Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Crazy New World of Tires!

Like everything else, they changed tires while we were sleeping.

I noted before that sea changes in technology occur and no one really tells us about them.  I read a thing online where some whiner complained that the clerk at Home Depot asked, "what do you need them for?" when he asked for nails.  "None of your damn business!" he replied.  "Then, I can't help you," the clerk said.

You see, if you put something like galvanized nails or screws or bolts into modern pressure-treated wood, they will rust through in a matter of months.  Something about the new technology in this "yellow wood" that just attacks zinc or something.  So we have yellow screws for yellow wood, green screws for green wood, stainless steel for Kumaru or whatever, white screws for PVC trim boards - and so on and so forth.  You can't even find galvanized screws, half the time.  And since Home Depot doesn't want to be sued when your deck collapses, they have to ask what you need the screws or bolts for.

Lightbulbs - you know the drill.  No longer do we look for 60W or 100W bulbs, but 2700 "Kelvin" bulbs whose intensity is measured in Lumen or something.  You have to keep up with the times and technology!

In the tire department, the same is true.  When I was a kid, there was Goodyear and Firestone, as well as lesser-known brands like Goodrich and General.  Maybe you had a fancy imported car that took those "Michelin" radial tires.  But most people went with good old reliable G78-15 bias-ply tires - maybe even recaps, if you drove a "junker."   But all that changed over time.

The switch to radials nearly killed or did kill Firestone, which is now part of the Bridgestone group.  Firestone came out with a set of radials - the "Firestone 500" which had a nasty tendency to come apart, as the workers had no experience with laying cords radially.  These were recalled and replaced, but the damage was done.  To seal the deal, they came up with "Firestone 721" radials, and I foolishly bought a set - what crap!

Goodyear fared better, but has had its mis-steps.  Oddly enough, I bought a set of 29" bicycle tires online which are branded (in raised white letters) as "Goodyear" but only on one side (like a car tire) so clearly they are licensing the name to other companies.  What does this say about their other tires?  Are they merely rebranded Chinese radials?  Who knows?

I wrote before about the Obama tire tariffs and how the only effect they had was to jack the price of tires to the moon - particularly if your car takes prescription tires.  American makers, when confronted with higher-priced imports, did the obvious and logical thing and raised their own prices to reap windfall profits.  No, they didn't plow that money back into their factories or into automation to remain competitive.  And today, I think we are seeing the result of this - you can hardly find "American" brand tires (whatever that even means anymore) and if you do, they are twice the price of other tires.

In terms of brands, there is now a confusing array of odd-ball brand names: Falken, Khumo, Nexen, Summit, Accelera, Fullway, Fuzion, Long Wind(!), Riken, Otani, Landgolden, Maxtour - the list goes on and on.  As I noted in another posting, sometimes it is best, if you were happy with the tires that came with the car, to replace them with the same brand and model.  Bear in mind that "OEM" tires sold directly to the manufacturer may be slightly different than the same tire sold to consumers at retail.  Nevertheless, it helps in narrowing down the field - and comparing different brands of tires is akin to comparing different models of cars when shopping.  Focus on one model and then shop on price.

The last three sets of tires I have bought, I did just this.  For the King Ranch, I found the pricey 20" Michelins for about $225 a tire, which wasn't too bad a price. They lasted over 50,000 miles and probably had another 20,000 or more on them.  I am sure the tire guy who mounted the new ones, sold my used ones to some other customer.  For the trailer, I found the "Ranier" tires from a guy in Alabama for an astounding $50 a tire.  And for the Nissan pickup (still tooling around the island by the guy I sold it to) the "Goodrich" tires were found online for about $150 apiece.

By the way, it pays to replace tires before the bitter end.  With both trucks, I replaced the tires at the 50K mark because we were towing a trailer and going to places like Alaska and remote parts of Canada.  Sure, you might be able to wring another 5K or 10K out of a nearly bald set, but is a blowout worth it?  Skidding out of control on wet pavement?  Of course not.

The worst way to buy tires is the way I see all the time at the tire center counter at Walmart.  Someone comes in with a flat tire, and the other three are bald or nearly bald.   The manager sells them what they have in stock, for retail, and tries to convince them to replace all four - or at least two!  The poor (in every sense of the word) working-class person tells him, "I can't afford that this month!" and goes ahead and pays as much for one tire as they could have paid for two or maybe even all four!   By not planning ahead and shopping around, the poor get the rawest deals imaginable.  You can tell when you need new tires, just as you can tell when you need a new battery.  But so many people act shocked at "surprise repair bills" which should not be a surprise at all.

I knew I needed new tires when I realized that, even though the Hamster has only 36,000 miles on it, the tires are nearly ten years old.  Yesterday, the "low tire pressure warning" light went off and I was embarrassed to admit that all four tires were at 25 PSI or less (should be at recommended 33 PSI, max load is at 40).  There was nothing "wrong" with the tires, just the slow leakage that occurs over time.  I usually check the tire pressures when we return from our summer sojourn, but this time I forgot.  Pump up each tire and the tire pressure warning goes away.

But the big deal was dry rot.  While pumping up the tires, I noticed that small chunks of rubber were falling off the tread of the front tires as shown in the above photo.  Maybe this is dry rot, or maybe also the result of "dry turning" on the tabby parking lot at the Arts Association (Tabby is a concrete made with oyster shells, and the shells stick out of the concrete and cut like a knife).  The rear tires don't seem to have the problem.  I suppose I could rotate them and go for another year, but one blowout at highway speed could ruin your whole day - or life.  Ten years is a long time for tires.  36,000 miles isn't a great tire life, but mileage isn't the only indicator of  when to change your tires.

But speaking of tire pressure - how long will the tire pressure sensors (TPMS) last?   After nine years, should they be replaced?  And since we are mounting new tires.... oh well.  On the one hand, I don't want to be like some of my neighbors who refused new pressure sensors when they got new tires and now drive around with the pressure warning light on all the time.  On the other hand, I don't want to pay $100 a wheel for new pressure sensors (although prices have come down considerably lately).

Again, they change the technology and they don't tell anyone.

I very briefly considered used tires.  The problem with used tires, I noted before.  They might also be dry-rotted.  The cost of mounting and balancing two sets of half-worn tires will be more than the cost of a new set of tires.  Other than brand-new "take-offs" from an idiot who wanted to put bling rims on a brand new car, there are few deals to be had with used tires.  And then again, "take-offs" can be scandalously priced and are only a deal if the price is right or they include rims that you need or want.  I searched online but found  nothing of merit.  $69 a tire for "80% tread" brand-X tires is no real bargain.

The original tires on the Hamster are Nexen Classe Premier CP671 94H P235/45 R18 tires.  What does 94H mean?  I find the same tires online for radically lower price ($118 versus $155) as "94V" models instead. 94 is the load rating (1477 pounds) and H and V are speed ratings (130 versus 149 MPH respectively).  Since the Hamster would not hit even 130 MPH if dropped off an airplane at 10,000 feet, it seems excessive to go to a V rating - although they oddly enough are cheaper!

Oddly enough, I found some 93V tires in this series - for even less. The load rating was less, too - 1433 pounds versus the 1477 for the 94 models. I even found a 91V model on Amazon, but that is rated for only 1355 pounds.  Bear in mind that is the max load at max rated pressure.  Most cars run below rated pressure, and load capacity drops off non-linearly with tire pressure.  Drop your tire pressure by 10% and you may see a 20% decrease in load capacity - or more!  As a result, blowouts are more likely.  Check your tire pressures more often!  Don't be like me and forget - and wait for some dashboard light to shame you!

Load Index has replaced the old letter-based load ratings, such as the E, F, G, and H-ratings back in the days of bias-ply tires.  Trailer tires are still rated by letter - load range C, D, and E, for example.  But I suspect they too, will adopt to these new two-digit index ratings.  Again, they change this stuff and don't tell us about it.

Then there is the "671" moniker which is a model number Nexen uses.  The 671 is a summer tire, while their similar 672 is an all-season tire, which oddly enough is sometimes cheaper.  And of course, there are tire treadwear ratings to consider as well.  It isn't as simple as rim diameter and profile, like in the old days.  It gets complicated!  Now you see why I tend to stick with the same make and model of tire the car came with.

The Tire Rack used to be my "go to" place for tires, but their prices are, well, kind of insaneThey want $178 for the same tires that came on the car (which, after 9 years are just starting to dry rot).  Walmart has a much better selection and lower prices.  Amazon has a shitty selection and higher prices.  Amazon doesn't have a brand search feature and keeps trying to sell me high priced tires.  Screw Amazon!

eBay seems no better and in fact has the same $178 price, which tells me they are sourcing from the same wholesaler.  Walmart has the exact same tire on sale for $155 a tire, and since that is where I will probably get them mounted, might be the way to go.

But it gets better.  Walmart has the same tire directly from them, for about $118 a tire - CP671 94V (higher speed rating) P235/45 R18.  Mounting is about $18 a tire and I can have the tires shipped directly to the store.  So I think I will go with that - later in the month.

Note that tire wear, like gas mileage, depends an awful lot on how you drive.  Hard acceleration, particularly peeling out, scrubs rubber off a tire. As our professors at GMI noted, a tire is like a roll of tape or toilet paper, and  you "unwind" it as you go down the road, leaving behind a thin layer of rubber as you drive.  Peel out, and it is like your cat unrolling an entire roll of toilet paper because, well, cats.  Hard braking and hard cornering also can shorten tire life as well.  The rubber that comes off tires forms a fine dust and is an emissions issue with cars.  And let's not talk about the nightmare of old tire disposal!  Tires, it seems, are not as simple as they appear.