Falling flat when it comes to tire longevity

December 12, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

For most people, the answer to "When's the last time you had a flat tire?" is usually "Never" or "Gee, not in a long time" or some answer suggesting a low probability of occurrence.

But not me.

Me, I get flat tires all the time.

In fact, by the time you read this, I've probably gotten another three or four flats to push my overall total to, oh, 70, easy.

But until the other day, I had never had a tire blow out on me, an experience you want to definitely avoid if at all possible.

The blowout took place on a busy four-lane highway in Baltimore County.

It went like this: I'm in the left-hand lane of the two lanes heading east. An 18-wheeler the size of Nebraska is next to me in the right lane.

Suddenly, directly ahead, I see a big rock in the road.

But there's nothing I can do to avoid it.

If I swerve to the right, I hit the 18-wheeler and go up in a towering fireball.

If I swerve to the left, I hit oncoming traffic and go up in a towering fireball.

So there's nothing to do but hit the rock.

And hope that my car, which drives like a tank anyway, can handle it.

Anyway, the left-front tire hits the rock and there's a loud boom!

Generally speaking, when you're driving and hear a loud boom! it's never a good thing.

All of a sudden, I'm fishtailing across two lanes like something out of The Dukes of Hazzard, with cars slamming on their brakes and swerving to avoid me.

By the way, do you know the first thing they tell you to do when you have a blowout?

The first thing they tell you to do is: Don't panic.


Here you are screeching across the road on a shredded, smoking tire, the car out of control and bucking like the Apollo 13 on re-entry.

And you're not supposed to panic.

Anyway, I panic. At least that's what I'd call it when you're gripping the steering wheel so hard it could snap off and screaming "AAAAAHHHHH!" over and over.

Somehow, I get the car under control. I edge it to the side of the road. I turn on the emergency flashers.

I get out of the car to inspect the damage. There is a hole in the tire the size of a cantaloupe.

But let me tell you this: The blowout was a piece of cake compared to what followed.

I don't know if you've ever tried to change a tire on the side of a busy highway with cars and trucks whizzing past a few feet from where you're working.

But it's really an experience.

Oh, did I mention it was 25 degrees outside? I should probably mention that.

But I was able to mentally block out the cold by concentrating on the fact that I'd be dead in a minute or two anyway, as soon as a car or truck plowed into me.

One thing I discovered is that you can change a tire pretty quickly when you're terrified of having your life snuffed out at any moment.

So I was like a one-man NASCAR pit crew out there: pop the wheel cover, loosen the lug nuts, jack 'er up, off with the flat tire, on with the ...

At this point, I discovered that the spare was one of those stupid little "doughnut" tires that look like they were designed for the Smurfmobile.

(See, I'd forgotten that I'd used the full-size spare for an earlier flat tire - you think I'm kidding about all these flats, but I'm not - and was using the doughnut tire as a temporary replacement.)

Anyway, if you know anything about these doughnut tires, you know they're not like real tires.

You're only supposed to drive very short distances on a doughnut. And you're not supposed to go very fast.

It's like Driving Lite.

So off I went at a rousing 30 mph, emergency flashers on, and wound my way along back roads, backing up traffic everywhere, until I reached the Cockeysville auto-repair empire of the Fabulous Kleim Brothers, my mechanics.

The Fabulous Kleim Brothers took one look at the tire with the hole in it and wondered if I had just driven in from Fallujah and drawn mortar fire.

But they replaced it with a very nice tire that should last at least 30,000 miles.

Which, for me, means it probably won't go flat until sometime next week.


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