As the rhetoric regarding the sale and service of aftermarket wheels heats up, tire dealers should continue to pay close attention.
About a year ago, we editorialized on the importance of not dismissing concerns expressed by General Motors Corp., the world's largest car maker, over the use of non-factory custom wheels on its vehicles.
At the time, GM had warned that it would not assume warranty costs nor defend product liability suits involving non-GM products.
The main concern, the firm said, revolved around safety and what could occur when a vehicle is altered with aftermarket tires and wheels not approved by GM.
In a story in our July 19 issue, GM again cautioned that plus-sized tire and wheel packages, specifically aftermarket packages, could put motorists and their vehicles at risk.
The auto maker maintains that bigger wheels and lower-profile tires not specifically designed for that particular vehicle can negatively impact its performance. Variables such as grip, vibration, fuel economy, acceleration, braking, steering and suspension could be compromised.
GM further advised motorists who plus-size their tires to ask that their vehicles' different computers and equipment also be adjusted.
In issuing these warnings, GM makes no apologies about its desire to cash in on this lucrative business by boosting its own aftermarket wheel sales. Still, the firm's concerns should not be taken lightly.
There's little question that altering the tires and wheels from the original equipment specifications can impact vehicle handling and performance. In some cases, these characteristics can be enhanced; in others they can be compromised.
Dealers must learn as much as they can about the impact of plus-sizing tires and wheels so that they can talk knowledgeably with their customers about this and recommend the proper tire and wheel packages for their vehicles. Customer safety should be a dealer's utmost concern.
The business of selling and servicing big wheels and tires is likely to continue growing. Yet it's prudent that dealers move cautiously in this area-especially in this litigious era.
Along with educating their sales force, tire dealers need to train their tire technicians in installing these aftermarket products.
Little things, like improper wheel bolt tightening, can cause a dealership big problems. Techs must understand that over tightening custom wheels can weaken or snap studs and warp rotors.
They also need to be able to use a torque stick correctly, follow recommended torque specifications and understand and follow the industry's guidelines when mounting custom wheels.
``A loose wheel can damage a hub, damage a car, damage a life,'' one dealer said recently. That about sums it up.