This is way off-topic, but I feel the need to vent a little bit and maybe save somebody from some frustration and, not to be too dramatic, loss of life.
I have been working on an adventure weekend myself. I live in San Jose, California. My brother-in-law lives in Seattle, Washington. They are approximately 900 miles apart. My brother-in-law recently offered to give our family his old car, a 1997 Toyota Camry, because it is an automatic, and much easier for my two teenage daughters to learn to drive in than my manual-transmission Saturn or my wife's mini-van. We took him up on it, and I went to collect it this weekend. My plan was near-perfect. I would fly up to get the car on Saturday, and drive 11 hours on Sunday, in the first leg, to Chico, California. That would leave me just 4 - 5 hours of driving on the last leg, and...very important, I would be able to make a pilgrimage to the Sierra Nevada brewpub in Chico on the way (I trust that some of you out there know the sacred ground that I am talking about).
Well, after 11 hours of driving, my car broke down on the off ramp in Chico! When I hit the brakes to stop there, the car felt like to took a couple of bounce off of concrete, and made some horrible grinding sounds (most of the sounds arrived through bone conduction -- it felt brutal). I turned the corner and drove another thirty feet, grinding the whole way, until I could pull over on a safe spot. I jumped out, expecting to see a flat tire and a ground-up tire rim. I was surprised to see that the tires looked pretty normal. I looked underneath, and there was nothing dragging or smoking...what the hell was going on? This wasn't like anything I had seen before.
At this point, I called AAA -- and I would like to make a plug for joining AAA if you drive much at all. Since I was in my 20s, and they towed me 50 miles out of the desert in Nevada, I have been sold on them. On three very important occasions for me, they have turned a very bad situation into a mere story and a lesson learned. And, the people who come to collect you are always great.
But anyway, while I was waiting (only 15 minutes, but they called me back three times), I solved the mystery of what failed on the car. I am not a car mechanic by any means, but as an engineer, I was analytic enough to notice that the front brakes looked different from each other. By comparing them, I could tell that the front right disk brake calipers had fallen off and jammed into the wheel. My brother-in-law had them repaired just a week before. Discussing this with the AAA tow-truck-driver, we agreed that the mechanic who did that job must not have properly adjusted/attached the calipers -- there is no way that they could have done the job right, having worked on these brakes one week before.
The lesson to be learned is this -- the mechanics at brake and tire shops are not as qualified as those at full-service shops. They get paid less and they have less training. I have a mechanic that I trust, and who has incredible diagnostic skills, but I admit that I do the same as my brother-in-law here. I just had my brakes repaired at the tire shop across the street from where I work. My mechanic costs more, and (even more important) he takes longer, and I thought that I was saving some time.
After I got to the wonderful Sierra Nevada brewpub (well worth the pilgrimage for you craft beer lovers!), I had some great Celebration Ale, and I remembered all of the tight situations that I experienced in that nearly-700-mile drive. There were several situations where I was flying through some hairpin turns in the mountains, with semi-trailers in the right lane and boxed in front and back, where if my brake calipers had flown off, making crazy noises, and well, giving me less braking ability...I went a little pale thinking about it. It could have easily turned out badly.
I am a total atheist, but I must admit that the whole experience made me consider Divine Provenance, and as usual for me, a closer inspection reveals that, well, the odds were in favor of what happened. For most of the journey, I had only tapped on the brakes. The damn things fell apart when I finally leaned on them. But the message I want to leave you with is, put the odds in your favor and spend money to go to a car mechanic that you can trust. I still have to talk to my mechanic, to ask him what qualifications are important. I will leave an addendum to this when I do that, but I wanted to leave this message while I am (stuck in Chico and) focused on this scary incident.