Saturday, 9 January 2016

Just sheer bad luck

I have to admit that so far as cars are concerned I am decidedly unlucky. No matter what care I take, the cars in my life regularly suffer mishaps, and if there is one area where I am particularly unfortunate it's tyres. Yes, I've suffered another puncture. It wrote off a tyre this time, damaged beyond hope of repair.

I had just bought some smoked salmon from Springs Smoked Salmon at Edburton, a hamlet at the foot of the South Downs west of Fulking. Edburton lies along a fairly narrow country road that tends to puddle somewhat in heavy rain, and the consequent water movements always spread silt and loose stones and a variety of other detritus across the road. Well, the rain had stopped, but there was still lots of gravel and other stuff on the road surface, and among all that lot was a huge nail that Fiona's nearside rear tyre picked up soon after I left the salmon shop's customer car park.

At first there was a regular thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk sound, as if something had temporarily caught in one of the tyre treads - a large stone, say. But it didn't go away as I increased speed, and actually got much louder. Suspicious, I stopped and got out of Fiona to take a look. Sssssssssss! That rear tyre was hissing air and deflating rapidly. I quickly jumped back in, turned the car around, and drove back to the customer car park - the only nearby large flat area I could think of with easy access for a roadside rescue vehicle.

I only just made it. I was running on a completely flat tyre as I turned into the car park. It was making awful flapping noises. Expensive noises!

Well, it could have been worse. The tyre hadn't come off the wheel. But it was a sorry sight:

If ever I saw a write-off, this was it. It was so badly crumpled. The tyre walls must have been totally mangled. And deeply embedded in the tread was a large, blunt-headed metal nail, which you can make out in this next shot if you look carefully:

No mere tack this. It looked like a iron stake that would do nicely for killing Count Dracula. I was not happy.

Don't let that early-afternoon sunshine fool you. It was chilly, and I was not warmly clad. Nor did I have anything more than a bottle of water with me. And I knew I'd have to wait for roadside assistance - changing a tyre was not within my powers.

I phoned Britannia Rescue from the shop - help promised 'within 90 minutes' - went to the loo there (very obliging of them, that), transferred everything from the boot to the back seat, and disinterred the never-before-used spacesaver tyre from its well. I had a plastic tarpaulin, so at least the beige carpet in the boot wouldn't get dirty.

Then I hunkered down to wait, now and then turning on the engine to warm the interior of the car up a bit. The man came after 80 minutes. He was cheerful. He had the tyres swapped over in short order. I 'signed' the rescue app screen on his phone, all you seem to do nowadays, and headed for home. I did stop on the way back to get some milk. The spacesaver looked very odd, as it was smaller and much narrower than the ordinary tyre:

This was a Thursday, and I needed a proper new tyre fitted by Saturday evening. I was scarcely in the mood to organise that. In fact after no food for several hours, and a longish wait for help, I was feeling somewhat tired and brain-dead. Fortunately I met Jackie and Kevin, my neighbours, as I arrived home. They advised me to buy a replacement tyre online (from TyreShopper). I'd get it at a big discount, and could specify which tyre fitter it should be delivered to, for them to fit it at no extra cost, balancing included. I said I'd look into this, even though it seemed rather a palaver. But after a badly-needed and very late lunch, it didn't look so hard to do.

The price was in fact so good I decided to replace both rear tyres. And as I write this, I am looking at the job being done very locally some time on Saturday morning, less than twelve hours ahead.

Now why both rear tyres? Well, after my rear tyres were last replaced, at Fiona's annual service in May 2015 - 10,000 miles ago - I began to notice a humming noise at speed, which I've mentioned several times since. Although from the same maker (Continental) the then-new rear tyres had a very different kind of tread compared with the front tyres. I'd never had that kind before. They were meant to be free-rolling and long-lasting. And supposedly quiet. But something was making that humming noise, and passengers said it came from the rear, so those new tyres were the likely culprits. But I wasn't going to discard them too quickly, not while they still had plenty of wear left in them!

Now fate had written off one of these humming tyres. An opportunity to discover whether a different set would silence the noise completely. At low cost.

We'll find out very soon.


  1. It must be that I always fear the worst where cars are concerned and the thing I hate most is the click , click,
    click from tyres. I have lost track of the time I have spent at the side of the road looking for stones trapped in the treads just hoping that I will not find some metal rubbish from our rarely cleaned roads. It does not help that I have spent part of my previous life as a quality controller for a tyre manufacturer and know just how little there is to break through in modern radial tyres. Keep a blanket in the car for winter...

  2. Your dad's old Citroen DS19 would have been a lot easier to repair, Lucy. My dad had one too. To change a wheel, one simply elevated the car to maximum height, using the hydraulic suspension height control, stuck a wedge under the sill, then lowered the suspension again, whereupon the wheel with the offending tyre obediently lifted clear of the ground. One big wheel nut (that I remember, as a 10-year old, releasing by jumping onto the spanner arm) and off came the wheel.

    For a car as complex and over-engineered as a DS19, it was amazingly simple... but I suppose we've progressed from then.


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