My mate Greg Thomson has quite a tale to tell.
He’s touring with his family in France, where he hired an el schmicko car, only to find out the hard way that some people steal wiper blades over there.
Not only that, he discovered replacement wipers for brand new cars can be damned difficult to find.
Here’s Greg’s story . . .
“You will love this car, sir, we’ve upgraded you and you will be driving a brand new model,” the woman at Paris airport car rental intoned.
“Even better, it is practically brand new – just 500km travelled and in excellent condition.”
As we trudged the car park pressing the key, I have to say I was pretty impressed when the flashing orange indicators drew us to a sleek white VW Arteon.
On looks alone, it looks a bit like an Audi R8 rip-off and we were all suitably impressed.
Mmm, for a new car, it would have been nice if they had washed it before the next customer, I thought to myself as we loaded up.
Checking the fuel gauge as I fired it up, it might have been nice if it had come with a full tank of diesel too, I noted – having just been warned to refill it up before our return in 19 days.
Anyhow, as we edged out nervously on to the motorway, on the wrong side of the road in a left-hand drive auto, it started to rain – and that’s when things got interesting.
When I hit the wipers at 110km/h, it soon became apparent that a flimsy bit of flapping rubber barely covered the driver’s side of the car, and no rubber at all cleaned the passenger side.
The sound of metal pressed against glass, not to mention the virtual absence of any effective operation, soon had me sweating bullets as I struggled for suitable vision.
As we were passed by lorries barrelling down the toll way, we concluded we needed effective wipers – if not today, by tomorrow at the latest.
Tomorrow came, as did more rain and fog, but a suitable place to buy wiper blades in France’s Bordeaux region never eventuated.
On day three, with blood pressure building, we decided to hit the shops in search of a replacement set – no matter what.
First stop was an Intermache (supermarket) where I was assured there were plenty of options.
One look at the four sets hanging on the shelves told me this was a waste of time.
We headed off, Googling the car model enroute, and scanning the websites of after-market providers like Bosch, looking for a suitable model number.
Nearly every website we could find was presented only in French.
As we rounded a roundabout at St Jean De Angely, the familiar VW logo jumped out at us from the kerbside.
Surely their service team will sell them?
The very friendly pair of service advisers strained into their computers for 10 minutes before declaring that no, they did not have a replacement set.
I was passed a yellow sticky note with the address for Niort VW, some 45 minutes drive away.
I couldn’t help but notice nearly every VW on the new car lot appeared suspiciously to have an identical set of clip-on blades as our Arteon – surely they could have tried a bit harder?
Anyhow, as we entered the location of the next dealer in the sat nav, we rolled through another roundabout just 200m from VW and passed a very big building with the name L’Auto emblazoned across it.
Behind the counter of this very large auto spares shop was Fabian, the store assistant, who could not speak a word of English.
He could tell by the wiper blades in my hand what I needed, however, and quickly sourced an after-market set from a bank of 100 or more hanging on a wall.
Not content with extracting 34 euros ($A52) for the set, Fabien also set about installing them.
When I told him the car had done just 700km, he declared the damage to our wipers was “impossible”.
More likely he said, thieves had knocked off our perfectly good set of blades and replaced them with the dodgy ice-whipped set on our new car.
Mobile again, and with the rain starting to fall, I have never felt more appreciative of a new set of wiper blades in my life!
Here endeth the tale.