Monday, 7 January 2013
Day 289 – Threatening to spontaneously combust. (Romania)
When people ask how the car’s held up having driven close to 50,000 km, across 31 countries (upto and including Romania), battling with horrendous roads and extreme weather conditions, we like to brag about how well we’re doing. Up until some point in the Balkans we would answer with,
“We’ve had a couple of flats – as expected, but other than that we’ve had to repair a window from a break-in, a broken lock from a break-in, the mechanism for our electric window for the boot is gradually deteriorating but still working, and the barrel for the ignition jammed whilst in Kazakhstan, but we got it fixed easily. Nothing major.” (Blog Day 131 - Trevor’s Revenge)
As we hit South Eastern Europe though, winter suddenly set in and with the roads becoming constantly icy and snowy we began considering the option of replacing our tyres with winter tyres. It is a legal requirement in most European countries for 2WDs to have winter tyres on during winter but with 4WD it’s not against the law for us to continue driving on our regular tyres. Our main concern though was that it would be much safer, not to mention easier, if we had the proper tyres. We were a little loathe to ditch our current tyres though because they were still in reasonable condition and were certainly fine for non-snow driving. When we had Trevor serviced in Belgrade, Serbia, we enquired about winter tyres, but were quoted about €150 per tyre and that mechanic didn’t even have any. We would stop intermittently at tyre yards we came across and check out options in supermarkets and such like, but couldn’t find any that would fit our specifications.
As time progressed and the weather got milder in Central Europe we leaned away from the idea of purchasing winter tyres, considering we’d already completed a fair whack of snow driving and for the most part (except perhaps for Romania, Ukraine and Moldova) now would at least have the option of good roads. The tyres had suddenly started looking much barer by now though, especially in a couple of places, and around New Year though we did start discussing the option of just getting new summer tyres (much cheaper than winter tyres). Every day we could notice the particular points which were waring through quicker and the tread seemed to be disappearing in front of our eyes. Our search for new tyres became more serious.
We left Prague on January 4th, and got to Budapest on January 5th to pick up Ben’s forgotten shoes and mail from our families which hadn’t quite made it in time for Christmas. Planning to camp somewhere on our way to Romania, we stopped at a Lidl on the outskirts of Budapest to pick up some groceries for dinner, and when we returned to the car realised that it was on a disturbing angle and sure enough – we had a flat.
Denner removed the offending tyre for inspection and discovered that it had not in fact punctured in one spot, but had just worn so thin on one side that there were at least three places where air was leaking from the rubber. Realising that this was beyond repair Denner took the spare off the roof, which is the one that was first punctured at the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos (Blog Day 79 – Car Incidents) and because of the location of the hole was unable to be fixed permanently. Seeing it’s been out of use for the majority of the trip though, it’s still in great condition other than the puncture. He patched it up with our temporary repair kit (basically a flexible stick of rubber which is pushed through the puncture with a heavy duty needle, literally blocking the puncture) and we continued on our way.
We realised that the tyre was slowly leaking as soon as we started driving, but after about ten minutes we heard the dreaded crash of metal rim against road as the stick of rubber popped completely out. This time we didn’t have the luxury of being in the well-lit and empty Lidl carpark, but were instead on the side of a dark residential suburban road.
Realising that we now desperately needed at least one new tyre, though in reality we really needed two replaced, and ideally all four, we thought about our options, and much to our horror realised that it wasn’t just 9pm, it was 9pm on Saturday. Nothing would be open the following day.
Denner patched the tyre again using an extra long stick of rubber, hoping it would stay jammed in more successfully this time. After over two hours of working on this tyre situation, we tensely and carefully looked for a camping spot, cautiously avoiding any unnecessary off-road driving, expecting the tyre to burst at any moment. Joyfully though we found a place to camp (one of our worst spots yet in some sort of tree plantation, a few metres off a busy thoroughfare between villages, on very lumpy ground) without our very fragile tyre bursting again.
We considered back-tracking to Budapest in the morning, thinking that in a major capital we’d be more likely to find somewhere open on a Sunday, but made the decision to take our chances and push on, knowing that it was still unlikely we’d even find anywhere in Budapest anyway. So we hobbled on towards Romania, our front right tyre completely bald on both edges (the original one we were concerned about), the back left threatening to spontaneously combust at any moment (the spare which was originally punctured in Laos, now precariously patched), and the spare completely useless with not a bit of tread left, metal poking through the rubber, and at least three individual punctures.
As everyone seems to want to be a business owner but can’t be bothered learning how to become a mechanic or something else, there are umpteen tyre shops dotted in districts along every road. We stopped at every single one, dozens in total, but much to our frustration no amount of rattling gates, pressing buzzers, calling out, or provoking dog barking, alerted anyone’s attention to us. Every metre travelled was an achievement, and at the same time a metre closer to the potential pop that would render us unable to drive on. Relieved to have made it to the Romanian border, we decided to stay the night in the border town of Oradea.
Despite the fact that the following day happened to be the 12th Day of Christmas and therefore a minor public holiday, we found the usual array of tyre shops, all of which were open. Weighing up the options available we ended up with two new winter tyres on our front wheels, the two heavily-worn-but-not-disastrous ones at the back, the completely bald one on the roof as a spare, and we hummed and hawed about whether to keep the reasonably un-worn but punctured beyond permanent repair one as an extra spare. We decided against it though, and €210 and an hour and a half later we were on our merry way to Transylvania.