Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What not to do when you hit a deer with your car

I want to tell you about a recent traumatic customer experience I had, and some mistakes I made along the way, and what I think it all means.  It's a pretty long story, so dig in, and be with me on this little ride I've been on for the last 6 weeks or so.

It all started on October 25th, when I hit a deer with my car.

Wait a minute, back up a step, it started before that.  I guess this has been developing my whole life, in fact.  But, to be brief with the backstory, let me just say this: I'm a bowhunter, I butcher my own deer, and I'm really not very squeamish about the whole life-death-rebirth process of wild animals.  Also, I work in telecommunications, so I'm familiar and comfortable with some of the worst customer service you can imagine - in fact, I find it a novelty.  You see it all the time these days: take a number and get in line, wait until you're called, and we'll find a way to turn your individual situation into value for our shareholders.  I like to watch the thing unfold.  Six weeks ago, I would have told you that I was the sort of person who could handle hitting a deer and navigating the repair process without completely blowing his top.

So anyway, I hit a deer in my 2004 Subaru going about 55 miles/hour on Markwood road, less than a mile from my house on October 25th at about 10:30 AM.  That's not really such a unique occurrence out this way.  People hit deer all the time.  In fact, on any given weekend here in Albemarle county in the fall, between 5 and 10 vehicles strike deer and the owner reports the occurrence to the police.  The amount of undocumented deer hit?  Unknown.  Probably double the amount reported if you consult a police officer on the subject.  Enough to fill a few pickup trucks.

So yeah, whack, I hit the deer.  Going fast too.  Never even touched the brakes.  This incident is sort of unique, though, because I was bowhunting immediately before getting in the car to drive, and I had, in fact, harvested a buck with my bow about 45 minutes before hitting this one with my car.  So that was different.  I've killed a lot of deer.  I've even killed two deer in the same morning a few times.  But I've never had a side-by-side comparison where I actually shot a deer so closely followed by hitting one with my car.  The first thing, shooting one, is an endeavor - especially with a bow.  You have to work at it.  You spend a lot of time practicing, shooting a bow, setting up a tree stand, sitting in that tree stand, pondering the philosophical implications of Being and Nothingness, seeing deer but being unable to shoot, falling asleep, and generally trying to be the sort of voracious predator that you devolved from generations ago.  The absurdity of the whole thing isn't lost on me, and if you're an anti-hunter, fine, that's not what this is about anyway.  But finally you get one.    It's a goddamn miracle, sure, but it's still something you actively do.    Hitting one with your car, on the other hand, is something that happens to you, and having so closely compared that to the other thing, I can assure you car-killing a deer is pretty fucking traumatic.

Later, in an attempt to cope with the trauma of the whole thing, I turned to the visual arts and made a play dough sculpture to re-enact the drama.  Therapy:

Do you play golf?  Doesn't matter.  I assume you've at least seen it on TV or whatever.  What you might not understand, though, is that the face of a gap wedge - when you swing it correctly - has approximately a 50 degree angle (called loft) when you strike the ball, so at that moment of impact the ball actually goes UP more than it goes forward.  So, too, does a deer when hit with a Subaru at 55 miles/hour - the angle of the bumper is basically the same - and the scene unfolds with great drama and horror as the deer immediately launches upward, completely imploding front of the car, lifeless body of the deer floating backwards down the road like some computer-generated sci-fi special effect out of The Matrix, except that it's all real, and about 50-100 feet later the poor thing slams to the ground, stone dead, and you finally get the car to a stop, breathless.

The next thought you have is basically this: What the fuck do I do with all of these things?  These things being: fucked up car, smashed pieces of fucked up car that are strewn about willy-nilly all over the road, dead deer, insurance card, cell phone you can't seem to hold steadily enough to dial, tickets to the UVA game, skinning knife, keys, sunglasses, etc etc.  The whole thing comes at you pretty fast.  Chances are pretty good you lose something.  Again, I'm not the least bit squeamish about this stuff under most circumstances, but this is all uncharted ground for me and I'm, to say the least, unclear.

So I drag the poor deer out of the road by its ears, leave it in the ditch, and limp the car up to chestnut grove church to try to get my shit together.

I then do the following things in this order:
1)  Call local state farm office, who is closed because it's the weekend.
2)  Call the 800 number for national state farm support, wait on hold for 45 minutes
3)  Call my wife, inform her we are not going to the football game
4)  Call the 800 number again, wait on hold a while longer, hang up.
5)  Go online, look up state farm policies, read that I'm supposed to call the police to make a report
6)  Try to look up the number for county police, can't find it, say fuck it and call 911.
7)  911 says they'll send an officer
8) Hang out for about 1 hour with my thumb in my mouth
9)  Get a call from an officer who wants to know if I'm hurt or the car is totaled.  No and no.  He tells me to man up and fuck off.  Gives me his name and number in case I need it later, but he ain't coming.
10) Limp the car in to forest lakes auto, park it, have my wife pick me up, try to get a grip.

So, flash forward a couple of days, I think it's Monday now, and Forest Lakes auto isn't an auto body shop it turns out.  They're my usual guys, and I like 'em for oil changes and whatever, but this is unusual damage to be sure.  So I get State Farm on the phone finally and they fill me in with some good info about the process and the little journey that I'm about to undertake.  It basically works like this:

1)  You have to limp your poor car into the auto body collision repair shop, or have it towed there.  This is up to you.
2) You pick your own body shop from the list of approved providers on state farm's website.  I'm choosing not to link you to that website because you'll probably make the wrong goddamn choice, as I did, and where will you be then?  6 weeks later, and fucked, that's where you'll be.  To be clear, this is where the train really started to jump the tracks for me.  Choosing the right shop is everything, and our teammate, John Reynolds, happens to own and run one.  My biggest mistake was not taking my car to him.  I chose the "close place" instead.
3)  You pick your own rental car company, assuming you have rental car coverage which I do.  $900 in rental car coverage.  That's an enormous amount of money to blow on a rental car, which is just as fun as it sounds.  State Farm has a bro-deal with Hertz, some great rates for those of us traumatized by the local deer population minus one, and I start to get into the flow of things browsing SUV's for only $45/day and whatever.  No reason to think it will take 20 days to fix my car.  I rent a Dodge Journey, because I like the name, and as a metaphor for this whole mess, I find Journey to be very strong.  Plus, if you can't have fun in a rental car you might as well be dead already.
4)  State Farm works directly with the approved auto repair shop to evaluate the car, see if it's totaled, decide what to fix, then they allow the auto shop to fix it.  Meanwhile, you get to drive a rental car all over the county and try to hit your next deer before you have to return it, which is attainable.
5)  The collision repair shop that you probably should not have chosen even though they're the one closest to your house slowly creates 3, 4, as many as 5 estimates of what your car will cost to repair, steadily increasing in value right up to the actual value of the car.  State Farm approves all of these without blinking an eye.  Eventually, the $5900 in damage done to the car is approved, even though the blue book value for the car is only $3000 if it were in good condition, which it is clearly not, but sweet jesus, let's just move the process forward.  Fix it, everyone says.  Fine.
6)  You keep driving the rental car, sort of forget that the car you actually own is being butchered at the auto repair shop you chose.
7)  Eventually, 3 weeks or so after you dropped off your car for repair, the rental car company calls you, reminds you that your rental coverage via state farm is only $900, and that expired yesterday.
8)  You call the collision repair shop, who admits to losing "your file", but they are back on track to have the car back to you by next week.  Groovy. But what about the rental car in the meantime?
9)  You call state farm, explain the situation about the lost file and the lengthy repair period, and they call state farm corporate, who eventually agrees to extend the coverage of the rental car until your real car is repaired and ready.
10a)  You call the collision repair shop at the 4 week mark, but the car is still not ready.  Things are busy.  That's understandable.
10b) You call again at the 5 week mark.  Car still not ready.  Had to order some extra parts that you can't pronounce and neither can they.  And it's busy.  That's understandable.
10c)  You call at the 6 week mark, a full 42 days after the incident.  The rental car actually needs a goddamn oil change you've had it for so long.  But your car still isn't ready.  It's in line for paint, though, so it'll be ready Friday.
10d)  You call Friday, but it's still not ready, and they sound slightly less than very drunk, which is encouraging.  Look, take a walk out back here, there are like 50 cars that have hit deer sitting out there waiting for repair.  You're a goddamn number.  But I like you.  I'll have it done Monday. 
10e) You don't call Monday, and neither do they.  It's not ready and you both know it.  no sense having the same bullshit conversation over the phone again that you've been having for the last month.  It's 70 degrees, so you go ride your bike, imagine life without a car at all, and ponder how great that could actually be.
10f)  Tuesday, you go by the collision repair shop in person, just to see if they actually still have your car.  It's totally possible that they scrapped it, or lost it, or sold it, and they're just leading you on via phone until they can figure out what to do about this mess.  But you get there, and sure enough, it's almost ready.  almost.  As in, the headlights are still missing,  and there's no grill.  but real, real close.  Get a call while sitting in the parking lot while looking at your old car and they say it'll be ready at 5, which is odd because they could have just opened the window and screamed that at you.
11)  Around 2 pm, Hertz calls.  Your rental car has been reported missing/stolen, is unpaid, and they'd like to know if you have any information on its whereabouts since the time it disappeared.  Keep in mind it's parked in your driveway.  You re-assure them there must be some mistake, that state farm extended the coverage, and that the last 2 weeks were most certainly paid.  The car is here in your driveway.  They know that, they finally confirm, which creeps you out a little.  I mean, of course the thing has a gps, right?  But still, were they just testing you?  You then wait on hold for 45 minutes for a manager, and to pass the time you walk out into the yard and stare up at the sky and envision the Great Hertz Satellite shooting a patriot missile at your house from outer space.  Eventually the line goes dead.
13) Call Hertz back and get a busy signal.  Slam phone into laptop repeatedly.  Considering what's happened, you throw the deadbolt on the front door and arm yourself to the very teeth.
14)  Call State farm local office, explain situation, and they call state farm corporate to try to sort this out.
15) State farm corporate calls back, says your personal car is repaired and ready, go pick it up and return rental car immediately.  Collision repair shop is, she hopes, picking up the tab for the 2 weeks of extra time on the rental car, and she's trying to get a deal done there to sort that out.
16)  Pick up repaired car.  Except it's not repaired - the fog light is still missing.  One tire is flat.  Barely starts.  Check engine light is on.  It's making helicopter noises under the hood, smells like glue and fish, and the airbag warranty issue that they were supposed to handle while in the shop hasn't been addressed.  You'll have to take the car to the dealership to have that done, because they don't do that at the collision repair shop.  And the guy at the front desk gives you this apologetic look when you pay your deductible that basically says, "look, I know it's not done, but I really tried.  Please, just drive this thing away."  Awesome.

At this point, as I limp the car away which I limped there 6 weeks ago, it occurs to me that it might actually be in worse shape right now than when I dropped it off.  And I'm reminded, the day I did that, what Shawn told me, "Why don't you just take it up to John Reynolds in Orange?  They're state farm approved, they've got a body shop, and he'll get you set up with a loaner car until they're finished."  I didn't do that.  Because I'm an idiot, and I'm a terrible teammate.  I said to myself, "that's 30 miles away, who has time for that?"  

Who has time for that?  The irony of that statement, 6 weeks later, oozes like what I presume the dead fish is doing that the repair shop I did choose hid in the back of my car which is producing this goddamn awful dead fish smell.   I wish I could create a machine that would kick me in the ass automatically on a daily basis so I wouldn't have to do it myself every day in the future for as long as I own this car.

If you've made it this far, chances are pretty good you've hit a deer, and you're a local rider, and you're wondering what to do.  Or you're my mom, and you feel obliged the read my shit because you birthed me, in which case hi mom, and I'm sorry.

Do yourself a favor, get in touch with John Reynolds, let him take care of it like it's meant to be done.  He's our team sponsor for fuck's sake.  Really good guy.  Hell of a bike rider.  Likes a mass sprint. And I'm told he does a great job, so don't let the 30 miles fool you - you will save yourself a month.

Contact info:
112 Woodmark Street
Orange, VA 22960
Phone: 540-672-3700 ext. 8
Toll Free: 800-444-3702
24 Hour Towing: 866-491-3582


  1. Had I read this before now, I definitely would have ridden with you guys last night over here in Rocky Hollow, and likely would have forced a beer or three on you afterwards.. As it stands, I missed out, but saw your lights streaming down my backyard, and onto my driveway and gone..., I ran out in my bare feet, but was too late. Next time... but we did get in on some toy lift bike construction.

    That was a sad but fun story to read, and I even felt like I had a small part in it. You, me, Magrum and Caden riding around the airport and such... well that was before all your chaos began. Sad story, but you made it fun at least.. ugh.

  2. Additional Info: John Reynolds and the good folks in Orange will arrange to pick your car up for you. So the 30 mile drive is a complete non issue. Don't fuck this up. Call him.

  3. Dave is right: go to Reynolds. I had tires, alignment, and engine work done this past week. The Subaru Forester is rejuvenated and running great. They did solid, thorough work and were communicative at each step. Everyone at the dealership treated me well. Plus, I got a loaner Buick while the work was done, and there's also the option of folks at the dealership picking up/delivering your car. Support our sponsor and save yourself some time, aggravation, and money.

  4. Sad story, but it had me chuckling. I would get a new car.

  5. I am so sorry to hear of your experience. My name is Grant Carpenter and I am the service manager for John Reynolds. If I can help in any way feel free to call my cell 540-672-7933 I also run our 24 hour towing and recovery service. I want to thank the other folks who left the nice comments about us. Merry Christmas!

  6. Wow! That's an intense story. We're happy to see that you are alright, but hitting a deer with your car is definitely a traumatic experience. Our shop offers collision repair and we even work with your insurance. If you're ever near Houston, Texas, visit us for reliable body shop work.