To some, a tire is a tire. People with that mindset, however, typically have no concept of cost-per-mile, so they show little interest in anything other than price. And tire dealers are often able to sell people on that concept by convincing them that a particular tire is just like the name brand because the tread pattern is identical.
I was fooled by one of these imposters not too long ago when I noticed that a tractor at the local carnival had a new set of drives that looked exactly like a tire that has always been a proven performer for a major manufacturer.
It caught my attention because these companies typically don't see tires as an investment and would never shell out the kind of money it takes for a set of eight premium drive tires. For a brief moment, I thought the carnival industry was finally waking up and realizing that quality products deliver maximum performance. But by the time I got close enough to read the sidewall, my hopes were dashed.
As I discussed in an article last year, commercial truck tires are a blend of synthetic and natural rubber, and each compound is engineered for a specific application. The name brand of the imposter at the carnival is designed for both longhaul and local use. I have no idea how the actual rubber on those tires will perform because I never heard of the manufacturer. For all I know, it could have a ton of fillers that do nothing for improving mileage but a lot for reducing production costs.
Recent buyers of certain light-truck tires produced in China have found themselves in the middle of a recall, with very little recourse. Apparently, there were some design issues that resulted in belt separations, so the federal government has ordered the manufacturer to recall and replace all of the tires.
But Uncle Sam can't just knock on the door of the North American headquarters as he has done in the past. Officials for the manufacturer have said they will not make financial restitution, so it's up to the importer and the dealers who sold the tires to remedy the situation.
When you purchase no-name tires that look like the name brand, you have few guarantees other than a cheaper price. You must take the manufacturer's word that the tires meet federal DOT test standards and will not come apart after a few thousand miles. And, as we're finding out with the recent recall of Chinese tires, if the manufacturer is not properly bonded or insured, you may be simply out of luck.
I'm not saying that truck tires produced outside of North America or so-called “look-alikes” are inferior products. In fact, some of the major tire companies have plants in China that maintain the same level of quality control as those in the West. And some lesser-known economy brands also have manufacturing facilities overseas that produce tires meeting federal test standards in the U.S.
But as the price of truck tires continues to rise, you may be more tempted to save a few bucks by going with the imposter. So before you sign on the dotted line, ask questions about the warranty and whether everyone in the chain is properly bonded and insured. You might save a few dollars today, but if things are not what they seem, you could be faced with a major expense down the road.