User experience: The Durango and the buffalo farmer

For our trip to the Black Hills, I rented a Chrysler Durango at the airport to navigate the rugged terrain and back roads. It was too big, too expensive, and halfway through the trip, the driver’s side window refused to close, making for a windy, dusty drive.

It was only when we drove to the top of the really high peaks that I appreciated the sturdy SUV. When Dad warned us about the bad roads up to Cement Ridge, the northern most fire lookout post, I told Steve, “Let’s head up there and see what the Durango can do!” We made it to the top easily and the view was breathtaking! Cement Ridge lookout
Here’s a picture of the lookout tower.
From that peak you can look east to the South Dakota prairie, and west to the Little Big Horns.
We chatted with the young fire ranger, who was writing a book about his two years at a wilderness post in Montana. Some other rangers were signaling him with a mirror from a ridge 50 miles away. We marveled that a simple tool produced an unmistakable flash allowing the ranger to pinpoint their location.

Later that day, I invited my parents and nephew to join us on a trip to Custer Peak, just south of Lead and Deadwood. It was about 4 pm when we set off and my dad, who has thin blood and gets chilly when it drops below 75, lamented that we hadn’t brought jackets or sweatshirts along. I said, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back before the heat of the day wears off.”

Custer Peak Road cuts off of US385 and meanders pleasantly through campgrounds and meadows until just below the actual peak when you really start to climb. Despite the dust coming in my open window, I was grateful to be in the Durango and noted that our ascent up the rocky slope would make good footage for a Chrysler TV ad. The road was pitted and washed out. Just one narrow lane the whole way up and a steep drop on our left. In parts the roadbed was exposed limestone with loose jagged rocks.

Just before the summit I heard a hissing noise. Steve and my nephew Max reassured me that it was just some brush caught in the wheel well. But when I brought the vehicle to a stop, the noise didn’t stop. I hopped out and my heart sank to see the front right tire deflating rapidly.

It’s important to remain calm in these situations, but my heart was pounding as I pictured us huddled on the mountain top for hours waiting to be rescued, my dad turning blue from the cold. We called Hertz’s emergency roadside service as well as AAA. Then we set about locating the spare and preparing to change the tire. Max and Steve were up for the challenge despite their membership in the Men Who Don’t Know Much About Cars Club.

Since we were unsure how to release the spare, which was hanging under the back end of the car, we consulted the owner’s manual.

How to find information in a 475-page booklet? Use the index. “Spare tire” had two citations, but neither mentioned how to release the frigging thing to actually change the tire!

Fortunately, a man and wife had followed us up the peak in their four-wheel ATV and offered to help. He was a buffalo farmer from Alberta and approached the situation with a thoughtful mien and a can-do attitude. This inspired confidence in Max and Steve. He also knew where to find the tools to release the spare. And we finally found the information in the manual under “Jack location.”

Steve and Max finished the job in no time. We were saved! Steve called off the emergency services, Mom and Dad climbed up to the fire lookout to enjoy the view, Max blew the seeds off a giant dandelion, and I gave a sigh of relief.

On the way down, while I was praying silently that we would not get another flat, everyone else assessed the experience and found Chrysler wanting. Max pointed out that the most common repair owners make to their car is changing a tire. And it usually happens under stressful circumstances where you shouldn’t have to search through a manual. Why not put a simple set of instructions in a logical location, like the rear interior of the vehicle? Why make the driver search? Or how about a quick reference card in the glove box with easy-to-read steps for changing a flat?

The importance of understanding the user experience was again confirmed.

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