Sunday Bag o’ Flats

bag of flat tireI posted a shorter version of this on Facebook, knowing when I did it was more in the nature of a blog post and belonged here instead. So I’ll expand on our recent car troubles.

I’m anal about cars. They have to be on status, fully operational, ready to go at all times. When there’s a problem, I can’t rest until it’s fixed. Donna would say I’m that way about anything mechanical, and I have to agree, but car trouble in particular drives me bonkers.

Last Wednesday, as I was backing my car out of the garage, I saw that one of the rear tires on Donna’s car was almost flat. I abandoned my own plans, fired up the air compressor, pumped up the tire, and asked Donna to follow me to the corner tire shop. We left her car there while they plugged the tire. Donna drove me home and took my car to wherever she was going that day. When she got home we drove back to the tire shop and fetched her car.

The next morning, Thursday, the same tire was flat again. In a repeat of Wednesday we took her car back to the tire shop and Donna took mine for the day — but not before I noticed that one of the tires on my car was starting to go flat too, so that morning I had to pump up two tires. Fortunately the leak in my tire was slow, so I didn’t mind Donna driving my car while we had hers fixed.

The guy at the corner tire shop called a couple of hours later to tell me all four of Donna’s tires were old and cracked. When I said they were only three years old they tried to tell me tires only last three years in Arizona. I asked them to fix Donna’s flat anyway, and an hour later they told me they had. When Donna came back from her rounds we picked her car up and dropped mine off. Later that day they called to say my tire had a pinhole in the sidewall and couldn’t be fixed, so we made another trip to the tire store to get my car back.

As far as I knew when I went to bed Friday night, Donna’s tire was fixed and mine had a slow but manageable leak that would have to be addressed eventually. At least my car was drivable — once the tire was pumped up it was good for a few days before it needed more air. Just knowing that my tires weren’t perfect was driving me bonkers, though, and Donna and I both knew I’d have to have it fixed sooner rather than later.

Saturday morning Donna’s tire was flat again. It hadn’t been fixed at all. This time we didn’t bother with the tire store. I pumped it up and followed Donna to Costco, where we bought that set of tires in 2010.

Turned out Donna’s tires were still under warranty and were fine, except for the one that kept going flat. That one had a screw in the sidewall and couldn’t be fixed. With radial tires, when you replace one you have to replace the one on the other side as well. Costco put two new ones on the back of Donna’s car, and we paid only a small pro-rated price for both, our warranty now being in its 3rd year.

When we picked Donna’s car up later that morning we dropped mine off, since my tires came from there too, and were only two years old. Turns out I didn’t have a pinhole. My tire had a big old nail in it, and it too is now fixed. At no cost to us.

I’ve always been an advocate of supporting local merchants, but the guys at our corner tire shop really let us down. They not only missed a screw and a nail — probably the leading cause of flats and slow leaks — they lied about fixing Donna’s leak. Twice. Worse than that, they tried to bullshit me into popping for a totally unneeded set of new tires for Donna’s car.

When Donna and I were just 20 years old we bought a three-year-old Chevy II off a used car lot in Detroit and set off for California with our infant son. Somewhere in Utah, a freeway gas station attendant yanked on our front wheel, which had a little bit of play in it, and tried to tell us our tie rods were shot. He said we’d likely lose our steering and crash if we drove much further, and that it was a stroke of luck we’d stopped for gas before it happened. He could get the job done for just a few hundred dollars … which, of course, was all we had.

Babes in the woods though we were, we knew we were being played. So we drove on. We didn’t crash. Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, those tie rods took up permanent residence. Two years later, when we finally had some money in the bank, I took the car to a Sacramento garage and asked them to replace the tie rods. They probably thought I was crazy, but they took my money.

I now know somewhat more about freeway gas station scams. Tie rods ain’t the half of it. If you let ’em get under your hood they’ll cut your serpentine belt in order to sell you another. They’ll disconnect your alternator, take it out and repaint it before putting it right back in, then charge you $600 for the “new” one. They’ll cut your tires and water hoses. I may not have known what a pack of thieves they were then, but at least I did know something fishy was going on.

And here I am, 45-plus years later, a bona fide senior citizen, and those assholes at the corner tire shop — assholes I’ve been doing business with for 16 years — try to pull a freeway gas station scam on me. Try to play me like the dumbest of dumb shits who ever walked in off the street. Do I look like a mark? Do they not remember I’m a regular customer who lives in the neighborhood? Do they not care about getting repeat business?

Do they not know I have a blog?

Since I know my Tucson friends will ask, I’m talking about Jack Furrier Tire & Auto Care at Tanque Verde & Bear Canyon on Tucson’s east side. It may be that Jack Furrier shops are independently operated and that other branches are better, but I won’t be going back to find out.

Yeah, I’ll still default to local merchant mode, but not when it comes to tires. When it comes to tires the big national chain, in this case Costco, has it all over the locals. Great service, good warranties, honest business practices. And you can’t beat the price.

© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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