AGOURA HILLS, Calif.-For the second straight year, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. ranked as the best tire retailer in providing cus- tomer satisfaction, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey.
Overall, service stations, independent dealers and auto parts dealers rated higher in customer satisfaction than other retailers, including discount clubs, wholesalers and mass merchandisers, according to Power's 1995 Replacement Tire Study.
The survey, which elicited responses from nearly 16,500 owners of 1990-model vehicles who had replaced their original equipment tires, rated Big O Tires Inc.'s Big O private brand as the best overall replacement passenger tire in terms of customer satisfaction. Michelin tires ranked highest in customer satisfaction among owners of pickups, sport utilities and full-sized vans.
This year's survey was the first in which the Agoura Hills-based marketing information firm separated passenger and light truck vehicles into two categories.
``The growth of the light truck market has created the need for these two distinctions,'' the firm said in an April 14 press release.
Among the nation's larger tire retailers, Les Schwab ranked the highest, based on consumer ratings of the overall purchase experience. The Prineville, Ore.-based dealership was followed by Pep Boys and Big O stores. Tire Kingdom Inc. and Price Club/Costco warehouse outlets also posted scores above the industry average, Power reported.
The average shopper in the study visited two tire outlets and considered two brands. Only 26 percent of consumers repurchased the brand that came as original equipment on their vehicle, and just 37 percent indicated they intend to purchase the same brand next time, the survey said.
The study also noted the highest levels of consumer satisfaction were among luxury car owners while the lowest were among owners of full-sized vans. However, a J.D. Power spokesman said the company did not examine the reasons behind those differences.
On average, customers expected to get 45,000 miles from their replacement tires, up from an expected 41,000 miles two years ago. Owners of ``basic large cars'' expected the highest mileage-51,000 miles-while sports car drivers expected only 35,500 miles.
The survey determined that retailer performance is responsible for about 20 percent of vehicle owner satisfaction with regard to replacement tires.
``Customer satisfaction is always an issue of expectations,'' said J.D. Power III, president and founder of the marketing firm. ``Tire retailers play a critical role in shaping consumer expectations and can actually influence not only the buying experience, but also the consumer's satisfaction with the tires they purchase. . . . The study shows that purchase decisions are based on a combination of both brand and retailer.''
The Replacement Tire Study measures customer satisfaction through eight performance criteria: safety, retailer, styling, traction, ride, price/selection, wearability and problems.
A total of 15 tire brands were ranked in the passenger vehicle category with Big O's private brand, made by Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., ranked at the top. Michelin, Toyo and Uniroyal followed Big O, while Bridgestone, Dunlop, Firestone, Goodyear and Kelly were tightly grouped around the industry average, the firm said.
An additional six brands, whose names were not released, scored below industry average, and 11 others were not included because of insufficient sample size.
Michelin took the top spot in the light truck category followed by BFGoodrich and Uniroyal. Bridgestone, Cooper, Goodyear and Kelly performed close to the industry average, while another four brands were below-average. Fifteen other brands were not included due to small sample sizes.