Have you ever wondered what happens to the “almost new” tires you see on the wrecked car on the side of the road you passed on the highway? Now it is just a crumpled object, with broken windows, being towed to the nearest dump.
Yeah, I didn’t wonder either. But sometimes you find an answer to a question you never thought of asking, coming away with an epiphany. After all, wasn’t that how Viagra (originally a blood pressure medication, ironically), and Post-It notes were invented? Something stumbled upon can change the course of history, or at least your point of view. This is one such story.
So, when you see that “newish” Mercedes Benz and BMW at your local used car lot, are they sporting used tires? Of course they are. Are the tires used? Or are they USED. I couldn’t imagine it, but yes, there are places that sell previously owned tires (USED), and yes, dealers buy them and put them on high end vehicles. Good enough for Mercedes, good enough for my 1998 Mustang, 54K miles, I bought for $2,600 at the local public auction. I lucked out, as any public auction is usually a clearing house for high mileage trade-ins or soon to be clunkers. I got a good deal, but didn’t want to invest in repairs.
I got it inspected, and lucky me, the inspector says, “Well, sir, you need two new rear tires”.
Not awful, but being new to auctions, the thought of parting with $400 – $500 for tires seemed unbearable. Even more so, my dear wife had warned me of buying a wreck. Failure (in the form of her being right) was not an option.
“You don’t understand”, I pleaded, “I don’t plan to drive it very long, and don’t want to put a lot of money into it”, I explained.
“You could put used tires on it. Go to Paul’s Used Tires “, he replied.
Well, he just blew my mind. Someone actually has the audacity to sell used tires? It turned out Paul’s was just around the corner, hidden behind a “Beer-N-Wings” and the local 7-11. Maybe more about curiosity, or frugality, I wanted to check it out.
Admittedly, I was embarrassed to consider USED tires, and (gasp) what would the neighbors say (oh yeah, they have used tires too, but they are used, not USED). My shame was quickly replaced by curiosity when I saw late model luxury cars crowding the three Do It Yourself (DIY) car lifts, in front of a somewhat dingy shop, located on a loose gravel lot. No sales guys here. You basically show up, watch for a bit on what is going on, and dive in.
So, I waited while I saw well-dressed used car salesman use the shop supplied pneumatic ratchet, and hydraulically actuated car lift (this one lifts your car up just a foot), to remove a wheel on his Mercedes S Class. Being a mechanical engineer by training, this looked like a lot of fun.
I walked into the shop, and surveying the rack after rack of used tires, on well-worn shelves, with 185/75-15 magic markered on ragged masking tape, I found just what I needed. Climbing a ladder, and finding two beauties with maybe 75% of the tread remaining, I rolled them over to one of only two owners/workers now well grimed due to working with used tires all day long. These two worked while with 3-4 customers milled about just a few feet from the whirling activity.
“How much?” I inquired, as one guy had a quick second while the tire mounter machine was winding a used tire onto another customer’s rim. “$30, each. If you want us to remove the wheels from your car, and re-install them, that’s another $5, each”. “I’ll bring them in”, I said, half to save a few dollars, and I wanted to try out the hydraulic lift, and the pneumatic impact wrench, and try this new level of self service.
Using the car lift on the car and removing the 5 bolts on each wheel, I rolled the two wheels into the shop to watch the owner work through the process. Looking beyond the grease and grime, the operation was a study of efficiency and austerity. One tire demounter/mounter, tire balancer, and leak tester (a now very oily looking vat of water).
First the old tire was pressed off the rim…Popp! Psssssshhhh! As the machine broke the tire to rim seal.
Whirrrrrrrrr…As a sort of slowly rotating pry bar device, weaned the tire from the rim. Popp!Whirrrrrrr…As the machine forced the “new” USED tire onto my rims. Psssssshhhhhhtttt, as the tire is inflated in seconds. Then to the balancer, with addition of lead weight to balance the wheel, and a quick few taps with a hammer to affix the lead weight to the rim. Done.
I realized a few things. First, what a great business! As a cog in the used car ecosystem, Paul’s filled a real need I didn’t know existed. Seeing the American work ethic alive, well, and seeing these two entrepreneurs churn through 8-10 customers per hour, was humbling as I reflect in my work day, needing a coffee break every few hours. Yeah, it doesn’t quite seem right to buy someone else’s used tires, but think about it. I kept them out of the local land fill. I did my small part to save the world one used tire at a time. These two could buy and sell me, as they are probably hardworking Millionaire’s.
Oh, yeah. I also saved a few bucks, and darn it, Licia, my wife wasn’t right for a change!