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BLOG: Air pumps — or lack thereof

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Air pumps Kathy McCarron
Tire Business file photo Kathy McCarron, Tire Business reporter

AKRON (June 2, 2014) — I thought with National Tire Safety Week being observed June 1-7, I would share my recent experience related to tire safety — specifically what I went through trying to locate one of those often elusive air pumps.

The tire industry is always urging consumers to check their tires, mind their tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) alerts and maintain proper air pressure. But how do you do this on the road with no air pumps readily available?

There is the common joke that pregnant women learn where every public restroom is located. Well, when you have a leaking tire, as I did on a long road trip from northeast Ohio to central Michigan, I learned where all the air pumps are — or at least I tried.

It all started when I rented a vehicle, got on the highway and soon after saw the TPMS light come on. Having written numerous stories for Tire Business about the importance of proper tire pressure — and fearing I had a leaking tire — I started looking for a place to fill it up on the road.

It was a four-hour trip to an event I had to cover for the newspaper, I didn’t have time to get the tire checked and I certainly didn’t want a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

I soon stopped at a service plaza on the turnpike to fill up the tire. The only trouble was I couldn’t spot the air pump. I vainly looked around the gas station area and finally found an attendant, who pointed to a small “air” sign near the exit. I filled the tire but there was no tire gauge in the rental car and the pump had no gauge. So I just had to keep checking to see if the TPMS light went out.

It did — but only long enough to give me a false sense of security.

Several miles later, the TPMS light came on again. But at the next service plaza, there was a pile of rubble where the air pump used to be. A service attendant pointed in the general direction where the semi-trucks pumped gas. After driving in and around several trucks, I found the air pump nestled between two gas pumps — no signage pointed to this one.

However, the air flow through the hose was so quiet, I couldn’t tell if any air was going into the tire. There was no on/off label on the pump, so I kept moving the crank back and forth on the hose with no difference in air flow. The TPMS light didn’t go out, but I just hoped some air got into the tire as I drove away, trying to make the event on time.

On the way home that evening down back roads to the turnpike, I looked for a gas station with an air pump. I found one with a sign noting that air costs 50 cents, but “the tire gauge was free.” Apparently someone took that literally, because the gauge was gone. I fed the pump with my only two quarters and the hose slowly filled the tire and then stopped. The TPMS light was still on, but I hoped I had enough air in the tire until the next stop.

On my final service plaza stop on the turnpike, I found an air pump that actually sounded like it was pumping air into the tire — and the TPMS light stayed off until I got home. Up to that point I was preparing myself for a flat tire or blow out somewhere on the long stretch of lonely highway in the middle of the night.

Which begs the question — how do typical travelers take care of filling up their tires when air pumps seem to be an afterthought at many gas stations, service plazas, etc.? In cases where a tire doesn’t have a slow leak, but just needs to be filled up during a long road trip, will a typical motorist bother wasting his or her time and energy looking around for a working air pump? And how do they fill it up properly if they don’t have a tire gauge readily available?

These are issues the tire industry should give more attention to as they urge motorists to pay more attention to their tires.

___________________________________________________

Tire Business Reporter Kathy McCarron would have traded her kingdom for a decent air pump on this road trip. But she did put the 50 cents on her expense account.

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