Road Warrior: Play it safe if you don't want piece of junk towed

The winch turned. You could hear the gears moving. My Volkswagen inched its way up the flatbed tow truck.

All I could think was how incredibly super awesome it would be if the cable broke and the stupid car rolled backward, flipped over into a ditch, tumbled end over end, and exploded like a Hollywood prop, leaving only shards of glass glittering in the orange fireball as I walked away slowly, like a movie star with rock-hard abs.

Stupid car. All my problems would be solved.

I should back up.

So I had this great experiment planned for today’s column. But like all brilliant ideas, I probably should have run it by my wife first.

All you need to know right now is that it involved me, and driving about 100 miles in heavy traffic, and my piece of junk car, all in one day.

I was about two-thirds of the way through the 100 miles when the old VW started whining. It didn’t want to go fast.

I pushed it anyway. The idea was too cool not to.

We were on the 215. The car sputtered. I turned up the radio.

We stopped at the red light at Lone Mountain Road. It turned green. The car wouldn’t go over 30 mph.

I pulled into the center turn lane. Revved it up. Waited for traffic to clear. Pulled into the driving lanes. Limped along like a former jock with a bum knee pulling a rickshaw.

Lucky me, there is plenty of shoulder on that part of the 215. It’s a wide stretch of dirt that’s already been flattened. I sat there for a while. The car still wouldn’t go.

So I called my wife, of course. She loaded up the kids and came to get me. I tried the car one more time. It wouldn’t even start. I figured I should let it rest. Surely it would start if I gave it an hour.

It wouldn’t start an hour later.

I called the tow-truck guy I have on speed dial.

He said it would cost me $80 to have it towed that night. But it would only be $45 if I waited until morning.

What should I have done?

Are you allowed to leave your piece-of-junk Volkswagen on the side of the freeway?

Will the cops tow it?

Will it disappear into the government paperwork vortex?

Tow Truck Guy advised me to leave a note with my name and phone number on the windshield, just in case. But he didn’t think it would be a problem to leave the car there overnight.

So that’s what I did. And I got lucky, too. It turns out that my car insurance policy includes a roadside assistance feature I didn’t even know about. Towing was free (the repairs won’t be, unfortunately).

Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Jeremie Elliott said I did the right thing by pulling the car way off the road.

“As long as it’s not a traffic hazard, the law says you have 24 hours,” he said. “If it’s in the traffic lane, obviously we’re going to tow it away immediately.”

He said the 24 hours start when a trooper notices the vehicle. The trooper will make sure it’s in a safe spot.

“We’re pretty strict about it,” Elliott said.

So make sure the car is well clear of the driving lanes.

If it is, the trooper will tag it, noting the time. Once 24 hours have passed, they’ll have it towed by whatever company the agency is currently contracting with.

So what should you do if you show up to where you left your car and it’s not there anymore?

Freak out, obviously.

That’s going to cost you some cash. But after you’ve calmed down, call the Highway Patrol if you left the car on the freeway. Call the local cops if you left it on the surface streets.

Tell them who the car is registered to and where you left it. They’ll figure out who towed it and will help you find it.

If you realize you’ll need another car, call me. I know a guy with a used Volkswagen.

Got a transportation question, comment or gripe? Ship it off to roadwarrior Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior.