My first flat tire

This is worthy of posting as part of my “smart car experience”: I got a flat last Thursday.

I was driving home from Refresh the Triangle, a web developer meetup in Durham, around 8 at night. Around 5 miles from home, the tire pressure warning light came on. I was surprised, because I usually check my tire pressure every other weekend for safety, so I knew the light wasn’t warning me that I’d let one tire go a little flat. At first I thought, “Eh, I’m not so far from home, I’ll keep going.” But then the other part of my brain woke up and started shouting, “The tire pressure warning light only goes of when there’s a 25% increase or decrease in tire pressure. That means your tire is either on fire and about to explode or going flat and you’re about to lose control of the car!” Okay, okay, the first thing I did was look for a well lit parking lot, of which there are many. The light was fading, and I didn’t have a flashlight in the car (I will correct that post haste).

So I pulled into Lab Corp’s parking lot and pulled in under a nice, bright street lamp. As I swung open my door, I was greeted with an eager hiss from my right rear tire. It was losing air rapidly.

Well, first things first, I called my husband to let him know what had happened. I got his answering machine, and left a note about my time and location, in case something should happen to me. Then I tried to call the smart care hotline, but I must have misdialed because I got switched into a never ending loop of tinny classical music. The sun was disappearing fast, so I pulled out my owner’s manual and started reading about what to do.

Now, smart ars don’t come with spare tires because they use two different tire sizes, little ones in the front, big ones in the back. This means you’d need both sizes in your trunk in case of emergency, and that wouldn’t leave much room for groceries. So instead, each smart car ships with an air pump (which I use for my biweekly tire maintenance) and a bottle of goo, both of which are stashed under the flooring on the passenger side. So I read up on how to use the goo.

First off, using the goo ruins the pump and the tire pressure level sensor. The sensor isn’t covered under warranty in this case, so you have to pay to replace it yourself. Secondly, it works best on small holes in the tread. Lastly, the goo is covered in warnings to not inhale or touch the stuff. My favorite part in the manual was where it said that you should wear gloves when using the goo, and that if gloves aren’t around, try to cover your hands with something. And should you get any on your skin, you are advised to wash it off immediately and if “symptoms occur,” contact a poison control center. (What symptoms one should expect was never clarified.)

I decided to carry on, and I moved my smart so the tire’s nozzle was below the horizontal axis of the wheel, which only served to further anger the tire, which began hissing most frightfully and visibly deflating to “flat tire” status. I had emptied out my WordCamp Raleigh 2011 tote bag and was just about to open the bottle of goo when I thought, wait, wait, wait, let me make sure this is the right thing to do. I am risking ruining a sensor, my health and my favorite tire pump. I reviewed my options.

I called my husband again. Still no answer. I began to get very irritated with him for not having the “in case of emergencies” cell phone on him. I tried emailing him and instant messaging him on my Android phone. By the end of the night, I would be very grateful for having had the sense to buy one of these. With no luck reaching my husband and strange people beginning to filter through the parking lot and the sun out completely, I began to worry. I tweeted my situation, “I’ve a flat tire in a strange part of town and my husband’s cell is off. Not happy.”

Soon after, several friends offered assistance, and a ride was secured. I was happy to finally get home where I would no doubt have to rescue my husband from whatever peril had kept him from his cell phone for so long. After a bit of fiddling, I was able to use my phone’s google maps navigator to pass my exact location on to my friend, and the cavalry was on its way!

In the mean time, I checked out the tire a little more. The hissing was coming from a puncture in the side wall of the tire, not the tread. The goo was definitely not an option now. I was beginning to think a tow was really for the best. I tried the smart hotline once more, and this time I didn’t botch it. A cheerful young lady informed me that my tow would be free because each smart car comes with complimentary roadside assistance for the first 2 years or 24,000 miles. I was delighted, as you can imagine.

A tow was sent off just as my friend arrived! I was soon home where I found my husband, safe and sound, watching the television after a hot bath, where his cell phone had dared not to tread. Off we went to meet the tow after many a thanks to our friend who had come to my aid!

A word about towing. When a smart car is towed, you don’t want to strap down its suspension. Also, put it in neutral if the hind wheels will be moving, because otherwise you can punch a hole in your engine (or so I hear). The truck that came picked her up by her hind wheels and away she went into the night with a note to the smart center to go ahead and do her 20k maintenance while she was in the shop.

The cause of the puncture remains a mystery, as I did not run over anything particular while I was driving. We may never know the cause, but I hope it does not happen again! I was delighted about the complementary roadside assistance, and I wish I could extend the policy somehow. This event has made me wonder about taking the smart on long distance trips. The tire cost $160 to replace, but I didn’t have to pay to replace the sensor either, thank goodness! If anything, it has made it clear that when I go on long trips with my smart car, I should always take my laptop in case I have to “work remotely” while waiting for a tire to come in icon wink My first flat tire

To finish, here is a photo of my car all shiny and waxed with her new HTML5 sticker:

html5 smart car 300x225 My first flat tire

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  1. katsumi's Gravatar katsumisays...

    Great Post, thanks! I am at 56K miles on my 09 smart, and have always been wondering about the day I will get a flat. For what its worth, I have heard that you actually can keep a spare tire — we should double check, but I believe the front size works on all four corners. Its not ideal but it will get you home, so many people keep an extra front wheel w/ mounted tire in the back. I am definitely going to get one, this is good motivation for me :) Keep rocking!!

    May 31 2011 | Permalink

    • joe h's Gravatar joe hsays...

      be careful about running front to back tires I took my Smart in for a oil change at dealer where perchased and they rotated tires which is a no no and it screwed up tranny

      Nov 11 2012 | Permalink

  2. katsumi's Gravatar katsumisays...

    Hi Rachel — here is what I was looking at — this first link is a forum thread on SCOA about how the front (and even the rear in emergency) can be used as a spare:

    Here is a link to smart passion wheel with tire mounted which you could use as a spare for $170:

    Also, here is an awesome shop in Canada that sells all sorts of wheels and parts for Smart online — a steel front wheel is $78 Canadian, but then you could choose a tire and have him mount it and ship to you.

    You are totally motivating me to get a spare tire now — we would also need to get a decent small jack & tire wrench too

    May 31 2011 | Permalink

  3. Rob Mosher's Gravatar Rob Moshersays...

    Say It Ain’t So… sorry to hear your experience….how did you Get-Her Home / to repair shop…what was the cause of the ‘pop’ ??

    May 31 2011 | Permalink

    • Rob Mosher's Gravatar Rob Moshersays...

      ooops your entire post – did’nt post all at once… yea I almost took a long distance trip from S.F. Bay Area – Los Angeles , but it was a Friday the 13th. and gas was $4.99 gal. 17 hr roundtrip mighthve been cool !! did trek the Sierras to RENO last year for the air races.. climbed the Mt. quite well 4th. gear power !!! enjoyed you fine post Rob M

      May 31 2011 | Permalink

  4. Jared Hocutt's Gravatar Jared Hocuttsays...

    Take a look at AAA service. It’s $40-$70 per year (depending on the options you choose) and it covers towing, running out of gas, dead battery, etc. I have a vehicle that has a staggared stance (different size tires as well) and therefore doesn’t have a spare and it comes it very handy to have the piece of mind that if I get stranded, I have a free tow, or a $40-$70 per year tow.

    Sep 18 2011 | Permalink

  5. John Cleland's Gravatar John Clelandsays...

    I had my first blowout in K.I.T.T. Jr. the other day – it was not a good thing (although the little booger was very responsive and I was able to get it to the side of the road safely).

    Sep 19 2011 | Permalink

  6. RogerTheGeek's Gravatar RogerTheGeeksays...

    AAA is the best deal like Jared said above. I would always have it, especially if you take trips.

    It just saved us when my sweetheart’s car starter imploded at Whole Foods last week. We got a tow to the shop after the driver dropped me off to get my truck. The tow was free and we were home in about a hour. That one event paid for the annual fee.

    Nov 18 2011 | Permalink

  7. Gordon's Gravatar Gordonsays...

    Don’t drive it when the tire press is low. Had a nail in the rear tire and my daughter kept on driving it with low tire pressure and destroyed the tire…. Had to get a new tire….

    Dec 5 2011 | Permalink

  8. Alan's Gravatar Alansays...

    I wonder if there’s a Smart car story that doesn’t begin with “as I was driving home from the web developer meetup…”?

    Feb 21 2012 | Permalink

  9. john's Gravatar johnsays...

    it would do for a sidewall flat, but for one in the tread you could us a plug kit bought at any auto parts store for about 10 dollars, keep a pair of pliers too to pull out the nail or screw and plug the tire, then use the tire inflator that comes with the car to reinflate it.

    Jun 23 2012 | Permalink

  10. Geekgirl's Gravatar Geekgirlsays...

    However you can’t always see the hole on the car, in that case you would need a jack and crossbar, yes you can use a front tire on all 4 of the smarts tires, I keep my old ones and need to use one tomorrow……

    Jul 9 2012 | Permalink

  11. bijan's Gravatar bijansays...

    two flat tire costed me over $900.00

    May 16 2013 | Permalink

  12. tony's Gravatar tonysays...

    i LOVED my smart car…. except…. 5 flat tires later… and yep= traded my smart car today actually. the tires became a huge liability. i paid almost a 1/4 of the price of the car in tires and towing alone :(

    May 24 2013 | Permalink

  13. Julie's Gravatar Juliesays...

    I am so glad to have found this blog. I just recently bought a 2008 passion smart convertible. I love it! It only had 25,000 miles and had been very well taken care of. I have been looking for the spare tire and the jack. So now after reading this story and the operators manual, I know there isn’t one with the car. I too think I will purchase one and keep it in my garage. If there is a way to keep it in the vehicle I may do that, but I like my little storage area. I just drove mine for the first time during a very windy evening. Wasn’t expecting the wind, it was so warm earlier in the day. Needless to say I held on to the steering wheel for dear life…. now I know to drive my larger car during weather like that. Love this page, will have to bookmark it.

    May 28 2013 | Permalink

  14. Stephanie's Gravatar Stephaniesays...

    I have a 2013 passion with only 13,000 miles on it. Does anyone know how many miles when tires need replaced since they cannot be rotated? I will be turning mine in at 36,000 miles as it is a lease. I’ve heard on the smartcar forum you can get an entire new set for $400.00 as Discount Tires and other places sell the same size. Just wondering if anyone had over 40,000 miles and were still on the same tires.

    Nov 2 2013 | Permalink

  15. Reen's Gravatar Reensays...

    I’ve gotten two flats this year alone on my Continental winter tires – once in March and thr other just yesterday (November). Hasn’t happened with my all seasons… what brand of winter tires do folks recommend?

    Nov 24 2013 | Permalink

  1. By on Jul 14 2011 at 10:46 am

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