The Sprinter Died On Me

Many of you know about The Beast, our Sprinter with all of our faces on it. But we also have a slightly smaller, grey, 15 passenger Sprinter, which is the car that I drive.

Brett driving sprinter

We’ve had the Sprinter for as long as I can remember.  It was our first Sprinter (we’ve had 3), which is why we just call it “The Sprinter” (as opposed to the Hulk or the Beast).   Mom says that we’ve had it since 2005, when I was 9. The Sprinter has carried us many places, but lately it has been taking me and Colter to Ivy Tech, where we’re going to college.


On Monday, Colter and I were on our way back from college. We were on Highway 65, driving north in the left lane, when my cruise control quit. In that split second, I figured that I’d accidentally bumped one of the controls when I turned my blinker on, so I stepped on the gas to get back up to speed.

The gas wasn’t working.

A quick glance at my dashboard revealed the engine light. A quick glance at my rearv-iew mirror revealed a truck, coming hurtling towards us.

I looked at my other mirror as Colter said, “you can get over,” and as quickly as I could with no gas, switched lanes, aiming for the shoulder. The Sprinter was slowing down, dropping from 70 to 30… 20… 10… 0.

I tried to straighten the Sprinter as much as possible, so we weren’t turned toward the road at all. I knew that we’d need to be relatively straight for the tow truck. The smell of gas filled the Sprinter as the air conditioning quit, and Colter rolled his window down.

Trucks were passing us, shaking the Sprinter every time they roared past. “Call Dad,” I told Colter, my voice shaking nearly as much as my hands were.

Dad said to call AAA. I pulled my wallet out of my backpack and fumbled for my AAA card.

“Brett, you know there’s a police officer behind us, right?” Colter asked as I finally found my AAA card.

I checked my mirrors – he was right, there was a police officer coming around the Sprinter, to the passenger window. “Are you guys okay?” he asked, eyeing me. I don’t look like I’m old enough to drive – I knew he was going to do that.

“Yeah, we’re calling Triple A, and Dad is on his way to get us,” Colter said, speaking for me.

The police officer was still looking at me. “Yup, I’m calling Triple A now,” I said, holding up my phone and my Triple A card. “We’re fine. Thank you.”

The police officer said something about having 24 hours to get the car off the highway and Colter answered him, saying “thank you,” as he left. My hand was shaking so badly that I couldn’t read the phone number on my Triple A card. I set the card down on my knee and was able to plug the numbers into my phone. I held it up to my ear and Colter said, “Mom said to get out of the car.” He opened the door and jumped out, but when I went to follow him, I realized that I couldn’t talk on the phone and get out of the car – outside, the wind and cars were so loud that I couldn’t hear anything.

“I can’t hear,” I mouthed to him as the robotic phone system kicked in, climbing back into the Sprinter. Instead of sitting in the driver’s seat though, which was closer to the cars flying by, I sat in the passenger seat.

When I got through to a human, she had no idea what a Sprinter was. “It’s something that FedEx drives…” I said, trying to think of something that would help her understand what a Sprinter was.  Telling her that there was a Sprinter in the movie Thor, in the scene where SHIELD takes all of Jane’s equipment, probably wouldn’t help her….

“It’s like a fifteen passenger van,” Colter said helpfully. “Tell her that.”

After telling her that I had no idea what year the Sprinter was made (maybe 2002?), who made the Sprinter (we couldn’t remember if was Dodge or Freightliner), and whether it had two wheel drive or not (Colter just shrugged at this one), the lady said that she would get a tow truck on the way.

“Okay, Mom wants us to get out,” Colter reminded me after I hung up. “C’mon.”

I climbed out of the car, but wouldn’t go too far off the road until I had some bug spray, which I had in my backpack. Colter grabbed that for me, along with a fleece jacket he had in the car, so I could sit on it.

“Of all the days to have a break down, you picked a good one,” he joked, gesturing at the sun that was blazing down on us. “I’d much rather break down in 80 degrees and sunny than in 40 degrees and raining.”

“And I guess, for my first cop encounter while driving, that wasn’t so bad,” I said, trying to smile. Maybe smiling would help me stop shaking. I fought the tears that tried to come out. Mom likes to say that I’m good in a crisis, then fall apart when it’s over. Sitting well away from the road, in the sun, my adrenaline was crashing.

Colter made more small talk, trying to keep me from thinking too much until Dad got there. A few minutes later (though it seemed like forever) we saw the Beast drive by us on the Southbound side. Dad waved, and we waved back. We had broken down at mile marker 12.2, between Sellersburg (Exit 9) and Memphis (Exit 16), so Dad would have to drive down to Sellersburg to turn around and come back up North.

Not too long after that Dad arrived, and by then I’d stopped shaking – mostly. “We’re going to be here a while, so we might as well get comfortable,” Dad said. Colter brought our backpacks to the Beast, and on his way back, brought three camp chairs that were also in the Beast. He grabbed a box of Wheat Thins and several water bottles from the Sprinter (we started keeping food in there after we started going to college) and we settled down to wait for the tow truck.

This is how you wait for a tow truck. #wegotthis #thiswasallinmycar #packrat #alwayshungry via booksquirt on Instagram

At the mechanic’s. Hopefully it’s an easy fix…. via booksquirt on Instagram

As we waited, three more cops stopped, two Good Samaritans who recognized the Beast stopped, and the Mayor of Scottsburg stopped. “I recognized your van so I drove up to Memphis, turned around and went back to Sellersburg, so I could stop and make sure you were okay,” he told us. He asked if we wanted him to take me and Colter home, but we said that we were fine – it was actually pretty nice, sitting on the side of the road, eating wheat thins and counting all of the tow trucks who passed us. (There were six, if you’re curious.)

Eventually “our” tow truck arrived and we hopped into the Beast with Dad and led the tow truck to Bobby Abbott’s place.  Bobby is the mechanic who has been maintaining the Sprinter for us pretty much ever since we got it. At this point, it’s still waiting there, as far as we know. I need to call him today and ask him what’s going on – I have to go to college tomorrow, and I don’t have a car!


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  • Laura


    Nice handling – that was pretty quick reactions and thinking, to get the Sprinter to the shoulder and lined up properly, all in the very narrow time window afforded to you by the engine being out.

    Really nicely done – and to Colter as well. The two of you work well as a team in a crisis, is what I read here.

    Far better to fall apart after than during.

    • Thanks, Laura! It was very stressful, but Colter and I have always worked well together – when you’re the oldest kids in a large family, you learn to cooperate. That teamwork was a good thing the other day!

      And yes, it is, though I’d prefer not falling apart at all. LOL

  • Leeann

    This was well written and exceedingly entertaining! Love how you all looked like you were tailgating while waiting for the tow truck to arrive!

    • Leeann – it was actually rather fun, once I stopped shaking from my adrenaline crashing. LOL

  • Ruth LaMarr

    Brett, I feel for you honey. Recently my sport van bit the dust. In a turn lane. At an intersection. On a Friday. During rush hour. There’s no saving it as the camshaft broke and to fix it will be more than it’s worth. But my grandsons had many good times in it, as we used it for camping and family trips. I’ll miss it, but I have my eye on an 11 passenger van which I will call Big Red.

    • Oh, wow, that sounds a lot worse than my break down! Did you get the van?

      • Ruth LaMarr

        Unfortunately the dealer had promised that van to someone else. But I did buy a smaller van. I think of it as my temporary until a better one comes along. I’m hoping you and your family have a blessed Christmas.

        • Oh, that’s a bummer! We hope you do too! 🙂 Brett

        • goatmilkstuff

          Thanks, we did! 🙂 PJ

  • Tony Martin

    My 3500 sprinter did same due to no battery power. Motor stop as i made my way over making driver mad.To get off the Road I-240. To make story short you may had a bad motor ground cable.
    If you tried to start it and you hear only 1 click when turn the key. Cheap repair 24in black ground cable to battery to engine. Funny thing if set for same time it start. Unknowing when it die driving again. I was very lucky not to be on highway but 1 time.

    • goatmilkstuff

      Glad you were safe! 🙂 PJ