Friday, November 8, 2013

Putting rubber to the road - São Paulo

Borracharia. Not mine. Photo credit:

I have a love-hate relationship with my husband's car. Mostly hate. It is a 2008 Volvo XC90, a reasonably large SUV by Brazilian standards (a car we had bought used from BH's old company). By American standards, it's medium-sized.  I find it hard to drive in São Paulo's smaller streets and don't even get me started on how it is to park the boat. But it does fit seven people and that gets to be important when traveling with our two kids plus my stepkids plus the occasional labrador or two. It is also bullet-proofed in the old very heavy technology. I only drive it when I have to.

And when I have to is whenever it needs service. Only about six months ago, my husband informed me that I was in charge of the cars. They were my responsibility. So when there was a tire going flat yesterday, I was in charge of getting it fixed.  First up: find the "borracharia", literally speaking the rubber place. Figuratively speaking, it is the tire repair shop. If you have seen my post from Joanopolis, you will know that this is always an adventure. My husband tells me that I have to go to a certain tire shop because only there they have a "macarrão" (pasta) that will work on blindado tires. Which part of the previous sentence made any sense to you? Yeah, me too.

When I pulled up at the gas station that, according to BH, had a "borracharia", I could not see any "tire place". So I asked one of the station attendants and he pointed to the dark interior of a garage. I finally noticed the piles of tires there and a stout older man with a red Shell cap (we were at a BP station).  I greeted him and showed him the tire and he said, okay let's see what we've got. He loosened the tire thingies (see how smart and technical I am with car stuff?--good thing my husband put me in charge), lit a cigarette (one has to have priorities) and then put a red lifter-upper thingy under the car and started the "mechanical lift"--that would be him, the mid-50s, possibly 60 year old tire guy. I told him the car was bulletproofed and very heavy. He said, roughly, "yeah, yeah."

Finally he got the tire off the car and rolled it over to a chipped bathtub filled with dirty water. And dunked it in. Is this how we check for leaks in the US? I don't know. When I have had a flat tire in the US, AAA comes, takes off the bad tire, then I go to Costco and get a good tire, and we all go on about our days. Anyway, he dunks the tire in, and rotates it around and then says "aha, there it is" when little air bubbles appear from a previously-patched spot.

Bathtime for the Pirelli

As I am looking at this tire, I am thinking--wow, it looks like crap. Pieces of the tread missing, worn down etc. I ask him what he thinks of the car tire--he says it looks pretty good to him and he is going to try to repair again the spot. He gets a sharp screwdriver-type tool, and a piece of rubber that looks like a 3 inch worm (the famous "macarrão" or pasta) and proceeds to stuff the rubber worm in the hole. I wonder to myself how this is going to work. And he keeps stuffing it in until he says "well, that should do it" and walks over to the air blower and starts pumping up the tire. I am standing there with my mouth open thinking "a rubber worm in the hole is the solution?" what? I am driving this car 3 hours to the fazenda with a worm in the tire? And how many other people are driving around with wormy pasta-y tires? Yikes.

And then he dunks the tire back into the bathtub again to see if more bubbles escape. One or two do so he says "nope, I think I'm going to have to repair it from the inside."  At this point, I have decided that I don't want to know what kind of tires I am actually driving on, and say I'm going to go to the supermarket next door and will be right back. And then I have the nerve to ask him "so...seems things are pretty bad on this tire. How many kilometers do you think I have left on it?" And he immediately answers "it's fine. I would say around 15,000 kms (9,300 miles)". Folks, there are whole chunks of rubber missing on that Pirelli.  What?

So I go to the supermarket next door and down a gallon of wine (Gallo hearty burgundy--oops sorry, I just completely zoned out for a moment) I get a panettone and some cilantro over at Carrefour (don't ask) and head back to the gas station. As I stand there waiting for my bill, I get nuzzled on the back of my knee. I look down and there is the dirtiest most beautiful dog ever. And he wants to come home with me. The tire guy says the dog's name is Lobo, or Wolf, but he looks nothing like a wolf. He looks like a husky-border mix. Apparently tire guy adopted the street dog about 7 years ago, and he thinks the dog is now around 15.Kindness comes in all forms, even a red Shell cap.

Anyway, the price for 20 minutes labor on my rubber-wormed and bathed tire? R$20. US $8. Love. Don't think too much about how it was repaired, okay? I'm sure it will be fine.


  1. You could've taken it to one of the chains like Freios Vargas (do they still exist?) where a slick salesman would've convinced you that not only all the tires needed replacing (including the spare) but you might as well get new brake discs and pads while you're at it. Oh, and now that your car is up on the lift, it looks like you could use a new exhaust too. The bill probably wouldn't be only 2 figures though.

    On a serious note, bits of rubber missing doesn't sound good but the rule of thumb is that the tread must be at least a match head's deep.

    1. Never heard of Freios VArgas but possibly they are still around. Yeah, I wasn't born yesterday so when the posto guy came over while I was waiting and told me about the end of year special where they did a "revisão" on everything, I simply said "no." You don't grow up the descendent of the Dutch and spend your money freely.

      No, I loved this tire guy and his dog. Can hardly wait (knocking wood) for the next flat...