Replacing the tires on your vehicle can be a tedious, time-consuming and often expensive job -- and the same is true for tire repair. And it's not helped by the fact that most people don't spend much time thinking about their tires until there's an immediate problem.
If you know the best place to buy tires, whether online or from a local tire shop, that can save you a lot of money and ensure your vehicle stays in top shape. If you prefer to shop tires the old-fashioned way and source a good tire locally, we've narrowed the list below of brick-and-mortar retailers down to the largest and best outlets across the country based on Better Business Bureau ratings and the latest Consumer Reports' survey. Below, we also share tire-buying tips on picking the right tires for you, how to get the best deals and a closer look at how we picked this list.
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NTB stands for National Tire & Battery. It has more than 600 stores nationwide, which sell a wide variety of tires (including Goodyear, Bridgestone and Firestone Tires). It's owned by the TBC Corporation, which gets an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, though NTB does not have a separate BBB rating.
You can use its online search to find locations near you and then shop tires based on the year, make and model of your vehicle, by size and by tire brand. It advertises that it offers "brand name tires at the guaranteed lowest price," and continuously runs deals, discounts and rebates on tires. It also offers tire and wheel packages and has a "visualizer," which you can use to see what the particular tire and wheel combination might look like on your car. In order to buy tires from NTB you have to be near a tire store. It doesn't ship to consumers.
When you get your tires installed at an NTB or affiliated service center you get a few warranties and perks. It offers a 30-day ride guarantee that allows you to drive on your new tires for 30 days. If you don't like them, you can trade them for something else (full value). It also offers a Road Hazard Warranty, for an added price, which it doesn't disclose on its site because costs vary based on the tires you purchase.
NTB offers a unique feature in that when you purchase tires from it you get free, lifetime tire rotation at any NTB or TBC retailer. NTB locations only go as far west as Texas, however, and most locations are in the South and Southeast US. It operates in 26 states.
NTB scored a 79 on Consumer Reports Tire Shop survey and got good ratings across the board, with fair ratings for free perks and installation time.
Discount Tire is a bit of a hybrid in the online/brick-and-mortar tire space. While you can purchase tires online, through its site Discount Tire Direct, you can have them drop-shipped to your local Discount Tire or America's Tire shop (the name is different depending on where in the country you live). You can also choose to shop in-store at a Discount Tire as well.
You can choose to shop for tires at one of the local shops or you can shop online, have the tires drop-shipped to the Discount Tire or America's Tire of your choice, and have them installed.
If you aren't sure which tires would work for your vehicle, Discount Tire offers Treadwell, an in-house system that uses data from customers as well as real-world testing data (like that which Tire Rack creates) to help you find the right tires for your needs. You put in your vehicle year, make and model, how many miles you drive per year, and the ZIP code you drive in, and the system gives you a number of suggestions based on your input. You can prioritize handling, stopping distance, the life of the tire, and comfort and noise, and the system will give you a recommended list. Discount Tire offers free ground shipping in the 48 contiguous states.
The site also allows you to make an appointment online to have your new tires installed by a tire expert. Discount Tire offers a handy tire size calculator in case it seems like you can't find the exact size that is currently on your vehicle.
Discount Tire says that if you're not satisfied with your purchase, it will do its best to make it right. If you've bought tires online and they turn out to be wrong, you can return them, but the language in the return policy is a bit strict for Discount Tire Direct. You have to repackage them correctly with the original packaging or you could forfeit your return.
The tire vendor also offers a pretty robust road-hazard warranty, too, for a price. While it offers a pro-rated and free road hazard coverage, it also offers a warranty that extends for three years. It covers road hazard damage for the first three years of tire ownership with its Certificate program that you can opt for when you buy and have tires installed at one of its shops. The prices can range from $10 to as much as $100 per tire, depending on how pricey the tires are.
For those on the hunt for a tire deal, Discount Tire does offer rebates and promotions that are always changing. You can see more about the most recent discounts and promotions here.
Discount Tire finishes high in the Consumer Reports survey, garnering 90 out of a max score of 92, but, like Tire Rack, it also scored lower on the Free Perks scale. Its lower BBB rating is a result of 23 complaints against the company and failure to respond to 21 of them, as of this writing. Most complaints, however, deal with specific Discount Tire locations.
Costco is a members-only big box store that sells many items at a discount and in bulk. For $60 a year members get access to more than 700 stores nationwide. Some Costcos offer tire and wheel retail and installation.
Start your tire search by using Costco's tire selector tool where you can search for the right tires for your car with your year, make and model, license plate or size. You can also shop for wheels if you're in the market for them, though Costco only sells Velox wheels on its site. Once you've picked your tires, you choose a store to ship them to and have them installed and you make an appointment from there. The tires are then shipped to the Costco you've chosen and you can get them installed. Not every Costco has a tire center, so be sure to check online before heading to the store.
Costco continuously runs deals on various brands of tires, including its "1 cent" installation deals on specific tires. It also carries a wide variety of tires, including Goodyear, Michelin, Firestone and Bridgestone. One of the big bonuses to buying through Costco is that it offers a five-year road hazard warranty. You also get a suite of free features when you get your tires installed at Costco including free lifetime (of the tire) balancing, rotating, flat repair, air pressure checks and new rubber valves and stems. Costco also offers exchanges if you take your car to a Costco Tire Center. It doesn't do online exchanges and it doesn't offer mobile installation. You have to bring your vehicle to a Costco Tire Center to get your tires installed.
In Consumer Reports' survey, Costco scored only "Good" on selection, waiting area and installation time. It scored "Very Good" to "Excellent" in the other four categories.
Sam's Club is another big-box, membership-only, warehouse-style retailer that sells and installs tires as well as other goods. It's owned by Walmart and has nearly 600 stores, though not all of them have tire sales and installation. For $45 a year you get access to any Sam's Club in the country. There's also a $100 membership that gets you more perks like cash back and free shipping.
To buy tires at Sam's Club you use its online portal to choose the right tires for your needs. You can select tires based on your vehicle's year, make and model, or search by tire size. Once you choose the right tires, the search shows you where those tires might be available in your local area. If they aren't available you can order them and have them shipped to your local Sam's tire center where you can get them installed. Sam's Club says that once you order tires it will email you within three to five days to let you know when your tires arrive. Then you can schedule an installation appointment. Sam's Club does not offer mobile installation.
Like Costco, Sam's Club offers lifetime (of the tire) balancing, rotating, flat repair, air pressure checks, and new rubber valves and stems. It also includes emergency roadside assistance, as well as road hazard protection, though as always there are some catches, like you'll still have to pay for installation for the new tires if you use it.
Sam's Clubs does run some limited deals and discounts on specific tire packages so it pays to check its website to see what might work for you.
Sam's Club does not have a rating on the BBB, and in Consumer Reports' survey, the company scored an 86 out of 91 max. It got good ratings on selection, installation time, waiting area and sales service. It scored "Excellent" and "Very Good" on the other three sectors.
According to Goodyear, there are more than 1,100 Goodyear tire and auto service center outlets across the country. Goodyear is one of the world's largest tire suppliers and manufacturers. It's also the manufacturer of tire brands like Dunlop and Kelly. Goodyear does not sell tire brands other than those owned by the company at its stores or on its site. You can, however, find Goodyear tires (and its affiliated brands') at other tire shops and online stores.
Goodyear offers an online tire selector that you can use to choose the right tire for your vehicle. You can search by vehicle, tire size or even your license plate. The system uses your public vehicle record to match your car to the right tire. If it doesn't find the right tire for you, it suggests that you get in touch with one of its local stores. If the system does find the right tire for you, you can filter for the type of tire you're looking for (such as performance, off-road, summer or all season tires), speed and load ratings, and rebate offers. Most of the rebate offers at the time of this writing include signing up for a credit card.
Once you've chosen your tires you can have them shipped to a local Goodyear Tire installer and schedule an appointment through the site. One thing of note: Goodyear only offers tires -- so no custom wheel and tire packages.
A wide variety of warranties are offered by Goodyear on its tires, too. Depending on the type of tire you buy these could include a limited treadwear warranty or a tire replacement limited warranty. Goodyear also offers a 30-day grace period to decide whether you want to return your tires or not -- whether you purchase them online or in one of its shops. The tire replacement warranty is not a road hazard warranty, however.
Goodyear also offers no-contact mobile installation. You choose the right tires, check out, and Goodyear sends a mobile installer to your house with the new tires to install them. You pay via credit card so you never have to have contact with the installer. The cost is the same as having the tires installed at a shop (and based on your vehicle).
Goodyear's return policy is pretty restrictive. Once you are out of the 30-day window, there are no options to return or exchange the tires unless there is something wrong with them, such as a manufacturing error. If you decide to return the tires before you have them installed, you simply need to call Goodyear and cancel the order.
In Consumer Report's survey, Goodyear only scored "Good" (not "Excellent") ratings in the categories of selection, free perks and installation time, which is why its score is slightly lower than other retailers.
Like Goodyear, Bridgestone and its partner company Firestone offer a blend of brick-and-mortar and online stores to help consumers get the right Bridgestone, Firestone, Primewell or Fuzion tires for their vehicles. Like Goodyear, Bridgestone does not sell any other brand of tires than those the company makes and it does not sell wheel and tire package sets. You can find Bridgestone and Firestone Tires at other tire retailers, both online and in real life.
The company is slightly larger than Goodyear in that it has more than 2,200 stores across the country. Both Bridgestone and Firestone offer an online tire selector to help you find the right tires for your vehicle. You can shop by vehicle type, tire size, tire type or brand on both sites. You can also shop via special offers. Once you've chosen your tires, the site directs you to find those tires locally and set up an appointment with the shop you choose. When you choose this option, you'll notice that places like Costco show up as locations for installation (more on that below). While Bridgestone offers mobile installation (at no extra charge) in only one place in the country (Nashville), Firestone does not offer mobile installation through its site. You have to take your vehicle to one of its installers.
Bridgestone and Firestone both offer a variety of warranties for their tires. Both offer a 90-day try and buy guarantee that lets you return tires if you are unsatisfied with them (even if they've been on your car for those 90 days). The only catch is that you have to buy four tires. Firestone offers a warranty that covers any manufacturer defect for up to three years. It calls it its Gold Pledge warranty and it comes with the Firestone tires you purchase. Both companies also offer a Road Hazard Protection warranty good for the first 2/32nds of tire tread wear when you get your tires installed at a Firestone Complete Auto or other associated tire installer.
Firestone Complete Auto got "Good" scores on selection, free perks and installation time in the Consumer Reports study.
Big O Tires is a brick-and-mortar tire retailer and installer with more than 400 locations, mostly in the West and Midwest. Like NTB it's owned by TBC and essentially covers the locations that NTB does not.
The outlet carries a wide variety of tires and wheels (including its own Big O brand) and you can search for the right fit for your vehicle. You can search by year, make and model, by tire size or, like Goodyear, by your plate number. Once you build your estimate you set up an appointment at your local Big O and have the tires installed. It offers a variety of discounts and rebates, as well as a credit card, with rebates and coupons, too.
Big O and its affiliated retailers offer a variety of warranties on tires, including an impressive three-year repair or replacement road hazard warranty on Big O brand tires, and a 12-month/12,000-mile Nationwide Limited Repair Warranty. It also offers an upgraded Tire Protection Package for a cost based on the type of tires you buy. This covers your road hazards and replacement issues, the same way that NTB does. Big O also does not offer mobile installation.
Big O does not offer any kind of initial return grace period like the other brick-and-mortar retailers listed here. Like NTB, each Big O Tires often has its own rating and review on the BBB, though TBC has an A+ rating. In Consumer Reports' survey, Big O scored 84 out of a possible max of 91. It scored "Good" on selection, installation time and the quality of the waiting area. It did score "Excellent" on free perks, though.
How we came up with this list
For each retailer, we looked at the following important factors that affect both your bottom line and the amount of hassle you have to go through to get new tires. We considered warranty, installation convenience and cost, and used Consumer Reports' most recent tire retailer satisfaction survey to help determine how happy people were with their purchases from these national retailers, as well as each company's rating on the BBB.
The Consumer Reports survey looked at nine different sectors across 29 national retailers. We used CR's estimated cost per tire as a reference point for our comparison, too. We also spoke to Gene Petersen, tire program leader at Consumer Reports, about the testing. And we connected with Matt Edmonds, executive vice president at noted online tire retailer Tire Rack, for general tips on finding the right tires for you and saving money in the process.
What to consider when buying tires
According to Petersen, there are more than 33,000 independent tire retailers in the US. That means there's a lot to sort through when you're shopping for them. Tire shops can range widely in size and how they sell tires. Everyone from big-box stores like Costco and Sam's Club to small, local, independent tire shops offer tires for sale. These days, online retailers are also making it incredibly easy to buy tires online and have them drop-shipped to a location of your choice when you're ready to have them installed.
Petersen advises that the best way to make the most of your tire shopping is to take the entire cost of both purchasing the tires and getting them installed into consideration. "It's not like a TV," he said. "You buy a tire and you still have to have someone put it on your car."
The first thing to do when shopping for new tires is to figure out the right size for your vehicle and the features that you want for your specific needs. To find the right size, look at the outside rim of the rubber tire (also known as the sidewall) and find the number and letter combination that is divided by a slash. You can also find your tire size by looking at the inside frame of the driver's side door.
You should take into consideration things like the environment you'll be driving in (snowy, icy, wet), the conditions of the roads you'll be driving on (sandy, dirt, paved, concrete, asphalt), the kind of driving you'll be doing (sporty and aggressive or cruising on the highway) and how much you want to spend on new tires, among other considerations. Depending on those factors, you could be selecting between all-season tires, summer tires and winter tires. You want tires that offer good traction and won't be prone to uneven wear.
One thing to note, according to Edmonds, is that tire pricing is largely determined by a couple of things: the compounds that the tires themselves are made of, and how much research and development a tire company puts into creating those tires.
"Tires are like a lot of other products, you get what you pay for," Edmonds says. "When you are buying a tire that is more expensive, that tire has more engineering and technical development behind it. All those things make them perform properly."
He also notes that the minimum advertised price, or MAP, is the lowest price that any resellers are permitted to sell tires at. If you find a discounted tire on sale, it's likely because those tires are older and being replaced by a newer model.
"There's nothing wrong with 2-year-old tires that have been properly stored before being sold," Edmonds says. He notes that proper storage means that the tires have been stored in a temperature-controlled space inside, out of the weather and sun.
Most tire manufacturers (not the resellers) offer treadwear warranties, but as Edmonds notes, they tend to be really difficult to take advantage of because there are often a lot of caveats. You also have to take advantage of the warranty directly through the manufacturer, rather than the tire dealer you purchase it through.
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Most installers will offer additional road hazard warranties that cover things like a flat tire as a result of a pothole or nail in the road. These vary from company to company -- some offer them for free, while others charge a premium for them. Be sure you read about the warranties and how to take advantage of them before purchasing tires.
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One other thing to consider, as Petersen points out: The big difference between purchasing tires at a brick-and-mortar store and an online store is the variety of selection. "Online retailers provide lots of different models and sizes of tire that are likely to fit your car. Brick-and-mortar retailers aren't going to have every model you might want to consider and if they did, all chances are they wouldn't necessarily have them in the size you need," he says.
Where to buy tires
Ultimately, getting tires has become easier in the days of online shopping and delivery. With plenty of places to choose from, buying tires online can be an equally good choice as getting them at a tire shop as long as the tires you want and need are in stock. While prices can vary slightly, Petersen says, it pays more to haggle on prices for installation, warranties and other things. Tire prices are largely set in stone by the manufacturer, and installers rarely have any wiggle room to negotiate.
"I always tell people to look at the total cost of getting new tires," Petersen says. "Regardless of what tires you get, you can usually save money on the installation, warranty, rotation, wheel alignment or other offers that the installer provides."
If you have a hard time finding tires, your best bet is to try online retailers like Tire Rack and have the tires drop-shipped to one of its local installers. If you need tires immediately, you might do better by hitting up a brick-and-mortar shop nearby -- but be sure to check inventory and its installation appointments online before heading out.
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Written by Abigail Bassett for Roadshow and originally published earlier.