Wheels within wheels: how just one simple discovery sent a shiver up our spines
It was an apparently simple matter of getting a change of tyres and a bit of a check-up for the NCT. But, as Eddie Cunningham reports, a much more sinister development awaited.
Every week in these pages we talk about the risk of buying a second-hand car.
Little did I realise how true that would ring on a personal level for me.
My daughter Emily loves her little 02-registered Peugeot 206. It was her older sister's car for a while but it did little or no driving because she was abroad.
She'd bought it a few years back and, apart from niggling electrical problems, it gave little trouble. How could it as it wasn't on the road that much?
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the little Pug was coming up to its NCT date again. For some reason, we were a little concerned about the tyres. I just wanted to be certain the car was really well shod and felt it was time to change anyway.
A mutual friend highly recommended Heffernan Tyres, in Kildare town. Just as you head out of Kildare on the left - well before The Curragh.
It was a bit of a trip down from Dublin but a bit of an adventure too.
It's not just a tyre depot; they do all sorts of car work as well.
I have to say we were made to feel completely at home when we arrived. We were warmly welcomed (grand cup of tea) and offered so much courtesy, and help in choosing tyres etc.
So down we went and did the shopping in a local supermarket while we waited for the tyres to be fitted and a few other things checked over.
When we returned from shopping, we were told they had discovered the tyres were nearly nine years old.
Nine years old.
I was frightened by this because I know how tyres can be perished even though they can look absolutely fine.
Not alone that but there was a problem with the wheel nuts. Basically someone in another life had put on alloy wheels. But they stuck with the steel nuts. And that can make a hell of a difference. Some of the treads on those nuts were worn. In other words the wheels didn't have the full run of tread/grip. Not a comfortable thought when thinking of your daughter driving on the M50.
Anyway we tracked down a proper set of nuts (after a trawl through several breakers' yards we bought new ones in Dublin), got a new exhaust fitted and the Heffernan folk did a really great pre-NCT job throughout. The car flew through the NCT, is going like a bird at the moment and everything is as it should be.
But I shudder to think, without in any way being dramatic, about what would have happened if those good people at Heffernan's hadn't spotted the discrepancies.
I know you'd expect me to say that they were excellent and all that. Trust me I'd find a way to tell you if they weren't. But from the first day we went down (and had that nice cup of tea) we felt a thorough job was being done. Stuff was not, repeat not, being suggested to make a handy few euro. And nothing was too much bother. Lord, I had the reception reception staff gone mad with calls and queries.
Most important of all, however, is that my daughter is driving a much safer car now. Before that? I am afraid to even think about it.
The truly chilling thing about it is that it was all so innocent. No one, I'm sure, intended to put anyone at risk by fitting the incorrect nuts. And no one thought much about the tyres (myself included for a long time) being perished rather than worn.
It is the innocently insidious nature of it all that holds the horror.
Which is why I'd urge anyone buying a used car - or trying to 'save' a few euro with their current one by going to someone they know 'who fixes cars' - to think again.