Tires: is your family SUV going to give you a nasty shock?

The only tire recommended for this particular BMW X3 has a high performance rating for speeds in excess of 240kph.

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You’ve seen the ads, done your research, talked to friends and generally been very diligent about which car you should buy to suit your family’s needs. But do you really know what you are letting yourself in for when you sign on the dotted line and proudly drive your gleaming machine out of the showroom?

We are all seduced by the imagery, branding and fantasy of owning a beautiful car that we have probably aspired to for years. We believe that, having invested a huge amount of money, it will look after our needs for many years. We made the right decision… didn’t we?

Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, cars are complex beasts these days, and we all have different lifestyles, driving styles and habits that will effect the vehicle’s performance, maintenance needs and, ultimately, the cost of ownership. We also make unconscious assumptions and have expectations that we believe are reasonable. And, in the sales process, we are not openly informed of crucial details about what we are taking on.

Take tires, for instance. What are your assumptions about and expectations of them? How many miles would you expect them to last, and how much do you think a new set will cost? The car feels great to drive away from the showroom, but will the tires maintain their performance and handling characteristics throughout their lifetime? When will you need to buy a new set?

A customer of TheGarage.ca in Vancouver, BC, owns a 2011 BMW X3. It’s a nice, classy, solid family vehicle that she uses for work, taking the kids to school, shopping and the occasional trip to the Gulf Islands. Like many a soccer mom, she has had to become adept at juggling time and money pressures.

The high cost of not knowing what you’ve bought

Her tires had done 36,000 kilometres and already needed to be replaced. That’s her first expectation out the window. Surely tires last longer than that? Not in this case. We discovered that the only tire that is recommended for this particular BMW X3 was the Pirelli Cinturato 245/50R18 100V, so the customer doesn’t have a lot of choice. The cost of these tires was $545.73 each. Adding on installation, balancing, tax and the mandatory tire disposal fee, that figure becomes about $725 per tire – a whopping $2,900 for the set of four. She was naturally distraught. Could she buy cheaper tires, she asked. Yes, we discovered, but the car would feel different to drive and not as nice, although she could save about $800 in total if she chose to go that route. In effect, our client really needed to factor another $200 per month into her budget – just for the manufacturer’s recommended tyres.

The alarming knock-on effect of one flat tire

But that’s not all our customer had to be concerned about. This particular tire has a high performance rating and is designed for travel at speeds up to 240kph. Just the ticket for our client driving her grandchildren round the car park at Safeway, you might think.

The Pirelli Cinturato 245/50R18 100V a ‘run flat’ tire, which means that you can drive on it when it is flat for up to about 50km. That’s good to get you out of trouble, but it also means that BMW don’t put a spare tire in the car. You cannot therefore change your wheel; but that doesn’t make any difference if the tire is getting worn because you will have to buy four new ones anyway. Let me explain. If you are unlucky enough to get a flat in a tire that has worn to 7/32″ of tread or less, you have to renew all four. The reason for this, in this case, is that the BMW X3 is an all-wheel-drive vehicle. If you replace just one tire, the uneven treads on the other three can cause damage to your transfer case which houses the center differential, and possibly your transmission. These are yet more expensive to replace if they break.

Getting to grips with grip on tired tires

Not only that, but you should also know that the performance of a tire varies through its life. This happens because the rubber compound at the surface of a new tread is softer than the compound near the base of the tread. When the tire is new, it has a very satisfying grip. It has short braking distances, holds well when cornering at high-speed and is generally safer when driven hard. As it gets worn, the harder compound further down the tread is designed to make sure the tire reaches the mileage the manufacturer claims it will reach, but it has a lower handling performance. It has longer braking distances, less grip on corners and is more slippery on, say, a wet road.

This situation isn’t peculiar to Pirelli tires and upper range SUVs. Another client owned a Mazda MPV that also needed replacement tires. While the cost of the tires was lower, in the $250 – 300 range, they were still rated at 210kph. Her reaction to this was: “Who, in their right mind, would ever drive a mini-van at 210kph?” That’s a good point – never mind the fact that in most countries it would be totally illegal.

Looking beyond the fantasy – tell us your stories!

It can therefore pay to look beyond the marketing fantasy when considering a vehicle purchase, particularly when you plan to keep it for more than five years. At TheGarage.ca, we pride ourselves in always telling our customers the truth about their vehicles. It’s not always what they want to hear, but it does facilitate their making informed decisions and taking control of their vehicle management. You can always talk to us if you have concerns about a current vehicle or would like to know more about one that you are considering purchasing.

Have you discovered inconvenient truths about your vehicle the hard way? Tell us about them in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you and, who knows, your experiences may also help other owners avoid an unfortunate situation.

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Ronald Tremblay

Ronald Tremblay is the owner of The Garage, a fourth-generation family business in Vancouver, BC, specializing in vehicle maintenance and repair. Clients of The Garage enjoy a high-level of service whereby lifestyle and usage of their vehicles inform the service schedule and they are fully informed about the status of their vehicles. In this way clients can make empowered decisions, control their budget and save real money as the the life of their vehicle is extended long past the manufacturer's warranty expectations.

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Burt Brothers - February 20, 2017 Reply

Having a car maintenance is very important to avoid future damage in your car especially your tires. This is the first thing that gets damaged first. Knowing how to fix and maintain it will save you from repair cost.

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