Friday, February 24, 2006

Tires and Toyota

In the spirit of the mundane, I have spent most of the morning on the phone shopping for tires.  We need a set of summer (ref 3-season) tires for my wife’s truck.  It’s a Toyota 4Runner with a unique and bizarre tire size: 265/70R16.

This is a recurring problem for this truck that it eats tires.  It’s a multi-facetted problem, ever since we bought that damned thing.

The original tires on this truck were low-level Bridgestone tires that sucked rocks.  I immediately swapped them out after purchasing the vehicle.  In retrospect this was probably a bad move.  I’m still alive to talk about it, so obviously it wasn’t an unwise decision per se, but...

The problem cropped up at the second oil change.  The new tires I had put on had started to wear unevenly.  Feathering and cupping on the inside front tires - both.  The Toyota dealer I went to for servicing told me this was “normal”.  Like it’s actually normal to screw up a set of tires in less than 10000km.  The battle lines had been drawn.

My research showed that this kind of wear on a tire to be completely abnormal.  As did every expert I talked with, except, of course Toyota.  I even called customer service to be told that this was normal and especially not their problem.  After all, I did change the tires.  It was my own fault that I should have kept the original tires!  So it is that the original tires would not hold the road in wet weather, but would not wear down unevenly.  A bizarre trade-off.

It’s funny how things work when responsibility is involved. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, except Toyota was claiming a problem with the truck itself.  I didn’t care whose problem it was, I was simply looking for a fix.  I wasn’t even looking for compensation.

The 1-800-Toyota customer service rep told me to fuck off in no uncertain terms.  The only recourse I had was the dealership.  I then found out that the 1-800 number was simply there to file complaints against the dealers, not so much to help customers.  I wonder to this day why it’s called Customer Service.  They just didn’t want to help in any way shape or form.  It was downright insulting actually.  I even sent an email into the web site, which was ignored by, you guessed it, the same people answering the 1-800 phones.

I didn’t want to complain against the dealership.  It wasn’t their fault that the tires were wearing unevenly.  They even put the truck up on the alignment machine and everything was up to spec.

My tire-dealer knew of this problem, apparently quite significant, with many 4Runners.  He gave me the Bridgestone rep’s number so that I could have a chat with him, seeing as Bridgestone is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for tires on the 4Runner.

The conversation was enlightening to say the least.  Bridgestone tells me that they put their hardest wearing tire on the 4Runners systematically – read: “wears like iron, drives like it too”.  

Additionally, they also recommend taking some 4 to 6 pounds of air out of the tire (from 32 down to 28 or 26psi).  This almost completely solves any problems.  I’m concerned about the danger of this, he tells me that it is somewhat dangerous, especially under heavy loads, but still within tolerances allowed for this tire.  I mumble something about insanity, and he tells me to simply pump the tires back up to 32 or 34 when carrying or pulling heavy loads and voîlà!*

* We will of course remember the great Ford-Bridgestone cluster-fuck a few years back. Blowouts due to tread separation – we will remember too that the cause of the separation was over-loaded but under-inflated tires!  Lucky for me, none of this had happened yet, otherwise I’m sure Bridgestone would not have been so forthcoming with their information.

Well, it was a solution anyway.  Not one I wanted to hear.  I further ask him what the root cause of this problem is.  He replies it is Toyota.  They want a fat-looking tire on a 7-inch rim.  The 265/70 was never meant to be mounted on a 7-inch wide rim.  The specs say it’s possible, but it’s really pushing the design limit on the tire itself.  OK, I can accept this, so why doesn’t Bridgestone do anything about this if they know there is a problem?

I really should have known better than to ask.  Indeed I knew the answer as it was being formulated in the reps mind.  Bridgestone doesn’t want to piss off Toyota, so they just shut up in order to keep their contract!  Toyota certainly won’t change their wheels, and Bridgestone complies with a design-limit solution.  

There are a few other forces at work of course like tire design, type of driving, and load conditions, but the basis of the problem is wheel size vs. tire size.  As an additional case in point, this problem doesn’t occur on the smaller shod 4Runners, in the 225/75R15 tires.

This was a most helpful conversation if there was one.  Finally, he gives me the number of the Toyota Warranty manager.  A big cheese apparently.

It’s been a few weeks of running around at this point trying to get a decent answer on what I should do about the tire replacement.  My tire dealer suggests that I purchase 16x8” wheels which would sort out some of this problem for next time.  Also, rotating the tires every 3000km wouldn’t hurt.  That’s twice the recommended rate.  Or simply get narrower tires, like the 225/75.  Hell, I want the fatter tires; Toyota thinks it looks good and so do I!

So I call the cheese at Toyota warranty.  His reply is curt, to the point and oh-so very clear. I quote:

“We know about this issue.  It is well known and well documented.  Since it’s not safety related we don’t really care and we won’t do anything about it.”

Finally, someone with enough gumption and honesty to give me the straight goods!

So I purchased a set of 16x8 Eagle magnesium-alloy wheels.  They are simply gorgeous.  And I replaced the tires again with new ones.  If I am not mistaken, the first set lasted some 20,000km maybe less, before the new rims.  This last set wore on for about 40K to 50K km.  Same type and maker of tire at that!  

The winter tires are still the ones I purchase the first year I had the truck, they are pretty much shot now.  Oddly enough, they haven’t succumbed to the odd and uneven wear, and they are on 7-inch winter rims.  Very odd.

So now, I’m on my way to purchasing a 4th set of summer treads.  

Here is what I need is:
  • Harder compound,

  • Stiffer sidewall,

  • Near-closed block edge,

  • Resistance to aquaplaning,

  • Outstanding traction on wet pavement,

  • Higher capacity to allow for knocking out a few pounds of air,

My choices are somewhat limited because of the weird size too.

Hmmm, now I’m wondering, since my winter tires are shot anyway, might as well keep them on for the summer and finish them proper.  They fit the above requirement as is.

PS. OB tire sizing 265/70R16
265 = 265millimetre
70 = 70% of above 265mm, so 185.5mm thick
R = radial,
16 = 16 inches diameter, on the wheel, ie. the “hole” size of the tire.

The rim width is not mentioned as this tire size can fit from min 7.00” to max 9.00”


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