The vibrations started the afternoon previous, a few hundred feet before we pulled into a southeast Indiana gas station to fill up. I though it was because we were dangerously low on gas, and this was the crappy Neon’s way of dealing with it. When it persisted after the tank was full again, I just passed it off as the crappy Neon gas tank’s way of recuperating from its brush with emptiness.
By the next morning, it still hadn’t gone away. We pulled over to the side of the road to check the tires. All four were inflated—or mostly inflated, which at the time seemed good enough—so we just passed it off as the crappy Neon’s way of telling us to give it up and get a better car. We continued on the highway. The shaking got bad. Then it got really bad. Then, moments after the badness reached dancing-with-death level, the damn thing exploded. On the highway. At 70 mph.
Some defensive driving insticts that I must keep buried in the back of my head immediately kicked into gear and helped me steer the crippled beast onto the highway shoulder. I actually wasn’t too upset, and neither was Sarah. We had a spare, and a jack, and plenty of time—what a perfect chance to show off my brawny tire-changing chops. And for a while, it was going beautifully. Until I hit the power of rust. The tire, not having been rotated or changed in a long while, or possible ever, had become rusted onto the car. No amount of force I could muster would dislodge it. My show was over; time to call AAA.
An hour later, the mechanic showed up. That hour was a painful one for me, sitting helpless in a car on the shoulder of a highway, waiting to get on with our vacation. What made it even worse was knowing that the solution the mechanic would use would be embarrassingly easy, heaping shame on me and my non-mechanical upbringing. Indeed it was: all he had to do was throw a heavy objejct at the tire a couple times, applying force inwards, and knocking the tire free. Three minutes later, the spare was on, and we were on our way to the water park.
Lessons learned: A) Always carry a spare and a jack. B) As my dad put it, “When it starts a-shakin’, you better be breakin’.” C) Just because you’re stuck in a car on the highway, doesn’t mean you can’t relax. D) If there’s a child in my future, don’t let him/her leave the nest without a solid understanding of emergency car repair. E) Invest in a hybrid.