Longtime reader Jim asked what I know about buying tires. Not a lot, but I’ll share what I know.
I do try to shop around before I need them desperately. Then I can call around a lot and get a good price. I never, ever buy the most expensive tires, nor do I buy the cheapest ones. Cheap tires aren’t worth it, unless it’s a temporary emergency, or you live somewhere that never gets any rain or show. It’s worth paying $100 extra per tire to avoid a wreck if that’s what it takes to not slide around in the rain.
I found a mechanic through AAA. He doesn’t deal in tires, but he’s more than happy to talk tires with me when I bring the car in for an oil change or routine maintenance. I trust his opinion more than a tire salesman’s opinion, because he doesn’t have money riding on the deal, or a manager ordering him to sell a certain brand this month to clear a warehouse or because of a promotion.
Tires seem to be cheaper on holiday weekends. Maybe people are willing to spend money on tires on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, if they aren’t traveling.
And it’s cheaper to rotate tires than it is to buy tires for the front, then put them on the back. They last longer if you rotate them. Some shops, like Car X for example, will rotate tires for free when you bring a car in for an oil change. Even if their oil change is $10 more than my regular mechanic charges, it’s worth doing that every other oil change. And if they notice something when they’re changing the tires, they’ll give me a heads up.
It makes even more sense to buy a full-size spare, then rotate that full-size spare in with your other four. But admittedly, that’s something I’ve never gotten around to doing.
Last and least, it’s been many years since I bought a car, but I looked into the cost of tires the last time I did. In 2001, I was driving a Dodge Neon, and lost a tire. I had to buy one specific Goodyear tire, because only Goodyear (and maybe Michelin) made tires for that car, and with no competition, they charged through the nose for it. I’m pretty sure I paid more than $200 for that tire, but I had no choice. When I first got my Civic, every company made tires for it. I could get a $40 tire if I wanted, or a $400 tire if I wanted, with lots of good tires available for around $100. I know people who have bought cars, put 30,000 miles on them and needed tires, then got stuck with a $300-per-tire surprise they didn’t want.
Now I’m at 180,000-plus miles and on my third or fourth set of tires, so I’ve probably spent less than $1,500 on tires for it. That’s less than a penny a mile, which is a price I can deal with.