Consumer Reports: Tread life warranties may not be all that great

Originally published on clarionledger.com, 11/11/2015

PDF: Consumer Reports finds car warranties lacking

Tires are one of your car’s most important safety features. The role of a vehicle tire is not only to support the weight of your vehicle and to look good, but also to provide solid contact with the road at all times. If you think about it, they work pretty hard. They have to work flawlessly in all sorts of weather and road conditions, suffer through extreme heat and cold, and do their job despite the way we sometimes neglect giving them proper attention. You can thank your tires for bringing your vehicle to a stop when the guy in front of you slams on his brakes unexpectedly, or for keeping your vehicle straight despite a torrent of water gushing across the highway.

Good-quality, properly-installed tires can save your life, but they aren’t cheap. Replacing tires – even when you can find a bargain — can put a serious dent in your budget.

One key selling point for tire companies in recent years is the tread warranty, by which the manufacturer promises that the tires will remain functional (as measured by the depth of tread remaining) for up to a specified number of miles. Tread warranties vary widely, but in general, they promise you can get that specified mileage out of the tires before they have to be replaced. If they wear out before then, you may be eligible to file a claim. If you are successful, you will usually get credit toward a replacement.

But a recent Consumer Reports investigation found that many warranties are so full of conditions, and claims so hard to make, that many consumers will give up before they collect. And when they are able to collect, consumers may find they’ve wasted their time.

Consumer Reports looked into tread warranties from several tire companies, and found several conditions for filing a warranty claim, including:

  • The buyer may have to produce the original receipt, notated with the odometer reading, and original paperwork.
  • You may have to produce documentation you had the tires rotated at the recommended intervals, for example, every 5,000 miles.
  • The wear must also be absolutely even across the tread. “If your tires ever got misaligned, or were under- or over-inflated so the wear isn’t quite uniform, there goes the warranty,” Consumer Reports noted.
  • There is a time limit, usually four to five years.
  • Finally, if your tires are truly worn out (defined as having a tread depth of 2/32 inches or less), you have probably lost much of the protection provided by the tread – such as helping prevent hydroplaning or sliding in snow and ice. Waiting that long could be dangerous.

The report went on to note that if you do file a successful claim, you’ll get a pro-rated credit reflecting the amount or years of tread wear you didn’t get. (For example, if the warranty promises 50,000 miles, and you only get 40,000, you might get 20% credit.) The problem, however, is that they don’t cut you an actual check you can cash, then use to shop around; it’s usually good only for tires from specific manufacturers, and then only at the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price”(MSRP), or dealer’s price. But tire dealers often have special deals and discounts, which may actually allow you to get new tires cheaper than you would if you applied the credit toward the MSRP.

To read Consumer Reports’ informative article, click here.

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