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Motor Mouth articles 2012

The cost of air makes me gasp

I KNOW we’re in a recession, times are hard and inflation is driving up prices but I must say the cost of air took me rather by surprise.

I usually use the gadget I keep in the garage, a thing with jump-leads for flat batteries, a compressor for pumping up tyres, a cigarette lighter, a torch and sundry other buttons and switches. Except this time it didn’t work.

Ok, disappointing but not a problem – I headed off to a petrol station. Although it was mid-afternoon when I’d have expected it to be quiet, there was a queue for the air and water machine so I decided not to wait.

Before going on to the next garage, I decided I had better check the handbook as I had forgotten what my recently acquired car’s tyre pressures were supposed to be. It seemed to have been metrified or metricated because instead of pounds per inch it was given as 2.4 bar.

So I drove home to check out how to convert a bar to a psi (one bar is about 14.5psi) and then headed on to the next filling station. There was no queue and, I noticed to my delight, you could set the gauge thing to show either bar or psi. The trouble was that the air dispenser didn’t work. And if it had, it would have cost me 50p to use it.

Finally, I found a petrol station where there was no queue for the air, the machine was in good working order and the minimum price of buying fresh air was only 20p. But for that, I was informed by another driver, you only got about 20 seconds. To check and adjust the air in four tyres in 20 seconds would have had me dashing around in high-speed mode like a character in an early Charlie Chaplin movie.

So I stuck 50p in the slot, set the gauge to the right number of bars, topped up my tyres as quickly as I could, while a queue of cars formed behind me. The faster I tried to unscrew and replace the dust caps on the tyre valves the more I got my fingers in a twist.

Anyway my back tyres were spot on, my front ones were like a matching pair of pancakes, something I blame entirely on the appalling potholed state of our roads and the speed humps that pepper half the streets in every town and wreck your shock absorbers.

The cost came as a bit of a shock, I must say. Air at garages always used to be free, a small gesture of appreciation from a business where you spent a small fortune every week on petrol, oil and the occasional Cornish pasty or Mars bar. The machinery has become more sophisticated and, of course, more expensive, so a token charge is acceptable, I suppose, but ten shillings seems very steep.

The whole episode encapsulated just how difficult it is for a motorist to carry out a simple, routine task. Surely there must be a better way?

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