By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com

It’s inevitable. No Sullivan family party ever passes without some mention of it. “Telephone. Oh, it’s Bob, probably stuck somewhere.” Ten years ago I was a young, struggling journalist with incredible wanderlust and incredibly bad luck with cars. Of course, my family never calls it bad luck. Anyway, as a result, if you’ve traveled our beautiful highways and byways much, you’ve probably seen me — standing on the side of the road, huddled over my car, smoke billowing into my hapless face.

Yes, there was a time when tow truck drivers on my home turf of New Jersey knew me by name. But at least when I broke down there, my brother could retrieve me. But once I started getting vacation time, there was no stopping my addiction for rest areas, Hammond Atlases, Motel 6’s, and Denny’s. Well — no stopping isn’t exactly accurate.

Of course, I should have known better than to drive a 12-year-old Plymouth Horizon for more than an hour at a time at highway speeds — SOMETHING was bound to go wrong, right?

Nevertheless, back then my faith in the mechanical was unwavering, and my desire to conquer the open road strong. Alas, I found myself helpless and car-less in many great places across our beautiful country.

Thankfully, I don’t drive around in cars-on-the-fringe anymore. And with the advent of 24-hour roadside assistance and cell phones there’s much less fear of getting stuck in the Badlands for days.

Still, for those of you who have done time on the soft shoulder, you’re probably familiar with that unexpected ping or clunk and the unwelcome adreneline rush. But take solace from a veteran of the breakdown lane. And remember to check under the hood BEFORE you see the smoke.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

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