Idea exchange: Three dealers discuss TPMS, tire aging and other hot topics in this special MTD roundtable

April 1, 2007

It's not easy getting three busy independent tire dealers from different parts of the country together in the same room. But once they get together, do they ever talk -- and no subject is off-limits!

That's what happened when three dealers -- Tom Wright, owner of Wright Tire Service in Anoka, Minn.; Ron Lautzenheiser, a Big O Tires Inc. franchisee from Fort Collins, Colo.; and Ken Brown, co-owner and manager of Alan Brown Tire Center in Newport, Ore. -- visited Modern Tire Dealer in Akron, Ohio. Spurred on by MTD's editorial staff, including former MTD Editor Lloyd Stoyer,

Wright, Lautzenheiser and Brown swapped ideas about tire pressure monitoring systems, tire aging, nitrogen inflation and other topics of interest to tire dealers everywhere. Here's the abridged transcript:

MTD: What are you doing to prepare yourselves for the onslaught of vehicles with tire pressure monitoring systems?

Wright: My son and I took a four-and-a-half hour Tire Industry Association training course on tire pressure monitoring systems. It's very complicated, but it's something every single tire dealer needs to do. Set aside four-and-a-half hours and go through the class.

Brown: We even stock tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) sensors.


MTD: What's the price of a sensor?

Brown: Sixty-five dollars.

MTD: How often do you break one?

Brown: About once or twice a month.

MTD: Have any of your customers asked you to deactivate their tire pressure monitoring systems?

Lautzenheiser: A lot; about every other one.

Wright: I wouldn't touch (de-activation) with a 10-foot pole.

MTD: How are you protecting yourself from customers coming back to you and saying the TPMS light wasn't on when they came to you?

Wright: You go to the car and check it first. If the light is on, you have to decide if you want to pull the car in.

Brown: When a customer comes in and says he has a flat tire, (we ask), "Is your light on? How old is your car?" You educate the customer at that point, too. You have to train your customers as well as your employees: "Your car has been telling you to put on your seatbelt for years. Now it's telling you to check your tires."


MTD: Once the vehicle is pulled into your garage, all bets are off, right?

Brown: When a customer comes into the store and they tell you something is wrong, we drive the vehicle in. One of the reasons you do that is to see if any fault light is on. You can document it at that time. The next thing you do is walk around the car and see how many hub caps and valve caps are missing.

MTD: At the manufacturer level and with some consumer advocates, tire aging is a raging concern. Does it even show up on your radar screen?

Brown: Yes. We get a lot of these big motor homes and that's one big thing (owners bring up): 'My tires are six years old.'

Lautzenheiser: You know what we sell them then, don't you? We tell them, "Nitrogen will help that, and it's only five bucks a tire." We don't tell them that nitrogen will cure it, but it will prolong (tire life). Nitrogen takes moisture out of tires, which is the biggest thing. In our new oil center in Davis, Calif., we've built the whole system on nitrogen.

Wright: The thing I'm concerned about is we sell a lot of used tires, and there are a lot of tires that are older than six years old - just a wonderful buy for the customer, particularly someone who can't afford a new tire.

Brown: If you have a used tire and it's six years old and you trade it in, who becomes responsible for those tires if the next guy purchases the car and those tires blow out?

Lautzenheiser: That's the manufacturer's problem.


MTD: Isn't it the responsibility of the industry to be more proactive?

Wright: I think the Rubber Manufacturers Association will take a stand on tire aging pretty soon.

MTD: We've been seeing tremendous reaction by consumers who are furious over the very low tread mileage on run-flat tires, and in the case of Michelin's PAX run-flat system, they're being told they must replace the tire and the wheel...

Brown: I had a customer come in who had bought a Honda Odyssey. (PAX is original equipment on the Odyssey.-Ed.) He wanted to put custom wheels on it. I said, "You can't do that because the TPMS system won't transfer over." He said, 'What about a different set of tires because I don't like these factory tires.' I said, "I can't even change those." He took that vehicle right back to the Honda dealer and traded it in.

Lautzenheiser: That type of vehicle is a family car, the "mom and pop" car that runs the kids to school and soccer practice and back. They don't want to spend $2,000 on a set of tires and wheels.

Brown: But what's interesting about people who are buying those BMW's and Corvettes... that's a $70,000 car and they're crying about the price of tires!

Wright, Lautzenheiser and Brown also discussed issues pertaining to shop management, including whether or not to use security cameras!

Wright, for instance, has installed cameras above his service bays. Why? "It could catch somebody coming in and shooting one of your employees. It could catch somebody who is stealing from you. And you can catch the customer doing things to his own car while you have it."

It's hard to believe that customers would fiddle with their own vehicles once they are inside the garage or even up on a lift, but it happens, according to Brown.


"They'll open up a car door while the car's on a hoist, something falls out and breaks and they say, 'You guys did that!' and I say, 'No, we didn't. In fact, I've got it on camera.'"

"Cameras are great for multi-store management," said Wright. "Not only can you see what's going on, but it's good for the quality of your business. How fast are they moving cars in and out when you're not there?"

Lautezenheiser said he's still undecided on the issue of cameras. He's somewhat concerned about how his employees would react. "That's why I'm still dawdling over the decision, but at the end of the day, I'm going to do it."