Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cruisin' Campervan breakdown--Abandoned in Sydney Feb 2013

After all our adventures in Sydney, we left Margaret's hospitality and headed towards the Harbour Bridge to continue north towards Brisbane on the last leg of our campervan adventure.  Alas, the adventure was not ready to be done with us!  The campervan had an electronic transmission; it shuddered to a stop at an intersection alongside Hyde Park in downtown Sydney just before their rush hour was to begin.  Since there were only 2 lanes in our direction--the bus lane and the lane we were now blocking--we quickly backed up traffic in downtown Sydney.

The traffic authorities wanted our van out of their lanes and the police and bus authorities were going to push us around the corner where we'd be blocking a lesser street for rush hour.  Those buses must get through!!  
But you can't push a van when it is still in gear and the electronic transmission has failed.  We couldn't get it out of gear into neutral to push or pull it out of the way.  The first tow truck the Crusin' campervan roadside assistance sent wasn't long enough to load the van.  The bus authorities called their tow truck to move us out of the way.  Our campervan from Cruisin' barely fit onto the bed of the truck.  The policeman told them to make an illegal right turn and dump us on the side street across from the Supreme Court Building.  
 I had to shoo away cars from parking in front of us once the parking time designated it as free.  I got some nasty comments, but I had to keep the space clear for the tow truck that was expected to tow us to the repair facility--the bus authority tow truck was only to get us out of the main bus artery that we'd blocked for hours.  I'm sure we made the news reports as a source of traffic backups that day!  We were lucky the policeman was kindly and didn't even mention giving us a ticket.
The first tow--we barely fit, but only went a couple of blocks to get out of the main road.
 Once we got out of the traffic, the government Roadside Assistance guy (the equivalent of AAA but paid by the government) called to make sure another tow truck was on its way.  Seems Cruisin' had dropped the ball and when the first tow truck didn't work, they just dropped the whole issue and weren't doing anything about us!  The gov't guy made sure another tow was on its way before he left us to wait for it.  We'd backed traffic up so badly that even the tow trucks couldn't get through.

Loading the campervan onto the 2nd tow truck to take it away.  We were told to grab our valuables and Cruisin' put us up in a Travelodge around the corner for the night.  But no meals were provided and they only paid for the one night, and that reluctantly.
All our food was on the van and we'd made several trips to offload things we didn't want to risk losing while the van was parked in who-knows-where.  Jason grabbed his toolbox and washed all his tools in the hotel room.  Remember, we'd been driving in the outback and everything had been coated in a fine red dust.  We'd hosed and wiped out the inside of the van at Margaret's house just before we left earlier in the day, so at least the van looked clean.

We walked back up to Chinatown to get a late dinner where we'd had lunch that day and just squeezed in as they were shutting the doors at the food court the tour guide had pointed out to us for cheap eats (the hand-circled area on the map above).  By now it was raining, but I found a large umbrella that someone had left at another table in the food court and used it to shelter us on the long walk back to our lodging.  I left it on the bus later, so it's getting recycled.

The tow truck driver called us in the morning to confirm he had delivered the van to the repair facility, but nobody would confirm that it would even be looked at, much less fixed today or in the next few days. The repair facility had pre-booked appointments and didn't know when they could work the van in for diagnosis and repairs.  When we talked to Cruisin' company, they said they just wanted to terminate the contract and refund us for the remaining unused days.  They refused to pay for any meals, for any more lodging, for any loss we might have for the food thawing in the campervan, or for any arrangements for us to get back to Brisbane with all of our stuff!  They wouldn't work with us to try to wait to get the van fixed, either.  They just decided to abandon us in downtown Sydney (one of the most expensive cities in the world!) with no help to get us back home to our boat.  Unconscionable!! 

We were stunned that a company could treat its customers like that, but the contract was still in the campervan and we didn't have any way to retrieve it.  The Cruisin' company said they'd pay for a taxi for us to get to the airport to rent a car or another van, but that was all they were going to do.  The van was near the airport at a dealer for repair so we could get there to retrieve our stuff out of the original van.

Unfortunately, this was the peak season for van rentals and there wasn't one available for the next ten (10) days at most places!  We found a smaller van available at Jucy rentals, and had to book it, even though it was questionable whether it was going to be big enough to hold our things.  It was the only thing available, literally.  We had fuel jugs so couldn't even consider flying back.  We didn't have our things in luggage, anyway.  

Our vacation was now over, cut short by Cruisin's lack of care.  By now, the $5000 security deposit, plus the 30-day campervan rental charge, plus all the fuel bills we'd racked up, plus the airfare back to the USA we'd charged just before leaving were causing us to think we were using up our credit limit on our plastic.  Cruisin' Motorhomes was feeding us some cock and bull story about it taking up to 10 business days for their credit to show up on our credit card; what a load of crap!  The new van rental required another huge deposit, so we had to make an emergency payment to keep the over-the-limit fees from kicking in, too.  This was just a nightmare.  

The Travelodge didn't have any space for us to stay another night (the cruise ship changeovers keep them booked full in February) so now we didn't have a place to stay, either!  The manager there couldn't believe what Cruisin' was doing to us and stored our luggage for us and let us use his back office to try to find lodging and transportation.  He even waived the phone charges for the room so we could contact the Consumer Affairs Bureau and lodge a complaint.  We had taken too much stuff out of the van to carry it very far.  We never envisioned we'd be out on the street having to cart it all somewhere without any help.  Hell, we didn't even have a grocery cart that any homeless person would have to carry their bags.

We found a youth hostel with dorm beds available a very long walk away, but decided to impose on Margaret as we could get a bus without carting all our gear very far.  We'd tried to call her but just got voicemail.  We made our way onto the bus with all our 'valuables' in hand and rode back out to Randwick to arrive unannounced.  I let us into her home with the hidden keys she'd shown us on our arrival.  She'd gone sailboat racing and left us to our own devices when we got there, so we now used the keys to re-install ourselves into her home, just 1 day after leaving.

Margaret and Evelyn returned from the movies shortly after we got in and were surprised and shocked to hear our story. She was only too glad to have us back (she's so gracious!) and we cracked a bottle of wine to settle our nerves.  I was near tears in anger, frustration, astonishment and horror at how we'd been treated and abandoned.  She got me laughing again and left us to watch a funny show while she attended her initial poetry group meeting.

In the morning, Margaret drove us out to the new rental location and waited until we were sure we wanted to take that smaller, older van that was a sorry replacement for the luxury campervan we'd had before.  We said our goodbyes, again, and drove to the repair facility to retrieve our stuff from the other van.  We found the van unlocked, contrary to what we'd been promised, and were angered again.  We had an employee move his car to avoid damaging it as we unloaded and loaded everything from one van to the other.  Jason precision-packed it full and got everything in, but there was no room to lay down or cook.  

The "refrigerator" was a shoebox-sized container that ran on the starter battery.  Our meat and fish had thawed and was starting to go 'off' and had to be tossed out.  The only cooking facility was a fold-out burner on a camper-style stove fueled by screw-on cans of cooking gas.  Not that we could get to the food or utensils in the packed space anyway.  We just headed north and kept driving.  We had our grease fix at KFC and Jason rearranged some things into the front seat so I could lay in a fetal position to try to get some rest for the long non-stop drive back to Brisbane.

Nobody could believe how badly we'd been treated by the campervan rental company!  We called the equivalent of the Better Business Bureau--the Consumer Affairs Office and they thought we'd have a claim, but we weren't in a position to provide a mailing address or to stay in one place long enough to go through a court-style battle with a rental company that some thought might be in a cash flow crunch.  We managed to get our money back from them for what we felt they owed us as a refund and reimbursement for the tires, air filter, and light bulbs we'd replaced for them along the way.  
It was a nice van while it worked, but when it came to the crunch time, when something went wrong, Cruisin' failed miserably and made our lives miserable for the last leg of what was truly an awesome outback adventure until then.
We hope nobody will do business with Cruisin' Motorhomes.  Their customer service is non-existent and they made us feel like we were only as good as the dollars we'd given them yesterday.  We had referred another couple to them for a good rental deal, and are sorry we gave Cruisin' the good word up front, but will not send any more business their way after the way we were treated. I personally had never been treated so poorly from a customer's perspective and hope others won't give them a chance to repeat this travesty.  

Stay away from Cruisin' Motohome rentals by any name!  They are based in Tasmania, but have an office in Brisbane.  It's a family-owned business that seems to think the door only swings one way in any transaction involving money or service.  Customers are there only to provide their income, but woe be to the customer that might need their help or service! 

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