Did I get ripped off by the mechanic?
May 14, 2014 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Had a flat tire, ordered two new tires, picked up car and drove it 0.5 miles (2 minutes) and parked it. Hours later went to drive it and the same original flat tire is flat again. The mechanic says there was a nail in the new tire. Did I get ripped off?

Little background: used a mechanic my parents have used for years. Family joke is that my dad put their kids through college. My siblings and I have been uneasy about the mechanic in the past, thinking maybe he was taking advantage sometimes of my very nice, very non-confrontational parents.

Is this just really incredible bad luck or is there a chance they gave me used tires to begin with? Is there anyway to determine if the tires are brand new? Is there anything I can argue, now that I have "new" tires with a plug in them? When I go to pick up my car, I'd like to ask questions in an intelligent, firm way so they take me seriously and don't just blow me off about it. Yes, I am a youngish female who knows little about cars.
posted by kmr to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
just for future, whenever getting something replaced, always ask for the old parts back.
posted by jangie at 9:55 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like incredibly bad luck -- no mechanic is so crooked that he'd give a returning customer tires that will be flat in a few hours.

But that doesn't mean that this mechanic is perfectly straight all the time, either. You are under no obligation to keep going back if you feel uneasy about him.
posted by Etrigan at 9:56 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is a Tire Identification Number that should indicate the age, so if the current ones are old that's an indication it may be used. There's also the penny test.
posted by Sophont at 9:58 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't understand -- when you say the original flat tire is flat again, are you referring to the new tire that took the place of the original flat tire?
posted by BurntHombre at 9:59 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

New tires will have little rubber hairs sticking up all over the place from the mold. They will usually also have lines on the tread that wear off after a few hundred miles (http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-2409692-new-tire-tread-with-visible-markings.php).
posted by ohjonboy at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

New tires smell like rubber and have deep, sharp grooves in the tread. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but if you can't immediately identify a new tire by looking at, my guess is it will be hard to be convincing when arguing with a mechanic. I would also guess (as Etrigan says) that even a shady mechanic would not choose to fake something as obvious as a tire.
posted by wnissen at 10:01 AM on May 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Obviously you would want them to dispose of the old tires for you, so what jangie said is a little more complicated in this instance, but in future always at least ask to see the old ones before you leave. Then if you have the incredibly bad luck you did (did you drive through a construction site?! Jeez!) you at least have that peace of mind.

Really, though, the new tires should LOOK new. Take a look at them. Do they have nice deep treads? Are they clean? Also look at the manufacturer. Is the brand name the same as on your receipt?
posted by clone boulevard at 10:01 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also it is uncommon to replace a tire just due to a flat unless something goes through sidewall or it is a really big hole. Were they extremely old or really worn tires by chance?
posted by ohjonboy at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2014

Stop worrying. This was a coincidence. Time is way more precious than to spend understanding tire threads. Replace and move on.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:09 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They were apparently very worn tires. Tho again....trusting a mechanic. Car is about 1.5 yrs old w/ ~30,000 miles.

Realize this may be a silly question about the tires being new but generally am overwhelmed by car maintenance/mechanic stuff. Also my father had picked it up and parked it for me, so when I went to drive it last night it was late and dark - wasn't able to really inspect. But since it should be very obvious - thanks to tips from these responses - I will take a good look at them today.
posted by kmr at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2014

I got a flat in the first 48 hours of owing a new car. They showed me the hole in the tire and they showed me the screw that caused it. So, it can happen.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:43 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

FWIW I've bought used tires in the past out of dire financial need (yes I know this is a really bad thing to do), and they didn't go flat hours later. If something sketchy happened here, it's that they did a halfassed patch job on your pre-existing tires rather than putting on the new ones you paid for.

It seems weird to me that your tires were "very worn" despite the fact that the car is a year and a half old. I don't think cars need new tires every year. A quick google suggests 50K miles is the average life of a set of tires. Which is, what 3-4 years of driving, at least?

I think they got one over on you by suggesting you needed new tires, and to add insult to injury you got a puncture right out of the gate. Cars aren't fair sometimes.

But, yeah, I would find a new mechanic. I like my mechanic because he goes out of his way to show me that he's being honest with me (physically shows me the repairs that were done, tells me when something isn't necessary, talks about prices upfront and actual costs never go over the estimate, etc).

The great thing about a lot of car repair issues is that it's easily googled information. You're still going to need to visit the mechanic, but the obvious bullshit (like tires being very worn at 30K miles) is easy to check up on. And you can learn to troubleshoot and do some routine maintenance yourself.
posted by Sara C. at 12:10 PM on May 14, 2014

Mnemonic for the penny test referenced above: if you can see Lincoln's head, you don't have enough tread.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:05 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think they got one over on you by suggesting you needed new tires,

Not necessarily true. If you drove any distance after the tire went flat you could have damaged the sidewall. On FWD cars, well on most cars, it is recommended to change both tires on an axle. At 30k miles on OEM tires you would probably be better off changing both since the OEM tires may have only been 40k tires, or 50k tires to start with.
posted by Gungho at 1:18 PM on May 14, 2014

You can very probably tell whether they gave you new tires from the DOT code mentioned by Sophont:
Current regulations require that Tire Identification Numbers begin with the letters "DOT," followed by ten, eleven or twelve characters (see photo below) that can be used to identify the manufacturing location, tire size and manufacturer's specifications, along with the week and year the tire was manufactured. So while DOT Tire identification Numbers are commonly but erroneously referred to as the tire’s serial number, unlike the serial numbers used on most other consumer goods that identify one specific item, Tire Identification Numbers actually identify production batches.
If they come from the same place and have even a similar date of manufacture as your two remaining old tires, your 'new' tires are virtually certain to be your own old tires sold to you as new.

My guess is that's exactly what happened.
posted by jamjam at 5:08 PM on May 14, 2014

It's not impossible or even improbable that you just picked up a nail on new tire; weird coincidental stuff happens sometimes. I once got three punctures in less than a month.

Even now it should be simple to tell whether the tires are new or nearly so just by looking at them. The mold whiskers on the sidewalls should still be there and the tread blocks should still have crisp edges. You might even be able to see the radial coloured lines used to aid balancing.

And I'll second that of all the things a crooked mechanic might try to pass off to make a buck used tires instead of new tires seems highly improbable because it is so simple to tell visually whether new tires have been mounted.

PS: the whole scam of mechanics installing used parts and charging new prices is pretty rare. New parts are cheap; mechanics get a significant discount over retail pricing; and stocking the used parts until they could sell them as new would cost money. A shady mechanic might tell you he replaced something that he didn't actually replace; they might tell you a working component needs replacing when it doesn't; or both. But they are unlikely to replace a failed part with a used part without telling you that they did and then only because a new part is either cost prohibitive or unavailable.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 PM on May 14, 2014

I had two (different) flat tires in one day, so I agree with Mitheral. It does happen. It might just be bad luck.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:27 AM on May 15, 2014

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