JACKSON, Miss. (June 8, 2002)—Jack Bethany talks about not minding eating an occasional set of tires. But the general manager of East Ford in Jackson isn't likely to be seen any time soon sitting with a quartet of radials on his plate.
What Mr. Bethany is hungry for is customers at his car dealership agreeing to a promotion that gives new car buyers free tires for the life of their car.
Though the “Free Tires for Life” program isn't as simple as it sounds, it's still easy enough for customers to get their vehicles re-shod essentially free of charge.
To be eligible for free replacement tires, customers must follow the regularly scheduled maintenance plan recommended by Ford Motor Co. That means every oil change, tire rotation, tune-up and alignment must be done at the time/mileage intervals the car maker establishes.
“Obviously, free tires for life isn't really free,” Mr. Bethany said. “It's free to a certain extent if they follow the program, have all the service and tire work done at our dealership.”
He said that while there could be some leeway for a loyal customer, there is nothing in writing that says a car buyer can stray too far from the maintenance schedule.
East Ford started its program several months ago, mimicking a similar program under way at Ford dealerships in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Bethany said.
The program is not a Ford plan or pilot for anything to be done on a larger scale nationwide and, he added, has nothing to do with Ford's “Around-the-Wheel” program, of which East Ford is a member dealership.
According to Mr. Bethany, car buyers who adhere to his program are eligible for four replacement tires per replacement period. A replacement period is defined as tires having both been driven a multiple of 40,000 miles and having tread remaining which measures 2/32 of an inch or less.
The program covers all Ford models, including passenger cars, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles but excludes super-duty trucks, Mr. Bethany said. Customers may replace tires with those similar to the original equipment.
“It has to be (a tire) recommended by Ford, a tire that would work on that vehicle,” he explained. “If they want to upgrade, then they'll pay the difference.”
Since beginning the program, Mr. Bethany said its impact hasn't been measurable—most buyers agree to the program, but it's up to them whether they stick with the agenda—“but it's certainly a great closing tool.”
However, some car buyers opt not to have the tire deal attached to their car purchase, even though it costs nothing.
“Some people decline it, for whatever reason,” Mr. Bethany said. “It's very interesting.”
Being an Around-the-Wheel dealer, East Ford sells tires as part of its standard fare. Mr. Bethany said it's difficult to gauge exactly how well the tire-selling business has been, since the Firestone tire recall of last year generated an inordinate amount of business for the dealership that it otherwise might not have seen.
Now he'd be happy to not sell another tire, if it meant they were all going out the door free as part of the new program. That would mean piles of revenue generated in the form of maintenance.
“It's a fantastic deal for a loyal customer,” Mr. Bethany said. “We'll eat the cost of the set of tires. That's certainly worth it for us.”