About a month ago, in a very remote high-desert, open-range area of Nevada about 350 miles north of Las Vegas, the dusty morning and afternoon air was filled with popping noises. Local citizens—all 20 of them—may have thought the F-14 and F-18 naval fighter jets were a little off target while making their normal live ammunition practice runs at the nearby Fallon Bombing and Gunnery Range.
Unknown to them, Michelin North America was conducting its ``Tire and Vehicle Dynamics Course'' for a group of people to demonstrate the effect of rapid air loss from tires on vehicle control. We were being exposed, as non-professional, ``Joe-average'' drivers, to the real world of tire ``blowouts.''
I use the word ``blowout'' because this is a term commonly used by the consuming public. However ``blowout'' creates an incorrect picture in the mind of the motorist who envisions a very forceful event that flings the vehicle out of control.
The truth is, vehicles don't normally go out of control when a tire loses air rapidly. The term ``rapid air loss'' is a more proper description of what happens.
Personally driving vehicles in which rapid air loss was created by explosive charges was an experience that reinforced my other testing experiences and the technical literature.
Deflated tires create small forces that are easily manageable if the driver applies a little common sense and doesn't break a cardinal rule of vehicle control—namely, do not suddenly apply brakes!
Besides not braking, I experienced additional control enhancement in all vehicle types by flooring the accelerator at the instant of air-out, while putting necessary, but minimal, correction into the steering wheel. After the situation was addressed, I reduced the vehicle speed and safely pulled off the road. No feats of super-human strength were required.
Most people know—or should know—not to apply the brakes. Common sense tells them not to make abrupt directional changes.
The Michelin ``blowout'' experience was total. I drove two types of school buses, two types of tractor trailers, a sport-utility vehicle and three passenger cars. I blew fronts and rears on straight roads and on curves.
The results for all the vehicle types, different wheel positions and road curvature were the same: Noise and a very short-term disturbance of the vehicle's motion that was managed easily by the driver's rational behavior.
With this and similar information, how can you help your customers and hopefully make them more loyal? Your role is not limited to properly balancing and torquing their wheels. Making your customers safer drivers also will benefit long-term customer relationships.
You know better than I that people usually are not happy at the thought of coming into your shop for tires or service. Tires are sometimes considered necessary but mysterious products that can make people nervous.
Surveys show most tire buyers don't know much about the product and would rather depend upon the dealers' expertise.
As a tire dealer, you can command the undivided attention of the customer who's sitting in your waiting room, probably annoyed about wasting his or her time, and bored at watching a blurry TV set or reading tattered magazines. This is the chance to do something productive and truly helpful.
Become a teacher! Treat your waiting room to a VCR and decent TV. Tire-related videotapes are available from many suppliers in the industry. Some companies even offer very good tapes showing how tires are manufactured. Others cover tire safety, traction etc.
An educated customer will take better care of his or her tires and reap personal cost and safety benefits. He or she also will experience fewer tire-abuse complaints after the sale.
Michelin is offering a free video of rapid air-loss and proper driving techniques. It repeats what we had to know to pass our written driving test, namely: ``Do not apply the brakes if a tire deflates'' and, ``Maintain your forward momentum'' before slowing down.
Call Michelin Public Relations—(864) 458-5000—for a free copy. Play it in your waiting room to educate customers; you'll be doing yourself and them a great service.
In future articles I'll suggest other videotapes for your ``Tire Safety 101'' course, as well as other ideas that can affect your long-range success directly.
Mr. Herzlich, an engineer, is president of Herzlich Consulting Inc. in Las Vegas.