O. Henry Gets a Flat

Drew writes in what surely has to be one of our more literary, if not in style, at least in structure, stories we’ve received to date.

As he notes, “I hope I don’t waste your time while I try to remember all the details of this, it happened so long ago. I assure you it has a touching ending, though in more of an existential sense…”

The tale spins around a wheel whose tires won’t stop leaking air, no matter how many nails they pull from its rubber…

Drew writes:

    “Our (my wife and I) last car was a Saturn SL1. Actually her car, but never mind. All in all it was a great car that served us well, since we’re very good about keeping up a maintenance schedule.

    So we decide one day that we need some new tires… and I having just gotten a bonus from work (or something, I don’t really remember where the extra money came from), decide that we should do it pronto. They’re going bald, after all.

    We go to the nearest Big O, one on Geary in San Francisco. They sell us some tires. We drive on them. Done.

    Until six months later, when one tire starts losing air. We fill it up, it loses air again. It only does this while either driving or parked (again sorry, I can’t remember which, but it’s not important to the consumer side of the story, only the Car Talk side).

    We go back to the Big O where we bought the tires because they have a lifetime repair and rotation warranty on all tires. They take in the car and say they found a nail. They repair the tire and we drive off. Done.

    Except the tire keeps losing air. We go back a couple weeks later, and they try and fix it but say they can’t find the problem. We give up for a couple of weeks, then decide we’d had enough. We take the car to another location, on Mission Street in SF. Here’s where it gets interesting.

    They repair the tire, and SHOW ME the nail they took out of it. Okay, another nail? Whatever, fine. They repair it again, and off I go. Done.

    Except the tire continues to lose air.

    I go back to this location, and explain the whole series of events. They’re flummoxed, but have some theories. Well one really, and it’s that the rim is tweaked and can’t form a good seal with the tire. They offer to sell me a used rim for over $100.

    I decide we’ll buy the rim, but I want to troubleshoot first. “Let’s take a tire off of another wheel, and put it on the suspect rim,” I say, flush with cleverness. “If that solves the problem then you owe me a new tire, if not then I buy a new rim.”

    He basically tells me heck no. He won’t have his mechanics waste their time swapping tires around. And anyway, he says, they could mess up the bead (the part on the tire that seals with the rim) by taking it off and putting it back on in the first place.

    “Then couldn’t someone have damaged the bead on THIS tire, thereby causing the slow leak?”


    Letters to corporate ensued, responded to with “These are franchisees who set their own policy, so tough luck.”

    The Big O guy on Mission Street basically told me he wouldn’t give me a new tire, because if he sent back the old one and they didn’t find a leak, they wouldn’t pay him for it. He said to wait until it comes in totally flat, and then he’ll replace it.

    (“Why wouldn’t he just repair it,” you may ask? Me too… he said he’d replace it. I don’t believe him).

    The punchline: The car’s transmission fell to pieces and it was more expensive to fix than the car was worth. End of tire dilemma.

    The aftermath: We will never go to any Big O Tires again.

    The touching ending: As we drive off the Saturn lot in our new 2005 Vue, we see our beloved traded-in SL1 parked behind the service area… with one completely flat tire.”

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