Don’t know the difference between Goodrich and Goodyear? Firestone and Bridgestone? You’re not alone. Tires seem like simple components compared with engines and transmissions, but they’ve become very high-tech – and very expensive.
They’re also something you shouldn’t skimp on. Think about it: Those four rubber circles are the only part of your car that touch the road.
Still, there are ways to save on new tires and preserve the ones you own. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson offers some tips in the video below. Watch it, then read on for more detail.
1. Take the penny test
A penny can save you hundreds of dollars. How? As Stacy showed you, a penny can tell you whether you really need new tires. “Put a penny in the tread with Abe Lincoln upside down, facing you,” Stacy says. “If his head’s uncovered, you need tires.” But if his head isn’t, you can keep driving. Some less-than-scrupulous mechanics may try to sell you tires when you don’t need them. But their expertise doesn’t trump the penny test.
2. Shop nationally, install locally
Buying tires online isn’t as crazy as it sounds. It’s becoming more common for customers to buy online and have the tires “drop-shipped” to a local shop for installation. “Online tire prices are lower, particularly when compared to inflated costs at dealerships,” says auto website Edmunds.com.
And depending on your state’s laws, you might avoid state sales tax. But Edmunds also warns that “shipping costs are high” and that shipping can obviously take many days. So buying online requires advance planning.
3. Window-shop online, buy locally
If you’re uncomfortable buying tires online, you can still use those websites to learn what your kind of tires are selling for. Two popular sites are Tire Rack and DiscountTires.com. Once armed with this information, you can negotiate at your local shop – or at least tell when you’re being taken for a ride.
4. Don’t buy more tire than you need
Stacy warns against just looking at the tire price tag. Is tire balancing included? Alignment? Make sure to ask for the total price.
There are also so many kinds of tires, it’s hard to tell what you really need – all-season tires and all-terrain tires, ultra-performance and run-flats. How to choose? Consumer Reports has a handy and painless Tire Buying Guide that defines the basic types. But your owner’s manual has the specifications for your vehicle.
5. Check on recalls
Check to see if the tires you have now have been recalled. Not everyone gets notified. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an interactive recall page. You can click “Tires” and search by brand name. The site is updated every night. If you have recalled tires, contact the manufacturer directly. The government says, “The manufacturer is then required to remedy the problem at no charge to the owner.”
6. Check those reviews
You can check online reviews of tires at the aforementioned online shopping sites, but you can also search the database of customer complaints filed with the NHTSA. These tires aren’t necessarily recalled, but you can learn what customers reported (and regretted) about their purchases.
And before you drive away, consider these two warnings:
1. Steer clear of used tires
Consumer Reports is concerned about their safety. They could have defects you can’t see. “What’s the likelihood they are unsafe? No one really knows and that’s why we err on the side of caution,” CR says. Still, if you’re dead set on used tires, here’s where it’s critically important to check for recalls.
2. Buy, don’t rent
Renting tires seems as silly as renting gasoline. But it’s becoming more common, notes National Public Radio. It’s akin to rent-to-own furniture: You pay weekly until the bill is settled. But just like rent-to-own furnishings, you’ll pay much more than if you simply purchased the tires.
As one woman told NPR, “I understand that I’ll probably end up paying a lot. But right now, I need the tires.” If you can’t afford new tires right now and you need them, you should at least compare the rental price with the cost of carrying the debt on your credit card. You might be better off buying.