When it's time to get new tires for your car, do you buy them at the auto shop or online?
Richard W. Hayman has bought four sets of tires online from TireRack.com: two sets of Goodyear tires for his 2003 Lexus GX 470, and Michelin tires for his 2006 Mercedes R350, as well as his 2011 Mercedes R350.
"The process is so easy, I will always buy my tires this way," he says.
While many consumers use the Internet just for research, others use it to research and make purchases.
"Whether purchasing online or in-store, the information provided on the Internet allows consumers the ability to research tire brands and compare price, quality and installation options," says Liz Galantino, public relations manager for auto parts retailer Pep Boys.
While he thought pricing was "more than competitive," Hayman bought his tires online "primarily because of the greater selection and the hundreds of customer reviews."
*How It Works
Traditionally, a car owner buys tires from their local auto shop or dealership that will factor in the car's make, model and vehicle year, as well as performance needs such as all-weather tires. Often the seller then suggests a few options for the buyer in a range of price points.
"People are being cognizant of how important tires are," says Matt Edmonds, vice president of Tire Rack, which sells tires, wheels and performance accessories online.
"Tires are so important on your vehicle," says Edmonds. "It's one opportunity to personalize the vehicle to yourself, to your driving tastes."
Online, buyers can review a large selection of tires using filters like performance, brand and price. Consider factors like whether the vehicle will be driven in the snow. Do you want run-flat tires? How do you want the tires to handle? Is it OK if they're noisy, or do you prefer a quiet ride?
Many buyers like considering all this information and making their own decisions, instead of relying on a salesperson's recommendations.
Still, online shoppers have the ability to ask questions of tire dealers if they want. For example, Tire Rack customers can call to speak with a tire pro about which product is best for their vehicle.
*Pricing, Order and Delivery
The cost of buying tires online is pretty competitive with traditional auto stores. You can even get deals.
"Customers will pay the same price or less depending on promotions or offers which may apply, such as discounts and mail-in rebates," says Galantino, explaining that at Pep Boys there's no pricing difference for tires purchased online or in-store.
Most online tire retailers have an extensive inventory, which they're prepared to ship quickly. Tire Rack, for example, has six distribution centers in the U.S. and ships tires ordered by 2 p.m. for next-day delivery.
With Tire Rack, buyers pay shipping costs and can have tires shipped to them or to an installer, such as a local garage.
You might think getting the tires installed is going to be pricey. But even with the popularity of online tire purchases, more and more tire installers aren't up-charging for labor costs.
For example, Hayman paid $12 per tire for installation at a local shop, which had an install deal with Tire Rack (compared to the $35-per-tire estimates he got elsewhere). Edmonds says more than 8,000 "recommended installers" have signed on with Tire Rack to accept tire shipments and do installations without questioning the buyers.
In the case of Pep Boys, tires purchased through the company's website can be installed at any of the company's 800 locations.
"No matter where the tires were purchased, Pep Boys' experts will help customers make sure the right tires are installed," says Galantino. "There are fees for all tire installation services."
*Pros and Cons
There can be a few drawbacks to buying tires online. While there's a great selection to choose from, you can't "kick the tires" to check them out unless you buy them first. Plus, the research time adds up, and if you're unhappy with the purchase, you have to pay to send them back for a return.
Even so, retailers have online guides to help consumers pick tires, and the buyers often make purchasing decisions based on online tire reviews from their peers.
Overall, many consumers -- both average drivers and enthusiasts -- are embracing the ability to research and buy tires on their own with a few clicks on their computer.