Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Vehicle Follies

Today we were up around four hours early (relative to when we've normally been getting up) so we could drive up to Portland early, collect Lisa's VW from where she'd left it at her friends' place, take it to the mechanic, and then take me to the airport. We even had an idea that we might get me on an earlier flight, and she could then take the Big Orange Ford Van to Big O Tires, where she would have the van's tires rotated.

Things went okay at first. We called the mechanic and confirmed that he'd be there after 1 PM -- they are normally closed for lunch, it being a small shop. We got underway about the time we expected. Aside from my spilling coffee on my white shirt, things didn't seem too bad. Heading to Portland when we did, we were not in bad traffic. Lisa accidentally auto-piloted past the exit she meant to take because she started driving directly to the VW mechanic rather than to Scott's house to collect the Vanagon, but that was only a minor delay. We collected the VW and she drove it away, with me following in the Big Orange Van. We had our radios, so we could easily talk as we headed toward Glisan Street.

A few blocks from Scott's house, she radioed me to tell me that she could see looking back in her mirrors that the rear passenger tire on the Big Orange Van was very low. We pulled into the first gas station along the way. Lisa got the hose and I dropped quarters into the machine's slot until it started pumping. To our dismay, we saw that there was a hole in that tire -- you could see and hear it hissing out. And the van's spare was not in very good condition, either.

Lisa got out the lug wrench and jack and we started to loosen the lugs. To our further dismay, it appears that the shop that last put on the tires must have used an air wrench without proper torque settings, because the nuts didn't want to budge. Lisa even stood on the wrench and lugs wouldn't move, which was surely putting more than the 85-95 foot-pounds torque the manual calls for on this van.

After much leaning into it by me, we managed to get a nut moving. Then another. After the fourth of the five nuts, I thought we were going to be okay, but the fifth one would not move for anything. Then, with Lisa and I putting everything we had into it, there was a loud snap as the entire bolt broke off!

Lisa was not, as you can imagine, very happy with this. It's not the safest thing in the world to drive a car with only 80% of the lugs holding the tire in place, and that van is heavy, weighing three tons. Still, we decided to risk it, and we installed the beat-up spare, which, while not in the greatest condition, at least was holding air pressure. We then resumed our trip over to Glisan with Lisa leading in the Vanagon.

The mechanic's shop, at least, turned out much better than I feared after the mis-fire on Friday. The owner, Hans, greeted us. His shop was full of VW vans of all vintages, and he told Lisa that he would, given his druthers, rather work on them than any other Volkswagens. Lisa was very reassured by this, and talked over with him the list of things that need fixing, starting with the oil leak and down to the passenger front window crank. We told him, "Take your time. We don't need it done right away, and we'd rather have things fixed right than in a hurry."

We also asked him why he was closed on Friday late afternoon. "What time did you come by?" He asked, "We close at 5:30."

"4:45 PM," I told him, and explained that the doors were shut, the lights (including the Open sign) turned off, and that when we called the shop, we heard the phone inside but only got the answering machine. He apologized, and looked a bit unhappy. We were led to expect that he would investigate what his employees were doing when the boss was away.

As we walked back up to the streed to where I had parked the Big Orange Van, I asked Lisa, who was still not feeling good about having the right rear tire riding on only four lugs, if she wanted me to come with her to Big O Tires. She said she would be much happier if I did so. Unfortunately, Big O is down off highway 213, the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Had we not had this tire business, we would have only been a short distance from a light rail station, where Lisa would have dropped me for my trip to the airport. Still, it seemed like the Big O work would be straightforward enough.

Making our way carefully down to Big O Tires, we explained the situation to them. After Lisa climbed up and removed all of the antennas -- the van won't fit in their garage otherwise -- they moved it in and started to have a look.

Bad News #1: The hole in the tire is not fixable at all.

Bad News #2: Big O no longer carries the equivalent to that tire. The people at the shop said that they just don't make that size tire, so even if we wanted to buy a full set of them, they couldn't sell them to us.

Taking things more calmly than I thought she would, Lisa said, "Just fix the broken lug, put the spare back on, and I'll talk to my father about what to do next." I think she was afraid something like this might happen. There's a non-zero chance she'll have to buy new wheels for that van, just to have something for which she can buy tires. And the wheels were very expensive, being aluminum purchased to try and do something to bring the weight down. The tires, when they were available, were also not cheap. I remember that the last time I replaced all four tires on my minivan that Lisa said she paid that much for a single tire on her big van.

Bad News #3: They couldn't get the old lug out. I stood there watching for half an hour while they hammered and pried on it. My thoughts alternated between "how is this going to be fixed," and "Is there any chance that I'll still make my 5:20 PM flight from PDX?"

Finally, they managed to knock it loose and replace the broken stud. They put the spare tire back on. I begged them not to use the air-wrench to tighten the lugs. They did not -- they started them with the air-wrench, but I watched them hand-torque all five lugs, so presumably we should be able to remove them again at need.

The only good part about all of this was that there was no charge: Big O had installed the tires originally, so they took responsibility for the original over-tightening that led to the broken lug.

By now, unfortunately, it was after 3 PM, and traffic up I-205 was starting to heat up. I worried more about missing my flight. Lisa thanked me for coming along and giving her moral support so she didn't start screaming at the Big O mechanics.

Somewhat to my surprise, we did manage to get me to the airport by 4:20, an hour before my flight, and Monday-afternoon PDX was very quiet, so I breezed through check-in and security. I even had a few minutes to grab a bite to eat and check e-mail before my flight boarded at 5 PM.

The flight back to Oakland was routine, thank goodness. Everything was on time, and I got the shuttle from OAK to the BART/Amtrak station just under ten minutes before the scheduled arrival of my Capitol train that would get me home. Unfortunately, a brush fire along the tracks between Martinez and Richmond caused an hour delay on the westbound train. The train ride itself was short and uneventful, but got me home later than I expected.

It was a very stressful day. I still don't actually know if Lisa got home safely, because she leaves her phone turned off most of the time, but I also know that even if the spare failed, she has AAA Plus coverage that will get her home, so I assume she made it -- I'll presumably find out tomorrow when she calls me. Unfortunately, with the Vanagon in the shop, her little Toyota pickup not running, and the Big Orange Van now suspended, she's stuck until further developments, which doesn't make her at all happy. It's not like Mehama has much in the way of public transit.

Update, 24 Oct 15:00: Added photo of the van, courtesy of polyhead.

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