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Monday, January 30, 2012

Have your tires checked for free

You get bombarded in blogs, forums, RV magazines and seminars that it is important your tires are properly inflated. Sounds like good advice, but what if you don’t have the equipment or aren’t sure how to check the inflation when one tire is behind the other and you can’t even see the valve i.e. rear dual tires as seen on almost all motorized RVs.

Well I contacted the three largest tire manufacturers with a major presence here in the US and have some info about a large West Coast tire network. Here is what I learned and how you can find the nearest location that will check your air and adjust the inflation for free.

One thing you need to do is to tell them the correct inflation that is based either on your actual loads and calculations as provided by organizations that specialize in weighing RVs like RVSEF or you need to know the minimum inflation as specified on your tire placard.

I covered getting your RV weighed and how to know the minimum inflation based on the real loading and have covered the tire placard in a number of blog posts. You can re-read these by checking the Archive listing toward the bottom right of this page.

Here is what I learned on how to get your tires inspected and aired up.

Bridgestone Firestone said “You can stop at any of the over 1,600 Firestone Complete Auto Care Centers, 500 Tires Plus stores, over 90 Expert Tire or over 45 Wheel Works locations nationwide". They also confirmed “All our stores do free tire checks which include free air and a visual inspection of the tires.” To find the nearest Firestone Auto Care location check this link.

•Tires Plus location link
•Expert tire locations
•Wheel Works locations

Goodyear said: "We, like many tire manufacturers, have a combination of company-owned outlets and independent dealers to distribute tires in the US and Canada. Although Goodyear encourages all its dealers to offer free air for all types of vehicles, some dealers choose not to offer this service and some outlets are not equipped to handle larger RV's." To find the nearest Goodyear dealer check this link.

Michelin replied “Michelin does not have company owned stores and therefore will not be able to offer the service discussed in your e-mail.”

Les Schwab Tire Centers in eight western states will check and add air to your car, truck or RV for free, even if you did not buy your tires there.

Don’t forget you can always just check with the nearest tire store to see if they will do the service.

Once you find a tire dealer using one of the links above, be sure to call ahead to confirm they offer the service, what charge if any they might have for the service and that they can handle RVs as some stores might be able and willing to do a car or pickup but don't have the space for Class-A or trailer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How do you change a tire?

Have you ever given this question much thought? Your answer will depend on your answer to a number of very important questions that need to be considered first.

1. Do you have a spare? A lot of RVs don’t have a one. Their only option is to call a service and hope the service company has the correct size.

2. If you have a spare, is it inflated? Given the number of folk who seldom check the tires already on the ground a majority simply forget to check the spare or don’t check because it isn’t easy to do.

3. If it’s inflated, do you have enough pressure to carry the load for the position where you are going to mount it? You probably need to be sure you have the spare inflated to the max on the tire sidewall so you can bleed it down to the correct amount for the position.

4. Do you have the necessary tools? Wrench, sockets, long breaker bar, jack, jack stand, steel plate to support the jack, Safety warning triangles, flares, and lighting to see what you are doing in the dark? How about waterproof tarp to sit on while doing the job? The steel plate needs to be big enough to support the jack if you didn’t park on a hard road surface.

5. If you think you have all the correct tools, have you made sure by actually unbolting a wheel?

6. Do you have the strength to loosen and retighten the nuts? Have you ever actually tried to loosen all the lug nuts? Do you know the torque specs? Do you have a torque wrench that is big enough for your RV? I have a full toolbox and air impact wrenches in my shop but I doubt I could loosen the nuts on a Class-A. Just watch the first 45 seconds of this sales video and ask yourself if this would be you? Note I am not endorsing that product. I just liked to see the guy jump on his wrench

One other thing to consider. If the nuts have been on for a few years there is a good possibility it will take much more than the OE specs to loosen. I have broken Craftsman and SK sockets on passenger lug nuts because they were put on too tight.

7. Finally do you have the strength to lift the tire & wheel to get it on the wheel studs?

I suggest that if you think you are going to change your own tire you need to do a few things.

1. You need to pick a nice day and with the RV level and the jack stand on a hard surface, first just see if you can loosen all the lug nuts and then re-tighten to the factory specs. Don’t do just one nut or one wheel but do them all. Be sure to have someone around watching just in case.

2. See if you can move the spare out of storage and to get it back into storage again.

3. Remove the inner dual and put it back on again.

4. Most important be sure you clean the threads and torque the nuts to proper specs.

5. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do while at the side of an Interstate In the rain, at night?

If you don’t feel up to the job you will need to plan on having a service do the job.

If you don’t have a lot of space for a spare tire mounted on a wheel you might consider having a used tire of the correct size just in case the service company doesn’t have your size. If informed most can do a tire change for you and you will save some big bucks too. You can always pack stuff inside the tire if there is no wheel.
Finally be sure to check the air on the spare every month, even on your toad.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Things to know before we get to failure analysis

For quite some time I’ve wanted to start a series on things to look for when examining a tire that has failed.

Why is it important to have an idea about why a tire failed based on an educated thought process rather than just a guess based on inaccurate or incorrect hearsay from an RV forum post? If you don’t know why something happened, how can you be sure the “corrective actions” you are taking such as increasing size or load capacity or changing manufacturer or moving your bowling ball collection from one side of the RV to the other, will prevent another failure?

Failed tire analysis is a combination of science and art coupled with decades of on-hands experience under the guidance of experienced engineers. When you undertake the process, even at the most basic level, obtaining reasonable results is better than a guess based on incorrect training or no actual knowledge of what a tire is. Without even the most basic understanding of how a tire is manufactured your guess would most likely be no better than that of a medieval healer suggesting that bleeding a patient would prevent a heart attack.

I have no expectations that this blog can substitute having a degree in chemistry or engineering and working decades in the tire industry, but I do think that I can provide some basic concepts to help you know what clues to look for so you can have a reasonable expectation of identifying the most common causes of tire failure.

Think for a moment about taking a class in CPR. You would not be able to do open heart surgery but you might be able to save someone’s life because you knew much more than that medieval healer did about how the cardiovascular system worked.

OK lets get started.

First off let’s talk about tire manufacturing. Experience has taught me that most people know that tire manufacturing involves putting rubber in a mold and cooking or more accurately “curing” it. Some even understand that before the curing process, rubber is mixed and different parts such textiles and steel components are assembled, like mixing cake ingredients before baking it. If you think about making an involved main course such as Boeuf à la Bourguignonne you know that there are a number of ingredients that are combined in different amounts and specific sequences before cooking.

I think that if we gave the same recipe for the beef dish to the great Chef Julia Child and to Gary Bunzer, The RV Doctor , we might end up with two edible meals but I think Julia’s might be better. Sorry Gary, I do not intend to disparage your skill as a cook but I believe Julia was a bit better cook than you might be.

Let’s first look at how a tire is built or assembled. I will cover chemistry and other items in another post.

This video is from 1934. You can see a four ply bias tire being manufactured. As you will see in the other videos many of the same steps are still performed in today’s tire plants with most of the steps now automated. Even though this is an old video I think it will help you understand the faster process you will see in other videos.

This 1951 video, also of a bias tire, is shorter but it shows the significant advances in manufacturing especially in the curing part of the process with the elimination of the water bag and all the attendant manual handling of hot metal and rubber.

A more modern video from Michelin mentions the dozens of components that were made from hundreds of chemicals and raw materials that go into manufacturing a radial tire. Notice another significant advance in the curing process with multi-piece molds allowing the curing of the stiff steel belted tread area

This video, I believe from the 1990s, shows a radial tractor tire being built. The tire size may be different and this is much less automated than current high volume passenger, light truck or TBR tires, but again a similar process is involved.

In this video from Pirelli, you will still recognize the steps we saw in 1934 but computer controls allow for an almost fully automated building process. Even if you don’t speak Italian, I think you can understand the process as we build your knowledge base.

Finally here is a short video from Hankook from 2010 that shows the overall flow through a tire plant. By now you should recognize all the steps.

I hope you enjoyed the videos and now have a little better appreciation of the process.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why are “bad tires” on the road?

In my previous post on Chinese made tires, I clearly touched a nerve.

Now, before I proceed, I have to tell you that when I was working I had a bit of a reputation of sometimes being a bit abrupt and “in your face” with some people. So please keep that in mind as you read this post. It is definitely not my intent to offend anyone but I do sometimes get a bit frustrated.

While some felt I had provided a reasonable report on the topic when I suggested that quality is not a function of geography, others seemed to think there was some political conspiracy underway against RV owners. As proof that I was incorrect, it was suggested I would learn the truth about Chinese quality if I did a Google search or looked at some on-line forums and checked out some customer complaints.

What I did instead was to go to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website and did a search for tire recalls to see which brands had recalls underway. I found over 200 tire brands in the current list with probably 1000 individual tire lines involved. Included in the list were BF Goodrich (owned by Michelin), Bridgestone, Continental, Firestone (owned by Bridgestone), General (owned by Continental), Goodyear, and Uniroyal (owned by Michelin). Each of these brands have a fair number of tires on the recall list. I did not see Mission brand, which is a specific brand identified by one person who contacted me about my post.

When I looked at the list of current investigation, I found most of the same names but again no Mission brand tires. I did find a single complaint from someone claiming that three of the “Mission Radial ST” tires on their passenger car had suffered tread separations. The complaint identified the tire manufacturer as GENERAL TIRE & RUBBER CO. This “complaint” is a good example of one of the major problems NHTSA faces. That being incomplete and inaccurate reports. The three failures were claimed to have occurred in Feb 2011 but the person didn’t bother to file a complaint till Jan 2012!. Since these were on a passenger car they should not be Mission brand ST type tires.

A review of other complaints shows that a significant portion of those filing complaints were more interested in reporting problems related to having a tire fail while on the road or concern for their dogs, than providing accurate data or even the most basic information related to the tires in question.

Examples of complaints:

A Firestone brand tire DOT serial given as “DOT 522P P235/50R17” (size in this complaint listed elseware as a 23575R15) More info on DOT serials can be found here.

Here is a picture of a tire that has failed.

While I can’t be certain, as I only have the picture to go on, I am inclined to believe this may be the result of a manufacturing problem. If there are a number of tires with similar condition it may justify requiring the importer to replace the tires, maybe even for free or possibly with a different brand depending on the findings of the investigation.

HOWEVER there will never be an investigation if there are no complaints. Here is a link to the correct form.

If you have had a tire failure not due to puncture, valve or wheel failure, run low or overload then I challenge you to fill out the form with the FULL DOT serial, correct tire brand and correct tire size and Load Range information provided.

Here is the list of the information you need to collect before you start to fill out the form:

•Tire brand such as Big Round Tire Company
•Tire line such as Mud Wumper 4
•Size such as LT225/75R13 LR-D not 295-16 22 ply
•Component. Identify either Tread, belt, Sidewall or Bead
•Full DOT -- all 11 or 12 letters and numbers vehicle year, make and model
•Vehicle VIN

It does not have to be a “China Bomb”. It does not even have to be on your RV. But simply claiming you had a tire fail a couple years ago but can’t provide accurate information is of no value. I will keep an eye out and report back on just how many Mission brand tires are in the claims next week or so.

To those claiming that budget cuts prevent proper actions, don’t you think it would make it easier for regulators to get the funds they need if they had a number of accurate claims that needed investigation?

Okay, now I will get off my soap box.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How good are Chinese tires?

While this seems to be a reasonable question to those who do not believe it is possible for good quality products to be made in China, I could just as easily ask: How good are the tires made in Japan? or Brazil? or France? What about tires made in South Carolina? or Tennessee? or Nova Scotia? Etc.?

Some research indicated that Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear produce tires in more than 50 countries. Each of these companies has production in China. With more than 340 tire plants involved worldwide, just how reasonable is it to think that one country has cornered the market on poor quality?

Quality is a function of corporate philosophy not geography. Having worked as both a trainer and quality auditor in the tire industry, I can say from personal observation that I have never seen a situation where the poor quality in a product or process could have the root cause traced to the geographic location. I have also done detailed examination of tires made by a smaller manufacturer in China and found that they met all the performance requirements required for sale in the USA.

All tires sold for use on public highways in the US are required to be certified by the manufacturer to be capable of meeting the quality and safety requirements as published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is a part of the US Department of Transportation. These requirements are very detailed and cover many test and conditions all tires must meet at a minimum. The penalty for selling a tire that does not meet these requirements is very significant. You can read the details if you are so inclined, with sections 109, 110, 119, 120, 138 and 139 being most appropriate for those interested in tires.

TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA of how seriously these quality standards are taken by a company with a real quality philosophy, I would like to give you an example. Before I retired, one of my primary duties was to investigate and determine the real reason certain tires failed to deliver the service expected by the customer. I would be asked to basically do an autopsy and issue a detailed engineering report with supporting documentation such as photos and lab data when appropriate. My report had to be sufficiently detailed and documented to be able to satisfy other engineers and technical authorities that my conclusion were accepted as the most likely reason and that no questions remained.

During one such examination, I discovered that there had been a problem during manufacturing of one specific size and type tire. I was able to trace the root cause to the use of one container of materials that had been mislabeled and incorrectly used in regular production tires. The result of this mix-up was that some of the rubber did not provide the proper level of adhesion, which resulted in part of the tire not properly curing. As part of the investigation I was able to determine that 149 tires had been made with this improper material. I located an identification mark on the subject tires which would have allowed more than 95 percent of the 149 tires to be identified and replaced. The corporate head of quality decided that we needed to be 100 percent certain that no tires remained in the hands of the public, so he ordered the entire week’s production of that size and type tire be recalled and replaced. This cost the company more than 3,500 tires to be replaced at no cost to the customers and all 3,500 tires were ordered scrapped just to be sure not a single tire with the problem remained on the highway. You may be interested to know that the tires were not manufactured in the USA and not all 149 would have been sold in the USA, but the commitment to quality was sufficient to make this decision a relatively easy one.

Now you may ask how do you find out which tire companies have this kind of commitment to quality. One thing you could do is to contact the tire manufacturer and ask if they are ISO certified to quality standards such as the older QS9000 standard or more current TS16949.

Meeting this standard is a requirement of the “Detroit Big Three” and I believe some large heavy truck manufacturers. I also believe that if a company supplies tires under these standards they are more likely to apply most of the requirements to all their production.
NOTE These Quality Standards are in addition to the DOT Regulations.

If the tire you are considering is made by a company that does not supply to “Detroit” you will have to do some other investigation. You can search for information on recalls here.

If you have a tire failure that is not attributable to overload, under-inflation, puncture or road hazard you should file a report here

If people do not file a report the DOT has no way of knowing that a tire failed to meet the requirements.