On our trip from Virginia to Michigan, Mark’s new 2011 Dodge Durango hit 6,000 miles in the middle of nowhere on the Ohio turnpike. Apparently 6,000 miles is the life expectancy for a Durango alternator.

We split the trip into two 6-hour segments with a hotel stop in between. Past midnight on Friday, with two hours left to go until we reached our hotel, the battery warning light came on. With the Owner’s Manual safely at home, we decided to ignore the light–after all, it was a brand new vehicle, how could anything be wrong?

The next morning, we were proved right. The battery warning light remained off for the first part of our journey. When it came back on, we still decided to ignore it, although in retrospect leaving the A/C on high, the radio on and keeping our phones plugged in might have been a mistake.

I took over driving while Mark grabbed a few winks. Ten minutes later, while contemplating buying electrical tape to hide the battery warning light, the car seemed a little toasty. I tried turning up the A/C… I tried recycling the A/C… but the temperature kept rising.

Suddenly the car spoke. *DING* *Park Assist Error* “Wait,” I thought, “I’m not trying to park.” *DING* *Key not detected* I was pretty sure Mark and I hadn’t both lobbed our keys out the closed windows. *DING* *Driver’s seatbelt unfastened* I reached down to check, but no surprise, I was still attached to the car. By this time, the car must have been 100 degrees. The noise and heat must have awakened Mark. As he complained about the heat, the car continued to complain about my seatbelt.

We took the next exit. Halfway up the exit ramp, the power steering gave out. I woman-handled the car to the shoulder and we shut her down. Hoping a reboot would help, we waited a few minutes and restarted the engine. The car wouldn’t start. The good news was the battery light was finally out.

Lucky for us, we broke down approaching the hottest part of the day, during a heat wave, in an area with no trees and no buildings–people pay lots of money for a sauna treatment we got one for free. In our defense, before this purchase we had both owned vehicles over a decade old. Ignoring warning lights was part of the deal.

Mark called the “Roadside Assistance” provided by his insurance company. After 15 minutes of conversation, they informed him only turnpike authorized companies are allowed to tow on the turnpike. He called the turnpike motor assist number and they said they’d send a tow truck “right away.” 45 minutes later the tow truck arrived “right away.”

The flatbed tow truck backed up to the car, hooked up the cable and asked Mark to put the car in Neutral. That was easier said than done.

Without any electrical power the car wouldn’t shift out of park. After trying everything we could think of and even calling Dodge customer support, we couldn’t get the car into Neutral. The funny thing about Dodge customer support is they don’t answer technical questions. I guess they’re just there to say things like, “wow, sucks to be you.”

Unfazed, the tow guy pulled out the jumper cables. They were about 3 feet too short to reach our battery. He unhooked the cable from our car, raised the bed, backed into the road and gave us a jump start. Now we could switch her into neutral.

Without any further complications (except perhaps trying–and failing–to get our dog to jump 4-feet up into the tow truck), we were on our way, Mark and I up front with the tow guy and Lucy happily back in the Durango.

We spent several hours at the dealership–the only dealership in the area opened past noon on a Saturday–before they packed us into a dealership rental and sent us on our way. Since the rental was much smaller than the Durango, it took some creative packing to get us, the dog, two cases of wine, suitcases and beach gear stowed.

So, while we vacationed in Michigan, Mark’s Durango vacationed in Ohio getting her faulty alternator fixed.

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