I was tootling along in the middle lane of southbound 35W at a gentle, legal speed. Someone changed from the right lane into the middle lane in front of me. I tapped the brakes to match their speed, and all hell broke loose.
I must have hit black ice and gone into a four wheel skid. I let off the brakes right away, but the car snapped sideways. The car was pointing at the left guard rail. I think at that point the tires started to bite again - I remember hearing them squeal - but the rear end must not have hooked up because the car kept rotating.
Suddenly I was in the left lane staring into the windshield of an oncoming car - 180 degrees from where I had been heading. At this point I think that I had the clutch in and was hunting for the right gear, which was probably an error. In racing and police driving courses the mantra is: if you start to spin, both feet in. If your car is more than sideways then you probably want to lock up your brakes and get stopped ASAP, rather than fool around trying to catch it.
However, I was still turning. My Wheel of Fortune wasn't going to stop on “Trip to Bermuda” at all. Another 180 degrees went by and I was facing the correct direction on the left shoulder. For just a brief thousandth of a second I thought that I might have just come through it completely unscathed.
Then I heard that sickening crunch.
I was still rolling, though, and the car slotted easily into second, so I gave it a blip of the throttle and engaged the clutch. I checked my rearview mirrors to see seemingly motionless traffic behind me. I fed in a little more gas and the car seemed to be rolling straight with no problems. No thunking. No more crunching. No squeals of tortured metal giving way and no fountains of oil spraying across all three lanes.
I stepped on the gas and continued on my way to work.
When I parked, I opened the door and looked at the rear quarter panel. I was sure that I had hit there. However, the rear was straight and true. I was shocked. Sometimes when one hits something with a car it sounds worse than it is because the car resonates.
I took a step to the left so I could see past the open door. A brutal gash sliced across the fender of my poor sweet baby. My car, paid off for barely a month, was very hurt. Sixty thousand miles of commuting and road trips. Our plans for mad dashes across the continent were themselves dashed in three seconds of black ice.
I should mention that I am completely uninjured. My mp3 player didn't even skip. The frozen clementine orange barely moved from its cozy home next to the air compressor on the floor. My airbags didn't go off. The boxes in my back seat did not initiate a garbage-alanch. Inside of my car, the only indication that anything had happened was my own smell of desperation and panic.
Of course, Thursdays are the busiest day at work, but I could barely click to run a set of queries without considering where I could source a bumper skin, and whether or not I would need a new bumper bar. My mental survey of damages kept rolling through my head and interrupting my mostly automated tasks.
I think that I will be okay, financially, even though my insurance wouldn't cover the damages to my car. Since I just paid off my car, I switched to only liability coverage. Liability insurance would cover any damages to the guard rail, but I didn't stick around to ask if it was injured.
Switching to liability saves $400 per six months. Factor in my $500 deductible, and I will break even if the damages don't exceed $900. I can easily foresee $2000 in repair costs, but I might be able save some cash by sourcing some parts myself.
One last thing: I always wear my seatbelt. You should too.