53,900 miles, 12th March 2006
"Well it had to happen one day". Well, no, actually it didn't. This accident was totally avoidable but a slight lapse of concentration resulted in my car skidding on a snow covered road at about 5-10mph into a partially submerged boulder. End result, damage to the lower nearside front bumper and the cooling system.
Of course I am a little disappointed but more with myself than with the car. This accident was my fault and the car has again impressed me post-accident with its ability to "get me home".
The car came to an abrupt stop when it hit the boulder, the boulder did not move one millimeter, the car's engine continued running. The impact was slow enough that none of the airbags deployed. Straight away, three beeps (not the more pleasant chimes) sounded from behind the dash and the red cooling system warning light began flashing. Obviously the car didn't want you to be in any doubt that it had developed a problem which could not be ignored.
I reversed the car back a little and got out to survey the damage. It didn't look too bad. There were a few bits of broken plastic lying in the snow but nothing was hanging off the car and the nearside wheel was unobstructed. Also there was no sign of coolant loss. For a moment I thought that I might have gotten away with requiring just a new bumper but deep down I knew the impact must have caused more than just cosmetic damage.
It was 10.30am on a Sunday morning and I was about 1.5 hours away from home in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales. It was snowing and windy and about -3C outside. There was nothing more I could do at the roadside so I decided to try to drive the car home. The plan was to drive the car gently and keep a close eye on the coolant temperature guage. The car drove fine and the temperature guage remained fixed at 90C, however the temperature within the car plummeted. Adjusting the heating controls had no effect and I realised that only cold air was blowing through the vents. This confirmed my fear that the car had suffered damage to it cooling system.
Whether it was the lack of heat from the heater or the extreme weather conditions but the snow falling on the windscreen began to turn to ice. The windscreen wipers then began jumping over the blobs of ice leaving smear marks across the screen which rendered the Auto Wipers useless as they just wanted to wipe continually. This and my freezing hands made me decide to make an emergency pit stop at my dad's house. Thirty minutes later I arrived. I tried stopping and restarting the car and then was thankful that I had not tried this before as the car was reluctant to re-start. I wasn't sure why but I left the car whilst I thawed out a little.
After about 1.5 hours I returned to the car and surveyed the damage again. The coolant expansion bottle was empty and so I topped it up with water. I needed to add 2 litres to get the level up to the MAX mark. It definitely had a leak. A cleared windscreen and a few extra layers of clothing, the rest of the journey home was uneventful.
Back at my house I stopped the engine whilst I brushed off the accumulated snow and ice from the front of the car before putting it in the garage to defrost. Again the engine was reluctant to re-start.
After a night in the garage, the car had defrosted and I could take a closer look at the damage.
Fortunately, the cosmetic damage appeared to have been limited to just the bumper. The grille looked to have been sprung apart from the bumper in a couple of places but apart from that it appeared undamaged.
The extent of the other damage is not known at the moment. The radiator had been pushed back by about an inch on the right and there is an impact mark on its front. Whilst it did not appear to be punctured here, coolant could be seen to trickle from the bottom of the radiator when re-filling. However when the car was later driven onto the back of a lorry to be taken to the repairers, any remaining coolant was seen to quickly pour out suggesting either a hole somewhere else in the radiator or a cracked or detached hose.
As for the reluctance of the engine to restart yesterday when the engine was warm. I'm not 100% sure but I wonder if it was caused by the snow and ice which had entering the engine compartment through the newly created holes in the bumper, covering and short-circuiting the starter motor.
Addition: 54,036 miles, 22nd March 2006
My car has now been repaired and the repairers appear to have done a good job. The car looks just as good as it did pre-accident, in fact a little cleaner! The main items which appear to have been replaced are the front bumper and radiator. The front grille, VW badge and starter motor do not appear to have needed replacing. I estimate that the total cost of the repairs paid by my insurance company would have been in the region of £1,000 - £1,500.
Addition: 55,000 miles, 8th April 2006
Since the accident, I noticed that the starter motor made a slightly different noise when used. It didn't seem to have any difficulty in starting the engine but I was worried that it was a sign of problems ahead so I asked my local VW dealer to check it when it was in for it's third service. They said it needed replacing and did so under warranty.
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