6 Ways to Save on Tires — and 2 Ways Not To

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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.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Linda Baker

    i have bought several sets of tires from Discount Tire online, all with great success. I usually start by doing searches and comparisons for tires on TireRack.com, decide which ones I want. They have the best ratings, reviews, comparison tools and knowledge base. Then I will do a price match if necessary to Discout Tire. Also, I have done the research, then purchased the tires new on Ebay. Ebay / PapPal offers a lot of purchaser protection. Shiping is usually free on Ebay, free on Discount Tire and reasonable on TireRack. I dont get any of the additional protection or installation. I just take my tires to my local mechanic with the new stems and they put them on, balance, etc for a small fee. Just know that your UPS guy may be a little annoyed for a few days if you buy 4 tires and have them shipped. They usually wrap 2 tires together, which makes them quite heavy, esp for my SUV!

    • Joe

      nothing against you buying tires online, but at my shop we can ususally put you in the same tire, installed balanced and out the door for less money

  • Michyle Glen

    I have bought several sets of Used Tires, No Problems.
    The trick is to goto a tire dealership and ask if anyone has swapped a set of Bridgestones for Michilins??
    Many people will be brand loyal and swap tires on a new car within a week.
    like they say shop around, a good tire dealer knows that a good set of used tires is just as good as brand new and

    you save.

    • hilarityensues1

      Normally when someone is wrong on the internet, you ignore them. After all, who cares? But you’re so wrong that you’re endangering other people’s lives. A good tire dealer knows used tires are NOT SAFE. This isn’t hysteria. This is real.

      Used tires are not regulated, there’s no oversight, and you have zero idea what condition the tires are actually in. No one, not even a tire dealer, can tell how safe used tires are. Were they used while overinflated? Underinflated? Were they properly balanced when installed?

      But yeah, saving $100 every three years sure will be worth it when your family dies in a fiery wreck. Do the human race a favor and keep your mouth shut. You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Joe

        Yes and no, I have had people replace perfectly usable tires for a number of reasons, such as they blow a tire and replace the pair or set. So not all used tires are bad, but remember someone removed them from their vehicle for a reason and shelled out the price of a new tire. Its kinda hard to know the history of a used tire, and I dont recommend them for that reason, but I do keep the cream of the crop on hand for those folks who need one

  • lucy2010

    I think I’m going to try Tire Buyer this time because most of their tires include free shipping and there are several options with lots of very good reviews that are significantly less expensive than Discount Tire. For my car the least expensive tires with good overall reviews from DT and Walmart were $75/ea. and from TB there were 3 options with lots (literally hundreds) of detailed, very highly rated reviews for $10-$15 less/ea. Besides sending them directly to me, they have a long list of installers they will send the tires to with posted install prices between $60-$80. Of course in my area the $80 guy is just up the street and the $60 guy is about 10 miles away–typically my luck. So for just a little inconvenience I’ll save around $75.

  • Julia Whitfield Nichols

    You also need to check on the tire’s sidewall to see when it was manufactured. Some retailers try to get away with selling old tires: these are considered defective and can cause serious accidents.

  • Joe

    IMO suggesting that a shop that sells you a tire that still passes the penny test is dishonest is a disservice. All the penny test tells you is that you have 2/32 in tread remaining, the minimum required to be considered safe, that is to say the tire should not hydoplane. Consider that most state safety inspections require a warning at 4/32 in and that millions of drivers live where it snows. Just because your tires havent worn to the point where they are dangerous does not mean that they will perform well. I recommend replacing at 4/32 and not having to worry about tires. Once again folks touting a test or a spec without really understanding what it means