New valve stems and balancing -- am I getting taken for a ride?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband and I both bought new tires last week. I was charged for
"Valve: rubber stem -- $2.50 per tire" and "Tire balance: performance
-- $10.99 per tire." I later discovered that the balancing charge was
so that I could have the tires rotated and balanced in the future for
free. So here are my questions:

1. Why was I charged for valve stems? Is there a tire that doesn't
use a valve stem? Isn't that like buying a car and having to pay
extra for the steering wheel?

2. Can I get my money back for the performance balancing, since they
didn't even ask me if I wanted this option?

Thank you. -- Hope

TOM: I know the valve-stem thing sounds totally fishy, Hope. It
sounds like just the kind of scam you'd expect from the automotive
industry, right? But it's actually legit.

RAY: There are NO tires that use valve stems. That's because valve
stems are considered part of the wheels, not part of the tires. (The
stems are the rubber things with Schrader valves that stick out of
the wheel and accept the air you add to the tire.)

TOM: And when you get new tires, it's customary to throw out the old
valve stems and put in new ones. They only cost a few bucks, and they
do wear out over time. The rubber can degrade, the stem can get
broken or cracked, and the valve itself can wear out and leak. So
while you CAN keep your old valve stems and save the 10 bucks, it's
really not worth the risk of ruining your brand-new tires.

RAY: You also HAVE to have new tires balanced, or your car will
vibrate and your new tires will wear out prematurely. It's not an
option. But you don't have to pay, in advance, for future tire
balancing and rotations. So you're certainly well within your rights
to ask them to give you the difference between the normal cost of
balancing and the cost of this "performance balancing" tire HMO plan.

TOM: However, if you DO intend to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles
or so, which is what most tire manufacturers recommend, you might
find this performance plan extremely cost-effective. They charged you
about $11 for balancing and future rotations, whereas the normal cost
of balancing is about $8 to $10 all by itself.

RAY: So you might save money by just letting them rotate your tires
every 5,000 miles. As long as they don't sell you new valve stems
every time you come in.

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