Let's face it. Tires are usually one of the most un-fun things to buy for a car. Most of us aren't too concerned about the process. We're just trying to buy a set of discount tires that turn out to be better than four pencil erasers.

Recently, I set out to buy some discount tires of my own. Manned with my laptop and cell phone, I aimed to unearth the best discount tire deals on the Internet. Now, there are some big-name choices, such as Sears Tires and National Tire and Battery. Since I've bought some discount tires online before, I knew the first place to look was Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com). This site is incredible. You can find tires for almost any car and get a really good deal. Plus you can read surveys and reviews from customers who have bought the same tires you're buying.


Six Tire Buying Tips

1. Buy new. Saving money on discount tires is great, but not at the expense of sacrificing traction or safety.

2. Know the factory size of your tires, usually found on the inside door hinge of the driver's side.

3. Shop around for the best deals on discount tires by checking local and online stores.

4. Determine how long you're going to need the tires and buy within your budget.

5. Know the factory warranties and shop guarantees for your tires before you purchase them.

6. Do your research. Not all tires are created equal nor are the expensive ones always the best.


Since Tire Rack is an online company and they don't own any air wrenches themselves, you can search through a list of mechanic shops right on their Web site who will accept your delivery of tires and will put them on the car for you at their designated price. When I ordered a set from Tire Rack in the past, I got a set of good tires for a great price. They deliver through UPS and FedEx, so there's no guessing game on that front.

Tire Rack sometimes offers rebates and other special deals. Although the site may have some of the cheapest prices online, it may also cause you to spend a little more than you anticipated. The price you're quoted for a set of tires does not include the extra fill-in-the-blank you pay in order to have the tires shipped to you or your mechanic. In my case, the cheapest delivery charge was a FedEx delivery that cost me $36. This was in addition to the several hundred I was already paying for the tires. Depending on where you live, the charge for having tires delivered may vary, so make sure to confirm a three-day delivery as opposed to overnight if you want to keep costs down.

The real problem came when I took my Tire Rack tires to the local mechanic and was charged $90 for what they called a "basic tire package." I'd hate to see the deluxe version's price. This was simply the mounting, balancing, disposal fees, parts and labor. If you want to go the Tire Rack route, call some mechanics in your area before you take the tires there and find out which one has the best installation price. Keep in mind that the bigger the tires and rim size, the more money it costs to have them mounted.

Tire Rack can be a great choice for discount tires if you keep your shipping cost down and you find a cheap mechanic. Altogether, I spent an extra $126 on top of the cost of the tires, but that did not outweigh the savings I was getting on the tires.

If you're simply looking for the best deal on discount tires, my advice is to go with the name synonymous with savings, Wal-Mart. Regardless of your feelings toward the franchise, you will get a good set of tires at a cheap price. My Wal-Mart experience was probably like most people's normal shopping experience at the store: great deals mixed with rising blood pressure.

One of the great advantages to buying discount tires through Wal-Mart is that you can order the tires online and have them sent to any one of their tire and lube stores for free. That's right, free shipping. A couple months ago, I did just that. Thinking I would try a different route to save money, I purchased my discount tires through Wal-Mart instead of Tire Rack. Oh, and did I mention they mount your tires for free? With free mounting and only $5 a tire to balance (compared to $20 at my mechanic) it's hard to pass up that kind of savings.

The problem I ran into with Wal-Mart was their customer service. When I asked how long it would take for everything to be completed, I was told an hour and half. I thought to myself, "I can kill an hour and a half in Wal-Mart. Where's the electronics section?" What I should have realized was that I was being quoted a time by a tire and lube service cashier clerk, not one of their mechanics.

I periodically checked back every twenty minutes after the initial hour had gone by to see if they were through. Three long cell phone conversations, two walks up and down just about every aisle in the store and almost three hours later, my car was finally ready.

When I rounded the corner, I could see my car sitting in the parking lot, but something was wrong. I was in the middle of a cell phone conversation with my wife, complaining about my day wasted. I walked up to my car to see the finished product and couldn't help but yell out mid-sentence, "And they put whitewalls on it!" Needless to say I did not ask for whitewall tires, nor did I want them. Now that I could drive away at last, there was no way I wanted my car to go back into that garage to have those tires turned around.

Regardless of the waiting, the wailing and the whitewalls, I was able to buy four brand-name 80,000-mile discount tires, shipped and installed for under $300. I'm sure that I could have gotten the whitewall tires turned around with no problem from Wal-Mart's mechanics, but it was a personal decision based on how much more time it would have taken.

I just want to let our readers know that sometimes you do pay for the best price. In my case, they charged me one perfectly good Thursday afternoon and any dignity my 13-year-old car was still clinging to.

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