After four years and 56,000 miles, it was time to replace the tires my Roadtrek Sprinter came with. I have a long one-ton chassis in my CS Adventurous, which means dual rear wheels, and I had been fortunate to have the original Continental tires that were supplied with the new vehicle wear evenly and uneventfully throughout their useful life.
The only tire problem I had was a puncture the transatlantic shippers managed to inflict on one of the inside rear tires driving over some dockside debris last spring, which I dealt with by installing the spare in that spot, and getting an almost-correct used spare from a tire shop in Brussels, which thankfully I never had to use. I didn’t have much tread left on the original set, and I figured it would be best to replace them all as a set before I hit the road for nine months of touring the country. I didn’t want to try to stretch the current set to see if I could get through the season with them. There’s a legal minimum of tread depth you need, but your braking distance starts to lengthen well before you reach it. You never know when a few feet of shorter stopping distance will come in handy when you weigh 11,000 pounds.
I am very particular about tires, mostly from a safety standpoint. Although I like a smooth ride as much as the next motorist, I’m mainly concerned about traction and braking, and these go away fast as you get down to the tire’s last quarter of useful tread. Another lesson I learned from my Chevy Roadtrek is that old tires are dangerous tires. We load these tires to close to their maximum weight carrying capacity when we put them on campervans, so long hours of highway speed driving in hot weather means the tires heat up and any flaw in the tire becomes a safety risk.
And you won’t get much warning; I blew a Michelin tire with plenty of tread left at highway speed in my Chevy. Tread separation, and instantaneously I was down on the rim. The flapping tread whacked my fiberglass ground effects, shorted out my chassis battery system, and scared us to death. Getting that thing safely off onto the shoulder took some of the best driving I have ever done. The tire was five and a half years old. Since then I’m sticking to changing tires out as they hit five years.
I had decided to go with the Michelins I have run on all my vehicles for the past 40 years, more out of brand loyalty and superstition than any dislike for the Continentals. Mercedes is smart – they give each of two different tire suppliers about half of their business. The beautiful young people in the red convertibles get the Michelins, and us folks who drive the plumber’s vans get the Continentals. Such is life. There are plenty of good tires out there, and as long as you have the correct weight carrying capacity on your tires and like them, I won’t argue with you about your selection.
Because of the dually setup on the one-ton Sprinters, they use a weird size (215/85 R 16), much taller and skinnier than typical tires on single rear wheel vehicles, so the tire store had to order them. This worked to my advantage, because with no inventory pileup, they were basically straight from the tire factory. Checking the stamp in the sidewall, I could see they were made in the fourth and fifth weeks of this year – less than a month old. If you’re going to pay for a new tire, get a new tire. Check the sidewall date and don’t take anything more that 2 or 3 months old. Those months are coming out of the five years you have to operate your vehicle safely with this set of tires.
Me and the tire guys rapidly came to the conclusion that the special lifts they use to pick up the middle of passenger cars and hang the wheels are useless on my Roadtrek. My rear axle alone weighs something like three tons. It’s time for floor jacks – LOTS of floor jacks. With a three ton floor jack at each corner, my van slowly rose a few inches until the wheels were off the ground. Luckily, they didn’t have any problems; the shop only had four floor jacks, so if one had malfunctioned and collapsed, we wouldn’t have any way to pick it back up ;-). I help them figure out the spare tire carrier under the driver’s side. I had removed my center caps so they wouldn’t have to puzzle over them. These are plastic and tend to be vunerable to non-experienced efforts to remove them, so I thought it best to leave them at home.
I made sure they installed high-pressure valve stems and balanced the wheels the smart way, installing the tire so the wheel and tire imbalances offset each other, meaning less weights and a smoother ride. We fiddled with the valve stem extensions on the inner back wheels (the high pressure valve stems were shorter than the original ones, so they didn’t quite clear the outside wheel rim) until I said just leave them off, I’ll get longer ones. There’s always something you have to adjust for in a new tire installation. They insisted on installing the valve stems on the two back wheels 180 degrees apart so it would be “balanced” – I didn’t argue with them, since it doesn’t matter. Each wheel is spin balanced separately, so you can put them on any way you want and it won’t make a bit of difference. This is one of the many old wives tales in automotive lore, like never putting a battery on the floor. I prefer to put the inner and outer valve stems together, so I can find the inner one easily. I’ll put it back the way I like it when I install the new valve stem extensions and retorque the lug nuts.
We got it all bolted up, put the spare in the carrier, lowered the van, and torqued the wheels to 135 foot-pounds. The funny thing was they had scuffed one of the rims slightly when dismounting one of the old tires. They were pointing it out and apologizing profusely when I cut them off, saying it was karma coming back to bite me. I had done the same thing more often than I care to admit back during my mechanicing days. Stuff happens. It’s not a big deal.
Then we went back up front and completed the unpleasant part of the experience – paying for these marvelous tires. It was around $1,350. Then I drove home. New tires really change the way your vehicle feels and sounds if you pay attention to such things. Even better than the smooth quiet ride is the sense of safety and security I get knowing I have new, very good tires to hit the road with for the next few years. One less thing to worry about.
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