In the land of the blind…

Being seriously burnt out and in general need of Getting Away From It All, I drove out to my mother-in-law this afternoon. Not only is she an All-Around Nice Person, but she has a garage with a level concrete floor. When you own and maintain a fifteen-year-old car, you’d better have a garage with a level concrete floor, or know someone who does.

The main reason I needed a level concrete floor this time around is that today was the last day I could legally drive with studded winter tires, and it is much easier to change tires using a hydraulic floor jack on a level concrete floor than to do so using a mechanical screw jack on uneven asphalt. That, and my summer tires were actually in my mother-in-law’s garage…

I figured that while I was at it, I might as well put the car up on jack stands and change the rear right caliper bearer. The old caliper bearer was so deformed by rust that the brake pads were practically stuck.

I never posted about the time I changed my front brake disks and pads, did I? The pads on the front right wheel were so worn, the lining on the inside pad had actually shattered, and the remaining bits had worn deep gouges into the disk:

Back in the present, I started by changing all the wheels but the rear right one, then I placed the rear of the car on jack stands and disassembled the rear right brake—not a trivial task, but I’ve done it before, under far worse conditions. The idea was to unfasten the caliper, remove the brake pads, remove the old caliper bearer, install the new one, refit the brake pads, and reinstall the caliper.

As I removed the brake pads, I discovered that the lining on the inside pad had split down the middle. There was simply no way I was going to refit that pad. Luckily, I just happened to have a full set of new brake pads lying in the trunk. Never mind how that came about…

It still meant that I had to remove the rear left wheel and caliper to replace the pads there as well, or I would have ended up with uneven brakes (yeah, yeah, they were uneven to begin with, but it’s the principle of the thing). Not a big deal, but annoying since I had just changed that wheel. The silver lining was that the bolts (expensive galvanized ones this time around, not the cheap chrome-plated crap I bought last year) were fairly easy to unscrew, since instead of the usual give-it-all-you’ve-got method, I had tightened them to the exact specified torque (110 Nm) using my shiny new bought-just-for-the-occasion torque wrench.

Long story short, about an hour later I had the brakes reassembled, the wheels back on, the car back on the ground, and most of my tools back in the trunk, and I was off to the nearest gas station to check the tire pressure—even unused tires leak air over time.

This is where the fun starts. As soon as I’m out of the driveway and accelerating gently past 20 km/h (narrow lane, lots of children out and about), the car starts shaking. It seems to originate from the rear right wheel.

Oh shit.

I stop the car, get out, and inspect the wheel closely. There’s nothing obviously wrong with it. I figure I must have imagined it, there’s plenty of gravel left over on the pavement from the last snowfall, that must be what causes the shaking. I get back in and drive on.

Out on the main road, accelerating past 20 km/h, the car seems sluggish and starts shaking again. This time I can’t ignore it, there’s no gravel on the road, and it’s definitely the rear right wheel; I pull into the first parking lot I see, get out and inspect it wheel again. Still nothing.

By that point, I was getting seriously worried. I went over the procedure in my mind, trying to figure out what I could have done wrong. I came up blank. It’s really a very simple procedure, and I tightened all the bolts and checked everything before I put the wheels back on. I decided to just drive on, very slowly, to the gas station, top up the tires, drive very slowly back to my mother-in-law’s and go over everything very thoroughly.

At the gas station, as I’m talking to the attendant, getting plastic bags to store the winter tires in and asking where the air compressor is, I glance out at my car, which is parked outside with the right-hand side facing the store.

The rear right tire is flat as a pancake would be if you folded it and let one-quarter of a 1,600 kg car rest on it.

Go on, re-read the last five or so paragraphs, and try to figure out how, throughout it all, I failed to notice that the rear right tire was flat…

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