Pick the Right Tire Shop or Pay the Price

No kidding. The cash price wasn’t too bad, but I did not pick the right tire shop on the first try. No, I won’t name or otherwise identify the perpetrators of poster boy levels of incompetence. They’re not trying to scam anybody, nor is this post designed to point fingers.

But I will tell you what happened.

In April of 2018, my classic 1970 Chevy Impala was handed over to TSX (Tire Shop “X”) for a front end alignment and wheel balancing session. I told the man who took the keys, “I’d like a copy of the spec sheet when you’re done.”

“Sure,” he replied. “No problem.”

He was mistaken. It turned out to be a big problem. Having been raised on a ranch where my father and I handled the majority of our own mechanical repairs, followed by two years at Northern Montana College, majoring in auto mechanics, I do know how to read an alignment spec sheet. Knowing the “before” positions of camber, caster, and toe-in for any vehicle, as well as the factory recommended adjustment ranges and the final settings achieved by the technician…those can tell me a lot about the health of the machine where the rubber meets the road. Unfortunately, when the bill was presented and the keys handed back to me, there was no spec sheet included. I pointed this out immediately.

What followed was enlightening. Not enjoyable, but extremely educational.

It seemed like a lot of time passed before the front desk guy returned with the spec sheet. I didn’t bother to study it before leaving the shop. The printing was so faint it was almost impossible to read. It was not even for the Impala but pertained a different vehicle belonging to a victim who probably had no idea what the shop had done to his ride.

There was no column of “before” positions, an omission which was more than a little disturbing, but there were columns for factory specifications and final adjustments. The caster specification for this particular vehicle was 2.45 degrees (positive). The shop had aligned it to that exact number–but with the wrong polarity, -2.45 degrees (negative). In other words, the setting was a whopping 4.90 degrees out of whack.

But the proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes. I had no spec sheet to consult for the Impala, yet the shop might have adjusted the Impala correctly. Hey, one can dream. The only way to find out was to hit the highway and see if the horrible shudder at freeway speeds was gone or not.

Ugh. Definitely not. The shudder was as bad as ever. Possibly even a bit worse. I would never go back to that tire shop again for any reason.

Not even to complain, you ask?

No. Definitely not. It would have been impossible to get a refund without allowing the technician to take another look at the Impala; I’d just as soon kiss a rabid skunk as let his sloppy paws near my baby again. Complaining to the incompetent about their incompetence is an exercise in futility.

The Chevy needed to be dropped off at Old Stage Auto the following day for a long list of mechanical fixes. Old Stage, owned by Mike Brown of Deer Lodge, Montana, is more than competent but does not do front end alignments. Time passed, the car came out of Mike’s shop in great shape, and finally it was time to try a different tire shop, hoping to get the front end alignment right.

Lisac’s Tire of Anaconda had been recommended to me. The front desk man, Andy, had understood when I’d explained the Impala’s predicament. He put his best man, Ken, on the job.

What a different experience.

I sat down in one of the lobby chairs next to a pile of new tires and read a “women’s humor” book while waiting. Before long, Ken brought me a copy of the “before” settings. This one was beautiful, easy to read and color coded. Of six adjustments (three for each front wheel), only two–both camber settings–were within permitted range on the Impala.

Take a look.

When Lisac’s Tire of Anaconda checked the alignment settings on the Impala, only two of six were within permitted range.

Ouch.

When Lisac’s Tire was all done making adjustments, Ken brought back two more sheets of “after” printouts. His precision was impressive; it was easy to see why Andy ranked him #1 in the shop. Every adjustment was “deep in the green,” with Steer Ahead (You want your car to go straight ahead as its default setting, right?)…wow. Steer Ahead was dead center right on bullseye take home the championship trophy 0.00 degrees.

Green, green, green…

…and more green. It doesn’t get better than that.

But wait. There’s more. The wheels still had to be balanced; no way the “bad shop” had messed up the alignment without going ditto on the balancing.

Yep. Ken didn’t have to do the balancing; there are lesser lights in the shop who can handle that. And handle it they did; they had to apply different weights on all four wheels.

Had TSX (Tire Shop X) even touched those wheels? Wheel balancing is not exactly rocket science, especially with the technology of today.

Lisac’s Tire of Anaconda had really done it right. Of course, there was still the road test, twenty-seven miles back to my home in Deer Lodge. Which did not disappoint. The shudder at highway speed was entirely gone, the ride much smoother and not disturbing at all. Ken had even let me know he’d found the front wheel bearings to be “slightly loose,” not badly enough to need replacement; a simple repacking of grease should fix them right up.

Bottom line: In today’s society, your motorized transportation is a necessity, not a luxury. Poor alignment and/or wheel balancing can be hard on parts or even contribute to loss of control of the vehicle at the worst possible time, potentially resulting in property damage, injury, or death. When it comes to front end care, it pays to take care.

And if you happen to live within 100 miles of Lisac’s Tire of Anaconda, you might want to give them serious consideration. They’re great folks, they care, they’re highly competent, and they will not disappoint.