I'm Tired of Tires.

I've been going to Wheelworks for years, mostly for the free rotations, comfy couches and tv. I purchased some Kumon tires last spring because my old ones were worn down to the nubs (way too soon, I thought), and LOUD. I made sure to purchase a set with a good warranty this time, 50,000 miles, on sale, $312. But they were loud, too. I finally called yesterday and whined, "I haate my tiires!" The first guy I spoke to (Robbie) was friendly and told me to come on down so they could take care of me. It would only take half an hour. He seemed to agree that I should be able to trade in the tires for 90% of their value.

When I got there, Robbie seemed to have forgotten our conversation. He was eager to sell me a set of Yokohamas, but offered me only $35 on the pair I was trading in. I was confused, and repeated our conversation. He said since I hadn't purchased a road hazard warranty on the Kumons they couldn't do anything. But I hadn’t been offered one; I thought it came standard. He turned me over to his manager, Joseph, who offered an upgrade for the cost of the difference, which I thought was very fair. I went on and on about how loud the tires were. I told him I wouldn't know if something was wrong with my engine, they were so loud. From the 3 choices he suggested, I chose what I thought was the most affordable upgrade ($87). But when he rang me up I realized he had rung me up for the most expensive ($117). Basically doubled my tire investment. I protested, but he convinced me it was really a good investment on a superior Bridgestone tire. Besides, I had to get back to work and there were people in line behind me, coughing. I signed, ignoring the sinking feeling in my gut (and bank account). "So I can test them out and see if they work, right?" Joe nodded.

But they didn't. These tires were just as loud! I called Joseph when I got home and he groaned, saying I couldn't return them now I had driven them. My husband called, angry (at me AND at them), but the best Joe would do was offer a “free” inspection the next morning.

I tossed and turned all night, wondering:
  • why didn't anyone stop and ask WHY a brand-new pair of tires would be so noisy I couldn't hold a conversation?
  • why was everyone so eager to sell me tires rather than solve my problem? (Duh, says my husband, bitterly. That's what they do.)
  • do I have a leg to stand on? Do I have any rights here? I told them I didn't like my tires. They traded them in and sold me a new pair. In their eyes, they did the right thing. So why does this feel so wrong?

I gave Wheelworks a one-star review before I went in today, noticing all the other one-star reviews. When I got there, I asked Calvin, the general manager, to take a ride with me. “Just so I can figure out if I’m crazy or not.” He put everything aside to climb in. “You know,” he said, “70% of people who drive this car model buy Kumons, the ones I traded in.” Within two blocks he identified the problem: “It’s your wheel bearings! Heck, I wouldn’t drive this on the freeway!” When we got back, he had his top tech test the car on the freeway and put it up on the rack. Calvin took off the wheel to show me the problem. The axle was loose within the wheel bearings. “Take it back to your mechanic who did the axle—don’t tell them first--and see what they say,” he said, which made me feel like he really was on my side.

Then I mustered up the courage to tell him what I wanted. “I want my old tires back.” He shook his head. I asked him to put himself in my shoes. “If 70% of owners like me are satisfied with their tires, wouldn’t it have made sense for YOUR mechanics to ask why a practically new tire was causing SUCH trouble?” Yes, he said, but I did ask for new tires when I came in. We went back and forth about what the warranty actually says (please read the fine print, everyone). But he argued his side: once tires are put on a car, it’s illegal to put them on another, so he would be out $600. I thought this was ridiculous. I had put 20 miles on the tires. I offered to pay for the discount he could offer the next customer, but he said no, they had to throw them out. How stupid, corporate, and American - the old America we're trying to change...at least, Joe assured me, they recycle the rubber. Calvin explained Wheelworks’ liability. We quibbled over warranty. It just came down to him eating $300 (My guess at the wholesale price) or me eating $300. He still argued his position. “If corporate finds out I’ve let you return your tires, I might not have a job tomorrow.” We decided he should call corporate and explain the situation to them.

While he was on the phone I wandered around the tidy waiting room and read the signs. “Our mission is to be the most successful retail tire company in the world doing everything with such a high level of integrity that we break the stereotype of the automotive industry.” Would corporate actually respond with integrity? The “Our Vision” statement was cornier and sounded like a concept for the commercial. “Teams of people, having fun, working in a choreographed manner, dessed colorfully, backed by upbeat music..." Robbie came through pushing a big tire and we agreed it was a learning experience for both sides. I stressed the need for clear communication in the process. I don’t think he heard a word I said, but he’s a mechanic, not an English major. His company’s vision of him is dancing as he fixes cars.

When Calvin came out, he said, “Good news. You’re stuck with the Bridgestones. Are you going to have us fix the bearings?” “Depends if I’m stuck with the Bridgestones or not,” I said, sidestepping his game of brinksmanship. He laughed and said, “Just kidding. We’ll give you your Kumons back. We’ll eat this one.” I thanked him. And promised him a good review on Yelp.

When I swiped my credit card to put the $300 back on it, I made sure to ask for the Road Hazard warranty (which I just noticed cost $30 more than it had for the tires I’d purchased the day before.) I noticed what the swipe pad said: “We are committed to your positive customer experience. Every time.” Especially if you’re a really squeaky wheel I guess.

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