Free tire program not all it's cracked up to be

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray: Am I being taken for a ride? I bought a brand-new Honda CR-V and was enrolled in a "free tires for life" program with my dealership. The catch (isn't there always?) is that I have to have my tires balanced every 7,500 miles and an alignment every year, plus routine oil changes and an annual inspection at the dealership in order to qualify for the free tires. Is it necessary to have my tires balanced every 7,500 miles and get an alignment every year if I don't get into any accidents or drive over curbs? When do I need an alignment? Are they essentially getting me to "pay" for the tires through unnecessary services? Would I be better off finding a reliable mechanic and getting my oil changes and routine checkups (including rotating the tires) with him and buying my own tires as the need arises? If they are taking me for a ride, should I call them on it?

Shellee

Ray: This is a clever little program, Shellee. I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it first!

Tom: The key part of your question is, "Are they essentially getting me to 'pay' for the tires through unnecessary services?" The answer is, yes, of course they are! Dealerships are businesses.

Ray: Let's do the math. Let's say the new tires are worth $75 each, or $300 a set. And let's say you drive 15,000 miles a year. So, if you have cheap tires, you'll need new tires after two years.

Tom: To get your free tires, the first thing you have to do is come in every 7,500 miles and have your tires balanced.

Ray: Do you need to have your tires balanced every 7,500 miles? No. Once tires are mounted and balanced, they hardly ever need rebalancing, unless a customer complains about a high-speed vibration. So at 10 bucks a wheel, that's $40 each time you come in, and at twice a year, that's $80 a year.

Tom: Then you have to get a wheel alignment once a year, which you also don't need. An alignment is $99. Let's call it $100. So you're in for $180 a year, times two years is $360 worth of service that is most likely unnecessary -- or $60 more than the new tires would cost you.

Ray: There's nothing inherently evil about the free-tire program, Shellee. They're just trying to build a relationship with you. But it might not be a relationship you want, since it requires you to buy services you don't need and limits your choice of service locations.

Tom: Right. So just plan to buy your own tires when the time comes. That leaves you free to have your car serviced wherever you want.

Listen to "Car Talk" at 9 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays on KRCU 90.9 FM -- Southeast Public Radio. Write to Tom and Ray at Car Talk Plaza, Box 3500 Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Or e-mail them at the Car Talk section of cars.com.

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