Where’s the best place to buy tires?
If you’ve read this post you know you need tires, but you’re probably wondering where to buy tires. Well, you’ve got lots of choices, from wholesale clubs, car dealers, national tire chain, local tire chains, online sellers, and independent repair shops. I’ll give you my personal opinions on the pros and cons of each, starting with the tire sellers I like the best.
Should you buy tires from a national tire chains like Firestone, Goodyear, Discount Tires, Americas Tires, Big O Tires, etc.
These places really know tires. They know which tires are best for your particular car because they sell tires all day. And, they know how to “read” tires, so they can get you back on track if they spot a problem early on.
They usually carry the largest selection of brands and models. And, since they don’t do auto repair, they don’t pressure you into buying other services. In most cases they’ll match or beat other stores’ prices. My favorite tire stores are Discount Tires, Americas Tires, and Big O Tires.
Tire stores like Firestone and Goodyear are also good choices even though they offer repair services. The only downside is that they tend to push their own brands. That’s not a bad thing because Firestone, Goodyear, Bridgestone are top quality brands. But you’ll pay more for other brands because they’ll have to order them in from another source.
The only downside to buying from a tire store that only sells tires is that it’s slightly inconvenient because you have to take your car to a different shop for all other services.
Should you buy tires from a local independently owned repair shop?
If you go to an independent repair shop and trust their work, by all means, buy tires from them. You’ll probably pay a bit more since these shops aren’t able to buy tires as cheaply as the big chains. On the other hand, they value your business and want to keep you as a customer, so it’s worth paying a bit more.
Should you buy tires online from Tirerack.com?
Tirerack.com is one of the few online sellers that I know and trust. They are the single most authoritative source on tire performance. They independently test tires on their own tracks. They independently rate tires. They include owner feedback on how the tires performed over their life. They have an extensive library of tire information. Even if you decide not to buy from them, at least use them to narrow your choices for brand and model.
Now, should you buy from them? Well, kinda. When they first started in business you’d order tires and they’d ship them to your home. You had to find a shop to mount them. That’s changed. Now, Tirerack.com has made arrangements with local shops to receive the tire shipment and mount and balance your tires. If you don’t need tires installed today and Tirerack.com has an installer in your area, you can feel confident buying from them.
Should you buy tires from the car dealer
I’m not a big fan of buying tires from the car dealer. First, tires aren’t their primary business. They only sell tires so they can get you back in the door every 5,000 miles for tire rotation. Once you’re in the door, they can inspect your car and recommend additional services. Second, they carry a limited selection of brands and models. Third, their prices aren’t the lowest.
But the biggest reason I don’t like buying tires from the dealer is because they really don’t know tires very well—it’s just not their specialty. Tires tell a story if you know how to read the tread wear patterns and I’ve found that dealers are clueless when it comes to diagnosing tires as the cause of steering and handling issues. The technicians tend to suspect mechanical components as the source of these problems before they even consider the tires.
I’ve seen well respected car dealers talk customers into expensive repairs to correct thumping noise, steering pull, and squeal in turns. After spending money on those repairs, the problems remained and, when finally diagnosed, the problem turned out to be a tire defect that could have been spotted easily by a trained tire technician.
Should you buy tires from chain repair shops like chain/franchise operated repair shops like NTB, PepBoys, Sears, Midas, etc.
Again, this is just my opinion, but just like car dealers, I think these shops are really more interested in selling repair services. Selling tires and offering free tire rotation is just a way to keep you coming back for more inspections and more “recommended” services.
In addition, many of these stores sell “store brand” tires. Those are tires made by major tire companies but “private labeled” for the chain. If you buy a private labeled tire and the tire fails due to a factory defect when you’re on a trip, you won’t be able to get it replaced under warranty. I really dislike private labeled tire brands, and I’ve found that they’re really no cheaper than a name brand tire. So why buy them?
Should you buy tires from a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s Club?
My second least favorite place to buy tires is from a wholesale club. First, even if you’re buying a name brand tire, chances are the tire model isn’t the exact same tire you’ve get if you bought the tire from a tire store. Tire manufacturers often sell an altered version of a tire model to these wholesale clubs. The model usually contains a suffix letter to denote that it’s slightly different. They do that so you can’t compare apples to apples. Is there an actual difference in the tires you buy at a wholesale club? Yes. I’ve interview several engineers at tire manufacturers and they all confirm that the altered tire models are made with slightly cheaper materials than the same model sold to retail tire shops.
You also have a more limited selection of brands and models from a wholesale club. On the other hand, you’re paying a bit less. So the question remains, is it worth it? Well, if you’re talking strictly price, yes. But there’s another consideration.
Mounting and rotating tires isn’t rocket science. When it comes to technician training, tire techs are on the lowest rung, right next to lube techs. In fact, it’s pretty hard to do it wrong, except for one step—tightening the lug nuts when they place the wheel back on your car. That’s critical, because if they over-tighten the lug nuts, the excessive torque can cause break the studs and cause brake pedal pulsation problems. If they don’t tighten the lug nut enough, they can loosen and the wheel can fall off.
There are two ways to torque lug nuts; with a torque wrench and with Torque sticks. Torque sticks are designed to tighten lug nuts to a certain tightness range, after which the tech is supposed to perform a final torque with a calibrated torque wrench. I’ve watched wholesale club techs use torque sticks but not follow up with a torque wrench. To me, that’s a deal breaker because a torque stick isn’t accurate enough. If you notice brake pedal pulsation within a few thousand miles after getting new tires, it’s because the shop didn’t properly torque the lug nuts so they’re all at the same torque. Good luck getting a wholesale club to take responsibility for that. If you’d like to learn more about lug nut torque and brake pedal pulsation, read this post.
What’s the benefit of buying a lifetime tire rotation and tire balancing package?
Let’s us a 2010 Mazda CX-7 crossover/SUV for our comparison. It’s typical of many late crossover/SUV model vehicles with low profile tires.
A low cost tire for this vehicle costs around $240.
Cost per mile with tire store rotation package
4 tires at $240 each plus $20/each rotation/balance add on. $1,040 ÷ 60,000 miles = 0.0173/mile
Cost per mile with rotations done every 5,000 miles at $25 each
4 tires at $240 each plus $300 for rotation. $1,260 ÷ 60,000 miles = 0.0210/mile
So you can see that buying a tire rotation and tire balancing package saves money over buying tires from a dealer or shop that charges you for every tire rotation. If you don’t buy the lifetime tire rotation and tire balancing package, you’ll pay 21.5% more.
What’s the bottom line for the best place to buy tires?
Buy from a tire store or an independent repair shop that you trust. Skip the car dealer and chain operated repair shops where tires are a sideline.
©, 2016 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat