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.

6 thoughts on “Pick the Right Tire Shop or Pay the Price

  1. I have a shop here, that I will never return to. I also have found one that I will return to for things that my sons cannot handle. I will let them do the things that they say they can handle. If they say they can’t handle it, I think I have found a new one. I bought a newer vehicle and it was from a guy that has a shop in his back. He did such a great job of keeping this up, that I think I will take it back to him when it needs something done. He also says he can usually under bid the area shops, which are quite high to me, since his overhead is so low. His shop has a lift and some of the diagnostic machinery.

  2. Sounds like a real bonus, Becky. A win-win situation. Whenever I get Holy Waters paid off and finally decide on a house building plan there, I hope to have a garage with a lift. The ranch is a lot farther from mechanical help than I am here in Deer Lodge, and I wouldn’t mind going back to doing my own oil changes if I didn’t have to crawl under a vehicle sitting on dirt. (Did plenty of that in my earlier years but never got to the point of enjoying the process.)

    Not likely to invest much in the way of diagnostic goodies, though. Those can get spendy.

  3. The best home “lift” I saw was in a mountainside home, where they put 2 steel beams as tracks for the car, going from the ground floor open garage to posts that would hold the beams and the car above your head. Inexpensive and no maintenance… great for home mechanics. 🙂 and the basement floor actually opened up to a large yard where they would BBQ and let the kids play while the adults and teens fiddled with the cars. 🙂
    Manny

  4. Sounds awesome, Manny. Not doable at Holy Waters Ranch when I build, though. No mountain. In the distance, yes, but not on the property. And any basement would flood in a heartbeat during the spring. So, insulated crawlspace yes, basement no.

    But one can dream.

  5. I’m glad you found a shop you can take the Impala to, Ghost. It totally sucks you got duped the first time around tho.

    I have a shop I use for whatever my car needs. They’ve always done me right and never try to sell me a job my car doesn’t need.

    Every driver needs a good car doctor.

  6. Good to hear you’ve got a reliable shop. So do I, fortunately. The first tire shop boo-boo didn’t bother me that much. With a fair background in auto mechanics myself, and having once worked in a truck stop busting tires for a living, I know very quickly whether a job has been done right or whether it hasn’t, and what to do about it. Currently, I’m pretty happy with the available goodies: Safelite comes to my driveway for windshields, Old Stage Auto is the absolute best for anything mechanical, Lisac’s Tire works for me when it comes to tires and alignment, I just recently got a great recommendation for a body shop in Butte, and Alley Kat Upholstery in Butte is awesome for recovering seats and such. Who could ask for more?

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