Home life · Notes from West London

Running out of petrol

Have you ever run out of petrol? (Or, as our American friends would put it, have you ever run out of gas?) I haven’t, and have only come close to it three times, including once earlier this month, when we had a replacement car for a few days. Our car was having some work done and it took longer than planned: a problem with the lights on the rear passenger side meant that the panel the lights were connected to kept shorting and the plastic cover that’s supposed to keep everything dry had to be replaced. I won’t trouble you even further with the details but it required multiple trips to the garage (which is in a decidedly inaccessible part of West London if you’re relying on public transport), and the loan of a car while ours was out of action.

The loan car was different from anything my wife and I have ever driven. It was a Four Wheel Drive, and when presented with it I asked if we could have something smaller (“something normal” is the phrase that went through my mind). Nope, this was all they had available. I have strong views about Four Wheel Drives in cities. Most of them shouldn’t be here. Most of them have never been taken off-road. Has there really been a time when people would have their 4WDs sprayed with mud on a Sunday night to make it look like they’d been away at the weekend? Or is that just an urban myth? I once heard someone say, in response to a mild rebuke about driving a 4WD on the streets of West London, “Yes but it used to be all fields round here”. It made me smile but it doesn’t justify having such a vehicle in this neck of the woods.

I was faced with the alternative of having no car, of being unable to collect my son from school on time on a cold January night, and of my wife having to take public transport to the school where she works, so accepted the loan of a 4WD. I wondered if becoming a Four Wheel Driver, if only for a day or two, would affect my personality. Would I start sneering at poor people and saying things like, “There’s plenty of jobs if people want to work – just look at the Evening Standard Jobs Page”. It didn’t, I’m sure of that, and it didn’t change my personality when it comes to having enough fuel in the car either.

The space-age dashboard told me that we had 61 miles’ worth of petrol left in the tank and the woman from the Service Department assured me that would be plenty. It might have been enough for the journeys that we had planned in the days ahead but after the first trip it was down below 50. This is as close as my car has been to empty in over eight years and I put another tenner’s worth of petrol in just to be safe. This qualifies it as the most recent time that I have almost run out of petrol. The occasions when I came much closer to doing so are covered in this post, “More about running out of petrol”.

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