Posted On: Monday - December 28th 2020 8:43AM MST
In Topics:   Cheap China-made Crap  Cars  Inflation
Now, for something completely different, at least a topic Peak Stupidity has not covered in ages: The goal was to have a catchy title, first of all, but the point of this post - de facto inflation due to poor quality - is not the quite same concept as that in our original Inflation by Deflation post on food price inflation. This is about a deflation in quality.
That's dry rot on a tire.
Before getting too far into this, I'll just point out some tire basics that any Peak Stupidity reader has more of a handle on than any ex-Constitutional Scholar President I could mention, admonishing us to check our pressures now and then to save the planet. Too high a pressure and you have a blow-out due to, yeah, high pressure. Too low a pressure, and you have a blow out due to overheating and high wear.
There are normal physical/engineering trade-offs otherwise. Pressure on the high side gives better gas milage due to less rolling resistance, while pressure on the low side gives better handling due to a bigger footprint. Pressure on the high side wears out the tread more around the center-line, while pressure on the low side wears out tread at the inside and outside more.
If you treat the tires well, you may get up to that rated milage based on tread wear, 50,000 miles is a number bandied about by the ads. I can believe that. I've had tires go that many miles, though I do remember driving on completely bald tires for 6 months long ago when I was young and didn't worry my head about all this stuff...
As with many components of automobiles, and most mechanical things period, it's best to operate them regularly. Things go bad with little or no use on them if you let them sit - bearings lose their lube, rust builds, rubber belts get stiff and crack, etc.
With car tires, we all have seen cars sitting in the grass so long, the tires are almost one with the soil. Yeah, they are goners. Even jacked up, or pumped up regularly, with dis-use over months and years we expect cracking (called "dry rot") and tires will die in this way rather than having worn tread (or puncture in the sidewalls - for the tread punctures, don't forget that wonderful China-made DIY tire repair kit!)
What's changed over the recent decades is that this dry rot happens much more quickly these days. I've seen it with a full set of now-10 y/o tires that unfortunately have only 1,500 miles on them, but were sitting for 6 years or so. (I did move the car some during that time, but not over the last 2 1/2.) That was a bad deal and my own fault.
Still, my mechanic friend with over 4 decades of experience has lots of corroborating evidence that tires are not what they used to be in durability, even the good brands like Michelin now. He's got an old Corvette sitting with 1970s(!) tires that would be ready to hit the road, if only the car was. Both of us keep running into examples of customers/cars that must replace sets of tires well before their time.
Worse yet, it's the same, it seems, even if you DO drive on them consistently. We have a vehicle with tires that are no more than 6 years old, being generous. For over 3 years, this one has been on the road with only a couple of times with a week of no use, and normally no more than 2 days, and it gets up to speed on the highway at least once a month. The tires were not cracked when we got the vehicle, but I can see the small cracks now. It's not so much a problem with this set, as the treads in the front 2 have only a few thousand miles left on them and the back only 10,000 miles, tops. (Yep, I'll switch fronts to backs soon.)
It's the next set that this quality problem has me worried about. Hell, this vehicle has been going only 3,000 miles a year lately. It ought to last forever, other than rubber pieces, such as, yeah, tires. In previous times, when tires were obviously made much more durable, you could keep them until the tread wore out. We're gonna get screwed if the new tires just start cracking in 5 years.
I suppose this could be considered "good" engineering. Why put more durability into these things when you can make 'em cheaper, and with a lifetime that fits with the average customer? See, I've seen numbers like 12,000 miles or so as average annual milage Americans put on vehicles. So, 4 - 5 years is all tires need to last at that rate. Cracking will occur at the same time the tread has about worn out. We are not average Americans, obviously.
Who else notices this stuff but my mechanic friend and I? Is that what manufacturers count on, as with the deflation in food packaging?
Should we just throw these things out so early? I've had my share of blow-outs with old/bad tires, not long ago and on the same car, but I can say that each time I really could have known it was coming. When my wife commented about the noise from the trunk, and I said "it's just all those wrenches - they're always there", perhaps I should have thought sooner "yeah, but we don't usually hear them like this". (We got about 40 miles...) Another time, I felt a vibration from the front end, so I even jacked up the car to feel around the whole tire. I DID find a noticeably weird, bubbled-out place in the tread, but "well, I dunno, maybe that's normal". (I got about 75 miles that time...) BTW, those donut spares will take you a long way at 60 mph - it's often hard to find the smaller diameter tires for replacement.
What I ran into recently, when I got a puncture fixed at the shop (slow-leak, and I couldn't find the source) is some fear-mongering by the personnel there on the phone. These are the slightly cracked tires on yet another car (well, the one with the 2 blow-outs, hence fairly new tires, no more than 5 years old). "Listen, you should just replace all 4 of these." "What, they're pretty new! "These ones are no good. Look, if not, just come get the car. No charge." "No, I'll pay you the the money for fixing it. I just don't want new tires yet." "Just come get it." Geeze! Was this some kind of psychological salesmanship that maybe works on women? Hell, a free fix - fine, but, no, you don't have me freaked out so I won't keep driving on these tires a while. What a weird way of handling this. In saner times, I could see the guy just giving me a warning, such as "I'd stay under 75, and please come in if these look any worse." or something like that.* These tires have gone another 5,000 miles at least, but now the car is laid up for other reasons.
This is just another form of inflation, the manufacturing of Cheap China- (and elsewhere-) made crap. We have to buy the same items more often. If this new set of tires coming, at almost $100 apiece because they are on the now-ubiquitous 17" rims, last 1/2 the time, then that's a 100% mark-up, in my book.**
As an afterthought, I've been kind of hopeful that some high-speed driving could heat up these tires to heal them up. No, I don't know how it really works, but this IS plausible. It's be nice if that were the case. "Boy, you know you were up to 88 mph when I pulled you." "Just healing my tires, boss, and oh, doing a little social distancing."
* I'd bought a whole set of tires from this store before, so it's not like they didn't want to deal with me.
** As mentioned before, if you are a typical 12,000 miles on one vehicle American driver, than I suppose this is not a form of inflation for you.