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July 7, 2003

Diminishing Returns, Reversing Returns

If I had put as much effort into everything I've done as I did this past week into ensuring that I was able to take delivery of our new Hyundai, I would have been valedictorian, Man of the Year, and not become overweight. To put it succinctly, it felt like a battle to corral all the information to the right people at the right time, including sources of information twice or three times removed from myself. With the tarnished credit rating that comes after 13 months of unemployment, being released from the responsibility of paying for our SUV was a condition on getting approved for the lease on our car. Thereby, I had to chase both ends of the transaction - the end that was giving me the car, and the end that was taking the SUV. After a pitched battle all week things finally fell in place on Friday, and we were able to take delivery of our car. Hallelujah!

Friday also happened to be the day that we were due in Toronto to help organize and set up a milestone birthday in my family. The hastily drawn-up plan was for me to get home from work, go directly to the dealership, take delivery of our efficient Euro-styled family car, go home and load it up, and drive to Toronto. It was a tight schedule, especially with the dealership closing at 6pm, but we made it. Finally, the car was in our driveway, and the SUV was stripped of its plates. We loaded up, and jubilantly headed off to Toronto.

Our joy lasted all of ninety minutes. Less than twenty minutes after leaving from home, a random factor was introduced. Heading down the highway we crested a small hill at the same time I was changing lanes. Horrifically, just past the crest of the hill appeared large, jagged pieces of concrete strewn between the two lanes. Having no warning, we plowed straight over the ominous chunks, and instantly got a flat tire. Braking as hard as was possible, I pulled onto the gravel shoulder, put on the hazard lights, and got out to survey the damage. The front-left tire was well and truly toast.

I had the dubious pleasure of unpacking our car and piling our belongings at the side of the road so that I might access the spare tire. Being a brand-new vehicle, everything was in working order, so the spare was fully inflated and the jack wasn't seized, thankfully. Unfortunately, the spare is what I like to call a space-saver doughnut. It's not as big as a regular tire, but in a pinch it'll get you where you need to go. Sadly, we needed to go to Toronto, but with a maximum speed rating of 80 km/h, and the time being quarter to seven in the evening on Friday night, we were not going to find a replacement tire, nor were we going to be able to drive the car to Toronto. Cutting our losses, we headed back home on the pathetic-looking spare, re-swapped the plates onto the SUV, and drove it away, leaving our hobbled new car sadly sitting in the driveway at home.

Two aspects of this entire story keep playing over in my head. The bulk of the replays concern suddenly coming upon tire-hungry concrete where it shouldn't be, and if there was anything I could have done differently that would have saved us a lot of aggravation. Thus far, I haven't thought of anything. The second point I've been pondering is when I stowed the wounded tire to re-pack our belongings into the car. We had a rather full load that day, and so the only space we really had to put the full-size tire was in the space the spare came from. To my surprise, it fit very well. The only reason it did not fit perfectly was some pieces of stiff foam glued to the underside of the cargo area floor. Had I removed these, the full size tire would have fit perfectly.

Looking back, I can now see one aspect of the entire event that would have drastically changed the outcome of the entire weekend. If a full-size tire and wheel fits in the compartment that the spare resides in, why oh why did this car not come with a full-size spare? For perhaps an extra two or three hundred dollars (and potentially much less) added to the cost of the vehicle, and only a few extra kilograms of weight, I could have removed the damaged tire, put on a full-size highway speed-rated tire, and been off to Toronto having lost only thirty minutes time in changing the tire, and the cost of one tire, to be replaced at my convenience.

Upon this realization, the term "diminishing returns" immediately popped into my mind. With further contemplation, I think a more apt term might be "reversing returns" instead. While having a space-saver doughnut spare tire in my vehicle theoretically saves me money, weight (and thereby some mileage), and possibly space (although not in this case), it cost me two and a half hours of lost time, and at least doubled the amount of fuel I used this weekend, having instead to rely on our SUV to get back and forth to Toronto. (Before you ask, the reason we didn't simply stay at home Friday night and get our tire changed Saturday morning at the dealer was that we had responsibilities in Toronto with respect to the party, which required us to be in Toronto that evening.) Not only did the "returns" (benefits) of having a space-saver spare diminish, they actually reversed and became a liability.

Am I bitter? Not really. It's a flat tire - they happen from time to time. Ours just happened to be particularly poorly timed. It has made me wonder, however, what other aspects of our life might hide reversing returns. (None immediately come to mind.) Not surprisingly, it's also made me consider buying a cheap steel rim and an inexpensive tire of the correct size to replace our barely adequate spare with something more capable. For perhaps $40 for a rim and less than $100 for a tire, it would provide much more flexibility in our immediate options than what we have now.

I may just put the whole incident out of my mind. After all, this is my first new car, and I'd like to be able to relish in that fact for a while before I start harping on its shortcomings. I should go inhale that new car smell for a while. That'll help.


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