Some people might assume that buying tires online and having them shipped to you is too expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome. So they continue to schlep down to the corner tire store, or buy from a chain store and wind up paying more than is necessary.
However, thanks to easy-to-navigate Web sites, consumers can provide their car's year, make and model and quickly be shown a wide selection of tires that fit their vehicle. The choices are easily sorted based on the driving requirements, prices or other factors. The tires are then "drop-shipped" to a local tire store for installation at an additional cost. Consumers we have talked with have been amazed at how smoothly the online tire-buying process works. In fact, one shopper called it, "One of my best online-shopping experiences."
Advantages of Online Tire-Buying
The Internet route offers the following advantages over the traditional tire-buying experience:
- Online tire prices are lower, particularly when compared to inflated costs at dealerships.
- Consumer reviews help buyers make informed decisions.
- Buyers avoid aggressive "upselling" found in many brick-and-mortar stores.
- Some online tire-buying Web sites, such as Tirerack.com offer their own independent tire tests.
- There is no state sales tax on most Internet purchases (depending on the laws in your state).
- One can find an excellent selection of hard-to-find performance and specialty tires.
Disadvantages of Online Tire-Buying
Purchasing tires over the Internet does have a few drawbacks. Here are a few things to know before proceeding:
- The purchase requires advance planning and takes days.
- Buyers can't inspect the actual tires before purchasing.
- A trusted local installer still needs to be located.
- Some buyers prefer the face-to-face interaction with an expert.
- Shipping costs are high, particularly for overnight delivery.
Navigating Your Way to a Good Deal
The process starts with choosing the right tires for your needs. With some 160 different brands in the marketplace, the choice can be overwhelming. Many people are confused by what has been called sidewall graffiti, the hieroglyphic-like information about size, speed and load rating. In most cases, all you need to know is the year, make and model of your car. If you have put aftermarket wheels on the vehicle, you might need to know your wheel size before proceeding.
Nearly all online tire-buying sites allow you to view the list of tires using different sorting methods. If you have a brand preference, such as Michelin, you can sort the list so you can look at all those tires first. You can also cross-shop other brands by reading reviews from people who have bought these brands. While consumer reviews are important, it's also a good idea to read the opinions of experts who have a greater depth of comparative knowledge.
If you don't know a lot about tires, an easy way to make a decision is to look at the provided star ratings and the price range you have in mind to find the best intersection of these two factors. However, while most people like to save money, it's also important to make tire safety a priority.
Sorting Through Price
In tire stores you are likely to be quoted a per-tire price, so you have to do the math on the fly. On the Internet, the computer totals the cost of the four tires and gives you a better idea of whether this will fit into your budget. Keep in mind that while you are likely to be paying a hefty shipping price, you will probably not be charged sales tax by the company unless they have an office or warehouse in your state.
If you want to do a cost comparison to traditional tire-buying, keep these factors in mind:
- Cost of the tires
- Shipping cost
- Savings from not paying sales tax, depending upon the merchant and where you live
- Cost of installation
- Disposal fees and excise taxes
Getting Your Tires Mounted and Balanced
In addition to the tire cost, you will also have to pay to have the tires mounted and balanced. Tirerack.com has a list of local installers arranged by ZIP code, so when you order you can have the tires shipped directly to the store. When the tires arrive, the installer calls you to bring the car down to have the job completed.
It's a good idea to read reviews of the installer ahead of time, and call and confirm the price for the work you need done. You will have to buy valve stems from the installer, have the tires mounted and balanced and have the old tires disposed of. The cost for all this ranges from $15 to $20 per tire depending on tire size and type.
Give the Online Route a Try
If you can save $15 per tire, that's a total savings of $60, not to mention you'll avoid some of the pricy extras many chain tire stores push on unwary customers. So give this new shopping experience a test-drive next time the tread is wearing thin on your tires. Like many other consumers, you might be so satisfied you'll never go back to the old way of doing things.