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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is the "Best" tire?

A couple of recurring questions on many of the RV Forums are "What brand tire should I buy?" or "What is the best tire for my RV?"

While this seems like a simple, straight forward question, the answer is complex. Some people use past experience. If they used Brand Q in the past on their car and had no problems they believe that means they should have no problems on their 22.5" sizes. I don't think this is a sound way to make a decision on the quality of a company's tires. The information on the Ford Pinto gas tank made headlines, even though actual incident data concluded the Pinto was as safe as, or safer than, other cars in its class. But do the news headlines mean that the gas tank of a F350 will have problems?

Others may have had a problem with a tire and since the root cause for the problem was not properly diagnosed, they decided the tire failure must have been due to a defect, so their position is that all Brand Q tires must be bad. Making this decision may be just as wrong as the previous example.

In my experience, less than one percent of tire failures are really studied to the point that there is a high confidence in knowing what the real reason for the failure was. It may have been due to a puncture or a sidewall impact or leaking valve or out of align axle or damaged wheel or some other reason. Since most of the time people don't know the real reason, they simply say "I had a blowout" or "I had a bulge" or the "sidewalls were badly cracked" they assume the tire must have been defective.

EVEN IF THERE IS A BATCH OF TIRES with some manufacturing defect, there could actually be only a  dozen or so tires affected. Of course, it could also be thousands. The announced size of a recall is not a good measure as even if a company knows that a relatively small number of tires had the manufacturing error they have to recall many times more than the actual number as most times there is no easy way for consumers or even dealers to properly identify which tires were defective. I have personal experience of identifying a batch of less than 150 tires being made with an incorrect component. Given the opportunity, I felt I could have identified 99.9% of the tires with the defect but the cost associated with getting the tires shipped to Akron and completing the examination was prohibitive. And what does the owner do while this examination is going on? In the end more than 6,000 tires were recalled, scrapped and new tires given to customers to ensure that all the tires in the group of 150 were captures. The number 6,000 is what made the news not the 150.

Also in light of the fact that there are lawyers that will be happy to file a lawsuit and hope the company will settle because they know it is less expensive to settle than go to the costs necessary to prove yourself  innocent. Even when the facts are on the company' side, some juries will vote for the individual simply because they don't like big companies. I worked as an expert witness on such a case and even with physical evidence establishing where the fault of the accident was, the case was settled out of court rather than fight it.

So I still haven't answered the question. I will however offer some guidelines and things to consider when you are trying to select a brand in your size.

1. Does the company have a nationwide dealer and store network to provide service and warranty support or do you have to contact some company with only one office and only a single person who can approve a replacement? A check of the tire manufacturer website will quickly give you a feeling of confidence or not, in its operations. Some tire companies offer a lot of information. Others may have a website but its internal company links do not work. The company does not provide any way to send anyone an email to ask a question. They don't even have an 800 phone number to call so you can talk to someone. I would be hesitant to deal with such a disorganized company.

2. What are the terms of the tire warranty? Many times there are both time and percentage figures regarding wear limits. Be sure you read and understand what is covered and what is not.

3. How do you obtain an adjustment? Do you only need to return the tire to a local dealer? or do you need to return the tire to the location where you purchased the tire?. Or must you pay to ship the tire to the importer many states away from where you live?

4. Have you consulted the NHTSA web site to see if there are recalls, investigations or even complaints on the specific tire you are considering?

I think if you follow these four steps and ask yourself if the company you are considering deserves your business. Yes there is a temptation to simply buy the cheapest tires available but the saying "Pay me now or pay me later" is certainly appropriate when it comes to  making this important safety related decision.

Friday, August 3, 2012

DOT Date Serial

Sometimes I am just too close to a subject and I have to step back and remember that most people have little or no training in tires.

I just read a post where someone claimed to have read the tire date code and interpreted the code as indicating the tire was five years old when in reality the tire was 15 years old.

Now I know there and been a number of posts telling people how to read the date code but clearly there is still some confusion. So I did a quick search for pictures I could find  of actual date codes.

First off we need to remember than in 2000 the DOT serial date code changed from a three digit date code to a four digit date code. The DOT serial is a series of letters and numbers that come after the symbol DOT on the sidewall of your tires. Also the complete serial that includes the date code portion is not normally on both sides so you may need to do some crawling around. You might even get your son or daughter or even your grandkids to help.

You can also look at passenger tires to get some practice. I know a number of companies mount the tires with the full DOT serial on the outside so it is easier to read but I do not know of any RV manufacturer that has an official policy of making the full serial be on the outside.

So lets look at some examples.
This first example shows the 3rd week of 2001 and we also know the plant code is W2

 This example has 39th week of 2008 with the manufacturing code of 8x
 This example on the left is 41st week of 1994 or possibly 41st week of 1984. This is a good example of why the date code was changed to four digits.

and below we have an example of 37th week 1998 on the left and 7th week 2009 on the right.

 Do not confuse the fact that the 6E7378 ends with four numbers as there is no 73rd week of the year 2078.

If you want to look up the location of the plant that actually made your tires you can go to THIS web page.

Hope this helps clear up any confusion.

Tire Dressings

In a previous post I was asked for recommendations on which tire dressing to use.

 I decided to run a small sample test involving 5 different tire dressings. Now before you complain that I didn't include your choice you need to remember I have no budget for running tests or support or sponsorship from any of the products involved. I bought these products at retail.

I am not sure of the actual chemistry for any of the numerous products BUT I will offer some general guidelines for selecting a product.

Foremost Don't do damage as you try and "protect" your tires.

For the test I marked off six different areas. One for each product plus one where no product was used. The tire sidewall I used was from a scrap tire that was punctured when almost new. I never washed the tire but I did just hose it off a few times. It has been left outside for over a year here in NE Ohio. Sometimes I would treat the tire each week. Other times I might not treat the tire for a number of weeks.

I will present two pictures for each product. One as the tire looks 5 days after treatment.  The second picture was taken immediately after treatment. Most of the time between the pictures the tire sat in full sun at 85° to 95° ambient. It did rain hard one day.
In the order of the product seen in the picture above.


 Since there is a color difference I am also providing pictures taken at the same time of the non-treated section.

I will not pass judgement or make any comments other than to say I made no edits to the pictures other than cropping and resizing the pictures. It is up to you to decide the "look" you want.

 The general guidelines for selecting a tire dressing would be:

1. No Petroleum Distillates. This is a general recommendation from various tire manufacturers.

2. Do not use any abrasive brush. I remember back in the 60's (before I knew better) I used SOS pad to clean my wide white sidewalls. I now know what I was doing was removing rubber and leaving small scratches in the tire. If I had done a lot of this I would have severely damaged the sidewall. Stiff brush or hard rubbing with rag can do minor damage and leave microscopic scratches which could initiate cracks.

3. No high pressure steam clean. This will remove all the protective materials that are built into the tire and if you get too close you have seen the damage shown in a previous blog post.

4. Some products make a lot of claims but I have never seen a direct comparison published.

5. Foaming action products would seem to be good. I have used this type of product on my passenger car. It doesn't seem to remove the tire materials. One brand I have personally used does appear to "wash-off" after a couple weeks so I have no reason to believe it is hurting the tire.  I have not checked all of the dozen or so foaming "cleaners" so you will need to read the label and watch for petroleum distillates

Bottom line. For normal use on a vehicle that is driven frequently, you are allowing the protective materials to work out to the surface of the tire. I see no reason why you cannot wash your tires with the same methods and materials you use on the paint of your vehicles. The issue with RV tires is that you normally will not be replacing the tires after 4 or 5 years. RV tires need help as sitting for long periods is not really good for tires. White tire covers (See THIS post) are best they no only protect from UV they also help to keep the tires from excess heat which artificially ages them. See my previous three posts on covers.
If the product or cleaning method isn't something you would use on your car's paint then  you might not want to use it on your tires.