Changing tire on a minivan is a major job

February 03, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

IF YOU own a minivan -- we have a snappy Mazda MPV that has squeezed all the joy of driving out of our lives -- you've probably already identified your biggest on-road nightmare.

It's not getting rear-ended by an 18-wheeler.

It's not getting a $200 speeding ticket from some cranky state trooper who nails you doing 85 in a 55.

It's getting a flat tire.

Because a flat in most minivans means you're doomed, something we only recently learned in my family.

Our flat-tire horror story begins this way: It's 8 in the morning. My wife is going to work. She says to me: Go out and warm up the minivan.

Sure, I say. Because I'm a prince of a guy.

So I go out and discover the right front tire is flat.

Great.

It's 11 degrees. The wind is blowing like it's the Arctic Circle. And I have to change a flat.

Still, I'm not freaking out at this point.

A flat isn't the end of the world. I've changed dozens of flat tires ---it's no big deal.

Sure, this'll be my first time changing a flat on the minivan.

But I figure: How hard can it be?

(OK, fine. You veteran MPV owners are cracking up at this point. You're laughing so hard, you can't breathe. Have your little fun. I can take it.)

Anyway, right away I run into a major problem.

The problem is: I can't find the spare tire.

Oh, I find the jack. And I find the other tools for changing the tire. But I can't find the spare.

It's not tucked into a rear compartment. It's not in the recessed space under the cargo area. It's not anywhere a normal human being would look for it.

Did I mention it was 11 degrees outside?

And blowing like February in Siberia?

I should probably mention that.

Anyway, I finally go to the owner's manual. Which is when I discover the spare tire is located underneath the minivan, secured to the undercarriage.

Apparently, when the vehicle was being built, the Mazda designers got together and said: "Where can we put the spare so that it causes maximum inconvenience for anyone who gets a flat tire?"

And the answer was: Under the minivan! So that a person has to get down on all fours and get his clothes all dirty!

Still, even at this point in the ordeal, I'm not going ballistic.

Oh, I'm cursing every Mazda executive, along with everyone who ever worked in their factories, and all their families.

But I'm also thinking: OK, at least I found the spare.

How hard can the rest of the operation be?

(Fine, you veteran MPV owners are on the floor laughing again. I'm glad this is so hysterical. What do you do in your spare time, pull the wings off live butterflies? )

Seconds later, I find out how hard the rest of the operation will be. Very, very hard.

Because in order to get at the spare, I have to -- stay with me here -- insert a lever into a socket on the floor near the second row of seats.

Then I have to crank this lever counterclockwise so the spare slowly lowers to the ground via a cable.

Then I have to jump out and peer under the minivan to see if the spare is all the way down.

Can you imagine doing this on the side of the Beltway at rush hour?

You'd be dead in 10 seconds. A big semi would come along and smack you over one of those sound barriers.

Although if you didn't die, you'd have muscles like Sammy Sosa from all that cranking.

Anyway, I crank, and I crank, and I crank. Hours go by, maybe days. Finally, I get the spare free.

The good thing is that, by this point, it's at least starting to warm up a bit.

Yeah, by now it's about 13 degrees. And instead of 40 mph gusts, we're looking at gusts of only, oh, 38 or so.

OK, so now I have the spare tire free. And I'm thinking: Well, we're in now. What else can possibly go wrong?

Ha, ha, ha! Even I have to laugh at that one.

Because now I discover the genuises at Mazda have generously provided what appears to be the world's tiniest lug nut wrench.

Look, this thing would be too small for the Smurfs to use, never mind a grown man. It's so small I can't get any leverage to loosen the lug nuts.

But I try anyway. I try, and I try. I strain so hard one of my eyeballs nearly pops out and rolls into a snowbank.

Nothing. The lug nuts don't budge.

Which is when I finally throw in the towel. And call my mechanics, the Fabulous Kleim Brothers, who come out in a big truck with air compressors and real tools and fix the flat.

So I learned my lesson. Get a flat in a minivan, and you better pray you have the best tool of all.

A cell phone.

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