Where would humanity be without zip ties?

So let me tell you another story. (It's a long one, so if you're uninterested in reading, skip to the end for our YouTube version). This is a story full of gripping near death (not really) experiences, hope found and then lost, a sudden solution and a grand, heroic ending. Sounds a bit like The Princess Bride or something right? Well, it’s actually the harrowing adventure of our beloved Vauxhall Vivaro. So about a week into our Eurotour, we were hastily driving away from the frigid snowy landscapes of central France, towards the southern border with plans to meet some German friends of ours in San Sebastian, Spain. On the way, Phil decided we could stop by the small coastal town of Biarritz, where a few cool coastline landmarks and beaches could be found.

Cold cold cold France
As I was the one driving as we entered the town, it was with great shock that, as we came around yet another roundabout and I made to shift into 2nd gear, I felt the stick shift slacken. The gears were no longer engaging! What was going on? What did I do? How do I continue driving without gears?! And we're sortof going uphill so we're losing speed fast!!! All this was going through my mind as we slowly came around the central median and the realization that I needed to get us somewhere safe to stop, and do so IMMEDIATELY before we came to a complete stop in the middle of a busy roundabout, and potentially cause an accident (this was the near death part.. see not really near death). This all led me to make the lightening quick decision to pull into a parking lot that just so happened to be right off this particular roundabout, and right into a parking spot that was conveniently free. Phew. But now what?! We sat staring at the lifeless stick shift with absolutely no clue about what to do or where to even start. Finally, as we couldn't drive the car to a garage, we looked up local garages that we could walk to... and then realized it was Saturday. (I mean, give us a break, we don't ever know what day it is anymore). The point being, that Saturdays tended to mean things were halfway closed (not as closed as Sunday, but not as open as Monday, you know what I mean). So the only garage ended up being a Speedy's, a good 40 min walk away. So we grabbed our things, took a quick video of the sad stick shift, and trekked on to the garage.

Bakery where we had broken down...


I'm not very good with going to mechanics. Despite having taken a mechanics class in high school and taken apart tiny lawnmower engines, etc, going to a garage still intimidates me. Now add in the fact that the 2 guys working behind the desk spoke minimal to almost no English, and I had poor broken French that I have never exercised in the capacity of mechanical/car related words.. and as you can imagine, the conversation was short. In the end, we showed them the video we'd taken.. and the guys merely responded by saying, "No." I got the sense they meant they couldn't fix it... They did try to help us, by suggesting through internet searches, that we go to the local Opel Dealership, the French renaming of the same Vauxhall branded van. And even showed us the opening hours, which unfortunately meant we'd have to wait until Monday.

We took the long walk back to the car and sat brainstorming. We were in a dilemma. We were broken down right in front of a bakery and a 5 minute walk away from the beach. Ideally situated, needless to say. However, the Opel dealership was maybe a 10km drive inland, to the middle of nowhere. So, should we call the tow truck today (Saturday) since they work a half day, and then wait it out until Monday in the middle of nowhere? Or should we just hang about in downtown Biarritz and wait till Monday morning to call the tow?

In the end, we decided to call the tow truck. We figured it would mean we could get the vehicle worked on ASAP on Monday morning. We sought help from the friendly bakery staff, who spoke some English, and were able to call a local towtruck to come get us amidst selling delicious smelling breads, and puff pastries. The quoted price was 165 Euros for the tow. Well, what could we do? We weren't about to ask our friendly bakery staff to haggle for us... so we agreed.

20 minutes later, the fellow who arrived came with a huge towing vehicle. We weren't exactly sure why it was necessary for our somewhat smallish van, but ok, he's the boss. He asked us what the problem was and we showed him our sad stick shift. To our surprise, his face lit up with a huge smile and he laughed a bit saying, "C'est une petite problem!" It's a small problem?! How!? It seemed pretty big to me, our gearbox wouldn't engage!! He popped the hood and then went on to stick his entire arm deep inside the mechanics and then say, "Regard" (Look), and then he proceeded to show us a round piece which, it turned out, was attached to the stick shift, and then pointed to a small ball joint. He pushed the round piece onto the ball joint so it clicked into place, and then he dusted off his hands as if to say, that's it! He gestured for us to try it and it worked like a charm, the gears were engaging again! Hooray!! Hope blossomed. He was also good enough to make sure we knew how to replace the piece if it would pop off again. Then he asked if we were paying by cash or check and then went to grab a receipt pad.

Our friendly neighborhood tow truck man

We contemplated how much he would charge, seeing as he didn't even need to tow us anywhere. It had to be less than the quoted value at least, we surmised.... but we had no such luck. The receipt read 165 Euros, in big black letters. We handed over the cash, half thankful that we wouldn't have to spend any more on costly repairs, and half annoyed to think such an incredibly important piece could be so incredibly fragile and easy to fix. Anyway, he went on his way and we got ready to resume our journey to Spain.


The bill... :(


Fast forward 1 hour. we were driving around downtown San Sebastian looking for parking in, what we would later come to know, the packed celebrations of Carnival. Oops. Well, needless to say, it was stop and go traffic for most of it... and then the worst happened. Phil, who always takes the wheel when we're in cities (I get too stressed out), looked at me and said.. it's done it again. Aw crap. Our hopeful bubble that it was just as simple fix, burst. On the upside, we were now stuck in 1st gear, which made the stop/start traffic ok to deal with as long as Phil didn't release the clutch, but what we really needed was to get out of downtown and get to a place to pull over. On the downside, once we did get out of downtown, we were stuck going at a snails pace while everyone else zoomed around us. We finally had to stop at a slightly enlarged shoulder, put our hazards on and I jumped out quickly to pop the pieces back together again. We made it to a parking spot up in a residential neighborhood where we would park it for the next day and a half. We proceeded to do a little YouTubing about the problem and discovered that it was the gear linkage that was the issue, and, it turns out, a very common problem at that. Online forums abounded with other drivers dealing with the same thing, along with stories of driving long distances stuck in a single gear, and others posting solutions that ranged from using zip ties, to entire gear box/linkage replacements. The best option was actually to purchase a small metal piece, manufactured by a third party in the UK, which unfortunately could only be purchased online and shipped. But where could we ship it? We decided that in the meantime, purchasing zip ties seemed like a good option.

As we walked towards downtown to meet our friends, we passed by the ever so typical "asian bazaar" type stores that you can find just about everywhere in the world. Chock full of cheap, Chinese manufactured versions of everything under the sun for a few euros or less, and open when all other businesses are closed. To our benefit, we went in one of these bazaars and found zip ties! Little, sortof cheap and thin looking ones, but zip ties nonetheless. Thank goodness to the person who invented zip ties. Where would humanity be without them? We were saved!

Later the next day, we experimented. Nowhere online could we find pictures of how other people had ziptied the thing, so we made it up as we went along. A big old X over the round piece seemed to do the trick, so we left it at that and prayed for the best. We also felt that it was probably prudent to actually get this small metal piece from the UK, and luckily I remembered that we'd be visiting a friend, Fran (who I met 5 years ago in Australia of all places) in Barcelona, all the way on the other side of Spain. Perfect. The week or week and a half required to ship the thing would be ample time for us to make our way counterclockwise around the country. Fran was more than happy to have it shipped to his place, and it was with some relief that a more secure solution was on our horizon.

We ended up driving all the way from San Sebastian to Madrid (5 hours!) with that little zip tied X holding on. It wasn't until we had driven from Madrid to Toledo that we checked on it again. While the zip ties hadn't broken at all, they had slipped off enough to be worrisome, so we decided it warrented a more secure re-design. What's more secure than 2 zipties in an X? FOUR zip ties in an X! even I tried to weave them together in a fashion so they would be a bit more secure. But it wasn't until we got to Lisbon that I revamped it one last time and used a whole SIX zip ties to hold it in place and prevent them from slipping in either direction. It was definitely not moving anywhere now.

How can you go wrong by adding more zip ties?

Happily this was legitimately secure enough to last us the rest of the way out of Portugal and around the southeastern coast, and all the way up to Barcelona. We met up with Fran, got to spend some time climbing at Chris Sharma's gym where he works, and then set to work on fixing our van. Happily upon inspection, the zip ties had hardly budged. So at least we had an emergency solution if the metal piece was a bust! However, it was a perfect fit. In fact, I was worried initially because it seemed to be a little too tight to get over the two pieces, but in the end it was just a really snug and secure fit.

The piece fit perfectly!!

And so, our story ends, with a happy van, happy campers and a solid belief system in zip ties. The End.

The more engaging visual version can be found in two parts, the first in the post on France (when it initially broke down), and secondly, below, when we fix it!



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