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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Pep Boys Tire Service

I was recently contacted by a Pep Boys representative who wanted me to review their eServe service reservation system, and their Definity tires. I didn't need tires at the time, but I knew young mother of 2, Anne L,, who could use some new tires. In this post I'll review the service experience, and in my next one I'll talk about the tires.*

Pep Boys has locations all over the Midwest, East coast, and a few on the Southern West coast. They are a discount auto parts store, similar to other large chains such as Autozone and the Midwest's O'Reilly's. They also offer repair services.

Unlike other local chains, Pep Boys has a nice online
apppointment scheduling system they call eServe. By
going to and filling out a relatively short form, you can set up an appointment in a 1 hour slot in the coming days or weeks.

Anne set up an appointment for tire service online. It was fairly easy. First, you identify the vehicle being serviced, in this case a Ford Escape with worn out tires. Then you pick a service slot, in one hour blocks. On the next screen you select what general type of service you need, in this case, tire service.

A neat feature in the eServe system is that you can have it text message you a reminder of your appointment time, as well as email.

After setting the appointment information, you get a reservation number, which you can print out and take with you on the day of your appointment.

On the day of Anne's appointment, your blogger tagged along to observe the process.

The service area was buzzing with customers, as a big snow storm had just hammered the Northern Midwest, and people were rushing to get their vehicles set for winter, or repaired after slogging through the nasty weather.

The Pep Boys employee who check Anne in was friendly and efficient. He logged her information, and said that while they are quite busy, we should be able to get out in about an hour. Since she was there for tires, he took her to the tire display and took several minutes to explain the difference between the different types of tires. I listened in, and I think he did a accurate job.

He explained that the Dakota SUV tires, the appropriate product for a Ford Escape, came in 3 tread styles: M/T (mud), A/T (all terrain), and H/T (highway). He correctly
explained that the more aggressive treads are better for offroad and better in deep snow, but come with a penalty of more noise and worse fuel economy on smooth roads. Since Anne didn't do much offroading, she opted for the quietest rolling tread, the Dakota

Anne was offered road hazard insurance, at $15/tire, and after having torn up tires on Michigan's infamous winter potholes, she agreed.

Anne gave Pep Boys points for correctly following her instructions to mount the tires with the white letters facing in, something that her last tire provide had not done.

She was also offered a $75 four wheel alignment, which I recommended that she accept, because an occasinoal alignment is imortant to keep your tires wearing evenly.

We went to wait in the small waiting room, which had about 8 seats arranged around TV and a pile of dog-eared magazines. I wasn't impressed much with the waiting area, it had no real isolation from the noise of the store. In the modern era, free wi-fi is a must, but it was not offered. Many dealerships and other service shops also offer complimentary coffee, or some basic kids activities such as coloring books; neither was available here.

The service manager stopped by and offered to adjust the TV, if anyone wanted a different channel, which was nice.

After some time, the service manager came buy with a yellow service sheet, which had comments from the mechanic. Now began the age old game, the up-sell. "So we found a few things we thought you might want to know about...", he began. Anne's battery terminals were corroded, would she like the $5.99 battery recondition service, which would clean up an seal her battery terminals? Anne said sure, it was inexpensive. He offered to load test the battery, also, and Anne agreed.

A few minutes later, the service manager returned with more problems. "Your
battery isn't doing great on the load test, we only
got 260 cranking amps out of rated 600, do you want us to replace the battery?". Since Anne did not have any problems starting her car, even in frigid winter temperatures, I told her it was not critical to do it right then (and I hinted that changing a battery was a very easy DIY project). She declined the battery.

In addition to the battery, the service manager offered her transmission fluid flush, coolant service, an oil change, and new shocks. All were offered based on the mileage of the vehicle, but he admitted that all of these components "looked OK". Anne declined the extra service.

The tire replacement itself took a little longer than expected because of some corrosion on the
aluminum wheel bead areas. The service manager carried a dismounted wheel into the waiting area to show Anne, and said that it should
be OK, but that he was going to have to clean up the corrosion by grinding it off, and that he may need to put some bead sealer on the wheels.

Anne appreciated the service bay window, which allows curious customers to peek into the service area and watch what is going on with their vehicle.

When it looked like Anne was going to be late for an evening appointment, the service manager pitched in to help change tires and get Anne out the door on time.

After 1 1/2 hours, the service was completed, and we rolled out with nice new Dakota H/T's on Anne's old Escape, and clean battery terminals.

Pep Boys also passed another test of mine: they inflated the tires to the proper pressure. Some shops hire boneheads who think you are supposed to inflate the tires to their max sidewall rating, rather than what it says on the vehicle's door sticker. This has happened to me more than once.

The Dakota H/T's were a decent deal, with "buy 3 4th tire free", coming in at $119 x 3 or $357. However, Pep Boys charges extra for wheel balancing and "tire handling", so the actual charges were as follows:

Tire Mounting $0.0/ea
Tire Handling $2.50/ea $10.00 total
Wheel Balance $12.99/ea $51.96
Road Hazard $14.57/ea $58.28
Valve Stem $3.49/ea $13.96
These charges increased the cost of the tires to a pre-tax out-the-door price of $491/4, or about $123/ea., not including alignment. In general, I think it is better to have "out-the-door" pricing on tires, where the price includes everything needed to mount and balance the tires. Also, you should know that the 4th tire free is actually a rebate in the form of a prepaid Visa card, not cash back at time of service. Adding shop and other fees on separately feels tricky, because it allows stores to advertise apparently very low tire prices, but you are in fact only shopping the tire itself, not the whole service.

I think that Pep Boys is a decent place to get tires and other basic service done, though I can't judge on more serious repairs. They were courteous, efficient, and happy to explain their service to customers. They were thorough with their up-sell, offering many other services in addition to the originally requested items, but they were not push and took "no thanks" without drama. Most places you go for service will try to sell you additional service if they see an opportunity, and Pep Boys did not attempt the dreaded fluid-color ploy ("Look how dirty your coolant is compared to this shiny new coolant!"). I would prefer a single "out-the-door" price advertised on the tires.


  • eServe reservation system easy to use
  • Efficient, courteous service
  • Followed customer tire mounting instructions
  • Tires choices well explained
  • Tires were reasonably priced
  • 4th tire free promotion is a good deal
  • Service up-sell was not obnoxious, some of it was justified
  • Very basic waiting area; no free wi-fi or coffee
  • Several attempts to up-sell service
  • Advertised tire pricing leaves out required fees and parts
  • 4th tire free promotion uses a prepaid Visa card, not cash at time of service

*Disclosure: Pep Boys did not compensate me for this review, however, they did give a friend of mine a free set of new tires plus installation.

1 comment:

Cesar Hernandez said...

Great review of that one PepBoys location. But what about the quality of the tires? Road Noise, how are they holding up?

Would be great to get an update. I'm in the market for 4 tires, and I'm wondering if the "too good to be tru pricing" is just that.

Thanks70 quoEori