Tire shopping can be confusing when you take into account the different tire manufacturers, tire ratings, warranties, services, etc. It can be even more confusing when you are caught of guard and haven’t had time to do your research before realizing you need new tires – tire buying is often something people either forget to plan for or something they have to do at a moment’s notice due to a blow out or other emergency. The last thing you want to happen when buying ties is to feel like you are being taken advantage of. Hopefully these tips will help you save money on tires when you make your next purchase.
Buy The Right Tires
Knowledge is your friend, especially when it comes to making a large purchase you only make every few years. Try to do some research before stepping foot into the auto shop. This will help you have the information you need to make an informed decision.
The most important thing to do is make sure you buy the right tires for your car – this includes things like tire size, speed rating, type of tire (all-weather, winter, etc.), and other factors. We put this tire buying guide together a few years ago to help you learn some of the important aspects of buying ties.
Buying the correct size tires for your car will increase vehicle performance and help your tires last longer. They can also prevent damage to your vehicle and provide better gas mileage. The correct tire size is located in your owner’s manual or sometimes on the inside of the driver’s door.
Tire speed ratings are also important, and not just so you can drive faster than the posted speed limit. The speed ratings are found on the tire, usually listed as a single letter after the model number on the tire is the speed rating. The main difference between the speed ratings is the sidewall stiffness – which has an affect on how the car handles. Stiffer sidewalls generally offer better performance and handling. Tires rated for higher speeds are often made with better materials.
Each vehicle has a specific tire speed rating recommended by the manufacturer. It is OK to use a tire that is rated for a higher speed, but you may experience poor performance or shorter tire life if you use a tire with a lower speed rating.
The speed ratings can also be confusing because they are not listed in alphabetical order. Here are the tire speed ratings and other technical ratings from Tirerack.com (a great source for buying tires online).
Tire Warranties and Service Are Important
Most stores offer a one year guarantee on their tires, which may include warranties against road hazards. There is usually a manufacturer warranty on the tire as well, which is usually limited to normal wear and doesn’t include road hazards. It’s important to read the manufacturer warranty, as there are usually exclusions for improper care. In most cases, you are required to rotate and balance the tires regularly for the warranty to remain in effect. There are several benefits to regularly rotating and balancing your tires: maintain the warranty, improved performance and handling, longer tire life, increased gas mileage, and reduced wear and tear on your vehicle.
Where to Buy Tires
It can be difficult to accurately compare tire prices between companies, as they listed prices don’t always reflect the installed price, nor do they always reflect other costs, such as shipping (if purchased online), ongoing maintenance, rebates, etc. When buying tires or making other large purchases, I find it helpful to create a spreadsheet that lists the item price, and other factors such as installation, shipping, ongoing maintenance, etc.
Here are some of the pros and cons of buying tires at some of the following locations.
Warehouse stores (Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc.). My wife and I recently got a Costco Membership and I realized they have excellent tire prices. Costco charges an installation fee, but they also offer The Installation Package which includes Lifetime Maintenance Services which include inflation pressure checks, tire balancing, tire rotations, and flat repairs.
Nationwide and regional chains (Firestone, Discount Tire, Wal-mart, etc). I prefer to buy tires from nationwide chains because you can get warranty work virtually anywhere. (I once spent an hour in a repair shop with a guy who had a brand new tire blow out while on a cross-country trip. Unfortunately, the shop where his warranty was valid was 1,000 miles away).
I bought my tires at Firestone where I also bought a lifetime alignment for my vehicle. The tire service package came with free lifetime tire balance and rotation. I usually have my tires rotated and balanced with each oil change, and I get an alignment check at least once a year. These actions help me save money on car repairs.
Buy tires online. TireRack is one of the most popular online retailers (and they have a ton of great information, such as the tire speed chart I mentioned above). TireRack partners with local service providers for installation, so you can often get your tires installed as part of the purchase price. However, I’m not sure about the long term service plans they offer. So while they may offer the lowest up front prices, you may come out ahead paying slightly more elsewhere if they tires come with a lifetime service package.
Buying Extras Such as Road Hazard Warranties
Most dealerships and service shops offer additional warranties above and beyond the manufacturer warranty. These are often available for a few dollars per tire (costs vary by vendor), and may or may not be a good deal, depending on the fine print. I strongly recommend reading the road hazard warranty before purchasing the added insurance, as some road hazard warranties are full of limitations and exclusions. If you can get it for a few dollars per tire, though, it is probably worth it. (I had a tire blow within 1,000 miles of buying a new car and I had to buy a brand new tire from the dealership, which was fairly expensive. I would have preferred having a road hazard warranty to replace the tire!).
Use Coupons and Rebates
After researching where to buy tires, you should look for coupons and rebates (again, this is where a spreadsheet can come in handy). Be sure to check the manufacturer website for discounts, as well as sites online rebate sites like Ebates (they offer online rebates, plus $10 just for opening an account). You can also save money on tires by finding discounts in places like the Yellow Pages, the Entertainment Book, and sometimes smartphone apps. Be sure to note the difference between coupons and rebates, as coupons are instant savings and rebates can be a hassle.
Putting it All Together
As I mentioned, I typically use a spreadsheet to help make large purchases. This helps me compare apples to apples and see everything in one place. Once I have the number in place, I compare the service packages, warranties, rebates, and the intangibles, such as convenience and reputation. Buying tires from the same place as you have the majority of your car maintenance performed is another benefit as repair shops also keep a log of all maintenance performed on your vehicle. In the end, it’s not always about saving the most money. I’m willing to pay a few dollars more if I have access to a lifetime service plan and a convenient location.