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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What is a good Quality Tire? (part 2)

In Part 1
I outlined that for the purpose of our discussion “Quality” meant "Conformance to a Performance Specification". We also looked at how different reviewers may have different expectations for the Quality or performance attributes of a set of tires. This time we will show how not all tires are intended to be of the same Quality since different applications and different customers have different objectives.

The customer, and this does not mean the retail buyer but the company making the volume buying decision, establishes the performance specification and hopefully also establishes the relative importance for each evaluation point on the list of features in the specifications. If the customer is a vehicle manufacturer they have in mind certain positioning in the market for their vehicle so they want tires that help them meet their sales and marketing goals.

For cars this is easy to understand how handling is more important for some applications while mud traction is more important for others. Obviously the performance goals for a tire for a Corvette will be quite different than the performance specifications would be for a Jeep, but the consumer magazine made the erroneous assumption that all tires of the same size were designed with the same goals in mind and that the relative importance of those goals should have matched the personal preferences of the magazine test crew.

I would suggest that they failed to consider that people contemplating the purchase of a set of tires might not have identical needs or expectations from a new set of tires.
I will provide an example. Suppose you own a 5 year old pick-up and at 60,000 miles you got good wear from the first set of tires. You plan on keeping the truck for another 5 years and expect to drive a similar amount so you are looking for a set that delivers the lowest cost per mile as the "Best" option. But what if you only plan on keeping the truck for 9 months to a year? Why would you want to spend $800 on a set of tires when a $360 set will still have many miles left when you sell it.
For a vast majority of people in the market for tires, the price is the most important feature they want or maybe that is all they can afford. Some tire dealers focus on the segment of the market that is price driven rather than performance driven so for them, low price is the Number One characteristic they specify when making purchase decisions while they say they will accept any performance for other characteristics or quite frankly just seem to not care.

While meeting all regulatory tests is always a given, tire design engineers are sometimes challenged to rank low cost as their number one objective.  To meet this goal of low cost, the engineer may select lower cost tread compound and trade off lower wet traction to get the lower cost compound. They might also design a narrower tread which needs less rubber and less steel (lower cost) at the sacrifice of wear and max handling. They might even design less tread depth to get lower cost while giving up some snow traction.
So with cost maybe 55% lower that a top of the line performance tire they have clearly met the specification. How would this not be the better quality tire when the objectives are taken into consideration? In the real world if you can't sell the product, it doesn't make any difference how good someone, who is not making the decision to buy or not buy, thinks it is.

In the RV market, where as far as I know there are no direct tire performance comparisons done by vehicle assemblers, be they for a 45' diesel pusher or a 13' pop-up trailer. I believe there may only be three criteria. Ability to carry a certain load (i.e. size & Load rating), tire availability and price. In some cases they may even ask the tire company to make a slight increase in load capacity to avoid having to buy a larger (more expensive) tire. Some tire companies with no retail presence in the US market and knowing they will not be confronted with the cost of adjusting the tires because they offer no or very short warranty are willing to "tweak" the claimed load capacity so they can make the sale even if the load capacity is outside established industry standards and it makes finding an appropriate replacement tire a significant problem for owners of the RV or it actually results in lower long term durability. After all if you can make the sale of a few thousand tires and know full well you will never have to address the cost associated with adjusting or replacing a failed tire why worry?

 Sometimes the ability of certain tires to meet some expected level of performance creates misleading ratings. In one case I recall, a tire was rated both exceeds expectations and fails to meet expectations. The fact is the same tire was applied to both a Luxury vehicle and a base model from the same vehicle manufacturer. The issue was that the end user, who was doing the evaluation, had different expectations based on the luxury level of the car so rated the tires on the Luxury car better than the tires on the base vehicle despite the fact that the  tires were identical. So what value was that customer rating for people making a buying decision?

After reading this I hope you can understand the problems associated with using a magazine review as a reasonable method of learning the quality of a product. I also hope that you understand that getting a proper reading on real quality of any given tire will require that you do some homework and ask probing questions.

I hope by now you understand the problem with talking in general terms about "Quality". Also that the quality of one specific product made or sold by a company may or may not reflect the quality of other products they sell.
Reading reviews on "Tire Quality" has always been a hot button issue for me as I can quickly see that those doing the evaluation seem to not have a clue of how or why certain tires are designed for certain applications or to different objectives.

I will also offer a suggestion that when buying your next set of tires or RV you request a minimum of four year warranty on manufacturing defects and a three year Road Hazard Warranty. The Road Hazard Warranty will avoid disagreement on what caused the failure in the first place. I would also suggest that if if you are buying a set of tires it would make your case stronger if you are able to present weight slips showing your RV is not overloaded.
Now this will cost you a few dollars more per tire (maybe 15%) but I would wager that some tire or RV retailers will simply refuse to offer such a warranty.

 Could their refusal be based on their knowledge that the tires or RVs they are selling have a high probability of suffering some sort of failure during the first few years of use?
Maybe the dealers know the real quality of the products they are selling.  I know of at least on large tire chain that is happy to offer an extended warranty of their tires but the fine print excludes RV use. Have to wonder why.

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  1. Can you comment on why a Michelin XPS Rib or the new (?) Bridgestone Duravis 250 heavy tires are specifically better for towables?

  2. Chris, Better than what? So we don't waste time here in comments Please send me an email. Once I have all the info needed I will post the answer here. My email address is under the picture to the right,


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