SEARS AUTO CENTER AND NTB: Four visits to get the tires and alignment right...


Aug 21, 2000




TREADING ON THIN ICE...

Back in July, the stock Bridgestone RE92 tires on my MY98 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport were starting to look a little worn at 41k miles. These tires had been driven hard for almost two years and finally needed to be retired after a puncture took one of them out of commission. I had already decided on a set of Pirellis and started calling around for prices.

I'LL TAKE WHAT'S IN THE BOX...

After calling NTB and Sears Auto Center in Whitehall, PA and a handful of local tire dealers, I opted for a set of high performance Pirelli P8000 Vizzola all season tires from Sears Auto Center. Originally $89.00 each, Sears had them on sale for the bargain price of $59.00 each. I opted for a less expensive street solution because I'd eventually be purchasing a set of Kumho racing tires and Speedline wheels for the 2001 racing season.

I decided on the full installation package and got the tires mounted, balanced and aligned by Sears Auto Center with lifetime balancing and road hazard protection. I figured that the free balancing would come in handy because I'd be autocrossing and rallycrossing for the 2000 racing season. The grand total came to $410.99 after tax...quite a bit less than I had expected to pay.

EVERYTHING RIGHT IS WRONG AGAIN...

My Impreza was dropped down off the lift, I handed over my American Express card and I was happily on my way with brand new rubber beneath my feet. Like a five year old waiting for his birthday, I couldn't wait to get out on the road and really test out the Pirellis. I turned the key, pulled out of the parking lot, blipped the throttle into second, redlined and...the car was pulling drastically to the right.

I figured that it must have been a fluke and assumed the extremely aggressive tread combined with the slope of road was the problem. I turned around and headed for the nearest highway to take the scenic route home and test the tires at highway speeds.

No luck. Even after finding the flattest spot in the center lane of the highway and briefly taking my hands off the steering wheel at 65 MPH, the car still pulled to the right. Even in the left lane where the road slopes to the left, the car still pulled hard to the right.

YOU WANT IT WHEN?

After about a week and 350 miles on the new tires, I drove back to Sears Auto Center to take advantage of my warranty. I described the pulling problem to the service department and they said they'd "see what they could do." Nearly two hours passed, the Impreza was finally brought back in, tossed up on the lift and the alignment was compared to "factory specification."

I was then told that my car was within "factory specification," there was nothing they could do and "I must have hit something." Had I hit something, the alignment would have been off. They'd happily put the car back up on the lift for their service rate and I could pay to have the car repaired. Furious, I stormed out and drove home...

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL...

The next day, I tried calling Sears back to complain. After five or six calls with no one picking up, I called to make an appointment at NTB, one of Sears' standalone retail locations. Extremely courteous on the phone, the sales manager set up an appointment to bring my car in during my lunch break.

When I showed up, I had to explain my problem once again. The sales manager said he knew exactly what the problem was and they'd unmount my tires, do a rotation and remount them. Because the Pirellis are directional, they had to unmount the front tires to rotate them left to right. This meant moving the outside edge of the right tire on the right wheel to the inside edge of the left wheel. This made perfect sense to me and they agreed to do the work under warranty.

LIES AND INCOMPETENCE...

I got to watch the mechanic do the rotation and noticed something seriously wrong. After taking the time to take off the front wheels and unmount the tires, he then proceeded to remount the tires on the same wheels! Unfortunately, I didn't notice this until he had already completed the mounting and balancing and put the wheels back on the car. I could tell the tires were still on the same wheels because of some scrapes that were on my left front tire from some offroad driving the previous day.

When I asked the sales manager, I was sternly told that the mechanic had rotated the tires properly and my problem was that the directional tires had been mounted incorrectly (backwards) by Sears Auto Center. I politely disagreed, mentioned that I had checked the directional tread when the first problems started to occur and that his mechanic had failed to rotate my tires properly.

I had the mechanic follow me out to the car and showed him the scrapes in the whitewall on the left front tire. I told him that this same whitewall was on the left front tire both before and after his rotation. Again, I was told that I was mistaken and he had properly done the job. More furious than ever, I left because I needed to get back to work.

To add insult to injury, the car pulled to the right worse than before.

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE RIGHT...

I had just about had enough, so I visited Faulkner Subaru in Bethlehem, PA and spoke with Tom Todaro, my sales contact. He sells Subarus and races Porsches for a living, so I figured he'd be able to fill me in on my alignment problem. After listening to my problem and inspecting my alignment printout, he told me that Sears had given me the improper toe settings. Five minutes later I was on my way back to Sears Auto Center with the track settings for my Impreza.

I pulled into the parking lot and saw Larry, the sales representative who originally sold me the tires. He recognized me right away and I explained my problem and the situation with my previous trip to Sears and NTB. Dumbfounded by the low quality of service I had received, he took me directly into the garage, introduced me to Brian, their head alignment technician, and told him to take care of me.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES...

It turns out that Brian was interested in racing and autocross and was looking for information. We got to talking, and he took an immediate interest in my Impreza and its handling characteristics. After a road test, he started working on the alignment with the track settings that Tom had recommended.

To make a long story short, Brian spent over an hour and a half with me and worked well after closing time to get the alignment and suspension tuned properly. Overall, he put the car on the lift four times and did five road tests with me to make sure it was aligned properly. For the first time that week, I actually had a mechanic that was genuinely interested in solving my problem.

After the fifth road test I thanked him, put in a good word for him with Larry, signed the appropriate warranty paperwork and took the scenic route home, finally able to enjoy the new Pirellis.

AND THE MORAL IS...

Overall, I'm extremely satisfied with the final outcome of my last visit to Sears Auto Center. With that said, I won't ever go back unless Brian will be the mechanic to work on my car. I was extremely insulted on the second visit when they told me that it must have been my fault the car was pulling to the right because the car was within "factory specification."

On the other hand, I will never visit another NTB location again. They had given me the wrong size tire during a previous visit in 1996 when I put a set of Pirellis on my Ford Escort and, at the same location, was outright lied to when they failed to rotate the tires on my Impreza properly.

Getting work done at chain stores may seem convenient, however they seem to do the minimal work possible to get your car out the door as quickly as possible.



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