Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Buying Tires - Again!

Tires are like shoes - they wear out over time.

After hitting 50,000 miles our Nissan pickup truck is ready for some maintenance.   The tensioner pulley was squeaking, so I replaced the serpentine belt and tensioner, which was a 30-minute job.   Two notes:  First, when did even-sized metric wrenches become a thing?   It used to be the 9, 11, 13, 15, and 17mm wrenches were all you needed.   Today carmakers seem enamored of the 10, 12, and 14 sizes.   Fortunately, I had a couple of combination wrenches - a socket would not fit behind the fan - so it wasn't too hard a job - just tedious.   Second, installing a serpentine belt isn't hard, it is just like wrestling a snake.  You need four hands in tiny crowded spaces.

The tires are running out as well.  Tires are like a roll of toilet paper or scotch tape - as you drive you leave a thin film of rubber behind you, so eventually you "unwind" your tires, leaving the largely useless core.   Tires also age and crack - usually after about five years.   And if you don't rotate them (or even if you do) they can develop wear patterns that cause them to be noisy.  I suppose I could get another 5,000 miles - or even 10,000 miles out of them (we have no motor vehicle inspection in Georgia) but that would be dicey and unsafe.

The question is, what tires to replace them with?  As I noted before, my philosophy is that if you are happy with the tires that came on the car, get the same make, model and size.   Switching to cheaper tires is often a false economy as they can be noisy or ride poorly.   For example, the B.F. Goodrich "Long Trail" P265/70R16 tire (a size getting harder to come by already!  17"  seems to be the thing now) weighs about 29 pounds and costs $148.   A cheaper Uniroyal tire for $125 sounds like a bargain, until you see that it weighs a whopping 40 pounds.

Automotive handling is a function of unsprung weight - the weight of the suspension not carried by the car springs.   So the heavier your brakes, rims, and tires, the worse the car will handle.    I don't need to mount a set of of the Uniroyals to know they won't handle as well.  Besides, I had a set on my Jeep.  They were "OK" at best.

I was very happy with the Long Trail tires, which are a highway tire with limited traction in mud or snow.  Since I don't go off-road, these will work for me.   I liked the old set, so I will replace them with the same thing.

The best way to get tires is to order them online and then have a local shop (such as Wal-Mart) mount them for you.   Local tire stores will try to sell you what they have in stock - and will use the old bait-and-switch to get you into a more expensive tire.   I went to the wholesale club, which claimed to have the tires in stock.  I got there and they claimed they could not even order them but suggested a $180 Michelin instead.   You see where this is going.  Tire stores want to sell you the right tire for your car.  And the right tire for your car just happens to be what is sitting on the shelf in the back room.   You are not getting a good price or the right tire.

The Tire Rack did not have the correct size, and oddly enough the Goodrich site said they no longer make the tire - so maybe the wholesale club guy wasn't totally bullshitting me.   Both Wal-Mart and Amazon did have the tires, though, for the exact same price, with free shipping.  I went with Amazon.   Wal-Mart also offers free "pickup" at the store, which saves you from schlepping the tires around.   I have not had a good experience with this.

A friend asked me to get a spare tire for her trailer, and I ordered one online from Wal-Mart with free pickup at the store.   I got an e-mail saying the tire was there, and I went to get it mounted on the rim.   When I got to the store, of course, no one knew anything about any old tire and please stop bothering me - that sort of thing.   I finally went to the "layaway" section and after the lady there told me time and time again there was no tire waiting for me, I nicely asked her to avert her head 15 degrees to look at the tire sitting in a shopping cart behind the counter next to her.  If it was a snake, it would have bit her.

I trust United Parcel more than the folks working behind the desk at Wal-Mart, and I don't want my tires "lost" or to spend hours running around a Wal-Mart getting into a "thing" with the employees there.  It isn't worth the hassle.

Tires, as I have noted before, have really gone up in price.  These Long Trails used to be $95 apiece not too long ago.   But I am not complaining, as the tires for my X5 were close to $300 a pop, and you don't want to know what the M Roadster tires cost!   But with tires costing so much these days - and lasting so long (50,000 miles is not unusual for a good quality set of tires) - it pays to be careful about choosing the right tire, rather than just taking what the "tire guy" at the tire store is selling.

And oh, yea, if you ask him, he will tell you he has a "better tire" than what you can get online - the "Skid King Road-Rash 2000" for less money than Internet pricing.   He is likely wrong on both counts.   He wants to make a sale, and he doesn't make a sale by telling you to go online for tires.

The two other things I want to do at the 50K mark is change the battery and the transmission fluid.   The battery is not holding a charge very well and will crank slowly if not started every few days.  It also belched acid out the top, which may be a sign of overcharging.   Batteries are not expensive - about $100 or so - and the cost and hassle of having to call a tow truck for a jump start just isn't worth it.   We want to go to Alaska - not with the old battery.

The transmission fluid should be changed, particularly since we tow with the vehicle.  And 50K actually might be too long an interval, although they use a synthetic fluid these days.   The differential fluid I already changed at the 40K mark.

Other than checking the right front wheel bearing (it is making a noise, but I think it is the brake dust shield rubbing against the rotor - an easy fix - if not, the bearings are integrated assemblies and can be swapped out with a wrench) that's really about it. 

People today like to complain about cars, but back in 1968, this car would be ready for a new exhaust system, a second set of tires, a new battery, a brake job, and maybe a few more things.  Plus the interior vinyl seats they had back then would already have rips in them.  Oh, and the rear fenders would be rusted through by now as well.   Cars were really shitty back then.   Today, they are pretty bulletproof and need little maintenance to make them go over 150,000 miles with ease.

The downside to today's cars is that parts and labor - while needed less - are more expensive.  Back in the day, a tire was like $50 at most.  Somewhere along the line, they became a major expense.