Saturday, November 7, 2015

Still Life With Robin: There's an App to Fix a Flat

by Peggy Robin

The last time I had a flat tire (before today) was about ten years ago. We were AAA members then and I called for emergency roadside assistance, a guy came out, surveyed the damage, said he could plug the hole safely, did so, and we drove merrily away, and continued to drive that car with the plugged tire until the end of its mostly trouble-free life – which was at least another two years (the car was 13 years old when we sold it).

We bought a new car, which came with a roadside assistance plan as part of the deal, and in addition, our car insurance company, Geico, began including roadside assistance in its policies, so we dropped the AAA membership.

Yesterday, for the first time since we bought the car, I had to use the roadside assistance. I must have run over something sharp in the road. It was late at night but fortunately, I was very close to home when it happened. I didn’t see what I’d run over, and wasn’t even sure that the tire was flat –the car just started to have an uneven feel as I drove along, so I continued to drive slowly, a few more blocks until I reached my driveway, and then when I got out, saw that the tire was indeed in the shape of a sideways capital D. Since it was so late, I waited until this morning to do something about it.

And when I did, I discovered that it’s a whole new world of tire repair since the old call-and-wait days of AAA. First, I called the emergency roadside assistance number on the back of my Geico insurance card. I got into the voicemail system, and it suggested I get off the phone and report the problem through the Geico mobile app. OK, but first I had to download the app to my smartphone. While it was loading I could not help but wonder, what do people do who have old-fashioned dumb phones?

Next I had to log in on the app. Again, I had to wonder, what do people do who don’t remember their Geico password? Or have not even created a Geico log-on? Fortunately for me, I can always recall a company’s password, because I create a unique password for each company following a formula that sprinkles different numbers and characters into the company’s name. Each password is different and not something that a hacker could easily guess, but as long as I remember the formula, I can reconstruct the password without a hint. Of course, it does take me a minute or two to remember what character or symbol goes into the name in what order, and I may get it wrong once or twice before I get it right!

OK, now I’m in. I find the icon for roadside assistance, hit continue, and the first question that comes up is: “flat tire?” It must be the most common problem, since it’s the first on the list. I hit it, and am asked, “one or two?” After that, “Is there a spare tire?” Done with the questions, the screen shows me that my request for help has been received, and I see an approximate arrival time – within 30 minutes! – on my phone screen.

(Quick aside: Yes, I do know how to change a spare tire myself. I even did it once, a long, long time ago. If I had to, I could probably do it again. But since I have the roadside assistance plan, which  will send someone out at no charge, who will bring along a hydraulic jack and a power lug-nut tool, it makes much more sense to let a professional take care of it – especially in this morning’s rain.)  

Ten minutes earlier than the predicted arrival time, I get a call from the guy.  He’s outside, and all I have to do is fill out the paperwork while he puts on the spare, which takes him all of about ten minutes. When he’s done, I am astonished -- I have never before seen my car’s temporary spare tire. It’s toy-sized! It looks like something that would fit well on a Fisher-Price Big Wheel. But the very nice roadside assistance man assures me I can drive normally on it and can even take it on the highway, as long as I don’t go above 60 mph.

When I get back to the Geico app, it’s already asking me, how was my experience. Fine, fine, I tell it. Thanks for asking!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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