Forgive this boring-ass post, but this is sometimes nitty gritty area of being a dad or husband is all about. I’m always looking for easier or cheaper ways of doing stuff, and I believe how I do my tires is pretty effective and wastes less of my time with less hassle than traditional ways. This is the time of year that those of us in the midwest or northeast need to be paying attention since tires can mean the difference between safe driving and an accident in inclement weather (not to mention driving smart).
Traditional Way to Tire Shop
Here’s how most people do it. They ignore their tires, until they get to a tune-up or oil change and the guys at the shop tell them they are down to the point where they need new tires. Then they’ll pressure you to buy the tires they have in stock, you might get one or three choices to choose from, and that’s that. You won’t have any time to research if any of those tires are any good, nor will you really know how much they are costing you. You also won’t argue with them or shop around because dealing with this issue is boring and time consuming and life sucking. Who wants to spend another day coming back to a different tire shop, or shopping for the best deal? Not me.
How do you even know if you need new tires? Easy – get a penny out, turn Lincoln upside down and if you see the top of his head, your tires are worn enough you should be getting ready to buy a new set.
If you’re like me and live in conditions that get snow in the fall or winter, you really have two choices – keep all-season tires with more tread than that (they recommend 4/32 of an inch, that’s 1/8″ for the math challenged [EDITED: Apparently I was math challenged when I wrote this as Sean noted in the comments, ugh!], or basically using a quarter instead of a penny, to manage the slushy or snowy conditions), or use snow tires. We’ve done both over the years depending on the vehicle. If you do snow tires, get them mounted on a separate set of rims, it will save you cost in the long run and will make changing them out so much faster with less wear and tear on the tires since you aren’t mounting them or taking them off multiple times over their life.
So how much markup are you paying when you buy at your dealer, or even a tire shop? According to this thread, they are charging $16-$25 per tire (or 20-30% markup), so you’re likely paying them $65-100 for a set of four. Mounting and balancing is extra, as are old tire disposal fee, which is something you’ll be paying for even if you buy tires the same way I do. The tire shops will also be looking to upsell – shocks, struts, and brakes are common, so be ready for that.
How I Tire Shop
I keep an eye on my tires, if they need to be replaced I get out in front before I have a scheduled maintenance appointment on my vehicle. Next, I go to Tire Rack to start looking for new tires. All the information you need is on the sidewall of your tire, or if you are running original rims, they will get you to the right size based on your make and model or you can use Tire Rack’s Tire Decision Guide to find the tire performance category that’s best for your vehicle and the roads you drive on. You will want to confirm that what they recommend are what you’re currently running though (so go outside in your garage and jot down that sidewall info of your tire). You can filter by price, performance, brand, speed rating, or several other categories. We have been very happy with Bridgestone Blizzaks for winter tires – they wear fairly fast, but for those handful of days when you need them they are worth the money (I was running a VR6 pocket-rocket 6 speed Jetta for awhile – even with kids, but swapped out the summer tires for Blizzaks and that thing went from a summer performance machine to a winter one just with a change of tires). Once you select your tires, you can have them drop shipped to the local shop of your choice to have them mounted, balanced, and old one disposed. If you buy rims for snow tires (cheap steel ones are fine, you can find fakie hubcaps online too for pretty cheap so they don’t look too ghetto), Tire Rack mounts and balances them so you only need to swap them out with a little elbow grease on those lug nuts.
I usually call my regular service shop, and two local guys a mile or two away, and find out how much they’ll charge for those services (mount, balance, dispose, new stems on occasion), and have them shipped directly there. Shipping might cost $15 a tire like it does for me. Once the tires arrive, I schedule an appointment and am in and out in an hour or so. Easy peasy.
So I use this method for a couple of reasons. First, I control the transaction and the variables. I hate having the sales staff show me their limited options without knowing what they know. We are playing in their field, and have the advantage, by spending an extra 20 minutes on-line I can level the playing field and get exactly what I want. Tire rack has lots of reviews and ratings, so you can see if other people like X or Y better. Second, it usually saves me costs and time. Don’t believe me? Here’s a clip from this Edmunds article on tire-buying strategies that tries to compare apples-to-apples.
The Score Card
It’s hard to get each store to give a hard figure for four tires “out the door” since they know you will use this figure to cross-shop them against other cars. And there always seems to be some part of the puzzle you forget to include. For example, when ordering online there is shipping, which your local store won’t charge you. But then again, sometimes you avoid the sales tax.
Still, we tried to add up all the prices we got for comparison’s sake:
Tiresavings.com $639 Discount Tires (negotiated) $800 Neighborhood tire shop (negotiated) $675 Costco (wouldn’t negotiate) $625 Tirerack.com $608
Their point about taxes is an important one as well. Depending on your state, this could end up washing out the extra shipping cost altogether. Even if I am paying the exact same price all in at a discount tire place, I still go this route due to selection and the feeling of leveling the playing field and having more power in the transaction.
All in all, we’ve used this exact method on seven or eight sets of tires for cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans we’ve owned over the years and wouldn’t go back to the typical way most buy tires. However, if you do decide to go the traditional route, just educate yourself on quality brands and their costs. I’ve gotten some good deals at farm implement type stores, and while I’ve never shopped tires at Costco, many do and looks like a good deal.
So take care of those tires and have a safe and happy winter driving season to you and yours!