My Adventures With Our 2007 Nissan Quest SE and Michelin PAX Tires

Preview

My quest is to force Nissan to do the right thing and offer to replace the defective PAX tire system on this vehicle either through voluntary or government ordered recall.  Why? Read on.

Imagine you are in the market for a new minivan.  Now imagine I was selling you a fully loaded Nissan Quest minivan.  Among all the awesome features; navigation, sunroofs for all, fully automatic doors, I mention that it has run-flat tires.  “Is that good?”, you ask.  Sure, it will keep your family safer and doesn’t cost much more.  OK you think, no problem, I can always replace them with regular tires.  This is about how our purchase process went.  And for the most part we loved our Nissan Quest until our recent experience soured us on Nissan.  What follows is a history of our unbelievable and ongoing Odyssey (no pun intended) with Nissan and Michelin, an experience shared with everyone who bought the Quest with the PAX system, as well as Honda Odyssey Touring owners who are suffering the same fate.

We bought our 2007 Nissan Quest SE fully loaded on November 6, 2007.  What they don’t tell you when you are buying the car is that along with the run-flat tires, this brand new $40,000 2007 Nissan Quest SE has special wheels that only work with a single tire – PAX – from a single manufacturer – Michelin.  This is not the sort of question I would have thought to ask about.  After all, it is not customary to buy a car that can only use a single kind of tire.  The normal expectation is that you can pretty much put whatever tires on your car that you want, run-flat or not.  I still might not have been too worried – after all, I have always used Michelin tires and they have always been great.  On the other hand, I most certainly would not have bought a car that could only use a single tire, no matter who made it, had I known.

Well, we did not know what we were in for so off we drove with our sparkling new car.  Unfortunately our experience with the PAX tire system is unlike our experience with any other Michelin tire.  The Quest is our replacement for a Jeep Grand Cherokee.  I bought a set of Michelin tires at Sears on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago shortly after we bought the Jeep.  Those tires lasted nearly 90,000 miles.  I had Michelin tires on my old Volkswagen Jetta some years ago.  Those tires lasted 70,000 miles or so.  Last week I replaced all 4 of the tires on our 1997 Nissan Quest when it had 20,600 miles.   20,000 miles!?!?!?!?!

At 4,427 miles (03/20/2008) we had the wheels aligned by our dealer, Mid-City Nissan, because the car pulled left.  At 7,412 miles (06/19/2008), we had our 6 month service done, which includes a tire rotation, and at which point we noticed that the front tires seemed a bit worn for such low mileage.  At 11,575 miles (09/11/2008), we took it in because the tire light was on in the dash, indicating one of the pressure sensors was not working.  All of the tires had appropriate pressure and they fixed the sensor.  Again we mentioned the premature tire wear to the service people at the dealer and they tried to tell us how tires certainly wear, and we need to get an alignment done every 5,000 miles or something absurd like that.   At 15,525 miles (12/26/2008) we took it in for its 15,000 mile service and had the tires rotated again, at which point we were told that the front tires were down to the little notch that indicates the end of life of the tire.  I was pretty busy so I was unable to look into it immediately.  At 18,000 miles or so, we took a trip to Minnesota to visit my parents (04/09/2009).  My wife looked at the tires and wanted to get them replaced before the trip.  There was no time, so we went on the bad tires.  When we got back I started looking into the issue.

Our Tire Replacement Experience

What I found was astonishing.  I was not pleased to be replacing tires on a new car less that a year and a half after we had bought it with 37 miles on it.  A cursory search of the internet indicated I was not the only one less than pleased with their Michelin PAX tire system.  First of all, there are the 2 class action lawsuits.  The same law firm is handling the cases, one against Michelin and Honda (http://www.sfmslaw.com/pages/cases.php?id=343), and one against Michelin and Nissan (http://www.sfmslaw.com/pages/cases.php?id=680).  The Honda lawsuit has reached the settlement stage.  The settlement essentially provides that Michelin will provide enhanced warranty for PAX owners.  Oh great.  The Nissan case has not reached the settlement phase, but presumably that is a formality.  The settlement will likely be identical to the settlement in the Honda case.  It will not help PAX owners more than marginally.  What the lawsuit settlement provides is some assurance that Michelin will warant the tires as they should.  But what is needed is new Non-PAX wheels and tires.

Well the first thing we did when we got back from Minnesota is contact the dealer.  They told us they couldn’t do anything about it and gave us telephone numbers for Michelin (1-877-PAX-TIRE or 1-877-729-8473 which you can also find at their website http://www.michelinman.com/pax/) and the telephone number for Nissan Consumer Affairs (800-647-7261 which you can find at http://www.nissanusa.com/apps/contactus or 1-866-799-1690 which is Nissan North America if you have the 4 digit extension of a consumer affairs rep already).  When I called Michelin, they told me they could help with the tires, but for anything else I must contact Nissan.  So I contacted Nissan Consumer Affairs.  Eventually a regional rep named Joanne K. contacted me.  I explained the outrageous situation to her, and requested that Nissan provide me with new wheels, while I would provide new tires.  She agreed that it was insane and said she would see what she would do.  A week later she called back and said that Nissan would be unable to help me in any way.  She said the problem lay with Michelin.

At this point I needed to replace the tires because they had worn so far as to become dangerous, so I contacted Michelin again.  They said I needed to get measurements of the remaining tread made and that the replacement tires would be discounted on a pro-rata basis based on mileage.  Now, somewhat fortuitously, on 4/25/2009 my wife came home and said that the tire pressure on one of the tires was low.  It turned out there was a nail in the left rear tire.  On 4/28/2009 we contacted our dealer, because we have some expensive warranty that covers this, and then we contacted Michelin who actually sent an entire wheel and tire fully assembled by courier to our house at no charge.  Michelin had said they would send this on a tow truck, but on the morning of 4/29/2009 a van shows up and the driver rang our doorbell.  I answered the door and he said that he had a tire, where was the old one.  I said well you can go around to the alley, the old tire is still on the car.  The courier was somewhat flummoxed by this as he said he needed to take the old one with him but he was unable to change the wheel and tire out.  Luckily our dealer is right down the street so I asked the courier to follow me there.  The dealer at first said that they wouldn’t touch the PAX tire until I pointed out that all they had to do was remove the lug nuts, swap the wheels and replace the lug nuts.  They relented and mounted the new wheel and tire.  I can say that after driving the car 2 blocks on this “run-flat” tire, I cannot imagine riding 100 miles or more at 55 MPH on such a flat in the wild.  The ride was loud and not smooth.  And I never got over 15 MPH.  In any event, Michelin said I could take the car to either McGrath Honda, which is in the city of Chicago about 5 miles or 15-20 minutes from where I live, or Sears in Schaumburg, which is 16 miles or 30-60 minutes from where I live, depending on traffic.  I called Honda, but they were really hung up on the fact that the car was a Nissan so I took the car out to Sears in Schaumburg, Illinois (the nearest place that could work on PAX tires that is not a Honda dealer) on that afternoon of 4/29/2009.

Sears measured, in 32nds of an inch, the tread in 3 places on each tire (outside, center and inside).  Here are their measurements at 20,435 miles on 4/29/2009, or 1 year, 5 months and 23 days after we bought the brand new car:

Left Front:  1,0,0
Right Front: 2,2,1
Left Rear:  10,10,10
Right Rear:  3,3,4

After measuring the tread, the Sears guy got on the phone with Michelin to get an RGA number.  The RGA number allows Sears to sell me new tires at a discount provided by Michelin.  The new tires list at $209, which Sears discounts to about $186.  Michelin told them they would offer me a 50% discount.  I was determined not to pay more than $75 per tire for the new tires.  So I took the phone and told the Michelin rep that I would not pay more that $75 per tire for the 3 tires we now needed to replace.  The rep said “That isnt how we do things.  Why $75?”  I replied “Here is how I get there.  The best set of normal tires they sell here goes for something like $150 per tire.  Now assuming, giving you (Michelin) the benefit of the doubt, that normal tires last only 40,000 miles, these have worn out in half the time, so I will pay half of $150 or $75.”  The rep said, “But you didn’t buy normal tires, you bought the PAX tires.”  I replied, “Well, I did not know that at the time, and if I had known that the PAX system was utter garbage, I certainly would not have bought them.  If you get to 60% then we have a deal.”  Ultimately the rep said that as a one time gesture of good will, he would approve a discount of 60%.  This brought the price down to $74 per tire.  Of course I had to pay $60 per tire to get them installed because the Michelin PAX system requires special equipment used only by a specially trained tire installer.  All in, I put down a deposit of $504.23, including $69.99 for alignment and something more for tax to replace the 3 tires.

The next problem was that the Sears dealer only stocked the PAX tire that is sized for the Honda Odyssey (the other unfortunate group of people who have to deal with this travesty).  So they would have to order the tires, the nearest set of which was fairly nearby in Michigan.  The tires arrived on May 6th, a week after my first visit to Sears (4+ business days).  So I now have a brand new set of PAX tires on the car, one at about 20,400 miles and the other 3 at about 20,600 miles.  This buys me another 15 months until these tires wear out to pursue the real remedy for this situation, which is to force Nissan to provide Non-PAX wheels for the car to replace the defective-by-design PAX system.

Review and Summary

So let’s review what is going on here.  In November 2007 we bought this fantastic new 2007 Nissan Quest SE with Navigation which we like very much.  By April 2009, less than 18 months later, with a mere 20,000 miles on the car, our tires are completely worn out and we have to replace all 4 tires, one of which was fortuitously free, the other three costing $500 after receiving a 60% discount on the tires.  We had to wait a week for replacement tires to arrive and be installed at the nearest place that can work on them, which is an hour away in traffic, at a time when the car is less than 18 months old ( I had to make 3 trips out to Sears, one to get the tread measured and order the tires, one to drop off the car since the only guy who works on them comes in at noon only on certain days, and one to pick it up the next day).  And this is in the 3rd largest city in the United States.

When we bought the car we were told we had run-flat tires and that this was a good thing.  What we were not told is that these PAX run-flat tires will wear out completely after 18,000-20,000 miles, offering less than a third of the life of normal tires.  They also didn’t tell us that rather than being a little bit more expensive, the PAX tires cost around $200 each (and from what I have read below this is a very cheap price).  They also didn’t tell us that the cost to mount each tire is not $10 or $20 but $60 for each tire, or $240 for a set of 4.  Had we known this, we might have been a little less enthusiastic about buying this nice new car, given that the tires would cost between 5 and ten times what normal tires cost over the life of the car.

But the fun doesn’t end here.  In addition to not telling us that we are limited to this one tire from this one manufacturer due to the car having special wheels that are incompatible with any other tire, it must have slipped their mind to mention that to even work on these tires requires a specially trained tire specialist working on special and expensive equipment.  So what you say?  Well, it turns out that very very few places where you would normally expect to be able to have someone do something about your tires will make this investment, so if you actually need your tires repaired or replaced, you cannot do it anywhere near where you live.  In fact the dealership where we bought the new car cannot even change our tires because they have neither the equipment nor the personnel necessary to do so.

Just to add insult to injury, the one manufacturer who makes the tire has decided that because it is so uneconomical, and because consumer response is so uniformly negative, they are not going to make the tire system any longer, except to replace the ones already on the road (see NY Times story about PAX end of life  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/automobiles/20TIRES.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1242163022-pDG9WTPpZ76Gt/A6UsAcww and Story about Michelin End of Lifing PAX  http://www.uslaw.com/library/California/Michelin_Abandons_Pax_RunFlat_Tire_System.php?item=66298).  So over time we can expect that fewer and fewer places will be able to change our tire, and that if we keep our car for some number of years there is a high and rising risk that we will simply not be able to get new tires for our car unless we pay to get new non-PAX wheels and tires.  This is the real problem and why the only sufficient remedy is to get new non-PAX wheels and tires for the car from Nissan now.

So the ultimate solution is to replace the PAX wheels and tires with normal wheels and tires.  According to our dealer, new normal wheels cost something like $500 each.  Through a third party, the total cost would be something like $2,000 to replace all the wheels and the tires.  Of course that is if you can even do it.  If you read the posts by other in the links I have found below, there is some question whether you might void your warranty if you change out the wheels because apparently the car was designed for this tire system.  Brilliant it was to design your car around a tire system that would be obsolescent a year later.

Needless to say, if I do not get satisfaction from Nissan and Michelin on this issue, this will be the last Nissan we will ever own, and also the last set of Michelin tires.

Other Useful Links

I was interested to read other people’s experiences and their solutions.  The following links are useful.

Personal story of PAX nightmare  http://lifelessonsmilitarywife.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-odyssey-with-honda-odyssey-minivan.html

Nightmare of Year Award  http://lifelessonsmilitarywife.blogspot.com/2008/05/honda-and-michelin-both-win-nightmare.html

Another Personal horror story  http://blog.dasignz.com/blog/post/2009/02/NIssan-Quest-Michelin-PAX-Run-Flat-Tire-System.aspx

Replaced PAX wheels  http://questdriver.com/node/567

Addresses for complaints included http://forums.automotive.com/70/13003/tires/michelin-pax-system/page5.html

More stories http://forums.automotive.com/70/13003/tires/michelin-pax-system/page9.html#7600227

Stories of premature wear  http://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/nissan_quest.html

NY Times story of problems as early as March 2007 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE7D91231F932A25750C0A9619C8B63

Honda PAX stories including DePax link  http://www.topix.com/forum/autos/honda-odyssey/TCLK819CRAK75T591

DePax article  http://www.planetporsche.net/reviews/showproduct.php?product=220

YouTube video on DePaxing  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9ML9oQlf7M

More stories  http://forums.automotive.com/70/1032787/tires-wheels/honda-odyssey-pax-system/index.html

Replacing PAX on Nissan Quest with links to replacement products  http://questdriver.com/node/506

If you are reading this and have a 2007 Nissan Quest or a Honda Odyssey with PAX, file complaints at http://www.autosafety.org and http://www.nhtsa.gov