Mark JohnstonRENTAL CAR DISASTER IN SCOTLAND Mark Johnston September 25 Scotland, Travel 7 Comments Upon our return to Kinlochbervie in northern Scotland, I sat outside my friend Kate’s house admiring a picture-perfect morning… heartbroken that I couldn’t enjoy the day as planned. Britnee and I had arrived the night before with our rental car on the back of an AA tow truck after getting a flat tire 12 miles outside Ullapool on the drive up. Now I was stuck with a useless rental car and an unhappy wife on a rare perfect day in Scotland. It had been my idea to rent the car in Inverness, head back into the Highlands, camp on the Isle of Skye and return to our friend Kate’s place to see more of Scotland’s remote coast. This was a pricey undertaking—£20 per day for car plus extra for fuel—and while we’d budgeted for it, Britnee still wasn’t keen on the idea. Isle of Skye really impressed her though and I was in high spirits as we crossed back to the mainland and turned north on The Wester Ross Coastal Trail. This long, winding, sometimes single-lane road takes drivers through beautiful coastal landscapes and we had all afternoon ahead of us before a planned dinner of fish and chips in Ullapool. After completing the first half of the drive, we came to an intersection that left us with two choices: continue on the longer, more scenic route or take the straighter, shorter road to Ullapool. Britnee, having seen enough, chose shortcut. Mark, on the other hand, chose poorly. For the next two hours I enjoyed fun, winding roads as our speedy Seat Leon hugged the turns and accelerated quickly through six gears on the straightaways. We were making good time and I was happy to have chosen the scenic route until a jagged pothole took a bite at our front left tire. It didn’t sound good but I drove on thinking I’d avoided serious damage until the tire-pressure alarm began to ping. Pulling into a National Trust parking lot, I felt confident I’d have the tire changed in minutes and we’d be into Ullapool shortly as planned. So you might imagine my disappointment when I opened the trunk, (aka, the boot), to find no spare. I looked again, felt around for hidden compartments, looked under the car, then looked inside again. No spare, just a puncture repair kit—bottle of goop, spare valve and electric pump—that did little to fix the one-inch gash in the outer wall of the tire. “Free roadside assistance” never sounded so good and I borrowed the cellphone of a good samaritan to call the AA number provided on our rental contract. After struggling to explain to the dispatcher where on the remote roads of Scotland we were, he promised a tow truck would be there in two hours and left me to fight Scottish midges outside while Britnee, refusing to speak to me, sheltered inside. Finally our tow-truck savior arrived; shaved head, tattooed hands, thick Glaswegian accent and empathetic, he took us to get our fish and chips in Ullapool before the 1.5-hour drive to Kinlochbervie at dusk. As we passed through the stunning landscape in fading light, not able to stop at will to snap photos, I was, as the Scots put it, “gutted.” We’d had no way to contact Kate, so she was surprised to see us arrive in such style and quickly fed us more good food to cheer us up. It seemed silly that AA would tow us all the way to the middle of nowhere, but with the tire shop in Ullapool closed that night, their next step was to tow us to our final destination and figure things out in the morning. So there I was, sitting outside Kate’s house the next day weighing my options: 1. Have AA tow me back to Ullapool to get the tire changed then drive back up to Kinlcohbervie only to return to Inverness the very next day. 2. Ask AA to postpone the repair and have them tow us all the way back to Inverness—saving gas money—and pay for a tire repair at the rental office when we return the car. 3. Get the tire repaired locally as there just happened to be a nearby mechanic. But would he have our tire in stock and at what price? When AA never called me back—after I explained my situation on the phone, including the remote location to which they’d towed me the night before—I was off to Norman Elrick Ltd. Thankfully his shop was literally just around the corner and, after pumping the tire as much as possible, to which I drove slowly in a couple of minutes. As soon as I arrived Norman got to work immediately, replacing the tire for a beautiful £64.71, far cheaper than any other estimates I’d been given. When I asked if he needed my I.D. before I drove off with my new tire to find an ATM in order to pay him he scoffed, “Ach, you’ll be back.” That unforeseen cost of replacing the tire hurt our budget, but the road between Ullapool and Kinlochbervie was one of the most beautiful I’ve driven and worth it. Having the option to choose our own road and move at our own pace was so liberating, (for me, renting a car while on vacation provides a taste of freedom one can’t enjoy when confined to a bus/plane/train schedule), but I think this was our first and last car rental on this trip… according to the wife. 😉 Check out the photos of the incredible landscapes of the Isle of Sky and the Scottish Highlands that made this car rental nightmare worthwhile. 7 Responses Scott September 25 Renting a car/scooter/motorcycle/etc for us has expanded our world by eons. It always seems so daunting at first (and sometimes the prices are eyegougingly high and ultimately not worth it), but if we could find a good deal and a means to put it in our budget I’d rent a car almost everywhere we go. Public trans is great for getting around a single place, but the real gems are where the people aren’t. Mark Johnston September 25 Thanks for backing me up on this one Scott. 😉 Heidi September 25 Plus you got to drive in sixth gear. I love sixth gear, and I don’t understand why American cars don’t have it. Mark Johnston September 27 I actually hated 6th gear as I kept forgetting I had it. Plus it just makes for more shifting which I’m too lazy for. Angelina H. Cortés December 2 64 pounds? That is a lot of money. The more expensive price I’ve ever paid for a repair (not new tire) in my country is around 8 or 9 USD. And that time was too much. 64 pounds seems the price for a new tire (in excellent conditions). Why is everything so expensive outside Mexico?