A very expensive lesson

Driving down from Manchester this morning I thought it was about time I fixed that strange wheel wobble on the car. Let’s be honest here – although the “Highway Code” says something about ensuring you check your car before each journey – we rarely do. The Highway Code states…

Take special care that lights, brakes, steering, exhaust system, seat belts, demisters, wipers and washers are all working. Also…

– lights, indicators, reflectors, and number plates MUST be kept clean and clear
– windscreens and windows MUST be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision
– lights MUST be properly adjusted to prevent dazzling other road users. Extra attention needs to be paid to this if the vehicle is heavily loaded
– exhaust emissions MUST NOT exceed prescribed levels
– ensure your seat, seat belt, head restraint and mirrors are adjusted correctly before you drive
– items of luggage are securely stowed.

Err.. Well, that’s all very good advice yes – however in reality what most people do is make up their own “pre check” rules. They usually follow this pattern…

1 – Get keys
2 – Check for mobile phone
3 – Check for wallet
4 – Get in, drive off

That’s about it – I’m sure this will differ slightly depending on what you carry round, however we only ever break out of this routine if we notice something is wrong as we’re going along. In fact, we probably use this “Common Problems” List….

Problem – Cannot see out of windscreen
Resolution – De-ice car

Problem – Car not moving
Resolution – Fuel – have you run out ?

Problem – Car making metal clanking noises
Resolution – Oil – Check it quick.

Problem – Car going all over the shop, no steering what-so-ever.
Resolution – Tyres – are they flat? Tracking – get it sorted.

So, today I decided that I should get my tracking done. I do motorway driving pretty much constantly and I only ever notice this wobble at low speed, however just recently it’s got somewhat worse and started pulling to the left quite heavily. As I drove towards the Trafford Centre on the M60 last night I had to go through some fairly hefty road works with 40mph speed limits – this is when I decided, “Hmm.. that needs fixing..” because I couldn’t go any faster to try and eliminate the problem (I try and solve things sometimes by sweeping them hastily under a carpet). Whilst at the Trafford Centre I saw the all new Lexus IS250 SE..

Looking at this made me think, “Ha! I know a quick way to solve the problem! I’ll get me one of these!” Unfortunately, although the leather, space-age dashboard and flappy-paddle gear change did entice me, the price suddenly brought me back to earth with a bump…bump…bump…bump…

Bump.. bump.. bump… This is all I could hear as I drove back to the hotel. So, this morning I decided it was time for some action. After having an argument with the idiotic receptionist at the hotel, where we had to queue up for the concierge for 25 minutes to “approve” our parking cards so we could get out of the car-park barrier, I was very, very late and it was snowing quite heavily as you may be able to see on the right. However, as I got off at my junction the bump-wobble-bump-wobble came back to the steering wheel. “That’s it”, I thought… “I’ve got to get this fixed!”. So I asked around the office for a good, cheap tyre place. After getting about 5 recommendations I completely ignored all of them and went to the local KwikFit.. It was a brand-new centre. There was a plasma TV on the wall, a fresh new smell and not even a hint of oil…

I asked the guy to check the tracking on the car as the steering wheel wobbles quite a bit..

“Sure thing, what are the symptoms mate?”, says the guy.

“It’s fine on the motorway, but when I’m doing slower speeds it’s wobbling and pulling heavily to the left”, says I.

“Hmmm”, says the guy.

That “Hmmm” sounded bad. It was as if they were making it into something serious. HA! I’m not being fooled. I know the deal, they’re just gonna say that all the tyres need replacing or some such nonsense. It just needs some wheel alignment, that’s all.. no big thing.

I settle down to watch some rubbish daytime TV, however after 5 minutes the guy comes back in – I’m all ready for paying and walking out…

“Do you want to have a quick look with me mate ? I think we’ve found the problem.”, says the guy.

I follow him out. It’s still up on the scissor-lift thing, so I figure the news isn’t good. I’m all ready for the hideously expensive recommendations that I, as an experienced driver, quite obviously don’t need.

“Here you go mate”, he says, pointing to my rear left tyre.

Geez… it was balder than Kojak after a shave. The middle of the tyre looked like I’d been doing burn-outs outside McDonalds all night. Still, I half-expected the rear tyres to be trouble as it’s a rear-wheel-drive car…

“What about that front left one?”, I asked, as that was where the wobble seemed to be coming from…

“Ah”, he says, “That one’s a bit worse”

…and it was. Somehow I was down the steel rim and the inner wall of the tyre was almost poking through. This was bad. The other side didn’t get much better..

“You’re front right is worn on the inside as you can see”

…again, this was Kojak’ed all along the inside of the tread. The rear right was probably best, however this was on the legal limit. So… a few questions I had to ask.. Firstly, how the flip it passed the MOT a few months back. Secondly, why I’d never noticed it. However, these questions soon fell out of my head when the oh-so-obvious cost-issue hit me.

Luckily I managed to get a deal on the tyres because I needed all 4 doing. I say, “luckily” in the way that someone who’d been run over by a bus would say “luckily” when they find that it was only half-full. Why ? Well, the car I drive isn’t cheap to run. The tyres are 17 inch low-profile jobbies and .. believe me.. they are pretty damned pricey. The cheap “don’t do more than 50mph else they’ll explode” tyres start at around 85-90 quid. Yes, you heard right.. 90 quid… EACH. I asked about the Pirelli P7000 ones… they were 115 each. However, they did me a deal on some Continental Conti-Sport tyres (hell knows where they get the names for these tyres from !) because I was having all 4 done I get 25% off. It seems like an excellent deal doesn’t it ? Well yes, but when you total it all up it equals 460 with tracking and balancing. Ouch..


After I regained consciousness and got myself up off the floor I looked outside. The snow was still falling outside, and after remembering what happened to my old car I really had no choice. Oh, and of course there was the minor fact that only one tyre was road legal.. ahem..

I had to do it, there was no choice. The prices seemed to be pretty similar everywhere anyway, 98 per tyre here, or bump..bump..bump.. somewhere else with bald tyres to check their prices?

They swapped the tyres and then drove it over to the “shiny shiny laser wheel alignment” thing. I got a bit bored staring at the TV, or the wall, so I took a piccy to pass the time as they did their magic..

… I was thinking, “Well, I guess it’s worth the money to see it being shot at with lasers….. err…”

Just then a Mercedes pulled into view. For some reason I have a problem with Mercedes drivers. No matter who the driver is, no matter how great they are, they tend to turn into absolute nutters when they get in one. Indicators suddenly become optional, as do lanes and small things like “other vehicles”. The driver got out and was immediately hunched over one of the workers, watching his every move like a hawk. Eventually he came into the customer area and walked up and down checking his watch every 10 seconds. I became slightly annoyed with this, as he was blocking my view of the plasma TV and there was a mildly interesting bit on “This Morning” about some woman who was so allergic to sunlight that she had to walk everywhere in some strange chemical suit like they wore in “ET”. Anyhow, it seemed that his car was a company / fleet car – something I was rapidly wishing mine was. One of the KwikFit dudes came out of the main garage area and spoke to him…

“Just the two back tyres mate, that’s all it needs”

“Ah”, says the Merc driver.. “I’d like the front ones done too if that’s possible”

“Sorry, there’s only the back two that need doing. The front ones have gone plenty of life in them”, says the KwikFit dude.

“Can you rotate them then? I need lots of traction on the front”, says the Merc Driver.

“Well, to be honest Sir you need it at the back because it’s a rear-wheel-drive vehicle”.

“No it’s not”, says the Merc guy..

….now, at this stage I’ve started to ignore the diverse and interesting entertainment provided by daytime TV and I’m having a bit of a laugh at this Merc driver….

“How long have you had the car Sir?”, says the KwikFit guy.

“Oh years”, says the guy.

“Pretty much all of the Mercedes range is rear-wheel-drive. Apart from..err.. the A-series possibly”

“It’s definitely front-wheel-drive”, says the guy.

“Errm.. I can assure you Sir it’s not. Rotating the tyres will mean you’ll get the older tyres at the front on the back, which isn’t really what you need”, says the KwikFit bloke.

“Well.. I think I’d rather have a blow-out on the back anyway”, says the Merc driver – who’s obviously gone a bit mental now.

“To be honest – it’s better to have a blow-out, if you’re going to have one, at the front – at least you can steer out of it”, says the KwikFit guy.

Luckily at this stage my car was ready, and I could leave this insane conversation where it was before I started pointing out the driveshaft on the back of his motor.

So now I’m skint.. seriously skint.. unbelievably skint. :( However, the lesson for today is that I had three very illegal tyres. Here in the UK you get penalty points for defective tyres. Get too many penalty points and your driving licence gets taken away… bad. Bad tyres means that – if you’re pulled over – the police give you a CU30. This means “Using a vehicle with a defective tyre”. 3 defective tyres = 9 points. Add that to the 3 points I’ve got for speeding (whoops) and… well, I’d be a bit knackered…