Snagging Victory From the Jaws of Defeat

Waking up to a cool, overcast morning after rain overnight sealed the deal. Today was the day to get my rear wheels checked out. I had no desire to drive back to Arizona with that vibration in the back.

After coffee and some Lister outside time, I detached my trailer on the street (I didn’t trust myself to back it into Carolyn’s driveway through the narrow gate) and drove to America’s Tire in Pasadena. It’s the same chain as Discount Tire, but they have a different name here, because California, I guess. I described my problem, and they examined my tires. The problem wasn’t a wheel out of balance, but a bulge in the tread of the tire itself. The steel belts that give a tire its structural integrity were separating, causing the bulge, and eventual catastrophic failure of the tire. I could feel this bulge myself after they found it and told me what to look for. The driver’s side was particularly bad, but the passenger side was showing signs of this starting to happen as well. Long story short: I needed two new back tires.

I’m displeased, but not with America’s Tire. Their explanation makes perfect sense and matches the symptoms I’ve been experiencing. They didn’t try to sell me four new tires, since my front tires are in perfectly good shape. They say the causes of this problem can be a defective tire, underinflation, or overloading. The place I bought these tires in Illinois drastically underinflated them to 40 psi instead of the factory recommendation of 80 (after lying to my face and telling me they inflated to factory recommendations). This could’ve caused the problem to begin, with time and miles adding up. I’ve stayed on top of my tire pressures ever since, but I did put heavy loads on them, especially when I used to carry the motorcycle on the back of the van. I don’t think it was above the van’s maximum weight, but it was still heavy. These tires only lasted 15 months. They even still had nearly all of their tread.

So I resigned myself to spending a few hours exploring Pasadena on foot. I was right on Route 66 and the route of the Rose Parade that will be happening in a few days. But what sucked me in was finding Lucky Baldwin’s Trappiste Pub. I was just looking for lunch and found an English pub, which sure beat waiting around at the tire place. I had the Cottage Pie and a couple of 2am Bike Ride coffee and vanilla stouts by Fall Brewing Company out of San Diego. It was a much nicer waiting room than America’s Tire had.

Their text message updates told me when my van finally got into a bay, which was when I closed out my tab and walked back. Sure enough, the van was inside with its back wheels off — including the one that I couldn’t remove for the life of me. It was finished quickly and I was on my way. After my last experience, I double-checked the rear tire pressures and found them right at 80 psi where they belong. I’ll check the lug nut torque before I head back to Arizona, and make sure they’re not too tight like they used to be. I saw them using cordless impact wrenches to put the lug nuts back on, which can’t tighten them as much as the air-powered kind. That’s a good thing.

I’m fortunate to have a good-sized emergency fund at this point. I’ve lived cheap for long enough that I can absorb an emergency like this since light truck tires don’t come with a mileage warranty like passenger car tires do. My van was in and out in hours, not days like the last repair. If this hadn’t happened, I never would’ve found that excellent pub. I didn’t even lose a day of great motorcycling to take care of this. The roads should have dried out by tomorrow.

Best of all, by getting this problem addressed sooner rather than later, I’ve avoided a blowout, and getting stranded on the side of the road. Since the vibration only occurred at highway speeds, I likely wouldn’t have discovered it until I started crossing the southern US in the spring. At that point, I’ll be on a schedule, since there’s a campout in Florida I want to go to, and might have missed it if I got delayed too much. That could easily have happened if I had a blowout, especially if the resulting loss of control got me into even more trouble.

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