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The Future is Here, Dealing With the Reedros

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“In the very near future, though, computer chips embedded in tires might be able to report exact real-time inflation pressures and tire temperatures. Further down the road, technology may allow for live treadwear readings and mileage projections, temperature readings at specific positions within a tire, or even early detection of internal damage that could lead to sudden tire failure.

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“The safety and convenience aspects of this type of live data are obvious. Also beneficial would be the capture of that data by tire engineers. With embedded chips and telematics, engineers would have the ability to track real-life tire performance by product and vehicle, by geographic area, by season and weather conditions, by load/vehicle weight, by road surface and by driving style.

“Equally important, such technology would permit tiremakers to precisely monitor the tire maintenance practices of consumers, which would have a direct impact on warranty and product liability claims.

“Having the ability to track each tire on the road, tiremakers could also monitor consumer tire buying habits. Marketing and sales groups would know what brands, models and sizes are selling best – by vehicle type, by owner profile, by geographic region and even by dealer – and share this market intelligence with eager dealers.

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“Tire production and inventory management could also be tied back to this data, with the obvious positive results of better fill rates and greater anticipation of consumer demand. And dealers could even get a heads up from their tire supplier that, for example, the tires on a specific customer’s car were nearly worn, triggering the dealer to contact that customer and initiate a replacement sale.

“The potential impact of telematics on tire manufacturing, marketing and sales on the consumer tire side is as endless as your imagination, and only as reachable as cost, practicality and OE and consumer demand dictate.”

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The previous passage came from a May 2003 Tire Review feature story by Asa Sharp on the impact of vehicle telematics on the tire industry. Asa is a pretty smart guy and, as it appears, quite an oracle.

In early May came word that Continental AG had developed and is actively testing a tire chip that can monitor real-time inflation pressure and detect when a tire reaches insufficient tread depth. The result of a collaborative effort by Continental’s vehicle electronics and tire scientists, the sensors could be a huge technology shift for the tire industry.

“Currently, tires have a built-in tread wear indicator that requires manual monitoring. Continental has advanced this technology by embedding a sensor in each tire that conveniently identifies tread depth elec­t­ron­ically, ultimately increasing awareness and safety by notifying the driver when a tire change is necessary,” said Michael Crane, head of Conti’s North American Body & Security business unit.

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Most of you know Continental as a tire company, but tires make up only a part of the $45 billion global automotive supplier. It’s really, really good at vehicle systems and electronics and, obviously, integration.

This is not to splash lavish praise; once TPMS came to pass it really was only a matter of time before someone took it to the next level. Continental is unique among tiremakers in that it also deals with multiple key vehicle systems, including on-board telematics systems.

The unnamed sensor’s software technology “determines tread depth from gradual changes in tire rolling characteristics. The in-tire pressure sensor infers running characteristics from the variations in tire deformation.” To do that, Conti engineers had to test dozens of tires from a wide range of makers and enter key data into the software.

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“The specifics of the tires’ altered rolling characteristics are compared with the accumulated data,” Continental said. “If the tread is run down to below a tire-specific threshold value, the on-board electrical system will signal that a tire change is due. Additionally, if preferred by the driver, the vehicle’s telematics module is capable of informing the driver’s local dealership or auto service center of the needed tire change.”

Wow.

And we’re not talking about future tech. Conti plans to make its new chip available for 2017 model year vehicles.

Since the wide-scale adoption of radial technology more than 40 years ago, the tire industry has struggled to find its next game-changer. Sure there have been incremental improvements in tread compounding and design, and shorter, stiffer sidewalls have enhanced handling and safety. Yes, we now have run-flats, but consumers have questioned the benefit versus the cost, limiting the impact. We’ve seen attempts at various airless technologies; some have failed and others remain in development.

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This sensor technology is not merely a major tire change, it has the potential to significantly change the way we all do business – from the tire buyer to the dealer to the wholesaler on back to the tire plant, the forecasters and planners, all the way to raw material procurers, producers and growers.

Tire Fascists Beware: This Man is on to Your Scam!

It was an otherwise quiet Moth­er’s Day when my smartphone lit up, alerting me to the posting of a reader comment to our website (Yes, I know … I need to get a life). The comment was from a consumer, an every day regular guy posting under the handle “Reedro.” The kind of guy who comes into a retail tire store with a big chip on his shoulder, two ounces of actual tire knowledge in his hat-holder and the blind bravery necessary to post his errant thoughts on our website.

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Here was Reedro’s first post, in response to a three-year-old story concerning which axle new tires should be installed (Always Install Two New Tires on the Rear Axle, November 2010):

“If the new tires are on the front and the deeper tread evacuates pooling water from the roadway better as stated, wouldn’t there be less water for the rear tires to possibly hydro­plane on as they follow the same path as the new front tires would have just cleared, depending on speed and depth of the pooling? I had this happen at (retailer name redacted by editor) just yesterday. I wanted two new tires put on the front and they refused, it was unbelievable. I told them they do not get to tell me where I mount new tires, it is absolutely ridiculous. I was a long time customer, not anymore.”

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Unable to help himself, four minutes later, Reedro added:

“One more thought…I don’t need a tire guy giving me a hassle. I am paying for the tires and service, either do what I want or I will find somebody that will. The sheer arrogance of this toolbox was incredibly annoying. Hey Tire Review – write an article on reining in these tire fascists.”

OK, your wish is my command.

I don’t normally comment back to readers – whether actual tire professionals or guys like Reedro – because the best conversations are those among peers. But sometimes folks like Reedro remind us all that there are many unfortunate people who need our love, understanding and perhaps a bit more education.
But it’s not just guys like Reedro. There are plenty of tire retailers who are rear-axle deniers, and will argue their side until the cows come home. Worse yet are those tire sellers who understand and agree with physics and engineering and the test data and videos, yet fail “I know better than you” customers by capitulating.

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Then they cross their fingers and hope the next phone call isn’t a plaintiff attorney.

We have written about the need for new tires to be installed on the rear axle numerous times over the last two decades, most recently this past January. We have posted the test data and directed tire dealers to check out test videos produced by tiremakers and others (like Tire Rack and Discount Tire), indisputable scientific and visual evidence that clearly demonstrates that, as we wrote in November 2010:

“A loss of traction on a rear axle causes oversteer, which could cause a vehicle to fishtail and kick into a tailspin. A similar loss of traction on the front axle creates understeer, causing the vehicle to keep going in a straight line. For the driver, it’s easier to compensate for understeer; oversteer usually is much more hazardous.”

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I have personally driven in demon­stration tests that showed the effects of worn rear tires on wet – not Lake Geneva depth – pavement. I have driven these tests on concrete and asphalt, in everyday sedans and sportier models and SUVs. I’m telling you the truth – new tires MUST go on the rear axle.
This isn’t really about all of the Reedros in the world; if they do no worse than end up in a cornfield with nothing more than shaky hands, perhaps that’s a lesson learned.

This is about the passengers in their vehicles who could be injured or worse, die. Or the newly minted teen driver on their virgin trip who can’t avoid the spinning vehicle that inexplicitly plows towards them. Or the pedestrian who gets punted by an out-of-control vehicle.

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It also about respecting your trade, living up to a set of standards that separates the best independent tire dealers from the rest. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t tell a customer that you won’t put their new tires on the front axle, and then do it anyway because you’re afraid to lose a sale, or that they’ll expose their tire smarts online.

Like Reedro.

Same with tire repairs and safe tread depths and matching speed ratings. Oh, and those of you who think getting a customer to sign a release absolving you of legal responsibility … you might want to talk to both your business insurance expert and your lawyer.

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To help you with your next “do-my-bidding” rear-tire denier, we have now posted a YouTube video by Discount Tire (thanks to our friends at Conti for the hook-up) that you can share with your denier customers on our website. You may also access it with this URL: youtu.be/__0DL8dE3Eo.

Certainly a few minutes on Google will reveal many other legit, resources to help you overcome all of your Reedros.

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