Eight things to remember when your gas tank is drilled (or with other unfortunate car events)

Public service announcement: If you see someone in this position,
especially in a public parking lot, they are up to no good. Perhaps a quick
call to the police? Photo credit.

I was at the gym for the first time in a month–actually enjoying myself for once–when an overhead page caught my attention. “Can the owner of a gold Toyota Corolla please come to the front desk?” Instantly, I started reviewing possible scenarios as I grabbed my towel, water bottle, and study material and dragged my sweaty body to the front. Did someone hit my car? Break into it? Make off with it?? My imagination was nothing compared to the truth. Someone drilled a hole in my gas tank to steal fuel! (Read my uber-snarky “open letter” to the perpetrators here.)

The long and short? The fire department came to assess and patch the tank, I talked to the police, AAA towed my wheels to the dealer, the mechanics replaced the tank, and then after an extended delay (ahem), the insurance paid the sizeable claim. Two weeks later, I’m no longer a (cranky) pedestrian. Along the way, I learned a few things to consider when dealing with car emergencies…

1. Breathe. If it’s a non-injury accident, most likely no one is going to die because something happened to your car. Take a breath, have a cry if you like, but relax and realize in the grand scheme of things, car trouble is inconvenient but not the end of the world. (Believe me, I’m writing this to myself… My poor sister called right after I discovered my car swimming in a giant puddle of fuel and I may or may not have wailed in her ear.)

2. Do not give your house key to the tow truck guy. After we picked up my car from the dealer a couple days ago, Mr. T said, in a really gentle voice, “I know you went through a traumatic* event with your car but could you please never leave your full set of keys with strangers again?” He pointed out how easy it would be for someone to make a copy and then come and ransack our house!

3. Phone a friend. When AAA asked where I wanted the car towed–home, an auto-body place, the dealer–I had no idea what would be best. Talking to T, in addition to calming me down, helped me to think through my options without having to make decisions on the fly. A nerdy aside: Negative emotions like anger (or fear) are associated with increases in “arousal” (think stress). This arousal promotes action such as a fight or flight response and this response tendency causes you to limit your thinking and narrow your frame of vision to focus on what’s most immediate and important e.g. stay and fight the bear or run away.  When you’re focused on the most obvious problems (like I was), it’s easy to forget other important things (like filing a police report, asking your mother-in-law for a ride to the airport, etc.). Consulting with a trusted person can help you to see the bigger picture.

4. Do not give your house key to the dealer. Please see above.

5. Clear out the valuables. I was so busy talking to the police, getting the tow truck drive settled, and keeping T updated that I completely spaced out on removing the valuables from my car. Luckily, when I picked up my ride a couple weeks later the GPS, phone charger, CDs and cash were still where I left them, but I realize the possibility for theft was high.

6. Do not give your house key to the mechanic. Please see above.

7. Write everything down. When I talked to AAA, I took down the name of the woman helping me as well as the case number which I referred back to when I got disconnected and had to redial. The notes I took from my conversation with the firefighters helped me to better tell my story to the police, and the information from the police helped me to speak better with T who then spoke with the insurance company. Having the information written down really helped all around!

8. Do not leave your house key unattended. Ever. Ever. Amen.


* It was definitely stressful since T was out of town and I was two days out from the biggest test of my life!

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