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When the wheels come off

  • 22 January 2024
Our car was cruising at a gentle 40kmph when, with a sickening crunch of metal, the front collapsed into the road. With a brief shriek of steel on bitumen, the car jolted to a stop. The left wheel had broken free and wobbled drunkenly down the street before collapsing into a gutter.

Hazards on, I got out. It was a humid summer evening, sun still high. We’d been on our way to the park for a walk after dinner. There’d been a mysterious flub-flub-flub noise  coming from our car for the last week, which had steadily increased in volume. We’d had it checked out by a mechanic a week earlier who’d missed the essential, it seems.

I retrieved the wheel from the gutter. The lug holes were warped and misshapen and so there was no question of reattaching it.

Now our Mazda 7 sat plonked in the middle of the street right by a zebra crossing, framed by the everyday tableau of a Woolies car park, a kebab shop, a Salvos. With its chin in the road, our car had never looked more at rest.  

I called RACV and explained the situation: a wheel had fallen off.

'Never heard of that happening before,' they said, helpfully. 'Move the car off the road in the meantime.'

'Can’t. Car doesn’t have enough wheels.'

'Put the wheel back on?'

'Good idea. Tried that.'

Two 45-minute conversations with RACV and Allianz unfolded into a Kafkaesque loop of unhelpfulness. Both decided they couldn’t do much for us, like, say, organising to tow our great sleeping vehicle out of the road.

RACV couldn’t offer roadside assistance because this was not technically a ‘breakdown’, because of ‘vehicle damage’ and it sounded more like an ‘accident’. They put me through to accident assist. They said they couldn’t assist because there was ‘no accident’ and this sounded more like a ‘breakdown’ and could they put me on hold while they transferred me to roadside assist? Round and round we went. If only we could have attached this conversation to the car, it would have spun us home nicely.  


'In a world where distrust and inter-tribal animosity are rampant, where a growing culture of malignant selfishness threatens the fabric of communities, this stood as a beautiful counter-narrative. A reminder that we live in a country where people help each other for no reason.'  

Meanwhile, life continued around our stationary vehicle. Traffic was carefully meandering by. A young muscular Indian guy pulled