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Rx300 Tire Cupping At Low Mileage


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We have owned a 2002 RX-300 for a little over 2 years - bought it new in Sept '02. It has a little over 18K miles on it as of this posting. A little while back, I noticed a low rumbling noise (almost like a small motorcycle) that begins when the car gets to about 40 mph and continues for higher speeds. The Lexus dealer told us that the tires were cupped and suggested that we contact Bridgestone, since the tires were under warranty (these were original equipment). He also indicated that the alignment may be off and this may have contributed to the cupping and suggested that we check the alignment. This was done, although I am at a loss to understand how a vehicle alignment could go out with less than 18K miles on it. Subsequently I took the car to a Bridegestone dealer and was told that they were basically not going to honor the warranty.

To cut a long story short, Lexus has now offered to replace 2 tires if we bear the cost of replacing the other 2 - which is about $300. Our feeling is that Lexus is not doing enough to stand behind its products and the warranties. I don't feel that we should have to pay anything to get the tires replaced, especially since the original issue may still be there even with the new tires (there has been an inference from the Lexus dealer that cupped tires are causing the noise, but no clear-cut diagnosis). We have already paid to have the alignment checked and corrected at the dealership.

Any suggestions on how to handle this issue will be welcome.


(Footnote: To add insult to injury, we were just offered a $500 certificate towards the purchase of a new Lexus. Given this experience, it is highly unlikely that we will purchase another Lexus. - H)

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First you must understand that a vehicle's mileage has absolutely nothing to do with its alignment. Some vehicles seem to be able to stay within proper alignment specs for tens of thousands of miles, while other vehicles seem to be very sensitive to actions that can throw them out of alignment and may in fact lose their alignments within several hundred miles or less.

Keeping a vehicle in alignment for long periods of time is a combination of skill and luck. It must be properly aligned initially, and believe it or not, not all alignment technicians are capable of doing this from vehicle to vehicle. I've learned through experience that some techs actually get it worse than when you drove in. You have to find an experienced alignment shop with low turnover, and that can admittedly be hard to do. Ask some of your colleagues and friends where they have their vehicles aligned and see if you can identify a common trend.

Your driving habits also have a lot to do with maintaining your alignment. Do you avoid potholes or cluelessly plow right through them? Do you constantly run into curbs when you parallel park? Do you slow down to a crawl when you have to pass over speed bumps or just go flying over them instead? All of these situations have a dramatic effect on how long your vehicle will stay in alignment.

Most tire cupping is caused by misalignment. Occasionally the failure of suspension components will cause similar tire wear problems, but that is much less likely than simply being out of alignment. Tire manufacturers and dealers generally will not pay up if your tire wear is due to misalignment or failure to rotate properly, and unfortunately for the consumer that is their right. It is your responsibility to keep your vehicle in alignment, and that can be hard to do if you happen to own a vehicle that loses its alignment at the slightest bump or vibration.

Better alignment shops will provide a before-and-after printout indicating how far your vehicle was out-of-spec prior to their alignment service and how well-within-spec your vehicle is after the alignment is completed. Did you receive such a printout after your recent alignment by Lexus? If not, you should go elsewhere. Bear in mind that you're paying top dollar prices for alignment services at the Lexus dealership. Find a good shop that specializes in alignments - your vehicle and your checkbook will come out much further ahead.

And by the way, $300 for two Bridgestone tires that fit the RX series is extremely pricey. If you opt to replace the two tires out of your own pocket, don't make the mistake of buying them from your Lexus dealership with their horrendous mark-up. Check out tirerack.com on the web for much better deals. You'll have to have them balanced and mounted, but you'll still come out way ahead.

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On the tire issue, the stock Bridgestone tires are not that good of a tire to start with. They are loud and don't wear well with good alignment. When your tires are cupped they get very loud at speed. I just bought my 2000 RX with 17,500 miles a month ago and it has the bridgestone tires. I will be getting new tires early next year as these tires are loud and seem to be about half worn out. I'm not sure what tires I will get yet but they will lean toward the hwy tread as I live in CA and we don't go to the snow that often.

Get some new tires from a tire dealer or on line tire store and have the tire shop put them on. Stay away from the Lexus dealer for tires and alignments, that stuff is best left to the pros that do it every day.

Front drive cars need to have the tires rotated more often than RWD cars so find a shop that has flat fix and rotation included in the price of the tires and get it done as often as they recommend and keep the air filled to the pressure that is listed on the inside drivers door.


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My advice would be to recognize that neither the dealer nor the tire manufacturer is responsible for things they cannot control - the alignment of a vehicle you own. I had the same thing happen on my Focus this year, and I would not have dreamed of blaming anyone else for my not having the alignment checked.

Some things just happen and are not necessarily someone else's fault.

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One option not mentioned so far (although you may have done it) is to rotate the tires. Sometimes, shifting positions front to back can eliminate the noise and also help smooth out the cupping. Sometimes though, rotating makes it sound worse.

It's not normally recommended, but CROSS-rotating (versus front to back on same side) might make a difference. as well. Technically, that will go against the opinions of most folks that know much about tires. But like you, I hate spending money to fix someone else's problems.

If you wind up replacing tires, definitely try to get the ones you pay for from someone other than the dealer, preferably a place that will rotate and rebalance the new tires for free (NTB, Discount Tire, etc). Also, if you wind up replacing all 4, consider getting another brand, partly because Bridgestone won't help, and partly because some tires just don't do well on certain models. I had a Porsche 944 for 20 years, and the original equipment Dunlops cupped frequently according to LOTS of 944 owners. I had that problem, and changing models cleared that up. I tried Dunlops again years later on the same car -- same problem. Just something to consider.

Good luck - I know it's aggravating.

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Cupping is not uaually the tire mfg's. fault. It truly is a suspension/alingment problem. Adjustments to tirea (warranty wise) ar going to be on a pro-rated treadwear basis, even at that. Also tires should be rotated and balanced every 5000 miles. Check your tire pressures often, and watch closely for signs of unusual wear. I get alignment checked every 10,000 miles just as a preventive measure. It doesn't cost that much in the long run.

If you aren't driving off road or on snow a lot, I'd suggest getting a set of all weather "touring'" tires. You'll get a much better ride, handling, and much quieter. A good, privately owned tire shop will give you good prices, and take care of your tire mantenance needs quite well, compared to the car dealer or a big chain tire shop.

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I agree that the original Bridgestone tires that came with the vehicle are pretty much garbage (I had a simular experence with my new Nissan Maxima). I have no idea why, but MANY auto makers (not just Lexus but accross the board import & domestic) put what I will call 'substandard' tires on brand new vehicles simply because they purchase millions of tires at a substantial discount & truth be told as long as they pass minimum government safety regulations & law's that are on the books, they are free & clear to continue to do so. :chairshot: The car makers don't care about how well tires perform in the rain, snow, and the like as long as their bottom line isn't effected......it's a shame because if they spent let's say $10 per vehicle more for a much better tire with more aggressive tread that will perform well in any climate (mostly all seasons I talking about now) it would make the customer much happier not only with the auto company, but chances are good you might replace the tire with the exact same one when replacement time comes. Small thinking IMO by both the auto & tire giants! :angry:


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