres, one tyre different brand from others, oil level at Min, coolant level well below Min, unpleasant smell inside car (lingered in nostrils all day after just 5 minutes sitting inside). Decided not to put any mileage on it at all, swapped it with Mrs Sís Micra on driveway.

Wednesday: emailed firm K with list of defects, saying I couldnít really have faith now in general safety & maintenance of any car they might give me, though fortunately didnít need one anyway. Most of all, wouldnít want their next customer to receive this car in same state, and drive it unawares.

Friday: how appropriate, hire-car half-covered in avian deposit overnight Ė much thicker than from heron on previous occasion (see June column), perhaps red kite this time? At least Micra escaped! Wiped mess off as best I could.

Firm K phoned to apologize for defects, smell had been noticed during valeting but seemed to have gone, anyway would I accept goodwill £50? Certainly!

Saturday: man at Sunnyside phoned to say Golf would be ready Monday, but there was a problem Ė full-size spare wheel (which I installed in boot, replacing space-saver wheel, see July 2013 column) wasnít clamped, hence might cause injury in serious accident, so on safety grounds he couldnít release car. I confessed I hadnít found way of clamping thicker wheel in place. He offered to construct suitable fixing, I accepted with grateful thanks.

(Of course my tools, shopping, luggage etc in boot are always unclamped and a hazard! Also, noticed Fiesta hire-car has no spare at all, just sealant kit & tiny electric pump, ludicrous, canít believe anyone has succeeded in safely reinflating from puncture this way, quite apart from the fact it puts tyre beyond repair.)

Monday: waved good riddance to hire-car, what a waste of other peopleís money & everyoneís time. Collected Golf: four weeks after shunt, good as new if not better, sparkling clean inside & out, tailgate even easier to close than before, spare wheel now secured, lifetime guarantee on the new paintwork, canít praise Sunnyside Autos highly enough. Later, received copy of invoice: job cost more than £3K, money well spent, I say (though would much prefer that it hadnít been necessary).

Have suggested to Bracknell Forest Borough Council that they improve lighting at Mill Lane roundabout. Meanwhile, brother-in-law offered advice: take defensive measures Ė get tow-bar fitted!

Peter Soul

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