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Thoughts on the smell of burnt clutch

It’s traumatic. It really is. After a year and 10 months of driving the sponsored luxury British SUV and its successor, I’ve had to temporarily return to slumming it in a sensible Korean hatchback. A taxi drove into my parked car while I was in Chinatown on August 7. I’d driven to lunch in a snow storm and emerged from the restaurant on Derrick Avenue to discover a small crowd gathered around my car in the softly falling snow, clucking self-importantly as they viewed the point of impact. All rather surreal.

So now I am bereft of Indian-owned transport for the next two weeks. I’m borrowing my mother’s car while she’s overseas, which is why I’m back behind the wheel of the sensible Korean hatchback I used to own. (I sold it to my mother, who gave my sister her RunX, which I sold her before I left for Australia. We do the musical cars thing in my family.)

Alas, all these months of being cosseted in automotive opulence have completely ruined me for perfectly competent value for money cars. Suddenly I feel like I’m in Cape Town, poer-poering along the highways beneath a leaden sky in a Hertz Group B with Collision Damage Waiver and optional but entirely useless GPS.

There are so many things I battle with. It’s not easy moving from a car which pretty much does everything except drive itself, and one which requires that one do utterly uncivilised things like insert and turn a key in order to start the engine. (What century are we living in, people?)

The handbrake. I’m used to a handbrake that engages and disengages automatically. Last night I forgot to put the handbrake on and was surprised when the car started moving by itself. Cars aren’t supposed to do that.

Gears. What are these things? Changing gears is so … primitive. I’m finding it a battle to get into the right gear when I start and of course I forget that it’s in third when I stop at robots and am then surprised when it won’t move. (I’m also weirdly paranoid about accidently changing into third when aiming for fifth, so I stick to fourth on the highway.)

Cramp in my left calf and ankle pain. Both something to do with the clutch.

Keys. Because the other car senses the presence of the smart key and unlocks itself, not being able to find it when I need to unlock it hasn’t been a problem. Now I’ve gone back to scratching for the key in order to get into the car rather than hunting for it to lock it. Entire neural pathways need rewiring.

Having to make an effort to switch the lights on. In my other car, the daytime running lights activate automatically, and the moment it gets dark, the headlights switch themselves on. Then, they switch themselves off automatically. No intervention is required from me other than to leave the dial on “Auto”.

No more phone conversations while driving. No Bluetooth hands-free car kit. No playing my iPod over the sound system either.

Confusing the indicators with the windscreen wipers. So embarrassing. (Not, it must be said, that this would be a problem for half the drivers in Joburg, who never use their indicators anyway.)

And finally:

Clutch control. I have none. Hence the smell of burnt clutch.

I can’t wait for my beloved to be restored to her pre-Chinatown taxi glory.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.