1. The tire buying conundrum
Unless you plan to install the new tires yourself, negotiating the price of a new set of tires can be more complicated than most people anticipate. This is because, in nearly every case, the customer is buying both a product and a service.
- The product = new tires.
- The service = installation, warranty, rotation, etc.
So even if a tire costs one flat fee, installing that tire then incurs another fee. And what if you drive off the lot and the tire goes flat…so maybe you also need a tire warranty. Then, of course, there is the tire menu itself—which type of tire do you need?
Here, you have three typical options:
- Stick with what you know: Buy a new version of the same exact tire you already have (if available).
- Go cheaper: Buy a cheaper tire to save funds.
- Upgrade: Buy a more expensive tire. This is typically only a wise choice if you are experiencing trouble handling your vehicle (for instance, in severe rain, ice, snow).
All else being equal, experienced car salespersons say that buying the same tire your vehicle came installed with is the smartest choice.
2. Know what you need and stick to your guns
I have a trusted mechanic I always go to for pricey car repairs. He has never steered me wrong—not once in the last decade. But if you do not have someone you trust to guide you, do your own research before you buy. Knowing what you need ahead of time is the best way to avoid getting suckered into overpaying for tires and related services.
These tips will help as you research:
- Tires are your most important purchase: Your car depends on your tires to stay on the road. If your tires are not reliable, the other bells and whistles truly do not matter!
- Be aware of tire lifespan: Uniform Tire Quality Grading, or UTQG, is a measurement of how long your tires will last (extreme road conditions excepted). A tire with a UTQG of 100 is the "standard" measure. So any tire with a UTQG rating >100 will last that much longer (i.e., a tire with a UTQG of 150 will last 50% longer than the "typical" tire).
- Take a look at the tire warranty: You can also estimate a tire's useful life by looking at its warranty (for instance, if it is under warranty for 40,000 miles, you can calculate how many miles you typically drive in a year to figure out how long that tire will last you).
- Yes, you can "mix" tires: A common tactic among tire salespersons is to tell customers that mixing tire brands is taboo. According to Edmunds.com, this is a myth. You absolutely can mix tires (although for safety's sake, it is best to try to have two of the same brand for your two front tires).
3. A word about “upselling”
In a tire salesperson's world, the best time to "upsell" you on other services is when your car is already up on the rack getting new tires installed. The most common up-sales pitches are for brake jobs, alignments, shocks replacements and oil changes.
- The low price choice: Prepare in advance to say no to these offers. Just get your tires replaced and then deal with anything else your vehicle may need separately or you risk over-spending for services you don't really need.
Note: While you may actually need an alignment, you can visually assess this yourself by looking to see if your tire tread is unevenly worn. If the sales person refuses to permit you to complete your own visual assessment, just have them install the tires and then take your old discarded tires with you to a shop you trust (so you and your mechanic can examine the tread together).
4. Rent or buy?
I wasn't aware until recently that renting tires has become a popular alternative to outright tire purchases. However, studies and customer feedback confirms that renting tires can cost twice as much over the life of the tire as simply buying them outright.
- The low price choice: Unless you find yourself in a true financial bind, steer clear of tire rentals!
5. New or used?
Buying used tires may not be an advertised option at most tire retailers, but it is an option just the same. Once, I got a flat on a Sunday and the only shop open was Discount Tire. The only tire they had that would fit was "gently used." I used the heck out of that tire for over a year before it needed to be replaced. The best part? It only cost me $60 for the tire plus installation labor!
- The low price choice: Before assuming only new tires will do, ask if there are any used tires available that will fit your vehicle (especially if you have an untimely repair and only need a single tire).
6. Choosing your tire retailer
Tires are not a high profit margin item for auto retailers. As such, there is plenty of competition between merchants for your business. You want to select a retailer based not just on tire price (many offer price matching and periodic discounts and promotions), but also on installation fees, tire disposal fees and other perks.
5 Nationwide tire retailers to research:
- Discount Tire / America's Tire: $16 installation fee (4 tires), $2.50 disposal fee
- Sears: $18.49 per tire installation fee, $3.50 per tire disposal fee
- Walmart: $12 per tire installation fee, disposal fee not listed
- Costco: With club membership, installation fee is $14 and disposal fee is $1
- Firestone: Fees are not posted online
Your local dealership
Don't discount your local dealership as an option—often they’re more likely to have the exact tire your vehicle came with, especially if it is a specialty tire. Plus, dealerships are competing for your business too and often run special promotions.