Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Day 318 – The third wheel. (Germany)

Trevor had really done so well for so long and even after all the horrible fuel we fed him with and the constant harshness of the roads for so much of this trip we so almost made it all the way with our original set of tyres. Perhaps if we hadn’t taken so many little detours such as the 2,500 km round trip to take in Astana when we were in Kazakhstan, or the extra 2,000 km we drove to see Shiraz and Esfahan in Iran, or the huge amount of doubling back we did in Europe by making it to Germany then backtracking all the way through Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, then we could have completed the trip without needing any new tyres. But if we use that logic then we could have just flown the whole way and then we wouldn’t even have needed a car.

When we had the problems with our tyres in Romania (Blog Day 289 – Threatening to spontaneouslycombust) we took a gamble and decided just to buy two new tyres costing us 220 as opposed to four for 360, hoping that two of our remaining three would hold up for the remainder of the journey. Well they survived the many potholed and unmade roads that we traversed through Romania, Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine and Poland but decided, minutes after reaching Germany and getting on the perfectly made, impeccably maintained, void of speed limits but incredibly controlled in terms of other safety precautions, autobahn, the familiar clunk and wobble resounded from Trevor’s back side. Fortunately we were on the 200 m stretch between two tunnels so we hobbled onto the emergency lane and hastily removed the shredded old tyre and replaced it with the completely bald spare tyre. Knowing that part of the beauty of the autobahn is how controlled they are, making it possible to drive at insane speeds for minimal danger, and we didn’t have any of the things that made changing a tyre on the emergency lane legal. We didn’t have that reflective hazard triangle thing, or reflective vests, or road worthy tyres, or any of the safety kit that’s compulsory for driving on German roads. All we could do was hope that the tyre change would happen before we were spotted by anyone who cared, and fortunately we displayed exceptional team work and were back on the road less than 10 minutes after the tyre blew. (Thanks Denner.)

The spare which we were now driving on was beyond un-road worthy, it was only there as an absolute emergency and there was no way we could make it to Scotland on it. We had our doubts actually that we’d make it to Berlin without it wearing away, and then we really would be stuck. So we exited the autobahn at the next opportunity in an attempt to begin the search for new tyres, but very quickly realised that it was in fact Sunday and not a single thing was open. Well we’d just have to drive very carefully for now and take care of it during our stay in Berlin.

Edgar pointed us in the direction of some mechanics and car yards so we used that as a starting point. The first shop we found was able to get us a tyre, but it would be ordered in especially for us so would take a couple of days and cost almost 200. We were glad to have an option, but desperately hoped that we would find somewhere that could beat the price and preferably give it to us straight away. There were several other places on the same block, a lot of them selling second hand tyres, but there aren’t many cars on European roads with Trevor’s specifications so the ones that were able to get it (most of them couldn’t) were all ordering it in so it was the same story with the price and the wait.

Someone gave us directions to a shop that would surely have our tyre, so filled with both hope and dread we set off to find this place. On the way we stopped in a couple more car yards and second hand tyre shops and were given more directions to this other place. We weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for, but as soon as we got there we knew that was it. We had been sent to a large complex with service centres, a car park and a sizeable shop, all of which was obviously part of a chain called Auto Teile Unger (ATV). Inside the shop there was an entire display of shiny new tyres, but despite searching through each one, we couldn’t find Trevor’s size. We were very impressed with the outstanding service we received when we asked at the counter though, and the friendly young gentleman offered to ring their other stores in Berlin and find out if anyone else had a tyre for us. While he waited on the phone we assuaged his curiosity by describing our trip to him, making him all the more determined to find us a tyre. With great excitement and much to our relief he jotted down some details and gave us the good news that another Berlin branch had two tyres that would fit Trevor’s needs. He’d asked for them both to be set aside for us, even though we only wanted one, though to be honest it did seem fairly unlikely that the one other guy in the whole of Europe that had a vehicle with this size tyre would attempt to purchase it in the next half hour or so. The shop assistant kindly printed us a map, wrote down the address, gave us verbal directions and wished us well as we went on our way.

It was about half past three by now and we had a booking to see the Reichstag Building at quarter past five, so we considered whether we had time to do this right now, but decided just to hurry up and get on with it. Denner began driving in the general direction while I looked up the address on the map of Berlin that Denner had on his phone, but I realised pretty quickly that the map the very helpful shop assistant had printed out didn’t match up with the map I was looking at. We tried looking for nearby streets and searching for landmarks, but nothing was matching up so we exited the autobahn to try and figure out what was going on. Realising that we weren’t far from Edgar’s house we decided just to go home and check the internet, at which point we discovered that whilst his intentions were pure and his effort surmount , our friend at the shop had printed us a map for a Bismarckstraß in a different city. Fortunately his verbal directions had been correct so we had been heading the right way, and with a new map in hand we found the place easily.

The tyres were sitting there waiting for us when we arrived and we waited the 20 minutes or so it took to have our ancient, mangled tyre replaced by the crisp, clean new one. 159.25 later and we still had enough time to drive into town and see the Reichstag Building at our allotted time.

For any mathematicians out there you may have realised our folly: had we just paid 360 to begin with we would have had four new, matching tyres, but by trying to save a bit of money we not only cost ourselves a lot of extra effort, but ended up spending 379.25 – an extra 19.25 – on one less tyre. Well that’s the benefit of hindsight isn’t it, and were we to do it all again we’d do it the same anyway.

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