x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

My Car: Fear of the jinxed Jeep

Austyn Allison attempted to have his car blessed following a series of accidents and fatalities of people who worked to repair it.

Austyn Allison with what will soon be his Jeep Cherokee in Dubai.
Austyn Allison with what will soon be his Jeep Cherokee in Dubai.

Austyn Allison is talking to The National under false pretences. He says his Jeep will only be "My Car" next month. When he bought the 2003 Cherokee off a friend in 2006, he says they were "too lazy" to get around to transferring the name on the vehicle's ownership.

"We had arrived on the same plane to start work on the same newspaper and we are still friends now," said the 32-year-old managing editor of Communicate magazine.

It is also still insured in his friend's name. Allison has had a couple of insurance claims and it has not been a problem. What has been a problem is when it came time to renew the registration, it turned out that before you renew the registration you have to pay off all your traffic fines - not just the car you're registering but all of the cars registered in that name.

"The first year, my friend had a Dh2,000 fine on his new car, last year it was Dh8,000. He doesn't have Salik tags and his girlfriend had been driving through Salik at Dh400 a pop," he explains.

"This year, for a change, he had been in to get his driving licence reissued, and this time I owe him Dh600."

Allison bought the Jeep to explore as much of the country and neighbouring Oman - both on and off road - as possible.

It was on a trip to Oman with friends, three years after getting the Jeep, that Allison had his first serious problem with the vehicle.

"We were going to try and find the Hootah caves in Oman, as last time we had been they had been closed for refurbishment - how do you refurbish a cave?

"I was overtaking someone at 130kph, about 100km from the Al Ain border, listening to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, when there was a clunk, a crunch and a judder and some lights went on and I pulled over to a petrol station - the first one we had seen in ages - and then the engine stopped."

A friendly Omani towed him to the nearest garage, which actually turned out to be a man in a field spraying a van, who declared the Jeep "irreparable".

A crowd soon gathered and, although Allison had breakdown coverage, it was only valid in the UAE. Someone said he had a friend with a flatbed truck that could take him to the border.

"It turns out the truck was the sort you move house with a cage around the back. To get the Jeep onto the back we were able to drive it up to a ridge the same height as the truck and drive it on."

The kind driver then drove Allison and his Jeep to the border and he was able to transfer the vehicle from the back of the flatbed to a more suitable tow truck.

On his return to Dubai, Allison found that engines for a 2003 Jeep Cherokee were hard to come by, and when found were very expensive.

"It had apparently thrown a con rod; I don't know what a con rod means but one friend helpfully said 'Cars don't do that these days'."

It took a few weeks for the garage to find an engine and, in the meantime, Allison borrowed a friend's car. One day, he drove to the garage to find his Jeep cordoned off and police cars parked out front. A mechanic told him that there had been an accident.

"Two days later, the garage called and the man on the phone confirmed that there had unfortunately been a fatality."

Shortly after, another garage phoned and they had an engine and would be able to do it much cheaper.

"I felt a bit bad about moving the car, but the owner of the first garage gave his blessing and said it was a good price."

While it was at the second garage, Allison received a call to say that the work would take a couple of extra days.

"I had not had my car for several weeks by now and I got quite irritable about this delay, but I felt really bad when the man on the phone told me the driver who was collecting my engine from Sharjah had died of a heart attack."

The second fatality of someone working on or near his car led Allison to fear his Jeep was now cursed.

"My girlfriend said we should get the car blessed. I am not Catholic but I was inclined to agree; it couldn't do any harm. We had the car washed and took it to the church, but the priest was busy and the car remains unblessed.

"But, I have only driven into one wall and one parked car since then, so comparatively speaking I have been lucky."

Allison is still to visit Hootah caves.