Five Things I Learned Working At The Tire Shop
Article by Mark Trotta
A survey once revealed that most people would rather go to the dentist than go to a tire shop. The fact is, most tire shop visits are boring and often get expensive, but you need your car and your car needs safe tires.
After working at several tire shops over the course of five years, here are the top five things I've learned about tires and front ends.
Nobody Understands Front End Alignments
Real alignment techs are few and far between. Most techs that perform alignments don't understand what they're doing. The majority of them are merely reading the computer screen in front of the alignment rack and doing what it tells them to do. After following step by step instructions, the displays turn from red to green.
The problem with this is, many front end alignments require more than just a simple "toe-in" or "toe-out" adjustment. The caster and camber of the front wheels also comes into play. Unless you have a working experience with automotive front ends, it's hard to understand their interplay with each other.
Everybody Blames Tires For Other Problems
When somebody says there's a problem with their tires, the majority of the time it's not the tires. Tires get blamed for other problems, such as pulling (alignment issue), vibration (worn parts), and shaking (warped brake rotors).
Rotating Your Tires Is Fundamental
Front tires wear faster than rear tires. Tire rotation is simply moving the front tires to the rear, and the rear tires to the front. On average, tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 7,500 miles.
Leaving your car's tires in the same spot for 10,000+ miles will cause uneven wear that does not "wear back" once you do rotate them. On a front wheel drive car, the damage happens quicker and is significantly worse.
Rotating tires should be part of daily driver maintenance. This can be done right in your own driveway. Pick a sunny afternoon, grab a floor jack and a pair of jack stands, and get to it (and check your brakes while you have the wheels off).
Buying Cheap Tires Is False Economy
People that buy the cheapest tires are the same people that tire shops see the most of. This is because they're frequently going back with complaints of vibration, pulling issues, and premature wear.
Aside from being quieter and lasting longer, good quality tires can withstand more abuse than cheaply-made tires. I've seen hundreds of safe, routine patch repairs on quality brand tires. I've also seen the same type of puncture in cheap tires that were not safely repairable. Cheap tires damage easier; they are weaker in both materials and workmanship.
If you buy a cheap set of tires and don't rotate them regularly, they will quickly develop an uneven wear and become noisy. And once there is a problem (uneven wear, roaring noise) it's too late. If you buy a good quality set of tires and don't rotate them like you should, they're much more forgiving.
Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
Tire inflation affects ride, handling, braking and fuel economy. The maximum pressure stamped on the side of the tire is not what you inflate it to (that's what the tire is capable of safely handling). Check the owners manual or driver's door-jamb sticker for the correct air pressure you should inflate your classic car tires to.
Tires naturally lose one or two pounds of air every month or so. A quality tire air pressure gauge is needed to accurately check tire pressure.
Every car manufacturer designs the handling characteristics of their vehicles around the weight of the vehicle, so the load range, height and aspect ratio of the tires all factor into the performance and stability of the vehicle.
Air pressure should be checked when tires are cold. When tires are warm, readings are at least 2-3 pounds higher. After a long trip in hot weather, cold inflation readings may be taken after a minimum of three hours.
Some tire shops will push you hard toward a particular brand of tire. Personally, I have no favorite brand. I recommend basing your tire buying decisions on real customer reviews, and by the reputation of the shop that's installing them.
Good quality tires are always a better value than cheap tires. Not only in the long run, but also in the short run. You won't have to make that second or third trip back to the tire shop to get the tires right.
Worn tires diminish traction, especially in wet weather. In most states, tires with less than 3/32" of usable tread depth will not pass a safety inspection.