Confessions of a Tire Salesman

Avoid the Tricks of a Veteran Tire Salesman


  • Tires

    Tires

    Tires are an important safety feature and some salesmen use scare tactics to make you buy new ones before the old ones are worn out. | May 05, 2010

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When you're talking tires, consumers often stand to lose a lot of money. You want to drive safely, but don't want to break the bank just to put a new set of tires on your car. To keep you informed about how the tire business works, we talked to a tire industry expert. This insider's account will help guide you through this important automotive transaction.

My first job was bustin' tires for Firestone here in L.A. I started from the very bottom, changing tires and belts and doing oil changes. I went to work for another tire store and the service manager took a shine to me and said, "Come on up front, and when it's slow, I'll show you how to deal with customers."

Since then, I've spent about 20 years in the business and worked in a lot of different stores — some of which I didn't like much. But I learned a lot about that all-important moment when a customer comes up to the counter and says, "I need a new set of tires but I'm not sure what I want. Can you help me out?" What I know can help you get the right tires on your car and make sure you don't pay too much for things you don't need.

How the Game Is Played

To me, the tires are the most important part of the car. You only have four patches of contact between the vehicle and the road, and each one is only about the size of your hands. That means there's a lot of liability for the tire store. A good tire salesman, who knows his stuff, wants to help keep you safe. Another salesman might use this to scare you into buying a new set of tires before yours are worn out.

Tires are a low-margin item, so it's hard for a store to make much money just selling rubber. So it's important they make money other ways: mounting and balancing, oil changes, brake jobs and alignments. So when you come to the counter and ask for tires, the tire salesman is going to look for every way he can to make money.

Most of the chains are commission-based, which changes the motivation of the salesman. Where I worked, you had quotas you had to hit. If you didn't hit your quotas, you'd get written up. So many write-ups and you're out of there. We had salesmen who waited in the parking lot for people to show up so they could be the first to grab customers who came in. The whole store had to hit a certain amount before everyone got bonuses. So there was friction between the salesmen — if you weren't selling enough, they held you responsible for not helping them make their bonuses.

My point of view was that I wouldn't sell someone anything they didn't need. That got me in trouble with the other salesmen. But it also got me a lot of loyal customers. They've followed me through the years, from store to store. Walking through parking lots, I'd spot some worn tires and leave my business card on the windshield of cars with a note that said, "Please take a look at your tires." I got a lot of sales from that.

Insider's Tips on Tire Buying

Buying the right tires means looking at what and how you drive. Once you have a type of tire picked out, you can shop around for the best price. Keep in mind that everything you do is "times four." That means that the cost of mounting and balancing might not sound like much for one tire, but you're talking about four tires. An easy way to keep control of costs is to ask for the "all in" or "out the door" price. This quickly gives you a look whether you can stay inside your budget, and it also reveals all the costs.

One way to cut costs is to look for a shop that includes mounting and balancing and provides the valve stem. These costs vary a lot, and since it's "times four," it's a big savings. While a store might negotiate on the price of the tires (some stores will match an online quote), they will be looking at making money on the labor so they are less likely to haggle about that.

Consider the Extras Carefully

When the tire guy has your car up on the rack, it's a perfect time for them to sell you a wheel alignment, brake job or shocks. Alignment is important, but your tires will tell you if you need an alignment because they will wear unevenly (and the car might "pull" to one side or another, too).

Trying to sell a brake job is a favorite in tire stores. Sometimes all it takes is saying, "We put your car up on the rack and we noticed that the brake pads were pretty low. Do you want to get that taken care of now?" If you've kept records on your car, you should know how many miles it's been since your last brake job. If you're still in doubt, ask to look at the brakes yourself or at least ask the mechanic to tell you the percentage or amount left on the pads.

Also be ready for the tire salesman to pitch an oil change. Again, you should know the oil change intervals for your car and when it is needed. Don't do it just because you are there and they are pushing it. The more stuff you add into the work order, the more complicated it becomes and the easier it is to lose track of the real cost of each item.

Here are some tricks I noticed over the years:

"Standard alignment": In some stores I worked in, the salesman would try to present the alignment to the customer as being included or "standard" and then put it in the bill and hope they didn't notice.

"Free" tire patching: The chain stores will sometimes offer a free tire patch service, which can be a good thing. But this gives them a chance to call the customer and say, "We inspected your tire, and we can't fix it because you drove on it and ruined the sidewalls." Now they get to overcharge you by matching a single tire since you don't want to waste your investment of the three other good tires.

Bait and switch: Sometimes, on the phone, the salesmen will promise they have a certain tire even if they don't. The customer arrives only to be told that they will have to order the tire from the warehouse but they do have another (more expensive) tire in stock that they can install right away. Again, remember that, if the per tire price is only $10 more than the tires you had in mind, that will be a total price increase of $40.

"You have a dead battery": We had a salesman who used to call the customer after they dropped off the car and say, "Your car battery just died. We had to push it into the service bay. Do you want to get that replaced?" Of course they would say yes since the car was dead without it. And batteries can make the store a lot of money.

Scare tactics: On rainy days, I knew a salesman who would use this as a way to scare customers who wanted to have a tire patched. "This tire would never stop you in this rain. You're better off going with a set of new tires." I was surprised how often this worked with people.

"You can't mix tires": Often, a customer would come in with two good tires and want to replace them. Some of the sales guys would say, "We can't mix tires" even though you can. If money was no object, I'd like to keep all the tires matched up. But for people on a budget, this is a big hit to the wallet.

Slush money: If there was a little ding in your car, the tire salesman might say, "My friend at such-and-such body shop will fix that for a special price." What they are looking for is some slush money for referring you to the body shop. You'd probably be better off taking it to the body shop on your own rather than thinking you're getting an inside deal.

Buying Club Tires or Buying Online

The club stores have more buying power, which can mean cheaper tires for you. But watch out because they'll grab a box boy off the line and say, "Now you're a tire installer." This means the tires might not get mounted and balanced properly.

When I ran a tire store, I had a policy that you have to start the lug nuts by hand. The other thing I did was hand-torque every lug nut so it wasn't too tight. The air wrench could either cross-thread a lug nut or torque it down so hard you couldn't break it loose with your car's tire iron. That's why I tell people to keep a breaker bar or a pipe in the car to give them extra leverage to break the lug nut free when changing a flat.

Buying from an online tire store can be a really good idea for saving money, but the tires still have to be mounted and balanced. And if the store isn't going to make anything on the tires, they'll try that much harder to sell you an alignment or an oil change. Don't be misled. Twenty dollars per tire — or $80 for the car — is pretty good money for the half hour to 45 minutes it takes to get the job done.

Read more articles in the Edmunds Confessions Series.

Comments

  • jmylcraine jmylcraine Posts:

    I am intrested in starting a tire store. How much yearly income can a 4 bay store earn for a honest man?

  • joe2468 joe2468 Posts:

    I know that some of these comments were "How Ya'll used to do it". But this article is also a scare tactic in some instances. Just because you need a tire repaired and it turns out to be un-repairable, does not mean the store will over charge to match a set. There are multiple distributors in almost every area and with the internet, cuwstomers can compare and shop immediately. Just ask to see the damage. I have been in the business for most of my life and I NEVER used some of these tactics the author used. Find someone you trust and stay with that the person!

  • mjgebo mjgebo Posts:

    TO THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE: The statement that you can mix tires is a very vague and incorrect statement; I dare say this only because Sears ruined my 95 Nissan Pathfinder SE 4x4's transmission and Transfer Case due to mixing tire brands, remaining tread depth and tread types; but only because they saw a chance to save some money by not replacing all four at the prorated amount ($50 off the retail price) under their Road Hazard Warranty. Otherwise they tell you that their policy strictly prohibits Sears from selling or installing less than four tires for a 4x4/AWD vehicle, unless the difference in the amount of remaining tread between the needed single, pair or trio of replacement tire('s) and the tires that are not being replaced, is less than 2 micro meters or 1/32"; and all four tires MUST be the same brand, model, tread type & pattern..... So, basically, Sears Auto Center's policy will only permit less than four tires to be installed on a 4x4/AWD when it won't result in a difference in remaining tread depth of more than 1/32" between any tires on the four wheel positions. REMEMBER THIS PARTICULAR SHOP USES THIS POLICY ONLY TO INCREASE SALES FROM ONE, TWO OR THREE TIRES, TO FOUR; in my experience this policy became invisible when Sears had some monetary benefit that motivated them to disregard their own policy. Nissan's Owners Manual for the 95 Pathfinder SE 4x4 specifically WARNED: REPLACING LESS THAN FOUR TIRES ON THE 4X4 MODELS OR THE USE OF MIXED BRANDS, TREAD TYPES, SIZES MAY CREATE A DIFFERENCE IN CIRCUMFERENCE BETWEEN SOME OF THE TIRES AT THE FOUR WHEEL POSITIONS, WHICH WILL DAMAGE THE TRANSMISSION, TRANSFER CASE, AND DIFFERENTIALS. The Rubber Manufacturer's Association (RMA) also published an almost identically worded warning in their Tire Replacement Guide's (2007-2013). (see chapter 3 of the publication) As you know, the RMA sets the standards in the tire MFG & installation industry, and their published guidelines have been held permissible in several state and federal cases. I had n o reason to suspect Sears Auto Center would put my safety and my vehicles mechanical well-being in jeopardy for the hundred or so dollars they saved; BUT , TO MY AMAZEMENT, THEY DID! Sears even went as far as to refuse to pay for the damage claim for the cost to repair/replace the transmission and transfer case because they said (quote): "you owned the vehicle for four years before this Sir, so you should have known that Sears was not following Nissan's procedures; therefore Sears denies any and all liability connected to the pair of BFG all-terrain tires (16/32") we installed in place of the two damaged Dunlop Rover all-season tires (5/32"). This is your responsibility to make sure the work done to your vehicle lives up to your vehicles MFG's procedures and specs, NOT SEARS!" Since Sears conveniently "misplaced" my copy of the Owners Manual, which sat on the drivers seat (where i always put it when handing over any vehicle to a shop that is being paid to perform maintenance or repairs) that afternoon Sears installed the incompatible pair of replacement tires. Of course it took a couple thousand miles for the damage to become significant enough that the malfunctioning of the transmission and transfer case was great enough for me to notice (as i am not an auto mechanic or engineer). Sears had a major problem with the 6 months that has passed from the time the improper replacement tires were installed until the "alleged damage to the transmission and transfer case supposedly occurred." So, I just wanted to comment on this as it stuck my attention during research I have been conducting for the inevitable battle that I will face in the near future with Sears Auto Center. I don't want anyone to have to watch their vehicle get hauled away on a flatbed to the nearest junkyard because of misinformation or better said, incomplete information they may have read on Edmunds (a trusted name in the auto repair industry) or somewhere else. If you have any additional info regarding my incident with damage from the mixed tires installed by Sears Auto Center, please contact me through Facebook or you can email me at MJGEBO@mail.com

  • mjgebo mjgebo Posts:

    CONSUMERS NEED TO BE SCARED AND ON THEIR TOES WHEN DEALING WITH PLACES LIKE SEARS AUTO CENTER, MIDAS, THE DEALERSHIP WHERE THEY BOUGHT THEIR VEHICLE. WHY? THE AUTO REPAIR INDUSTRY HAD THE 3RD LARGEST NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS FILED WITH THE BBB IN 2012. THEIR IS A LACK OF INDUSTRY STANDARDS FOR THE AUTO REPAIR INDUSTRY THAT PUTS CONSUMERS LIKE ME IN A VERY UNFAMILIAR AND THUS VULNERABLE POSITION. BEING AT THE MERCY OF ANY CORPORATION THAT COULD BENEFIT FROM ADDITIONAL SALES, SPECIFICALLY RELATING TO THE "SCARE TACTICS" COMMENT ABOVE, BY UTILIZING SCARE TACTICS TO PRESSURE CONSUMERS INTO AUTHORIZING UNNECESSARY REPAIRS AND/OR THE REPLACEMENT OF PERFECTLY GOOD PARTS, IS NOT ETHICALLY/MORALLY/LEGALLY ACCEPTABLE... SINCE THE STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE DEPT OF INS IN EACH STATE CANNOT INVESTIGATE A COMPLAINT INVOLVING A SELF-INSURED COMPANY/BUSINESS, IT IS VERY EASY FOR THE CONSUMER TO FIND THEY HAVE NO RECOURSE, BESIDES SMALL CLAIMS OR EXPENSIVE LEGAL FEES THAT ACCOMPANY ANYONE WHO HIRES AN ATTORNEY TO LITIGATE AN ACTIONABLE CLAIM/DISPUTE FOR THEM, AFTER BEING EXTORTED BY A DISHONEST AUTO REPAIR SHOP/CORPORATION. SO, IT IS ADMIRABLE THAT SOME PEOPLE TAKE THE TIME TO WARN UNSUSPECTING CONSUMERS OF THE DISHONEST REPAIR SHOPS THAT LURK BEHIND THE SCENES OF MANY MECHANIC'S GARAGE DOORS! HONESTLY, UNTIL CONSUMERS START EXPOSING THESE DISHONEST REPAIR SHOP CHAINS AND PRIVATE SHOP OWNERS, THE SHOPS WILL CONTINUE TO OPERATE IN A MANNER THAT IS CENTERED AROUND THEIR MALICIOUS INTENTIONS AND GREED FUELED FRAUD. SO BEWARE CONSUMERS, THE AUTO REPAIR FRAUD BUBBLE THAT PLAUGES THE INDUSTRY HAS YET TO BURST; AND WONT UNTIL ENOUGH CONSUMERS FIGHT BACK AND PUSH FOR "AUTO REPAIR REFORM", IF YOU WILL. CONSUMERS ONLY HAVE RIGHTS WHEN THEY CAN AFFORD TO EXERCISE THOSE RIGHTS; FOR THIS OUR GOVERNMENT IS RESPONSIBLE. BY SETTING THE COST OF DAMAGE CLAIMS/DISPUTES BETWEEN AUTO REPAIR CHAINS AND CONSUMERS, THE LAW ALLOWS THE COST OF PROPER RESOLUTION TO FAR EXCEED THE FINANCIAL ABILITIES OF THOSE THE LAW IS SUPPOSED TO PROTECT ----- C O N S U M E R S! IT IS VERY POSSIBLE FOR AN AUTO REPAIR SHOP TO MAKE A PROFITABLE LIVING FOR ITS OWNER('S) AND EMPLOYEES, WITHOUT EVER RESORTING TO FRAUDULENT PRACTICES. THE DISHONEST SHOPS SHOULD BE SEVERELY PUNISHED FOR TAKING ADVANTAGE OF CONSUMERS, MAKING IT A MAJOR PROCESS AND A NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE ONE AT THAT, TO GET SIMPLE, HONEST, COST EFFECTIVE AND PROPER REPAIRS TO OUR VEHICLES. I DON'T THINK MAKING CONSUMERS AWARE OF OR REMINDING THEM OF THE MAJOR SHORTAGE THERE IS OF HONEST AUTO REPAIR FACILITIES. MAYBE IF SELF INSURED COMPANIES DID NOT EXIST , IN OTHER WORDS, IF ALL BUSINESSES AND COMPANIES AND CORPORATIONS WERE REQUIRED BY FEDERAL LAW TO CARRY GENERAL LIABILITY INSURANCE, THERE WOULD BE NO BACK DOOR FOR CORRUPT SHOPS AND BUSINESSES OF ANY KIND TO SLIP OUT OF. (YOU CANT CAUSE A CAR ACCIDENT AND THEN DRIVE OFF WITHOUT PROVIDING YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY'S CONTACT INFO AND POLICY NUMBER, DOING SO WOULD BE CONSIDERED "HIT-AND-RUN"; WHICH WILL LAND CITIZEN JOE IN JAIL OR CLOSE TO IT, AND WILL BE REQUIRED TO MAKE RESTITUTION TO THOSE THEY HAVE INJURED/DAMAGED PROPERTY OF...... SO WHY CAN SELF-INSURED COMPANIES TURN AND WALK AWAY FROM THEIR OBLIGATIONS TO RECTIFY DAMAGES CAUSED TO SOMEONE THEY HAVE HARMED? YA GOT ME! I GUESS BECAUSE WE AS CONSUMERS ALLOW SUCH INJUSTICES TO HAPPEN (UNLESS WE CAN AFFORD A BETTER ATTORNEY THAN THE BUSINESS OR CORPORATION, WHICH 99% OF PEOPLE CANNOT).

  • I'm just about to get some tires and this was REALLY helpful. I mean really. I'm printing it out now.

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