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Where Do I Go to Buy New Tires and How Much Should I Pay?

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author photo by the Editors of MSN Autos April 2008

Once you have an idea what sort of tires you want, the next step is to decide where to buy them. This can seem as overwhelming as choosing a tire; so many places sell them for such a wide variety of prices.

While new-car dealers are not volume sellers of tires, there are lots of other merchants that are. Those corner gas stations that still work on cars instead of selling snacks, beverages and lottery tickets are one source. Though much more common are chain tire stores-Goodyear and Firestone operate their own stores in addition to franchising them.

Other chains such as Les Schwab, which operates in Western states, offer a wide selection of tire brands. Mass-market retailers like Sears and Wal-Mart are another possibility, as are warehouse retailers like Costco and Sam's Club. Finally, there are mail-order tire outlets.

The truth behind the $19 tire
For a lot of folks, the search for new tires begins with looking at ads in the sports section of the newspaper. Some of the prices you see can seem like bargains of the century, but as a wise old philosopher once said, "read the fine print."

Look at the size of that incredibly cheap $19 tire-it's not unusual for the least expensive tires in these ads to be of size 155/80-R12, a size that will fit fine on a Geo Metro but won't be right for your car or truck.

Often, this price leader will be accompanied by a list of other larger tires, or may include the phrase, "other sizes available;" the same tire in larger sizes will cost more. In this case, you need to check to see if the tire is even available in the size you need.

Hidden costs
Another thing to remember is that a tire purchase includes more than just the tires themselves. Tires have to be mounted and balanced, and it's usually not a bad idea to install new valve stems. Unless the ad you're looking at specifically states that these items are included in the price, you should assume they will cost extra. Consider budgeting $5-$12 extra per tire on top of an ad price or simply speak with someone at the tire store (many will offer a printed quote listing all costs) for the details.

There are other questions you should ask the tire store:

  • Is balancing done with a computer spin-balancer, or a simple bubble device? While the former is very common, some places may still use the latter and charge extra for the former.
  • Is there an "environmental charge" or other fee for disposing of old tires? A local chain store quoted MSN Autos $1.50 per tire, while a store operated by a major manufacturer included this in the price.
  • How long will it take to get the job done? A blowout price on a popular size could mean you'll spend most of your Saturday without your vehicle, if not cooling your heels reading seven-year-old magazines in the tire store's waiting room.

Price shopping If you live in a metropolitan area, you'll see a lot of tire ads, and this can work to your advantage . . . the tire market is very competitive, and tire dealers are very willing to sacrifice profits to gain market share. Don't be afraid to play them off against each other, and keep those extra services in mind-the tire seller might be in a mood to do those free in order to get your business.

In fact, the charges for those services can work against ordering tires by mail. Mail order companies like The Tire Rack offer a huge selection and very attractive prices. However, shipping is extra and once you receive your tires you still have to mount and balance them. In addition, while some tire stores offer free mounting on tires they sell, they usually charge for this if you bring in your own.

Sears and other retailers offer house-brand tires that are made by major tiremakers but sold under their own brand names (Sears Guardsman is probably the best-known), usually at lower prices than similar major-brand tires. There is the convenience factor to consider as well-being able to have the new tires installed while you do other shopping can be a plus.

An endless selection . . .
You have probably noticed that there are many tires in a given size, and prices can vary greatly. You rightly ask, "why should I pay $75 for a tire when I can get one in the same size for $25?" For starters, tread life is a major factor in tire prices. That $75 tire might offer an 80,000-mile treadwear warranty, while the cheap one may only be good for 35,000 miles. Well-known brand names command higher prices as well, for the same reasons this is true of other products-but then again, when you buy a well-known brand you know what you're getting and how it should perform.

That's not to say the $25 tire isn't a good choice: if you don't drive many miles, or don't plan to keep the vehicle for long, they can be a perfectly reasonable purchase. While you shouldn't skimp, you can save money by buying only as much tire as you reasonably need. The best thing to do is explain your driving situation and discuss your options with the salesperson at the tire store.

As you can see, there is no one answer to the question of where to buy. Asking friends and co-workers about their tire-buying experiences can help you decide where to go.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Where Do I Go to Buy New Tires and How Much Should I Pay? - Autotrader