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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mita Tyre Chains - A Review - Fail !!

I will assume that you’ve landed here to read about my experience testing out the Mita Universal fit tyre chain , supplied by Exeros Technologies Ltd, which is just as well because I’m likely to ramble on for quite a while. It’s a long story, but covers my entire experience, hopefully if you are thinking to buy these it will be useful to you. Before laying out the close to £300 for these, I would recommend you read through to the end. If you can’t be bothered reading, you can skip to the conclusion at the end, but you’ll miss the story. (ed. - Following a comment I thought I'd point out up front that I don't actually get to try these chains on snow at all, sorry.)

I needed new tyre chains because I had just changed my car and, as appears to be a universal constant, my old chains don’t fit the new car. I use tyre chains to go skiing, and this is the use that my review is aimed at, if your purpose is different it is possible that your conclusion might differ from mine. I have substantial experience with all types of chains on the market, most recently with the Weissenfells Clack and Go Quattro which are probably the easiest to fit and suitable for cars with zero clearance on the inside of the tyre. The reason I didn’t immediately replace them with the same is that in my view the grip provided by them leaves a little to be desired, although it is adequate for most tasks. The last time I used them, I was unable to enter a car park with a steep, icy, entry ramp where cars with standard chains were able to. I put that down to the plastic pieces that interrupt the chain run.

These new chains caught my eye because they appeared revolutionary. The idea of being able to run them on any vehicle was appealing (although ironically I don’t intend changing this car for a long while) as potentially I could use them on my wife’s car, as well. The grip provided looked as if it would be excellent with continuous chain surface, and they were more compact than the Weisenfells.

I researched as much as I could and could find no independent review like this that explained what they were like in real life. However, I balanced it up, taking into account the cost. There are broadly three price points for tyre chains, the basic chain from around £40, easy fit variants for around £100 (neither of these are recommended for fitting to swathes of modern cars) and those around £300 which can be fitted to any car, whatever the clearance to the rear of the tyre. The Mita chains at £270+£10 p&p fall firmly in this camp. I made the mistake of thinking that if they were being marketed against the Weissenfells/Konig/Thule at that price, they would be of similar functionality. As we will see later, they are just not.

I ordered the chains from Exeros and they were shipped same day, arriving the next, top marks for efficiency.

The chains arrive in a neat tin, with all the components you need to make up two chains. That is: a quantity of the steel plates, long and short connecting links, a cranked key used to connect and disconnect the chain off the tyre, a screwdriver which you need to use to prise the chain apart, four heavy duty non permanent nylon ties (note: I am not calling them “releasable” as they are described in the literature, as they do not resemble the releasable ties I know such as, instead you have to lift the ratchet with a fingernail or screwdriver) a pair of long sleeved rubber gloves and an instruction manual. The quality of component manufacture I would describe as agricultural. The links are made from two stamped pieces welded together with varying degrees of precision, the plates have a small piece of silicon to prevent them falling apart that are pop-riveted again with varying degrees of precision resulting in them taking slightly different angles in the slots. Looking at it, I formed the opinion that this was being knocked out in a metalwork shop somewhere in Italy, with Giuseppe and Antonio laboriously working their way through a pile of welding – CNC machined, this is not. I don’t know how much the manufacturing process affects the finished product, I think it is safe to say that CNC components might work better especially for the links, but that is pure speculation.

Unfortunately, before I could test them out I had an accident breaking a bone in my hand. Although it wasn’t that serious, it meant it was three weeks before I could try to fit the chains.

Before fitting I read the instructions carefully and I built the chains as determined in the booklet for my tyres (245/45 18, so quite chunky) with the stated number of plates and links. I did observe there was a small tendency for the chains to fall apart, but thought at this stage that issue would not be significant. I set about trying to fit one to a tyre. Several things became obvious at this stage. First, the zip ties do not work well on broad tyres. That means that the chain has a tendency to slip through, where you would want it to be held reasonably firmly. The tighter you pull the tie, the harder it is for these non-permanent ties to be released (see earlier for why). Second, the crank key I had was not working properly, it was nigh impossible to get it to sit firmly on another link. I also could not get the chain to join up, there was around a 30mm gap, I struggled and fought but failed. It was clear that I needed to adjust the length of the chain, but there was no indication of what the proper gap was. Did the chain need to be longer? Did I need to pull harder? I couldn’t tell. That, combined with the evident high level of fuss needed to install these (compared with other chains) made me think I would be better off returning the chains to Exeros, as they were still in perfect condition – I hadn’t rotated the steering with them on, there was no visible damage.

So the next morning I phoned them up. The chap that answered the phone, when he found out that I had bought them three weeks ago (even though I told him about my hand) said there was no way they would take them back. He said that had I returned them in 7 days (as under the UK distance selling regulations) they would have accepted them. Whoopie doo, that’s what they have to do, by law, no favours there then. I even said I was quite prepared to accept a restocking charge, all they had to do was tell me how much, but no. I put the issue in writing and sent it to a company director with a copy of the x-ray showing the broken bone. When I phoned up this director was equally adamant that they “just couldn’t” accept them back outside of their terms and conditions despite my numerous requests and pointing out that it wasn’t that they couldn’t, but they didn’t want to. But, we carried on discussing the situation.

This conversation identified a few potential issues. First, they had experience in a very small number of cases of some of the crank keys being less than perfect causing the symptoms I was describing; he volunteered to send a replacement to be with me the next day, which he did. He also provided some information about the correct sizing of the chain (note again, that while the instructions refer to the fact that you may need to alter the length of chain from the recommended, they don’t tell you what it should look like!) and other suggestions how I could make the chains fit, such as how to turn the steering and the fact that some links are easier to use to link than others are (on a £300 piece of equipment???) I agreed to try again. It still seemed improbable to me that I couldn’t fit them, I am mechanically adept and confident so I should be able to use them. Even though I had already decided they were not ideal to fit by the roadside in the conditions you find in the Alps, I reckoned I should have been able to make them work and then they would do.

The following day, when the replacement key arrived, I removed the wheel from the car and successfully adjusted the chain and fitted it to the tyre. The second was easier still, and what do you know, I could put them on and take them off in seconds, just like on the video. Then I tried to fit them with the wheel on the car. I drove to an open space on tarmac, away from a kerb. The outside temperature was about -5, unusually for the UK, the sort of conditions you might expect up a mountain. Could I fit them? Could I heck. They were falling apart, disconnecting all the time, I just couldn’t make the connection between plates, I tried for about an hour, but failed completely. All that I managed to do was to snap one of the ratchets on the non-permanent ties, and make marks on the plates where I was running over them and turning the steering as instructed. Fail.

By this time I have had just about enough of the chains. I figure, if I can’t use them then they are simply not fit for purpose. It might be that with sufficient technical information fitting would be possible, but even so they are not fit for purpose as they fall apart, the ties break. For crying out loud, this is a £300 piece of kit – how much work am I supposed to do? – how much would you be prepared to do? I don’t think it is unreasonable is the manufacturer is claiming ease of fitting as a unique feature that they should be around as easy as the competition at that price point. Strike that – as easy as the competition at almost any price point. So I parcel them up and ship them back, explaining just why I think they are not fit for purpose. It seemed to me that the chains failing apart was caused by the cold and the silicon losing elasticity – here are some photos of the plates showing what I mean. If this was happening before I’d even used them, what would they be like after a month or two?

The silicon strips you can see poking through the holes should be horizontal, not vertical.

You won’t be disappointed to hear that Exeros maintained their high level of customer service. They wrote to me saying that as they hadn’t asked for them back, could I please collect them, they didn’t want them on their premises. They said that they couldn’t do anything with them as they were used and damaged (only because they told me to carry on trying to fit them, and frankly as they aren’t fit for purpose, it hardly makes a difference) and they were prepared to offer me a refund of £170. (As opposed to previously when they were undamaged and it was impossible to offer me anything…go figger). I pointed out that I was unhappy losing £120 but that I did not want to have the matter drag out, which I don’t. Taking a supplier through the small claims court is something I’ve never done as it looks like it just eats up your life, even though I am confident that the story here demonstrates my case comprehensively. Once they refunded the £170, our business was at an end.

You might ask, how much of this review is motivated by spite? Well, if I wasn’t so angry I wouldn’t have bothered writing it, for sure. But, it is factual in every detail and complete in all salient points. I will also offer Exeros the right of reply, which I will publish alongside. The real reason for doing this review is that I wish I’d had something like this to read before I ordered my set.

So, the conclusion about the Blumec Mita Tire Chains. First about the chains. If you were fitting these in a garage for use, say, in the UK in the snow, they may have something to be said for them, I am totally unqualified to say as I couldn’t fit them, some people must have used them and are probably happy. However, whichever way you look at it, they appear to represent poor value for money, and there are much better alternatives. The Weisenfells, for example fit very quickly and work adequately. Even if I could have fitted the Mita chains, their ease of use appears more than questionable – faffing around in thick snow with the chain falling apart around you or struggling to release a nylon tie with fingers blue from cold is not my version of fun. The idea that you can use them on different cars is probably a bit of a red herring, too (although again a potentially valid reason for buying them in the first instance). Given the issues I’ve noted in the components and manufacture, after using them a few times you may just have 13Kg of scrap metal that cost you £300. The alternative chains have excellent resale value (either back to the supplier or privately), reducing the pain. I wanted to believe that these Mita chains would work – after all I lashed out £300 for them – but for me, they just don’t.

Finally my conclusion about Exeros Technologies Ltd. This is actually a little more positive than it may have sounded as it appears that they do what they do quite well. In all instances, responses were fast and they did what they said they would. However, they confuse serving customers (which they do OK) with Customer Service, which they just don’t do in my experience. I wouldn’t ever use them again, but as long as you don’t have a problem that requires them to do something other than their legal minimum you should be OK. You feeling lucky?

Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments, I’d be especially curious to hear genuine stories of people using them successfully out in the real world, but then the chances of a person who is happy looking for a review are probably quite slim.