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