Saturday, January 19, 2013

Flat Tires and Thinking ahead

Yesterday, picked up a nail in the tire (and it predictably went flat.) Calmer Half, who was driving, quickly decided that we were pulling over and searching for the source of that oh-so-familiar thup-thup-thup noise despite the lack of any tactile feedback you expect from a flat. (Note: I was most emphatically not arguing with his decision. You might even call it enthusiastic agreement.)

I am creaky, and disinclined to do more work on the side of a road with no shoulder and cars whizzing by mere feet away than necessary - but I've learned to work around this (it isn't the first time I've had flat tires since getting banged up.) Calmer Half, on the other hand, had a sudden stark look on his face when he realized that he hasn't had a flat tire since being crippled. He suddenly didn't know if he could physically do something that used to be routine. (Driving in Africa, including the bush. I think his youth probably had more tire changes than some mechanics...)

I hate that feeling. I hate seeing it on his face even more. No matter how used to being in constant low-level pain you get, no matter how much life settles into a new normal and you just recalibrate "fine" so life goes on, sometimes reality cuts you wide open with the realization that it's not all good, you're not fine, and what used to be a minor annoyance could now be a major complication. As inured to the slings and arrows of everyday life as I can be, seeing that look on his face cut me to the heart. But I had a plan...

When I was young and full of ignorance and energy, I thought that old folks (like my father) were crafty, devious, treacherous, cunning, and wise because they'd lived long enough to learn all the tricks. Now I realize that it's not age; it's learning to overcome problems with cunning, thinking around the problem, replaying it until you can see where to divert it before it even becomes a problem. It comes because you learn to work around limitations, and complications, small children and second lieutenants, bad nights with little rest and screaming joints from a change in the weather. Some people can grow old without growing wise because nothing ever radically changes their life. Other grow old without growing wise because they give up and let others dictate their limitations. But watch out for old sergeants, officers with gray hair, and mothers of teenagers!

I opened the trunk, and pointed out that I stashed in there not only the spare tire, but also two different cans of fix-a-flat (who plans for the spare tire not being bad?), and an air compressor powered off the cigarette lighter (mostly used for filling the airplane tires.)

Since mechanics hate working on tires with the slime from fix-a-flat on the inside, we started with the air compressor. The tire filled - and if it was slow, well, neither of us had to be kneeling on the January asphalt and fumbling with lug nuts. We could hear the air hissing out, but filled to near-max pressure (not all the way), it was plenty to get the car a mile to the mechanics, and for them to drive it around to the shop's lift.

While the mechanic behind the desk protested that "Oh, it'd have been fine if you needed to use fix-a-flat, ma'am"... The mechanic who actually drove the car around got a grin as wide as his ponytail was long when I told him we'd just hit it with the compressor so he didn't have to deal with the slime. And when they handed the keys back, he told me it was indeed a nail, and there was no charge.

I *heart* Gateway Tire & Auto. And having three different methods of backup. But most of all, I *heart* the look on Calmer Half's face when he realizes that it doesn't matter if he no longer can do something with youth, enthusiasm, and brute force: we already have old age, cunning, and technology laid in to make it even easier than it originally was.

Sets my little heart at ease, that look does...


  1. Good for you guys! And I totally agree on finding ways around the soreness and pain. It's sometimes a struggle to explain that even though I can do the jobs I used to be able to do, it takes longer and takes more out of me.

    And a good mechanic and tire store are worth their weight in gold, as is a road hazard warrantee on tires.

  2. What DaddyBear said - and good for you, for being prepared.

    And yes, finding new ways to accomplish old tasks due to aches, pains, and old injuries does lead to innovation. :^)

  3. Good for y'all... and yes, work arounds DO work! :-)

  4. Great story.

    "But watch out for old sergeants, officers with gray hair, and mothers of teenagers!"

    I'm saving that one...

  5. Along with that compressor, I would suggest packing a tire plug kit. WalMart or auto parts stores carry it. Consists of a reamer tool, and the insertion tool, and a package of sticky plugs.

    Quite often you can fix it without removing it from the vehicle.

    Inflate the tire, then move the vehicle until the hissing point is located at an angle you can access.

    Might need to add some more air now. (If the tire doesn't inflate, the odds are not good on it being repairable. Sometimes, you might have several nail holes, which is ok)

    Pull the nail/object. Angle cutters (dykes) tend to work best at grabbing something that may be flush with the tread.

    CAUTION: if the hole is in the sidewall, the tire is toast. You may be able to plug it, but realize your next stop should be a tire store, as this will be a very temporary fix.

    Quickly poke the reamer tool into the hole, and run it in and out until it moves fairly smoothly. A dozen strokes, or so, should do it. You may hear metal on metal, that would be the steel belts under the tread, which is one of the reasons you are "filing" the surface of the hole.

    Pull one of the sticky strips halfway through the hole in the end of the insertion tool, and push the tool into the tire, until the sticky ends are maybe a half-inch above the tread. Rotate the tool a quarter turn, and pull it out of the tire. If the hole is still hissing or bubbling, try inserting a second strip. (If it takes two, odds are the tire shop won't consider it repairable)

    This roadside repair may last until the tire goes bald, but if you can afford it, consider having a shop re-do it with a plug/patch repair. This requires removing the tire partially, or completely, from the rim, so they can access the inside.