Lightning strikes, and hours of agony follow

You read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados and you wonder what it would be like to experience them firsthand. You see footage of extreme weather on TV, and you can't help but empathize with the poor folks who had to suffer through it.

The thing is, until you experience it for yourself, you really have no idea what it's like. My lovely wife, Charlotte, and I just had such an experience, and I sure hope we never have to repeat it.

We were driving my mini-van on I-88 East, about a half-hour east of Binghamton, on a recent rainy summer Sunday. We were towing an enclosed trailer with a couple of motorcycles in it, so our speed was really slow, between 55 and 60 miles per hour at the most.

Soon the rain began coming down in buckets. It was so bad several cars had pulled off to the shoulder to wait it out. I try to always have good tires and good wipers on my cars, so I continued going slowly, dealing with it as best I could. Not a great situation but nothing we haven't seen before. Just being extra careful usually works fine.

Then we noticed some thunder and lightning appear in the distance. It seemed to me like it was far off. I wasn't too worried but my wife was getting nervous.

The next thing you know there was a humongous explosion, and at the same time a bright, blinding light. When I say explosion, I mean there was a very loud KABOOOOM. A split second later, the van shook as all the warning lights on the dash came on and the engine shut off. Holy cow.

This was in the right lane, on a slight uphill, in a blinding downpour. Somehow I kept my wits about me and got the entire rig, including the trailer, completely onto the narrow shoulder before the forward momentum stopped. Whew. I'm surprised my underwear stayed clean after that.

So now we're on the side of I-88 East with a dead mini-van and trailer. In total, we would be there for four hours, and, in that entire time, not even one State Trooper passed in either direction.

Isn't it amazing that when you're speeding they're so plentiful? I mean, four hours is a long time to be stuck on the shoulder. Let me tell you, when a semi-trailer passes right next to you at 70 miles per hour, you really, really feel it; the wind blows and the ground shakes. It's truly frightening.

My wife and I had no choice but to work the cell phones, trying to find any help or assistance. I have a road-towing plan, but get this — they wouldn't come because they only give you a tow if you have a breakdown. Getting hit by lightning is, according to them, an "accident" and therefore not eligible for breakdown service.

Does this sound right to you? It doesn't to me — I mean, when you're stuck your stuck, but that's what we were told. Fortunately, our insurance company came through, and eventually we got towed, thought it wasn't cheap — $150 each for the van and the trailer, ouch.

This is the mini-van I wrote about a while ago. I purchased it used from a well-known local dealer, and it came with a terrific warrantee — as long as I let them do all the oil changes. I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 and I enjoy doing it, but I had to give this up due to the warrantee.

So, from the side of the road, I call them. I tell them what happened, figuring I'll get the van towed to them and use my warrantee coverage, when I hear on the phone that we had just experienced an "act of God" and as such would have no coverage. Hmm

I asked where in the manual it said I couldn't drive in rain storms. They said it didn't say that, but still it's an "act of God" and no warrantee coverage of any kind would be provided.

The guy on the phone must have said “act of God” five times before I hung up in frustration. I mean, at least say something like, “Bring it to us and we'll look at it and see what we can do.” You know, try to be helpful. Try to make it seem like you care about your customer.

This is why I will never shop at that dealer again. I never from day one felt like they were on my side. Quite frankly, I don't know how they stay in business. Even if getting hit by lightning is considered an act of God, at least show some kind of compassion for your very stressed out customers in their time of need.

My lovely wife did some research, and it seems like, when a car gets hit by lightning, the insurance company has no choice but to total it. Amazingly, there were no burn marks or any other visible damage on the car or trailer, so my insurance company wanted to try to have the car fixed. As if I'd want to drive or even be able to sell a car that had been totally disabled by lightning.

Over a two-week period, they had the shop where I'd had the van towed try a new computer, a new alternator, and many other electrical parts. We spoke to the mechanic doing the work — he said it was like trying to plug up a leaky garden hose, where you plug up one hole and another opens up.

They finally had him give up when there were serious problems with the air bags. Good thing I had full comprehensive coverage on this vehicle.

I do some work on cars, and I have the tool to read the on-board diagnostic system. For example, you plug the code reader into a connector under the steering wheel, and it might read something like this: P0301 Cylinder 1 Misfire Detected

Pretty straightforward — check the plug, wire, and coil for number-one cylinder and go from there.

Can you imagine what the code says on a car that was hit by lightning?

ZZZZZ — Are you serious? You're hosed! Better get to the bank and get a new car loan.

All kidding aside, the explosion from the lightning strike was so loud, powerful, violent, and scary, I hope I never have to experience anything like that ever again. I'm told the next time it happens, just pull over and sit with your hands in your lap (don't touch any metal) and wait it out. Extreme weather is better when you read about it or see it on TV, trust me.