More than half of consumers in a recent Tire Business survey said tires play the most important role in vehicle safety, yet only 31 percent check their air pressure at least monthly-and 19 percent rarely check it at all.
Also, while 20 percent said they were not at all knowledgeable about tires or their maintenance, only 3 percent of respondents said tires weren't at all safe. The largest segment among the consumers polled-some 40 percent-said tires are ``definitely safe,'' 31 percent said they are ``somewhat safe'' and 26 percent said their safety ``varies widely by brand.''
The findings are the result of a Tire Business poll of more than 200 tire-buying customers at 21 Big O Tires Inc. and Goodyear dealerships in 13 states. The survey's results are not scientific-meaning they can't be applied to the general population-and other factors are important to consider. For example, since the surveys were passed out to customers at independent or Goodyear-owned stores, the sentiments of shoppers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or other discount retailers are not available.
Still, the results provide a snapshot of opinions held by customers who are most likely to shop at independent tire dealerships or company-owned stores.
In the survey, 45 percent of consumers said quality is the most important factor they consider in deciding which tire to buy. Only 25 percent cited price, although some respondents answered with more than one factor. Nineteen percent said a dealer's recommendation swayed them.
Consumer Paul Repetto of Somerset, N.J., said he is sensitive to tire prices-especially after recently spending about $400 on two tires-but he added that a dealer's assurance about a quality tire can change things. ``I usually give in if it's worth it,'' Mr. Repetto said.
Dealers who count on service and customer relations to beat the price war can rest somewhat easy: 32 percent of respondents said service was important when deciding where to buy tires, and 34 percent said past experience was high on their list. Still, 26 percent said price was important to them in looking for a shop.
``Most of the time, if the service is good and the people are nice, I'll keep coming back,'' said Juan Morales, 45, of Wildomar, Calif.
Mr. Repetto, who filled out the TB questionnaire at a Goodyear store in Somerset, reported that he checked his air pressure about every two to three months or before long trips.
Like many other people, Mr. Repetto said he doesn't really think about checking tire pressure except for every other visit to the gas station or when he's doing something else to the car, such as checking the oil or washing it.
Interestingly, on some surveys, customers who said they were not at all knowledgeable about tires also thought a tire's safety either varied widely by brand or was nonexistent, and they rarely checked their air pressure or rotated their tires.
On the other hand, Debby Freeland, 47, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., said she is very knowledgeable about tires and checks her pressure at least monthly. She's been a truck driver for the past six years and knows the value of maintenance.
Although tire dealers complain about the lack of tire awareness among some of their customers, several respondents contacted by Tire Business said the source of their knowledge about tires comes from reading various materials-not from tire retailers.
``They just hand me the tires, basically,'' Mr. Repetto said, when asked if dealers educate him about the tires he buys.
David DeLeon, 23, of Chicago said he has culled his tire knowledge from his own personal experience and reading consumer magazines and tire maker brochures. Mr. DeLeon, who considered himself among the 17 percent of very knowledgeable respondents, chalked it up to his reading hobby.
But some dealers do a lot to get customers to maintain their tires, said Don Novel, manager of a Goodyear-owned outlet in Columbus, Ohio, which participated in the survey.
``We send them reminder postcards, and they still don't do it as often as they should,'' he said of tire rotations. A solid 60 percent of respondents said they get their tires rotated and wheels aligned as recommended, but Mr. Novel doubts the strong number.
He also is suspicious of the assertion made by 45 percent of respondents who said that quality was among the most important factors in deciding which tires to buy. ``Customers will tell you that, but that's not what causes them to jump,'' he said.
Survey participant David Gaskin, owner of the Big O store in Grants Pass, Ore., said it all depends on how the tires are sold. Mr. Gaskin said many of his customers come in looking for two main requirements for their tires: They have to be either the original equipment brand or some brand they've attached meaning to, such as Michelin for quality.
They rarely come in and ask for the cheapest treads that will fit their car, he said.
And if customers are made aware of what tires will fit their needs, he said, the playing field becomes more even. ``When (you) sell tires that way, price isn't always an issue, and you get what you pay for,'' he said.