Mobile auto services are more common than you might realize. At least in Los Angeles, it’s pretty easy to find a detailer, a mechanic or even a body and paint tech to come out and work on your car wherever. Now, you can even get tires mounted and balanced. Here’s how it works and what my experience with ZipTire, in particular, was like.
(Full Disclosure: Every brand and company mentioned in this post is an outfit I paid with my own money for their products and services. I’m not sponsored by or affiliated with any of them and neither is Jalopnik. That said, both the wheel vendor FN Wheels and tire seller/installer ZipTire knew Jalopnik and were aware that I might blog about my experiences with them.)
Good tires are arguably your car’s most critical components. They affect every aspect of performance, so you’re going to want the best ones you can afford, make sure they’re sized appropriately for what you want your vehicle to do, and have them installed correctly. This is something I profess all the time, and as such, the dismal condition of my 1975 International Scout’s 33x12.5/R15 tires was a cause of extreme stress and shame for me. They didn’t even fit the truck! I hit the fenders every time I made a full-lock turn. It was idiotic.
Meanwhile, my ’98 Montero was rocking really nice set of nearly-new 33x10.5/R15 BF Goodrich KO2s that fit perfectly with its mild lift. That was one of the reasons I bought the truck. But while they afforded my Mitsubishi excellent off-road traction, ground clearance, and puncture resistance, they were also sapping acceleration, braking, and fuel economy.
KO2s are so popular and well-marketed that they almost seem like the “default” choice in all-terrain tires. They are good, but they’re also heavier than everything else on the market. Extra meat makes KO2s hard to kill, but extra rotational mass is going to make it harder for the vehicle they’re mounted on to speed up and slow down.
My Montero was a little too tall and sluggish for the long-hauler duties I planned, and on top of that, I learned that it could accept a 315 mm brake rotor upgrade using OEM parts from a Montero Sport to increase braking power. But, those big brakes required 16-inch wheels to fit.
Finally, an epiphany: I could get new wheels and tires for my Montero to shave some unsprung weight and ride height off that truck, then move my good KO2s over to the Scout to kill the rub and have tread again, then throw the used-up KOs on the Scout in the trash where they belonged, effectively properly re-shoeing both vehicles for the price of one.
I don’t know where you’re at in life, but a set of five (don’t off-road without a real spare) good all-terrain tires in this size, installed is over $1,000 and that’s a really big splurge for me.
Frugality’s actually a big part of why I ending up going with up ZipTire to take care of my tire shell game. That, and the fact that rally driver Andrew Comrie-Picard answered my email when I sent them an inquiry asking for an estimate.
ACP, as he’s known in the car scene, has established himself as something of a tire expert through work with BF Goodrich and years of pro driving. I have noticed he really likes to plug BFG when he sees a chance, but I trust his knowledge of what makes a good tire and I felt like that added some credibility to this tire-installation company which I learned was his brainchild.
But there are plenty of tire experts in LA. What sold me on ZipTire was the price quote, which not only meet or undercut my usual nearby go-to shops, but actually beat the special discount on rubber I get at TireBuyer.com through my paid membership at The Motoring Club. And they’d send a van to my apartment and change the wheels up while my trucks were street parked? Hell yeah.
I could do a whole other blog post about how hard it was to find wheels that fit my exact specifications and how long it took me to choose tires, but the end of that story is that I got a sweet set of Konigs shipped to my apartment from FN Wheels in Orange, California, had ZipTire order a set of 31.6-inch diameter Cooper Discoverer AT3 all-terrain tires to mount on them, and we made a date for them to come by.
ZipTire’s guy Robert rolled up when he said he was going to and we assessed his work space. The road my apartment building’s on has an abnormally large pull-off area for street parking, which he said was more than sufficient. “I’ve done a lot worse,” he told me. You really don’t need much space for this job–just a few feet off a curb, and room for a full-sized Ford Transit to hover. Inside the van is where the mounting and balancing happens.
The van carries everything: mounting machine, balancer, weights, lube, valve stems, jacks, it’s a tire shop on, well, wheels.
Robert was mildly skeptical that my Montero’s skinny 10.5-inch wide tires would fit on wheels currently holding 12.5-inch wide ones, but after we confirmed it’d be viable with his measuring caliper, we went to work.
Or, I should say, Robert went to work. I just carried my new wheels out to him, gave him a bottle of water and let him do his thing while I took these pictures and asked questions about tire mounting. In response to my offers to help, truck tires are real heavy after all, Robert just laughed and said his boss (that ACP guy I mentioned) “would kill me if I put a client to work!”
Robert mounted the new Cooper tires on the new wheels quickly and competently using the machine in his van while we chatted and I pretended to be chill while freaking out that I might have to watch one of my mint Konigs get scratched. But I had nothing to worry about–the rubber mounted up cleanly.
Robert’s next task was to balance the tires, which he and any other tire tech will tell you, is a pain in the ass with heavy large-diameter truck tires. This is done by spinning the tire on a device that reports how evenly placed the tire and wheel combo’s weight is, and Robert applied little quarter-ounce weights where the machine told him to.
There are ways to balance wheels without those little sticky weights, but this is a common balancing method and the technique ZipTire uses. I’ve actually heard of these weights coming off with hard off-road use, but I’ve never experienced that myself so I’m not too wary. If this looks problematic, I’m sure you’ll read about it in the comments:
Interestingly, of the ten wheels Robert mounted and balanced, only one or two seemed time-consuming to balance. He basically said that this a byproduct of the organic nature of tires–no two are truly identical.
Robert’s project took a long time, but, he was very pleasantly upbeat about spending his day heaving 15 heavy off-road tires on and off and indulging my desire to reuse old tires from one truck on another.
I liked hanging out with him, but one of ZipTire’s main benefits is that it’s basically zero effort for the customer. Just have the tech drive to your house or office, hand them your car key, and don’t sweat it again until you have to swipe your credit card. As far as convenience, it’s a lot more appealing than driving to a shop and dealing with pickup and dropoff.
But I also liked that I could hover and stay posted on the project in realtime. Combine that with a reasonable price and prompt service, ZipTire seems like a pretty solid option based on my experience. As long as those wheel weights don’t come off any time soon, I’m impressed.