16 August 2008

Zoom-Zoom = Ka-Ching.

"We don't sell cheap tires ... we sell tires cheap!"

(old slogan for a tire store in Little Rock - forget the name, though)

How long should a set of tires last on a car?

It depends on a lot of things, among them the brand, the model, the type (passenger, performance, etc.), and how they're maintained.

That last part is a lot more squirrelly than you think. I'm not outright neglectful about tires -- I rotate 'em, although it's usually been 7,000-ish miles. One problem I freely admit to is, I haven't been one to poke a tire pressure gauge into the valves every week. I visually check them regularly, and that's been the extent of it.

With those habits as a background, consider:

On average, over the various cars I've had, I believe I've averaged 40,000 miles on a set of tires.
More recently, on the '05 Civic Hybrid we used to have, I got a good 38,000 miles on the original set.

But on the '04 Element (a/k/a Psychedelic Milk Truck, Toaster-On-Wheels, Love Child of a '72 International Scout and a '76 AMC Pacer) I managed the incredible: 50,000 miles on two of the OEM Goodyears it came with .... and when we traded her in last August (one year ago the 25th), at 67,000 and change, the back tires were the originals!!

All that with a less-than-anal care regimen.

Which brings us to the present day. And our '07 Mazda3 - named Kitt (for the dashboard which resembles something from out of Knight Rider) - came with a set of Toyo tires on alloy wheels. A sharp look for zoom-zoom.

How many of us think about the tires when car shopping? I think it's going to be on my list for any future car buying.

It never occurred to me that you can't get zoom-zoom out of a Civic, Corolla or a Focus, with basic wheels. It requires something called "performance tires." (my mind recalls the old Super Shop commercials, complete with obscure Santana music bed, that used to be a mainstay advertiser on many AOR stations in the '80s)

And said "performance tires" aren't known for their durability.

The honeymoon was over when I began to hear a 'woop-woop-woop' sound coming from the tires. Cupped tread. Whoookay, let's check alignment. Check, nothing's out of kilter. I called the Mazda place in Hardeeville to schedule an appointment to have the suspension looked at. The tech I talked with asked how many miles I had on the vehicle. I said "about 22,000."

His response said it all: "Damn!" As in, he was impressed that I was able to get more than 20,000 miles out of a set of the OEM Toyo tires that come on Mazda3s. And various reviews I saw online appear to confirm this tire's very limited lifespan.

I'll say it again: how many of us think about tires when car shopping? Especially those of us who do a lot of commuting?

They were wearing on the inside. The only problem might be pressure. The newer cars come with the TPMS monitoring system which trips a dashboard warning light if one or more tires are 25% low on air. The light's never glowed on the Mazda, so it leads me to think these "performance" tires have a very low margin of tolerance. So I started watching the pressure like a hawk.

I hoped to stretch those things to 25,000 miles, but the woop-woop-woop sound that was largely confined to two of the tires now spread quickly to the other two. Especially over the last week, that car sounded like the audio from a 1990 episode of The Arsenio Hall Show. The two front tires, the ones that just joined the chorus, were now worn nearly bald.

The odometer reads 23,600 miles. 25,000 was not going to happen. So I started tire shopping yesterday. Calling around, I got a nasty case of sticker shock. One local chain - with a good reputation, I've heard - quoted me an out-the-door price of $580 for a set of four with some funky Korean name I'd never heard of. *choke*

My next call was to our local tire store. With the passion of Daria, he quoted me a similar price for a similar batch of tires. "Do you have any specials going?" "ummmm, no."

I thought about Sam's Club ...... but the ego kiboshed that idea, reminding Mr. Id just who owns Sam's. Don't get me wrong; Sam's is good for cheap gasoline, bulk groceries and 578-roll packs of toilet paper, just not for putting my trust in tire installation. It's too close in the family to that other place.

Sears had some Indian guy answer the phone. I managed to gather that they had a rebate of up to $50 on four Goodyears. Talk about a drop in the bucket. "Up to." Meaning, the basic tires carried a middling $20 rebate. Yeah, 20 is 20, but that won't even halfway fill a gas tank today. After wondering whether to thank him or to book a single room with king bed, I continued my search.

I began thinking of one of the few positive things about life back in Troy, the Expert Tire on Brundidge Street. It's there I learned that the 'private label' tire brands like Lemans were surprisingly good. That's where I bought all our tires, and where I had all the car servicing done.

My next call was to Tires Plus on Abercorn. They had a special going on the Bridgestones - buy three get one free. They had room for me after work, so there I went. They did a check of the alignment, and it checked out fine. The total damage for a set of Bridgestone Potenza G019s, with special, complete with the road-hazard warranty (more on that in a minute), was a mere $420.

The four new tires we put on the Civic Hybrid at 38k miles (at the friggin' dealership, no less!) totaled less than $300!

One more time, with feeling: how many of us.........

Online reviews I read about this tire were mixed, yet tilted positive. You take your chances. Sure, I'd love to have put some Michelins on that car ... sure, if that wouldn't have cost $1,000. Bottom line: the Bridgestones were the best bargain all around. Here's hoping.

The real silver lining in this experience: when he mentioned the road hazard plan, saying it was good at all Tires Plus, Firestone and Expert Tire locations.

Expert Tire? Yup, that's right. While I knew Firestone and Expert Tire were somewhat related in some kind of way, I didn't know Tires Plus was part of that same group. The people were nice and courteous, and straight-talking ... just as I remembered from Expert Tire in Troy.

So how's that for a nice experience?

As for these Bridgestones, they come with a 50,000 mile warranty. I'll be using the tire gauge regularly and keeping an anal eye on things. I'm going to try and squeeze every mile out of 'em. And there's where the little compressor I bought the other week will prove a very wise purchase.

And as for Mazda ... while the Mazda3 looks spiffy, handles beautifully and I enjoy driving it, I don't know that I'll go with another one when it comes time to trade in. Better to go with the 'ordinary' cars with 'ordinary' tires, since we both have 'out-of-ordinary' commutes.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Tire'd" Gleck


Melissa said...

I just, this week, replaced the tires on my 2005 Saturn VUE - it had it's orginal Bridgestone Tires that had been installed in facory and had 50,222 miles on them when I replaced the tires. They were very worn but I hadn't had 1 problem with them.

I'm didn't do quite as much research - I'd gone to Sears the last time I needed tires and the Sears is attached to a mall in order to kill the time (am I a girl or what?) So I went over there - they had the identical tire (Bridgestones) that I'd had, put it on and off I drove. Cost - about $650.

When the guy looked at my tires he thought I needed an alignment, but when they got the car up on the lift they determined that it did not, so it was just the tires!

Talmadge Gleck said...

50k on a set of OEM tires is an awesome lifespan. (and, even as a guy, I could've used a mall to hang out -- instead I was stuck in a waiting area for two hours and no place to go except for a realty company or the Mercedes dealership on either side of me).

I hope I have similar luck with these Bridgestones.