The $200 nail

I was on such an emotional high after Monday’s eclipse photo day.  Such an emotional high.

Nothing could bother me.  Not my GPS rerouting me through the heart of Washington, D.C. to avoid highway traffic.  Not the bumper-to-bumper traffic and heat of a long drive from South Carolina.

But then … on the New Jersey Turnpike, of all places … something happened.

I’m driving along, everything’s great.  Not a care in the world.

Wait a second … what’s that light on my dashboard?  And why is it on?

It looks like the bottom of a tire tread.

That’s one of my TPMS sensors.  And my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” is flashing a message at me.  “Tire pressure low, right rear, 26psi.”

Yikes.  How the hell did that happen?

Okay, let’s make sure I’m not seeing things.  I slowly relax my grip on the steering wheel.  I don’t feel any vibrations.  The car is handling normally.

But the sensor’s bright amber glow concerns me.  I’m now very, very worried.

Okay.  Let’s not panic.  This is why I invest in AAA.   I just need to get to a safe location on the side of the road, and …

Can I hold on and reach a travel plaza?  Damn it, where are the damn travel plazas?  The sensor is still flashing 26psi in the right rear tire.

You know, maybe I could continue to drive home.  Perhaps it’s just a faulty sensor.

No, Chuck.  Don’t be a stoopnagle.  Oh look, there’s the Woodrow Wilson travel plaza.  Pull in there.  Park under one of the street lights.  And call AAA.

Which I did.  The tire pressure reading was down to 25psi when I parked.  Yike.

Okay, time to dial AAA.

And it’s at this point that I discover that AAA can NOT offer service on the New Jersey Turnpike, apparently it’s a restricted location.  They transferred me to a New Jersey roadside assistance person.

“Sir, do you see the Sunoco station at the travel plaza?”

“Yes, but I don’t need gasoline.  I need to find out what’s wrong with my tire.”

“Sir, the Sunoco stations on the New Jersey Turnpike all have roadside tire and battery stations.  They will check your tire, patch it if necessary, and they also have a wide range of tires to replace your defective one.”

Okay, I’m trusting you on this.

I nursed the car over to the service station.  PSI is now down to 23.

I explained the situation.  Three Sunoco service station mechanics took down my information.  One of the mechanics removed the tire and checked it for punctures.

And he found this.

See that little white nail head?

Yep.  Somewhere along my travels, I must have driven over a nail.  It landed in my tire and caused a slow leak.  And since the puncture is closer to the sidewall, patching the hole will be impossible.  New tire required.

“You have my tire available for purchase?” I asked.

“Yes, sir, this is a common tire and we replace this model all the time.”

A few minutes later…

“Sir, we’re all out of this tire model.”

“When will you get more?”

“We might have a shipment tomorrow.  We can put your spare tire on and you can drive to a motel if you want.  Or …”


“Let me call the Sunoco station on the other side of the Turnpike.  They may have that tire in stock.”

And they did.  A few minutes later, a Sunoco employee couriered the tire from one plaza to the other.

One hour and $200 later, I was back on the road.

Well, it could have been worse, I told myself.

Ooh.  Raindrops on my windshield.  Great.  A nice summer shower.

Now I’m hearing a siren from my cell phone.  A quick glance.  It’s an Emergency Alert System, warning of a major thunderstorm and flooding along the New Jersey Turnpike and surrounding roads.

And I was driving straight into the worst part of the storm.  Lightning bolts right in front of me.  Sheets of rainwater coating my windshield.  Trucks zooming past me, their tires spraying waves of water like they were Peterbilt log rides in a waterpark.

No place to pull over.  I’m down to maybe 30 miles an hour, 20 in some locations.  Just keep going, Miller.  Do not give up.

Put your faith in a higher power.  Or at least in the power of General Motors, who built a car that warned you of a puncture in your tire, and made sure you got to a safe location where trained mechanics could repair your ride and send you on your way.

And at that moment, I realized – Dracourage is the first car I’ve ever owned that contained TPMS sensors.  Had I drove any of my other cars – the 6, Cardachrome, the Blackbird – I never would have noticed the compromised tire until it was too late.  Perhaps the tire would have exploded RIGHT IN THE RAINSTORM.  I could have crashed.  I could have been killed.

Could have been.

But wasn’t.

I will tell you, in all honesty, I made it from New Jersey to the Capital District with my senses on hyper-alert.  Lots of rest stops and mental recalibrations once I reached the New York State Thruway.

It was 4:00 a.m. when I finally reached the Town and Village.

Safe and secure.

The last time I was on a long-distance road trip, my car sacrificed itself to save my life.

This time, my car alerted me to danger – again, saving my life.

Sometimes a prayer is the best thing one can request.

And if the Lord truly does work in mysterious ways…

He knows how to activate TPMS sensors.  😀