Open Season begins in Moscow on September 1st, signaled by blaring horns as Russians flock back from their summer holidays. Every vehicle and pedestrian is fair game, and the steel carcasses jam up roads throughout the city, waiting for GAI judges to show up to score the hunt.
To prepare, we decided to check “the kit” in our pomegranate pyaturka; the gear that every Russian car owner should stow for the road trips. First, a document check. Most important is the laminated, pink tekpassport (Certificate of Registration), which I carry in my wallet in case the car is stolen. A doverennost (power of attorney) from Wilma gives me permission to drive the car – if the car is registered in my name, as a foreign citizen, it would expire with my visa. The tekosmoter shows that the car passed its last technical inspection, required every two years. The OSAGO certificate shows that I have paid the mandatory liability insurance providing coverage of up to 10,000 rubles. Finally, there are the notarized translations of my driver’s license and passport.
Now, the bagajhnik (trunk). There are three mandatory items, whether for a Russian car or inomark (import) – the aptechka (first aid kit), a fire extinguisher, and a reflective triangle. Of course there is a spare tire, inner tube, tire pump, tire jack and tools; but a real Russian might also have the tools to remove the tire from the rim and patch it. A recent episode of the Russian version of Top Gear demonstrated how, in an emergency, you could pull the tire half way off the rim, and provide a patch by pouring a little gasoline inside and firing it up, although the expert said this was only temporary and would only get you to the nearest service station.
Next, a gas can and jumper cables, since you may forget to turn off your headlights. In our case we had a pesky rear brake light that came on at odd times, even after we had parked and left the car. To get a jump, just stand on the side of the road with the cables out; it’s about as easy as getting a gypsy cab and 100 rubles is more than a fair price. A tow cable also comes in handy when the old girl refuses to go further – and the same procedure applies to get a tow as to get a jump. Of course, many a Russian driver would never bother to ask for help or a tow; he just pops out in the middle of the highway, and changes the tire or cleans the carburetor, oblivious to the high-speed traffic streaming by on all sides.
Finally, the toolbox and the spare parts. Spare parts should include fuses, a set of spark plugs and cables, and a carburetor cleaning and parts kit. For a pyaturka, an extra sensor for the radiator fan is useful, since these seem to stop working every few thousand miles, causing an overheated engine in Moscow traffic.
In the heat of this summer in Moscow, I had to add another item – a large bottle of cold water. For a couple of weeks, our baby would suddenly begin to chug and then stop dead in traffic. I had to push her off the road a couple of times. After useless suggestions from a few helpful drivers, I began to suspect that ancient affliction of carburetor systems – vapor lock. I finally was blessed with advice from an inomark driver as I tried to push the car off the road in the middle of a busy city intersection. He yelled, “You need to pour cold water on the fuel pump – always carry a bottle of cold water!” I ran into a nearby apteka (pharmacy) and bought two bottles of ice cold water. It worked!