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A Giant Step Forward for Car Owners

            A good many readers seemed to have enjoyed my column in the May-June issue. Many seemed to have had similar experiences with fast food clerks who wanted to weigh a quart and measure a pound. Probably we oldsters should just go ahead and admit that there’s some pretty tricky business out there these days – like deciding which side of a car is the left side!

            Ah, well, it’s a complicated world we live in! Take, for example, today’s ultra-modern and highly scientific automobiles. Naahh… I’m not talking about the cars that drive themselves while the person who should be driving just sits there enjoying the scenery that streaks by at, say, 70 miles an hour. Come to think of it, it really wouldn’t be necessary for anyone to even sit in the driver’s seat, since they wouldn’t be doing anything anyway, but just sitting there. And that being the case, they might just as well sit anywhere they like, front seat or back. Notice I didn’t say “passenger seat,” because in a driverless car, ALL the seats are passenger seats!

Which reminds me of a really strange experience that I’ve had now and again over the years. You’ve probably had the same experience. You pull up behind the car ahead of you. You see the back of somebody’s big head in the passenger seat… and then you look over to the driver’s seat, and there’s nobody there! No back-of-the-head, no shoulders… “Hey, there’s nobody driving that car!” But, of course, there IS somebody. It’s just a not-tall somebody. But, we might just as well get used to NOT seeing anybody (short OR tall) in the driver’s seat. A New Day has dawned!

But I’ve gotten all off course. I didn’t mean to get into anything as complicated as driverless cars. Really, I just wanted to talk about flat tires and how that age-old problem has been solved by new and improved technology. I don’t mean to brag when I say that we drive a relatively new SUV. It’s not anything exotic or all that special, but it did cost a lot of money, and it beats the heck out of the old Pinto I used to drive, a long time ago.

The first two or three years we had it (the SUV), no problems. Though I must say that just driving it in the dealership’s Service Department door seemed to cost more than what I was used to paying for “total services rendered.” But then the trouble started. The vehicle gradually slipped into this habit of losing air in its right-rear tire. First, it was just a little, but then it became a lot. Finally, its habit “hardened” and became a regular thing. I would fill that tire up to 45 pounds on a Monday, and by Friday it would be down to 25.

So, I took that SUV to the local tire shop. They ran all the usual tests (whatever they may be) and concluded that it was “just a problem.” Well, they got that much right. It WAS a problem. The new and improved technology built into this SUV turned out to be a wondrous thing! You see, as a protection and convenience for the driver, this vehicle, when a tire pressure drops to a providentially, predetermined level, projects a WARNING across the instrument panel that covers about half an acre, obliterating almost everything else except for the tip of the speedometer needle. The WARNING advises the driver (assuming that there IS one) to stop the car immediately and replenish the offending tire’s air supply.

Now, in the Good Ol’ Days, from which I come, there were simple and thrifty ways to fix such a problem as I have described here. You could check the valve stem to see if it was leaking. It could be replaced in a matter of seconds for less than a quarter. You could replace the tube. (“Yes, Bonnie and Bobby, tires were not always tubeless!”) If you couldn’t afford a new tube, you could patch the old one.

But alas and alack, our new and improved SUV has a computerized sensor on the inside of the tire rim (to alert the dash panel of grave danger!), just opposite the outside valve stem, which is also attached to the tire’s steel rim. Turns out that this complicated arrangement is subject to being damaged from the outside if the rubber encasement of the valve stem undergoes any trauma.

And so it came to pass, after some twenty or more weekly air-fillings of our SUV’s right-rear, high-tech, tubeless tire (not to mention countless re-visitations to the local tire shop), that a tiny leak at the base of the valve stem’s hard rubber casing was discovered. No doubt a wiser, more mechanically inclined person, would have solved this problem MUCH sooner. But, hey, I still know a good Sibley decoy when I see one!

Happy Collecting, everybody!


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