I had a flat tire a few weeks ago. It is my hope that you can learn from what I did right, and from what I did wrong.
I was headed to work in my 1989 Saleen Mustang. It was 5 am and I was blasting down the freeway at something like 70 mph. My commute is around 25 miles, or 30 minutes. I was almost there when I started to feel a strange vibration in the car. I did not have a clue as to what was happening. The car felt like it was going over a rough road, but I seemed to remember this section of the freeway as being in good condition. Then the thought crossed my mind that I was loosing control of the car. FLAT TIRE! is what my brain finally screamed out.
In all this time I had not slowed down, and looking back I think I drove about a mile while I was trying to analyze what the hell was going on. Luckily for me there was no traffic around me as I dove for the right side of the road. The car went through some wild gyrations as I was getting it stopped, and once I was safely parked on the side of the freeway I got out and looked around. When I got to the right rear corner of the car an amazing sight greeted me. The right rear tire outside sidewall was totally shredded. The entire sidewall was blown out. The wheel was not damaged so I was very glad that I had pulled over when I did. (The wheels on this car are no longer being manufactured. It would cost around $400-$500 to buy a set of 4 new ones.) Looking back all I can think is that whatever I ran over in the dark punctured the sidewall and started a (relatively) slow leak. That and the centrifugal force allowed the tire to basically keep its shape for as long as it did. When I looked closely at the destroyed tire I noticed that there was smoke coming out of the inside of it. This tire was a high performance low profile tire with a stiff sidewall. (It was a General Ultimax HP, sized 245/50 R16.)
The last time I had a flat tire before last week was in the same car, on the same corner of the car. But it happened 25 years ago. That time I also ran over something that punctured the sidewall of the tire. This happened about six months after I had bought the car new. (And it came equipped with General tires.) But the difference was that I was only going about 30 miles an hour back then, and that I was able to quickly realize what had happened while covering much less distance. So back then the tire was not repairable, but it was also not totally destroyed, unlike this time.
Well there was nothing else to do but jack up the car and put on the spare. Everything went well and 30 minutes later I was back on the road. Here is the part where I did things right. In this car the spare tire is mounted in the trunk, and it is mounted with the tire stem pointed down. So the only way to check the pressure in the spare is to remove it from the car. And over the 26 years I have owned this car I have been in the habit of around once a year removing the spare and filling it up to specifications. (Which in this case is 60 psi.) Well it turns out that when I needed the spare it had 50 psi. Which was enough.
The spare tire has written on the side wall “Convenience Spare-do not exceed 50 mph.” Well I did not feel very comfortable going much faster that 25-30 mph with the spare mounted on the car. An added complication was the fact that the car has a limited slip differential, and running two very different sized tires on the rear axle was going to mean that the differential was going to be doing a lot of slipping. I figured the slower I drove the car the less potential I would have for possible future differential problems.
I got into work and I was only half an hour late. I had all day to plan out what to do next, and when I was done with my job I got back into the car and I limped back home using the back roads. It was the middle of the day so there was not much traffic.
Here is the part that I did wrong. I bought the tires I had on the car over the internet. From Tirebuyer.com to be precise. Back in June of last year I was looking to replace my old tires. I had heard from lots of people that the internet was the place to get a great deal on new tires. I did some comparison shopping and it seemed to me that everyone was right. I got the front tires for $90 each, and I got the rear tires for $95 each. Shipping included!
Well it turns out that it was not such a good deal after all. Once I found a place to mount and balance the tires I was into the new tires for $410. Then I found out that the guy I had balance the tires the first time had an inaccurate balancing machine, so I had to get the tires re-balanced for another $40. OK, $450 later and I am off and running. I had put a whole 5,000 miles on the car when I had the flat that is the subject of this story.
I called Tirebuyer and they had some bad, bad, really bad, news for me. There was no warranty on the tire, and to make things even worse this particular tire was no longer being made. And when they were being made they did not make very many of them. So I had zero chance of finding another one. (My stomach just sank when I heard this. I just knew that I was going to be spending more money on some more tires.) This meant that I was looking at buying at least 2 new rear tires, or maybe 4 new tires if the new rear tires and the old front tires were not a good match.
Well, I vowed then and there to never buy another tire from the internet. I went to a local tire shop and they gave me a great price on 2 new Kumho tires for the rear. ($150 each, mounting and balancing included.) After driving on the Kumhos for a few days I could tell that they were much better tires than the Generals. The new rear tires had more traction, and a stiffer sidewall than the old General tires. And I knew that having more traction in the back end than in the front end was going to be a problem. So I put new Kumhos in the front too. (At $140 each.) I am into the Kumhos for $580 now, but I know that if I have a problem my local tire store will be happy to help me. And I know that if I need to just buy just one tire I will be able to get just one tire.
When I am able to sell the three old tires I have I will be able to get a little of my money back, but all in all this was an expensive lesson to learn. The old rule that “You get what you pay for” still holds true. And it seems like every time I forget that saying I get another life lesson that reminds me just how true that statement is.
In closing I would just like to encourage you to check your spare tire. You never know when you will need it. And if you find a deal that seems too good to be true it probably is just that. Oh, and one more thing, always carry a flashlight. I had one and it was a big help. It is hard to fix anything when everything is dark. Actually I had four flashlights that I could have used if needed. Two on me and two in the car. It pays to be prepared.