Lacking clear answers to such questions, consumers are at the mercy of tyre dealers – and all indications are that they’re being taken advantage of.
Complaints about tyre dealers are common on social media in South Africa. One of the most popular recently examples of this is a Facebook post by Brent Lindeque. It detailed an elaborate attempt by a tyre salesman to up-sell him to four new tyres, after Lindeque presented at the shop with a puncture.
One Twitter user commented that he went to a tyre dealership to repair a puncture, but instead of offering to fix it the branch tried their best to get him to purchase a replacement tyre instead.
Another Twitter user says the Randburg branch of the same company took a similar approach. “[They] told me I need to replace all four [tyres], they cannot fix the puncture.” This user repaired the puncture himself, and one year and 25,000km later the tyre still has no issues.
Randburg branch did the same to me. Told me I need to replace all four, they cannot fix the puncture. Said thanks, left, bought a puncture kit at builders and plugged it myself(should have done it first time??). Over a year ago, and 25000km later. Tread is still perfect btw...??????
At the core of this conflict is that most tyre businesses operate on sales targets and commissions. And given how important tyres are, safety-minded motorists would often rather pay up than risk trouble.
Insurance companies in South Africa also require that tyres are in a good condition. Failing this, many insurance companies won’t pay out in the event of an accident, even if the tyre was not the cause of the crash.
But some – perhaps many – salespeople use these factors to their advantage, and manipulate customers into making tyre purchases they don’t necessarily need.
Although tyres may seem expensive to the end user, they actually offer low margins for the tyre dealers that sell them.
This means most tyre franchises will do their best to make money on additional products and services. These are often at best overpriced, and at worst, totally unnecessary.
Because the branches make low margins, they often have strict sales targets. And many salespeople are earning commission, so their primary interests are not safety or the customer’s exact needs, but on generating the highest sales.
It’s therefore not entirely cynical to reason that when an unsuspecting customer walks into a branch and requests help, the branch will attempt to make as much money off that customer as possible.
Given how critical tyres are to vehicle safety, and how insurance companies are loathe to pay out when tyres don’t meet minimum requirements, scaring car owners into forking out more than necessary.
These comments may be used subtly to coerce customers into buying tyres, rather than repairing minor punctures. Or salespeople may make bolder comments about inherent dangers linked to your existing tyres, and suggest you’re at risk if you don’t purchase brand new tyres.
Although it’s important to drive on safe tyres, getting this advice from the person who stands to gain from you buying new tyres is not ideal.
Most reputable tyre manufacturers will not repair punctures on the wall or shoulder of the tyre. That’s because this section of the tyre sustains the most load.
They’ll also decline to repair it if the tyre does not have the legal tread limit, which in South Africa is 1 mm deep, across its width and full circumference. And if the hole is larger than 6mm, it’s difficult to perform a safe repair.
These are justifiable reasons to replace rather than repair – but some salespeople bet the customer doesn’t know what exactly is safe to repair and what requires a full replacement.
Outside these circumstances, most dealers can repair standard punctures with so-called “mushroom plugs”, which usually cost well under R100. After this, the tyre is safe to use again.
In spite of this, many tyre dealers inform customers they cannot fix perfectly repairable punctures, in the hope that they can convince them to purchase the more expensive new tyres.
One of the key factors in tricking Lindeque into buying four new tyres was the salesman’s claim that it was an insurance requirement to have all four tyres exactly the same.
Although tyre experts agree agreed that it’s unsafe to mix tyres across the same axle, the same is not true across all four tyres. Provided they are the same size, and meet car manufacturer requirements, most experts agree that it’s safe to have different tyres in the front and back.
Commenting after the incident with Lindeque and Tiger Wheel & Tyre, a representative from Discovery Insure told Cape Talk that they “advise” their clients that both rear tyres and both front tyres are identical, for “optimal safety” – but it will not jeopardise any claims if this advice is not followed.
In spite of this, many social media complaints point to salespeople informing customers that they need to replace all four tyres when just one is faulty. At worst, customers may need to replace both tyres on the same axle.
The first up-sell is likely to be on the tyres themselves. It’s common for salespeople to guide consumers towards more expensive tyres, or those that attract a larger commission.
To do this, they may say that cheaper tyres are inferior or not suited to your specific type of driving. Although this may be true - cheap tyres may not last as long, and if you drive a specialist vehicle like a 4x4, you may need to pay more - for the average sedan, it’s safe to assume that entry-level tyres are sufficient.
The next up-sell typically comes after you’ve agreed on tyres. Because many dealers also offer basic services like changes to shocks, brakes and batteries, it’s not uncommon for a salesperson to propose certain “necessary” changes or repairs.
In many cases, these are simply unnecessary up-sells, and changes to items like brakes and shocks are better off being verified by a trusted, third-party mechanic.
Some of these extras, such as alignment and balancing, are necessary to extend the life of the tyres, and keep the car handling optimally.
It’s also a common trick for salespeople to quote items like nitrogen and balancing as individual costs, so it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need to multiply each item by the number of tyres you’re purchasing.
Another classic add-on now offered by most tyre manufacturers is some variation on a road hazard guarantee.
These are simply insurance policies against irreparable tyre damage caused by road hazards, and they can save consumers cash on replacing damaged tyres, should they suffer a serious puncture.
But the guarantees often come at an additional cost, or at least with a long list of terms and conditions.
One of the key terms in most tyre guarantees is that they only cover the owner for the unused tread value, not the full replacement of the tyre.
As per Continental’s ContiSure example, this means that if you buy a tyre for R1,000, with an original tread depth of 8mm, and claim for damage on the tyre when it has 6mm remaining, they will only be liable for to pay out R550.
Firestone, on the other hand, does not charge this excess, and in the same scenario would pay out R750.
This value can typically only be used as credit towards a new set of tyres from the same brand, at the same dealer. And the guarantee does not always include fitment, alignment and balancing.
As a free add-on it may well be worthwhile visiting this guarantee should you encounter a road hazard. But the reality is that this deal is primarily a sales tactic that usually sounds significantly better out of the salesperson’s mouth than it looks on paper.
Another favourite trick of unscrupulous tyre dealers is to claim low stock of entry-level tyres, or to pretend that your particular tyre is rare enough to justify an inflated price.
It’s also not uncommon for dealers to claim over the phone or on their website that they have stock, only to change the story on arrival and suggest you purchase a more expensive tyre.
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The dealer might also claim that the more upscale tyre is just a few hundred rand more than the cheapest. But if you’re replacing all four tyres, it’s important to remember that you need multiply this amount by four.
The best way to avoid this is not to accept the claim that the cheapest tyres are out of stock - and if the dealer is adamant, offer to wait or visit another dealer.
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