Travel Week: Always Take Care of Your Tires

GeekMom Travel
Rickety Wood Bridge, Jamestown, Virginia
Rickety Wood Bridge, Virginia. I certainly didn’t want to end up stranded in the middle of this. Photo: Jenny Williams

I take very good care of my car. I don’t know much about cars, or care to, but I rely on my car on a daily basis. Especially now that I’m a single mom, I don’t have any backup. So I take my car in for every scheduled maintenance, and check out every drip or weird noise.

Part of taking care of my car included renting a car for my 40 day road trip last summer instead of driving my own. I didn’t want to put 6000 miles on my car in such a short period of time, so I managed to cheaply rent one (it was about $775 for a 41 day rental through AAA).

I went to pick up the car at my local airport (local being the operative word here — it’s a small, regional airport, which actually allowed for a much cheaper rental than I could have gotten two hours away in Phoenix), and got all the paperwork filled out. I started the car, and a weird indicator light became lit. I checked the manual. It was a tire warning light. I’d never driven a car that warned you if your tire was low on air, but this indicator proved to be an incredibly useful diagnostic tool later on.
I went back to the car rental counter and asked about the light. The guy brushed it off as some kind of malfunction, explaining that he had just checked the tire and it wasn’t actually low.

Note: Here is where I should have listened to my instincts and taken the time to arrange for a different car when he offered. Now I know. And knowing is half the battle.

I decided to just go with the offered car, thinking the tire was just temporarily low and I could add air later if need be. This coming from someone who had never had a leaky or flat tire, ever, but who just wanted to get on the road.

No Services
Image from brewbooks on Flickr.

I drove the car home and started filling it with my 40 days of luggage, trip food, water, etc. The trunk was smaller than I’d hoped, but my superior packing skills made it all fit.

Early the next morning, we embarked on our long journey and didn’t have any tire issues for a few days. The tire eventually got low on air around day four of the trip, so we filled it up. About 3-4 days later, it got low again. This pattern continued, but I figured that I could live with it, getting air every few days throughout the trip. It was easier and sort of faster than trading out the rental car somewhere along the route, and the indicator light gave me more than enough warning.

The car and I hobbled along in that fashion until day 32, as we were leaving our excessively hot but enjoyable time in Williamsburg, Virginia. I filled the car up with gas and checked the tire. I knew that where we’d be driving that day would be rural and hard to find stations. The tire pressure was not good, and it had only been a day since I had last filled it. The tire was starting to get much worse. I didn’t have a lot of options because we’d checked out of our hotel and had a lot of ground to cover that day. I kept telling myself that it’d work out just fine, filled the tire as much as possible, and headed on down the road.

Our first stop that day was to see Jamestown in the insane heat, running from shade area to shade area. The tire held, and we did get to see the colony and the glass blowing, along with a scenic drive around the area. Then it was on to GeekMom Natania’s house for the night, through a lot of obscure back roads and rural areas. Along the way, the map showed something that appeared to be a bridge over the James River, but my usually excellent map reading skills failed me (I blame the heat, the tire, and the stress), and it turned out to be a ferry. Sure, a free ferry, but… Um… Imagine if my tire had decided to entirely deflate on a crowded ferry full of cars, trucks, and bikers. In 100 degree weather. I kept my fingers crossed.

Fortunately we made it to the other side of the river still mobile. I stopped at every gas station we passed that had an air pump. We drove through sparsely populated areas, scary areas, and were even stuck sitting in one place in the middle of nowhere waiting for construction vehicles for at least 30 minutes. I kept creating contingency plans in my head. It was scary at the time, but I thought it better to risk continuing on to our destination than to stop in a sketchy area to get the tire fixed.

Note: I also had no smart phone. No easy way of finding the nearest gas station. No way to look up phone numbers if I had to have someone help me out. No GPS beacon to describe my location. The kids and I were alone in the world with 20th century technology (read: flip phone).

After much angst on my part, we finally made it to Natania’s house. I settled in and relaxed, knowing the kids and I were safe. I could deal with the tire problem the next day. But when I woke up, the tire was completely flat. I was simultaneously upset to be stranded and happy that the tire waited until I was somewhere safe to give out.

To keep a long story from getting longer, I called AAA and a man came by to put on the spare tire. He informed me that there were at least three nails in the troubled tire and shook his head at the man who willingly rented me the car. I drove to the airport and swapped the car out for a different one. The Hertz guy was most apologetic and helpful. The new car had, unfortunately, slightly less trunk room, but we’d gone through enough of our food and water to make it work. We had no problems with the new car for the rest of the trip.

Lesson learned. Never go against your gut feeling, and always take care of your tires. I am grateful my story didn’t end differently.

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