A thorough road test and an accurate vehicle history are essential to the long-term health of any tire dealership that performs automotive service.
The operative words are thorough and accurate.
In the nearly 11 years I've been contributing to Tire Business, I've repeated this mantra so many times I'm sick of hearing myself say it.
But apparently some dealers either never got this message—or never took it to heart. In TB's August 14 issue, Vera Fedchenko reported that the state of Wisconsin hammered Burnsville, Minn.-based Team Tires Plus Ltd. with a $37,647 fine for allegedly recommending unneeded vehicle repairs. (Don't you just love that word allegedly?) Hopefully the Tires Plus fiasco convinces readers they simply must take road testing and vehicle history seriously. A lot more seriously.
That said, I admit that I detest these sting operations. But every time I review the results of these episodes, I realize my own shop experience taught me to handle the matter differently. Furthermore, service personnel I admire and respect would not have been suckered in by an investigator's questionable or cheap tactics. Let's see what we can learn from this.
It seems that Tires Plus got the state's attention by recommending new shocks and struts on a Mercedes with a week-old set of shocks and struts! Hello?
The state slapped the dealership's wrist and warned it to play fair. But complaints about Tires Plus practices kept coming in, so the state took action. It equipped a car with new struts and cupped tires. The struts were sandblasted to appear older and weathered. When a state agent took the car to 12 Tires Plus stores, four of those recommended new struts.
According to Ms. Fedchenko's report, a Tires Plus official confirmed that its workers did not road test the rigged car to see how it handled. What's more, the state agent claimed she had only owned the car a short time so she didn't know its history.
Where I come from, we call this a sucker punch. The state threw the sucker punch and Tires Plus leaned right into it. Seems to me these two boxers—Tires Plus and the state of Wisconsin—sparred over that Mercedes with the week-old shocks and struts. When they sparred, the dealership should have recognized a hard-hitting opponent.
Now the two opponents have fought again, but for real this time. The Tires Plus boxer is bloodied and limping, yet he's telling reporters he fought a great fight. But everyone watching saw him lean right into a knockout punch.
Let's cut to the chase, readers. Savvy suspension people always, always, always road test a vehicle to confirm a diagnosis and to catch any symptoms the customer forgot to mention or couldn't verbalize.
Savvy suspension people are instinctively suspicious when tire wear patterns, wheel alignment readings and road test results don't jibe with each other. When things don't jibe, they ask more questions and make recommendations very carefully.
Furthermore, what does experience teach us about cupped tires? By the time shocks or struts are in such bad shape that the tires are cupping—meaning the shocks or struts literally cannot keep the tires planted on the pavement—the vehicle usually handles like a pig. So the weak shocks or struts are causing it to bob, dip, weave and lean severely during a routine road test. Typically, driving this car is downright scary!
Obviously, a car with new struts—even sandblasted ones—would not show any of these symptoms. A thorough tech would return from the road test and perform a routine alignment check. Suppose the pre-alignment check shows no worn suspension parts and the alignment readings look good. Carefully counsel the customer that you don't understand where the cupped tire symptom came from.
OK, the lady tells you she's only had the car a few weeks, so she doesn't know anything about its history. You recommend new tires and call it a day.
I sincerely wish the folks at Tires Plus the best. I hope this episode inspires them and all our readers to constantly review and upgrade their policies and procedures.
But anyone who doesn't road test and compare road-test results to tire wear patterns and alignment readings is asking for trouble. Period!