When it comes to a tool that fosters customer loyalty and confidence, you'd think something as simple as making sure a set of tires (and the spare, if there is one) is properly inflated would be a no-brainer.
Yet, two recent situations I experienced should quell any worries about car dealerships or big box stores rendering the independent tire dealer obsolete.
Our 1998 Toyota Camry was due for an oil change. When the auto dealership's service writer wrote up the ticket, I mentioned the tires were low on air and I'd like them brought up to 32 psi all around. (I planned to check and adjust the pressure the next morning when the tires were cool.)
``No problem. Consider it done,'' I was told. About 20 minutes later, the car was ready. As my credit card was swiped, I double-checked and was assured the tires had been aired up as requested.
The next morning, my Intercomp digital gauge (perhaps overkill for most consumers, but the digits are far easier to read than the chicken scratches on the typical cheap ``pen'' type gauges) told a different story. I had noted the pressure of each tire before taking the car in and the numbers staring back at me were exactly the same. What we had was not only failure to perform but blatant indifference and/or a failure of integrity.
If there was a bright side, it was that the tires were due for rotation. For months, I'd been hearing about the advantages of inflating tires with nitrogen. So we planned our Sunday afternoon around a trip to a big box outlet that now uses nitrogen. I asked the tire department employee to fill the tires to 35 psi knowing that it would be impossible to fine-tune the pressure at home since I didn't have tanks of nitrogen in the garage.
The fellow told me they'd shoot for 32, since that would not exceed the maximum pressure on the sidewall. Knowing that the H-rated tire's limit was at least 35 psi, I agreed, but added, ``Fine, but if the max pressure on the sidewall is higher, please have them set to 35.''
We shopped. The car was serviced and dropped. Home, James.
The next morning my gauge and I took another trip around the car. While I didn't expect readouts of 32 or 35 psi on the nose, since every gauge is different, I did expect reasonable consistency. What I got was 28.7 to 31. Not only were they not remotely consistent, there was no fix, as the pressures were all too low-even though the sidewalls were marked a maximum 45 psi.
The moral? For the consumer, perhaps it's this: If you want the job done right, adjust tire inflation yourself and-negating the need for nitrogen-do it often. But that bromide is where the astute tire dealer can step up to the plate. Not only is a too-low tire a potential hazard and/or liability lawsuit waiting to pounce, it's a low form of customer service.
But we all know you don't have any airheads working at your shop who would let a customer drive off with inadequate tire pressure, right?
Jeff Yip is a freelance journalist who writes periodically for Tire Business-and considers himself a gearhead, not an airhead.