It’s never a good thing when the “low tire” icon lights up on your car’s dashboard. However, anyone with a working brain would get out of the car and inspect the tires to see where the problem was. I will refrain from editorial comment on my brain and would appreciate it if you would also, but I remained in the car and mulled over my options. I was in a friend’s driveway, having just finished an afternoon of Mah Jong with my Bubble Buddies. I was tired, hungry, and only 3 miles from home. It had been my experience with my last car of the same make and model as the one I currently have, that the low tire light appeared often, usually for something as simple as the tires just leaking a bit of air. So I drove home. Not without hearing my late husband’s voice in my head reminding me that one should NEVER drive on a flat tire because it will ruin it beyond repair. He told me that often. The tire wasn’t flat. The car was riding fine.
Upon arriving home, some 8 minutes later, I got out of the car and faced the flattest tire I had ever seen in my life. Uh oh.
Deep breath. Okay, I told myself. Don’t panic. You’re home. You’re safe. You have AAA. They will come out, put on the spare tire, and in the morning you can drive to your own mechanic, and he will either repair the tire or order you a new one. NO PROBLEM.
In retrospect, I should have known better. Nothing is ever that easy.
AAA is a wonderful service. IF you can get them on the phone. I have already written a blog about nightmare customer service phone calls (https://talktimewithjoan.com/2020/08/25/customer-service-nightmare), but that was concerning a problem with pictures on my phone and computer, not a situation as dangerous as potentially being stranded alone on a highway.
I called the Roadside Assistance number on my membership card and was immediately directed to their website. When I did not instantly hang up and log onto AAA.com, I was asked a litany of questions by their “Bot” concerning my vital statistics – name, address, vehicle make and model, etc. Ms. “Bot” kept misinterpreting my RAV4 answer to Avalon. When I continued to scream RAV4 into the phone, Ms. “Bot” gave up and said she was directing me to a live operator, which would be a 15- minute wait time. After exactly 14 ½ minutes, we were disconnected.
Now think about this for a minute. What if I was alone on a highway? What if it was late at night in the dark? No one is going to die if a live Samsung operator does not tell me how to transfer pictures from my phone to my computer. But to keep someone waiting to speak to a live operator that length of time in what could be a dangerous situation is inexcusable. Yes, Ms. “Bot” did tell me if I was in danger, that I should hang up on her and call 911, but I stick by my opinion that one should not be shuffled and lost in “Phone Bot Hell” when seeking roadside assistance. Just the opinion of a cranky old lady.
Anyway, after 30 minutes of waiting and missed calls, a friendly AAA representative came on the line, told me which service station was sending a mechanic and approximately when he would arrive. Within 1 ½ hours. I repeat – I was safe at home, but what if I had been on the road?
One-half hour later, Pete arrived. That’s when the real trouble started. Apparently, Toyota is worried about their tires being stolen, so they have installed Fort Knox type locks on every tire on every car they sell. A special key is needed to unlock the tire before it can be removed. After an exhaustive search of every nook and cranny of my car, Pete declared that the golden key was nowhere to be found and my tire could not be removed. (The Toyota technician who last serviced the car must have forgotten to return the key to its proper hiding place.) Nor could he simply put air in it, because not only was there a huge nail in the tire, but I had damaged it beyond repair by driving on it. ( Should have listened to my husband’s voice.) I would have to call AAA in the morning for a tow to a local Toyota dealer, who he declared was the only venue that was in possession of the magical key that could unlock my tire. (My own dealership was too far away to qualify for my membership’s free towing service.)
Back in the house, although exhausted and frustrated, I kept reminding myself that I was safe at home, not crazed killer bait on the highway and that the situation would eventually be resolved.
In the morning, I called my own trusty mechanic and asked if he could remove the tire locks. He said there would be a labor charge involved, but yes, he could remove them. Sure, it took another 30 minutes to connect to a live AAA operator, but Vito and his truck arrived promptly and towed my car to my mechanic, who removed the locks, wisely did NOT put them back on, and installed the “donut” spare tire.
After checking prices, he agreed that Walmart had the best price on a tire that would suit my needs, so later that day, off I went to Walmart. As he was taking down my information, the Walmart service attendant asked, “ Do you have the key to the tire locks on your Toyota?” “Ooooohhhhh, you don’t want to hear that story,” was my response.
One hour later, exactly 24 hours after the “low tire” icon lit up my dashboard, I left Walmart with a new tire, the old tire disposed of for no charge, and the “donut” spare tire returned to its appropriate place.
Moral of the story: When the “low tire” icon lights up on your dashboard, get out of the damn car and inspect the tires. Oh, and if you have a late model Toyota ( mine is a 2018), treasure hunt for that tire lock key and put it in an easily accessible location.
I love it! This could have happened to any of us!