Tyre Talk - Morley's World 456

By: Dave Morley

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tyres tyres

And hey, if they can land passenger jets on retreads...

Now here’s a thing: Flat tyres. Dunno about you, but when I was a fair bit younger than right now, country roads and highways were absolutely dotted with the twisted, munted carcasses of exploded tyres. Truck tyres, mainly, I guess, but you never had to walk too far along a country road to find a mangled hunk of rubber that used to be a Vredestein or Kleber (remember those guys?).

But these days? Hell, you can drive for miles even on crapola outback roads and not see a dead ’un for hours. At first I thought that maybe the trucking industry had moved away from retreads. But nope, it seems the retreaded truck tyre is still very much a thing and with good reason. Apparently it takes about one-third of the oil to retread a good used truck-tyre carcass than it does to make a brand-new hoop. And hey, if they can land passenger jets on retreads…

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You don’t see this so often  now

And then I started to think about my own experiences. These days, the only flat tyres I get are from tech-screws left laying in the car-park at the MBC by the lazy-arse tradies who share the car-park and can’t be bothered to pick up after themselves. What’s a tiny little screw or rivet worth to them? Dunno, but it’s worth about $30 to me every time I have to front up to my mates at Widetread to have the latest puncture fixed.

But when was the last time I actually had an honest-to-goodness flat tyre on the road (not counting official and unofficial rallying misadventures)? Probably more than 20 years ago. And it seems the rest of the world is having the same experience. So what’s going on?

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This one has seen better days

Well, I think tyre quality is part of it. Not that I was ever a consumer of cross-plies (Jeez, I’m not that old) but, clearly, tyres are becoming tougher and more long-lasting, despite offering more grip and performance than ever before. It seems to me that you’re more likely to have a slow leak these days than a rapid, uncontrolled deflation, and that’s probably enough to get a lot of folks to the servo for a top-up and then the tyre shop, rather than changing a flat then and there.

Or maybe it’s simply that because fewer modern cars have an actual spare tyre (a can of goop and a compressor is now more common than you might think) people aren’t changing tyres by the side of the road any more. Come to think of it, road service organisations now reckon that attending to a flat tyre is one of the most common call-outs these days, and a lot of people I know have either forgotten (or never knew) how to change a flat at the side of the road any more. Or maybe it’s a case of folks wising up about the environment and taking their exploded tyres home with them, rather than leaving them roadside. Any other theories?

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Carving a custom tread on a big tyre

None of which changes the fact that a bloke driving a B-Triple road-train is fairly unlikely to drop a 10-hectare U-turn to pick up the bits of his retread after it explodes (if he even knows about it at the time). And yet, like I said, those rubber alligators you once saw all over the place just don’t seem to be around in the same numbers any more.

What made me think about all this was a couple of things. I do a fair bit of outback touring and off-roading these days and I’m always amazed at just how few dead tyres there lying about. Secondly, I was following a Toyota Corolla this week, when it experienced a real rarity nowadays…the classic blowout. The Tojo was one lane to the right of me and about five car lengths ahead. I heard the tyre blow first; a sound a bit like somebody shooting a whoopie cushion, and then the Corolla was off on its own little adventure.

Being in the right-hand lane and with the right-hand-front now on the rim, the car climbed on to the central reservation, wagged its tail and looked for all the world like it was going to take out a light-pole before landing in the traffic coming the other way. But the driver absolutely nailed it. Instead of hitting the picks or spinning the car (my prediction at the time) they counter-steered into the skid (not easy on the grass reservation) missed everything and gently eased the car back on to the lane it had been in when all this nonsense started.

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Yes they even retread aircraft tyres!

The Corolla pulled up just as the traffic came to a stop at a red light and I pulled alongside and wound down my window to offer my congratulations and let the driver know that I’d wait for them to cut across my bows and head for the service road off the to left of the multi-lane we were on. The steerer turned out to be a middle-aged woman who had either clearly done some defensive driving, a bit of motorsport or was Alain Prost’s little sister. Or she had been having a blowout every week for her entire life. Either way, she did a fantastic job and potentially saved a few lives in that instant.

Here’s a shot of a tyre I spotted while I was having my last slow leak fixed by Ben and Pete and the boys at Widetread. Since I’ve got to know the lads, they let me in on the giggles that turn up in the shop from time to time. So how about this one…

Seems the punter who rolled in with two-thirds of a Philips-head screwdriver stuck through the tread and the sidewall of his All Terrain only pulled into the tyre shop because he could hear a noise every time the wheel on the bus went round. And the most amazing part is that the tyre, despite being skewered on two fronts, hadn’t lost any air. It wasn’t even punctured! Gotta get me a set of those…

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They never go pop in a nice locale..

Meantime, ever had a really, really, really simple job bite you on the butt? And all through no fault of your own? Of course you have…you mess around with cars, so the above simply becomes a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. My latest version of one step forward, two steps back came this very morning when I started the simple, one-button job of changing a headlight globe in the MBC parts chaser.

Now, an H4 globe change on a Commo ute should involve opening the bonnet, removing the plastic access plate on the back of the headlight, flipping the spring catch to remove the blown globe, replacing it with a new one and reversing those three simple steps. Three minutes. Tops. Except, that’s not how it panned out for me. So what happened?

Well, I managed the ‘open the bonnet’ step without issue or injury, but from that point on, it all got Mayor of Weirdsville on me. On a VY Commodore, the passenger’s side headlight assembly is relatively accessible. But the driver’s side? Nope, it’s tucked in behind the battery. And guess which side had blown on old Hulk Bogan? Yep. So, out with the spanners and rip out the battery. No real problem. From there, I managed to undo the plastic access hatch, unclip and remove the blown globe and then plugged the new globe into the wiring plug and tried to refit it. Nothing doing. Somehow, the bloke at the parts shop had managed to sell me a H4 insert, but one that wasn’t compatible with the mounting lugs on the ute.

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Screw driver in double stabbing

So, back into the workshop with both globes for a quick measure-up with the trusty digital caliper to discover that, yep, the original globe’s mounting face was four millimetres smaller than the ‘replacement’. Trudge upstairs to find my wallet and the receipt for the new globe and a five-minute walk back to the shop to explain the error. Couple of minutes later, I’m strolling back to the MBC with the correct globe, which I proceed to plug into the wiring and clip into place. I’m now 20 minutes into the job and I really haven’t done anything more than remove the dud globe and make the ground-breaking discovery that H4s aint H4s.

With the new globe clipped into place and the access hatch back where it should be, I refit the battery and hook it up. Playing it safe, I hit the key to make sure all’s well. It is with the globe, but the starter motor just makes a single click and then its all crickets and tumbleweeds. Back under the lid, I can see the problem; the positive battery terminal is, er, terminal. It’s stretched beyond the point where I can tighten it on to the battery post (cheap factory-spec terminals, I’m guessing) and it just won’t grab the post with sufficient force to transfer them electrons.

Oh how I wish I had known this 10 minutes ago when I was standing at the counter of the parts shop. But don’t panic. Go to Plan B. That involved ratting through my boxes of recycled bits and pieces. And hey presto, what did I find but a brand new, unused positive battery terminal that was compatible with the bolt-on style of cables in the VY. You bewdy (except, what’s it doing in there?).

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 Morley’s three minute job took an hour

Having fitted the new terminal to the car’s positive cable, I slip the brand-spanking-new terminal over the battery post and try to tighten it. Nothing doing. There’s today’s theme. The through-bolt (and nut) that tightens the terminal won’t budge. It’s all coming back to me why a brand-new terminal ended up in the miscellaneous bits department. So I disconnect the car’s cable head back indoors and bung the terminal in the vice and try to undo the nut. Finally, after applying the force of 10 elephants, the nut moves slightly. And then shears off, leaving the bolt to fall through the vice jaws and to the floor.

Back to the storeroom to find a nice, new high-tensile nut and bolt from my stocks of such things, back to the car to refit the cable to the terminal and finally, refit the terminal to the battery. Hit the key and away she goes. Total time to do that three-minute job? One hour and change. And I still reckon I got off lucky.

What’s your horror story of the time when a quick, simple job like emptying the ashtray turned into a gearbox rebuild? Letters and postcards to the usual address.

 

From Unique Cars 456, Aug 2021

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