People waiting longer to replace tires

CHICAGO Oil fell by $2.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil supplies grew because many Americans are driving less.

But this one-day drop won't provide much relief at the pump and those high oil prices are being felt in products that rely on crude oil, such as tires. With recent record oil prices and rubber trading at 28-year highs, new wheels cost a lot more than before.

Tire prices are up five to 10 percent nationwide with another five percent jump expected the beginning of next month, in the midst of the summer driving season.

You might think that like a tank of gas, new tires are an expense those in need will simply incur. After all, you can't drive on a flat. But people are waiting longer to switch to a new set. And it's a troubling trend.

At Ashland Tire in the Lakeview neighborhood, they're seeing people, like Gene Arbetter, who told his wife he was thinking about getting new rubber for her car but put it off

But the massage therapist, who travels between Chicago and Wisconsin, waited, and one tire went flat. And he's lamenting his thought process.

"Just economically, just to wait to spend the money, just to hold off a little bit and not spend it right now and to maybe spend it a little bit later. Looking at, every time I drive by a gas station, it's like, 'Hello!' So, that's an influence," said Arbetter.

Bob Taugner has three sets of wheels and spreads his mileage between them, necessitating fewer tire changes. But as he prepares to hand over this Jeep to his college-bound daughter, he ponders how he waited to put four new tires on one of his other vehicles.

"By putting it off, I was risking having a flat in a highway situation, which wouldn't have been good," said Taugner.

People have been coming to Ashland Tire for a quarter century for the customer service, prepared, they say, to pay a premium for the product compared to tires from discount retailers.

"Not in the 35 years I've been doing this. But, I don't think our economy has ever seen such an explosion in oil prices and gas prices," said Ken Pappas, Ashland Tire and Auto.

And with consumer confidence lower than it has been in 16 years and Americans reeling from economic fears about increased joblessness and falling home prices one oil analyst says policy makers -- who on Wednesday decided to keep interest rates unchanged -- need to focus on ensuring oil prices drop without intervening in the market.

"You know the high prices are actually starting to bring prices down. We're changing our habits, we're driving less; we're using less; that's going to help in the long run," said Phil Flynn , Alaron Trading Corporation.

And that might get people buying tires again, exactly when they need them.

To find out whether you need new tires, take a penny, put President Lincoln's image upside down and put the penny in the tread. If the tread comes up to his head, you have at least 1/16th of an inch of tread -- the minimum needed to drive safely to the tire store for new rubber.

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