When Looking For New Tires, Here’s Where We Recommend
Where you buy tires is almost as important as the tires themselves.
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If you’re like us, shopping for tires is actually fun. Almost a leisure activity, in fact. But if you’re like the remaining 99.9 percent of people, or if you’re not out looking for a set of Pirelli Trofeo Rs, buying tires is an expensive hassle that pops up unexpectedly and does serious damage to your cash reserves.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, a good buying and service experience can go a long way to turning your love-hate relationship with tires into a much more pleasant one. And that’s what we’re gonna be detailing today.
The Drive’s editors have plenty of experience wearing out tires and just as much time buying them after. In addition to our shenanigans, we’ve put together a list of retailers that offer the best experience, good pricing, and more. Let’s dive in and find your car some new rubber.
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Where To Go
The Drive’s editors have spent combined decades buying, researching, and reviewing tires. We know the process inside and out, which gives us great insight into how tire retailers work. We’ve researched the best tire sellers across various categories, so you can find the store that best suits your needs, whether you’re looking for the best bottom-line price or the best service.
It’s important to remember that buying tires online is perfectly safe and can save you money, but you’ll still need to find a local shop to install and service them. That’s why we’ve selected retailers that offer an online and physical presence to help you get rolling safely with new rubber on your car. Here are our recommendations.
The Drive’s Recommendations for Where To Buy Tires
- One of the largest and most well-known online tire retailers around
- Ships to local installers for free
- Frequent specials and discounts
- Thorough ratings system with plenty of tire info
- Prices can be higher than some competitors
- You may have to have tires installed yourself, depending on where you live.
Tire Rack is one of the largest and most recognizable tire retailers on the internet today. The company offers tires from every corner of the industry and its website features a wealth of valuable information, reviews, and product details that many overlook. If you’re looking for major brands like Cooper, Michelin, BFGoodrich, Continental, or Pirelli, Tire Rack has you covered. On the other hand, the company also sells brands like Laufenn, Riken, and Fuzion that many may not have heard of and we don’t put our full faith behind.
Even if you’re not immediately looking to buy tires, the Tire Rack site is a great place to research tire brands and models, and to determine which are best for your car. The site’s customer reviews and professional overviews make it easy to find a particular tire and determine if it meets your needs. Tire Rack provides in-depth information on load ratings and tread wear distances, and it’s all organized neatly, making it easy to use and understand.
- Often the most affordable option
- Locations almost anywhere for installation
- 90-day satisfaction guarantee
- Walmart struggles to improve customer satisfaction scores
- Not all store locations have tire shops
- Some customers note that the Tire Shop can take hours to install
Walmart is an enormous volume buyer of goods from around the world, so it’s easy to see how the store could offer good prices on tires. Many of the mega-retailer’s stores have on-site tire shops, where customers can have new rubber installed while they shop. The company sells all manner of name-brand tires, as well as lower price options from smaller companies. Some people have speculated that Walmart’s tires are priced competitively because they are second-rate or are factory rejects, but these theories are false. Walmart sells the same tires that Tire Rack and other retailers offer, but is able to undercut its competitors with volume buying.
It’s important to note that buying tires from Walmart means you’re either tied to the store for installation, or you’ll have to find a shop on your own. While this is an issue with buying tires online or having them shipped from anywhere else, customer reviews on the store’s customer service and installation times aren’t all positive. Make sure you have an appointment if cruising through the process is important to you.
- Solid pricing
- Good customer service
- Costco adds a five-year warranty to tires it sells
- Does not install tires for non-members
- Some report difficulties getting an appointment
- Not all locations install tires
Costco is known for selling bulk items for low prices, which in many stores includes tires — though not necessarily in bulk. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you’re not already a member, you’ll have to sign up to become one before you can buy tires. In many cases, paying the cost of a membership is still cheaper than buying tires from somewhere else, so you’ll have to do some math to figure out if the difference is worth it to you.
Costco books appointments online, which also allows buyers to select and pay for tires before heading to the store. Some customers note that the store is so busy that it’s hard to find open appointments, so it’s best to make sure you get a spot in line if you’re desperate for tires.
- Wide presence online and in physical locations
- Great customer service
- Free ground shipping in 48 states
- Does not offer the variety of its competitors
- Company uses two websites, which can be confusing
Discount Tire is one of the forefathers of today’s tire retail business, having been in business since the early 1960s. The company owns almost 1,000 stores, and acquired Tire Rack late last year, expanding its online and physical footprint further. Though they’re under the same corporate umbrella, the two tire giants operate separately.
If you’re shopping at Discount Tire, be careful to note which website you are viewing. The company uses discounttire.com for its local stores and discounttiredirect.com for online tire sales. If there are no locations within 75 miles of you, you’ll be directed to the online store anyway, but be aware that there are two different sites.
National Tire & Battery
- Good service after the sale
- Convenient store hours
- Service honored at both NTB and Tire Kingdom locations
- Only operates in 26 states
- Can’t order tires for home delivery
National Tire & Battery, or NTB, is a massive online and brick-and-mortar tire retailer with more than 600 locations across 26 states. The company operates under the NTB brand and also owns Tire Kingdom stores in its footprint. People buying tires from one brand can receive customer service and repairs at either.
NTB allows customers to buy tires online and have them installed at one of its locations, but if you don’t live in an area serviced by the company you’re out of luck. The company directs buyers to tireamerica.com if they live outside its service area. If you do live near an NTB or Tire Kingdom, you’ll have access to a store open late seven days a week. You also have 30 days to drive on the tires, and if you’re not happy the company will trade a new set for the full value of the used tires.
- Good selection and prices
- Great information resources
- Clear product details
- Some buyers received incorrect tires
- Some tires arrive damaged
Tire Buyer is a well-reviewed online retailer that isn’t quite as well known as its big-name rivals. Still, the company offers competitive prices and fast shipping, and users report an easy-to-use website. Though it’s strongly reviewed, Tire Buyer does have its share of unhappy customers that complain about receiving incorrect tires or defective products. The vast majority of reviews are positive, however, and many people report that Tire Buyer offered the best price they could find on particular tire models.
Like Tire Rack, Tire Buyer offers educational resources and information on its website. This is helpful, not only for first-time tire buyers but for people looking to learn more about how tires work and how to choose the right tire for the situation.
Your Local Tire Shop
- Face-to-face customer service
- May already have knowledge of your vehicle from prior repairs
- You’re supporting a local business instead of a national corporation
- May not offer the variety of tire brands
- May be more expensive than online shops
We’re all for convenience, especially when you absolutely need tires, but local tire shops can be a great alternative to shopping online. Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of several locally owned shops to choose from.
The in-person experience isn’t for everyone, but for people wanting personal guidance through the process, it’s a great thing. You may also have an existing relationship with the shop, but even if you don’t, keeping things is good for the business and may offer a better experience for you as the buyer.
What to Consider When Looking For a Place To Buy Tires
Regardless of whether you buy tires online or at your local retailer, it’s important that you get the information you need and get what you expect to pay for. The lowest price isn’t always the best deal, especially considering everything that your tires are asked to do.
The process of buying tires doesn’t end with installation. Just like with anything else car-related, service and understanding go a long way after the sale. Whether you’re buying locally or from an online retail giant, make sure the services they provide after you pay will live up to your expectations. This includes things like roadside assistance and extended warranties.
If you’re a proactive car geek, you likely have an eye on your tires’ condition and know when it’s time for a new set. For everyone else, the need to replace tires can sneak up, adding time- and vehicle safety-related pressures to the shopping experience. If you want to buy tires online in these situations, make sure you’re aware of the time it will take for them to arrive. Waiting days for a shipment to arrive when your car desperately needs tires is not a good place to be.
It’s tempting to pick the cheapest tire and move on, but consider that your tires are the only part of your car designed to touch the road surface, which makes them vitally important to your car’s operation and your safety. It’s also a good idea to match your tires with the types of driving you’ll be doing and where you live. In other words, don’t buy high-performance summer tires for year-round use in North Dakota.
Tips and Tricks
To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned over the decades of buying tires for literally every type of vehicle on the road.
- Learn what all the letters and numbers on the side of your tires mean. A tire with the size P295/35R21 means the tire is a passenger vehicle tire (“P”) with a width of 295mm. The “35” refers to the aspect ratio, which is the tire’s height in relation to its width. In this case, the tire is 35 percent as “tall” as it is wide. The “R” refers to radial, which is how the tire is constructed, and the “21” refers to the wheel diameter.
- To prevent premature tire wear, keep your tires rotated properly and make sure your vehicle’s wheels are aligned.
- If you own a rear-wheel-drive car, there’s a great chance your rear tires will wear more quickly. The opposite is true for front-wheel-drive cars.
- All-season tires do not mean all-weather tires. Snowy and icy conditions require dedicated tires.
- You can up-or downsize your tires, but you’ll need to adjust wheel size at the same time. Your car’s speedometer and other systems rely on a specific total tire/wheel diameter, so a change in that measurement can throw off performance, fuel economy, and safety systems.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: Is it OK to change one tire?
A: It’s generally a good idea to replace all four tires at the same time, or two at a time at the very least. Replacing one tire when the others are already used and worn can cause premature wear on the new tire, an imbalanced ride, performance issues, and more.
Q: Is it OK to put new tires on the front only?
A: Again, it’s best to replace all four if you can, but sometimes you can only manage two. In these situations, the general recommendation is to replace the back tires and move the slightly worn back tires to the front. If a loss of traction occurs, the vehicle will likely be easier to control in an understeer (front wheels continue to slide forward after a skid) situation rather than an oversteer (rear wheels break traction) situation for most everyday drivers.
Q: Do all four tires need to be the same brand?
A: It may seem harmless to mix and match tires, but it is a good idea to have the same tires on all four wheels, if possible. Tire brands and types can be different in performance and how they handle various road conditions, so you’ll want to make sure all four corners of your car behave the same if something happens.
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