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A tirade about tires

Back on the road!

Getting hitched up and ready to go always takes longer when you’ve been parked for a while. When we are moving every few days, our departure routine is quick and efficient. After a week of parking, it can take a couple of hours to get everything packed up, and after several weeks, it seems to take most of a day to get ready.

It would have been much easier to leave if I hadn’t had a pile of frustrating tasks to complete first. I am relocating the company’s official mailing address from Vermont to Florida (for complicated reasons having to do with mail forwarding), and this means literally dozens of phone calls to vendors. Those people have managed to make “customer service” an epithet. Of 13 vendors on my list for today, nine had dysfunctional websites that could not or would not accept my new billing information.

So I had to call again and again, wading through voice-response menus and answering security questions about “the last four digits of your social,” and “your mother’s maiden name.” It took about six hours to effect 11 vendors. The other two proved so well-defended against customers who might try to make changes to their accounts that they defeated me today. I’ll have to attack them again another day.

Vonage won the award for most irritating “customer service”. Their rep was beyond obtuse, and I finally had to threaten to close my account completely before he would make the billing plan change I requested. Sprint won the award for best defenses against hackers and customers, by instituting a new web system that required me to set up a new username (8-30 characters with a mix of letters and numbers), a new password, a new PIN, a new security question … and then provided no way to give them a new credit card for billing.

FedEx deserves an honorable mention for their incomprehensible website, which was so baffling that even their own representative could not at first tell me how to navigate it to make a simple billing change. (He figured it out after I did.) Verizon’s website became convinced that my VISA card was a Mastercard, and thus would not accept it. And so it went all day.

After six hours of this, you can see why I was eager to pack up and hit the road, and maybe chuck a few Molotov cocktails toward the call centers of certain companies. It was not the most inspiring day, and the rather uncharacteristic weather we had today (occasional rain and temperatures in the 40s) didn’t help. But I went out and hitched up anyway.

I’m always suspicious when we’ve been parked for a long time. Everything gets a more careful check, especially hitch, tires, and brakes. Scanning the tires, I noticed one had a definite thin patch in the tread. This is a sign that a belt inside the tire has broken. The broken belt allows the tire to bulge, and that causes uneven wear.

This not the sort of thing you want to ride on for long, so even though we were eager to get going, I called a local tire shop and verified they had a replacement tire (the Airstream takes ST225/75R15 tires), and that they could handle a 30-foot trailer coming into their parking lot. Assured on both counts, we headed over to the nearby “Big O” tire shop.

After a 40-minute wait, the tech came over and said, “The tire is still on the trailer? I’m not allowed to take a wheel off a trailer.”

Huh. And here I thought I was at a tire shop. So we got the manager over and he explained first that “We don’t have a jack big enough for a trailer like that.” I pointed to the hydraulic jack sitting nearby and said, “That one will do just fine.”

“No,” the manager said, “that one is only rated for 10,000 pounds.” Well, the Airstream’s max weight is 8,400 lbs. Once I clarified that, the manager told me that it was a “liability issue” and that he had to protect the technician. The trailer might fall off the jack and smush him, you see.

I refrained from pointing out that the trailer was unlikely to topple over, that it was hitched to the Armada with the parking brake set, that we can chock the wheels, and that it has a spare axle which makes it impossible to “fall”. But I did point out that I had called in advance to verify they could do this job and was told they could. That got me nowhere.

So I volunteered to do it myself. Nope, still not good enough. Liability again. I finally clarified, “I’ll use my own equipment.” And finally the manager said, “I have no problem with that.”

Well, that’s a relief. I was allowed to remove my own wheel with my own tools, and roll it over to the service bay, whereupon they removed and remounted a new tire, balanced it, and returned it to me for $150 in total. (That’s no bargain.) I mounted it back on, using my torque wrench, and fled. So I can’t recommend Big O Tire to anyone with a trailer.

Once on the road, the whole rig felt perfect. It was like putting on a worn old baseball glove. The trailer towed as beautifully as ever, the road was smooth and the short 60-mile drive (now at sunset) was scenic. I haven’t driven the Armada or towed the Airstream since early January, but it was still as easy as ever.

Our trailer is now a tire test lab. As the original tires (Goodyear Marathons) have been replaced, either due to wear or failure, I seem to always end up with a different brand. In Idaho when we lost a wheel in the summer of 2006, I bought a Trailer King because that’s all that was available. I was wondering about it at first, but it’s still on the trailer and seems to be wearing very well. In December 2006 we replaced two of the worn-out Marathons with two new Marathons. In Oregon last October we bought a TowMax from Les Schwab. Now in Arizona we have replaced one of the Marathons with a Green Ball tire. This means that we have four different brands on the trailer, counting the one Goodyear Marathon still on the trailer.

Of the seven Goodyear Marathons we’ve owned, two have had belt failure, two have worn out, one suffered an irreparable flat, one was destroyed when the wheel came off, and one is still on the trailer. I’m not happy with the loss of two tires from belt failure, but until I wear out a few of the other brands without similar failure, I’m not ready to cast aspersions on Goodyear alone. Another year on the road will be a good test.

Having taken a wheel off means I’ve got to check the lug nuts periodically, but again I’m so used to that routine that it’s really no big deal at all. Whenever a wheel is removed we check the lug nuts at 10, 25, 50, and 100 miles. When in doubt, check ’em again — it only takes a minute.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to a very good article about trailer tires and why they fail.  

Tonight we are in Huachuca City, AZ, near Sierra Vista. We are parked directly beside an identical 30-foot Safari bunkhouse owned by our friend Brent. Tonight Brent made corned beef and cabbage for all of us (in honor of St Patrick’s Day) and we unwound at his place for the evening. I’ve still got work to do this week, but I’ll keep it to a minimum in order to enjoy the little break. I definitely won’t be calling any more “customer service” departments.

124 Responses to “A tirade about tires”

  1. Danine Says:

    Yuck! What a beginning. 🙁 Hope you have a wonderful few days out there!

  2. Jack Palmer Says:

    What a way to start a trip. Hope your blood pressure didn’t rise to high. Did you know that Corn Beef and Cabbage is not an Irish dish and is considered to “poor” by the Irish to have on any holiday..It’s only served in Irish restaraunts for the tourists.

  3. Jimbo Says:

    I’ll share this one with ya’s…Yesturday i called BELL (phone co.) I had to speak with 5 different reps to finally get one that new enough English to have a bill sent to me (i haven’t got one in 3 months) They wanted all my personal ID info (Drivers Lic, Social # and so on) I wouldn’t give it to them…I asked where i was calling and I was told INDIA!!!! I’m so sick in tired of companies using USA,Canada,for their profits and run with our money to other countries…Can’t they see WE are already dried up! Thought i was the only one that sees what the heck is going on!! Then you get a lame ass that can’t change a tire!!?? I’m so TIRED of the B/S out there….With an RV you can leard and have the time to do everything yourself!!! And believe want to! Enjoy the motion Rich & Family.

  4. Jim the Airstreaming Rock Dealer Says:

    That got me laughing out loud! The dance with the dunces at the tire shop. Too funny–not at the time I am sure, but reading about it from a comfortable distance . . . . I hope my tires are all good when I pull out tomorrow. It’s my last night in Tucson.