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Europe2013 Trip report

How to maximise the inconvenience of a puncture

A tyre chirped a little as I was going around a round-about, on our way to the Thunersee (via Interlaken). Shouldn’t have: I wasn’t going that fast. Perhaps one of the tires was a bit low on pressure. I pulled in to the first petrol station we came to, bought a tank of petrol and had a look. Yes, the right-rear tyre was looking a bit grim, but the others seemed OK. When I finished filling the tank I drove over to the air supply to check.

[Aside: they have weird pressurized air gizmos in Switzerland. Rather than a long, usually knotted high-pressure hose that you have to drag around to each wheel, they have a sort of pressure-pot that sits against a valve, under its own weight, holding a bit of pressurized air. A little smaller in size than a basketball. Maybe one of those small, personal beer kegs. There is a short (1m-ish) pressure hose coming from this, with the usual tyre-valve wand at one end and a pressure guage on the top of the pressure drum. You lift the whole works off its home-valve and carry it to a tyre, then do the usual pressure check and press the more/less buttons to add or remove air. Of course, when the tyre is down to around 10-15psi, as ours was, you need to make several trips with the barrel, back to the pressure supply valve. Ordinarily I imagine that it is a system that works very well.]

Our low-ish tyre was down to around 10-15psi, while all of the others were 35. So I inflated the low one back to 35 and vowed to keep an eye on it at future petrol stations. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it, apart from some moderately alarming wear on the side-wall that was probably the result of having run at low pressure on the freeway for a while.

Had a very enjoyable day around Thun and other points around the lake, but when we finally came to leave Thun, to head to our dinner reservation, the tyre was clearly low again. So I pulled into the nearest service station and put some more air into it. With that delay we realized that we would not make it to the restaurant before the kitchen took last orders at nine, so we called them to apologize and to re-schedule for the next night. Instead, we stopped at a little pizza restaurant in Murten, which was on the way home.

The tyre still looked OK after dinner, but we thought we’d put the spare on anyway, for safety. Pulled into a closed petrol station for a level surface and some light and got into the back for the spare. Problem: Renault Koleos’ seem to come with a “space-saver” (really cost saver: there was plenty of room in the spare well for a full-size one.) This had a great big “80km/h” sticker on it (as well as imprinted into the tyre itself.) This wasn’t going to be happy on freeways, so we clearly needed another solution. Decided to drive home on the leaky tyre and ring Europcar for a replacement in the morning.

Oh, did I mention that the church bells all went nuts in Thunn for a whole fifteen minutes, at 6PM, to announce the arrival of Ascention day? It’s a big thing here. The next morning was a Swiss national holiday. Indeed, all of the shops with the sole exception of restaurants and cafes shut promptly at 5pm, even those that promised to stay open until 7:30 or 10PM. I guess they wanted everyone to be able to get home to their big family gathering or something.  No grocery shopping for us!

Anyway, that rather left us in the lurch as far as getting tyres fixed was concerned. The local Europcar office was shut for the holiday, as were all of the tyre garages. Europcar at Venice Airport were being non-responsive (in a thoroughly positive and helpful-sounding way.) After chasing phone messages and e-mails all day, I finally got onto someone in Rome who was able to organize a Swiss national roadside-assistance person to come and help to replace the tyre for the spare. I could have done that myself, and it didn’t help the situation, but at least (a) it would allow us to get to our dinner reservation, if I kept off the freeways, and (b) kept Europcar in the loop. The service guy pronounced the old tyre “dead”, after finding the screw that had caused the leak, and the sidewall damage that had resulted from driving on the freeway like that. He recommended that I show up at the local Europcar office the next morning and get them to exchange cars. Oddly, that’s what the Europcar service guy on the phone had suggested. Seemed a bit extreme to me, but we went along with it because what else could we do?

Had an early breakfast and showed up to the Europcar office in Neuchatel at around 10:00 (early is relative, on holiday) with everyone on board, as though we were going to just pop in to say hello before heading on our way to our day’s planned journey to Lucerne. Didn’t go like that of course. The car they had available for us was a Skoda Octavia (from memory), a station wagon. Nice enough car to look at but significantly smaller than our Koleos, and we (I) didn’t think that we would be able to fit our luggage in. No way. I think that the Europcar people were secretly relieved, because changing cars outside a registration jurisdiction is clearly a significant and expensive administrative problem, and requires two cars to be returned across borders afterwards, instead of none when we take ours back to the shop we rented it from. So attention switched to replacing the punctured tyre (or two, following the service guy’s recommendation: keep the car balanced.) The nice Europcar lady told us to hop back into the car and follow her to their favorite tyre place, a bit further into town. Once we got there we discovered that they didn’t have any tyres that would fit our car. So we all drove back to the office to wonder what to do with ourselves.

I suggested that we could drive to Lucerne (slowly) and they could have the tyres changed somewhere near there, if the right ones could be found. Eventually this plan was agreed to, but at a shop near Luceanne rather than Lucerne, as the latter was deemed much too far away for the emergency spare. Oh, and I would have to buy the new tyres myself, because Zurich head office (of Europcar, Switzerland) would not authorise the purchase of a non-line-item for the repair: Switzerland does not run any Renault Koleos’. I would have to take the issue up with the Venice office when I got there. (Forgot to mention: the Venice branch seemed to be on holidays and completely un-contactable this day, so they could not agree to cover the tyres on the spot.) I am not thrilled by that prospect, which still lies ahead of us, but I got them to record the outcome of the arrangement on our rental file. We’ll see.

So we drove to Lucanne along the freeway at 80, everyone else zipping past. Arrived at the Tyre shop during its lunch break (everything here always closes for lunch, except restaurants, which close just after lunch and then don’t open again until dinner time.) So we hunted around for somewhere to have lunch ourselves. Found a hotel that was open and had quite a nice meal. After lunch we popped back to the tyre shop and got the tyres changed and rotated. They advised me to buy four of course, “because it is a 4×4”, but I decided that Europcar wouldn’t care and I didn’t care to be lavish.

Half an hour later we were back on the road to the Bodensee for an afternoon of (quite delightful) sightseeing in a fully road-worthy car, with a significantly lighter credit card. Tyre purchase documents tucked into the rental documents in the glovebox. We were in time for a lovely dinner in a modern bistro on the bank of lake Neuchatel, walking distance from home. All in all a good day, even if it was looking decidedly dodgy for a while!

3 replies on “How to maximise the inconvenience of a puncture”

What an ordeal. Trust Europcar comes through with the tyre replacement costs. Or will you have to go through their insurance palaver?

Pretty sure there will be a measure of insurance palaver anyway: I created a small parking ding on one of the rear wheel-arches while reversing through a narrow gate, way back in Piemonte. I just hope there won’t be too much palaver: we have a flight to catch when we return the car. Perhaps the palaver will have to be carried out by correspondence. We’ll see.