Tire prices soaring: Here's what you can do

If you are thinking of buying new tires this spring, get ready for some sticker shock.

Trying to compare local tire shops can be as futile as comparing bed and mattress prices.

But there are some things you can do.

When Did Tires Get So Expensive?

Russell Gibson hoped to replace his tires for just a few hundred dollars. But when he checked prices, he found tires were expensive everywhere he looked.

"I noticed that all the prices seemed to be the same, no matter what local store I went to," Gibson said.

The trade publication, Modern Tire Dealer, says rising prices of oil, rubber and styrene have increased tire prices by 50 percent since 2006.

On top of that, most shops specialize in just one or two brands, such as either Michelin or Bridgestone, but not both, making it hard to comparison shop.

One Man Negotiates Hard

Gibson managed to find lower prices online at TireRack.com . He also ventured out of town.

"I came across the same Firestone tires and they were $50 cheaper per tire. I thought 'that's great,'" he said. But it was short lived, he said, "because I realized these tires were at their store 90 miles away."

Gibson, however, decided to bring the printout to his local tire shop and to his surprise, they agreed to lower the price.

"In the end," he said, "I ended saving $75 per tire, so it ended up being about a $300 savings with all four."

Negotiate on Warranty
    
Gibson also wanted a road hazard warranty.

AAA's Jeremy Rice says that if you hit a pothole or sharp object and can't patch the tire, this warranty can save you around $200.

"The road hazard warranty covers the replacement of the tire, which is pro-rated, or the repair of the tire,"  Rice said.

One thing to know is that a warranty won't get you a free tire if it is ruined after 2 or 3 years. The pro-rating will get you a discount on a replacement, the same way a car battery warranty works.

Gibson told his shop he would take the warranty only if they lowered the price, which to his surprise they did.  

His experience has valuable lessons for all of us.

Before you agree to buy:

    --Find a lower tire price online, or in another city, and ask your store to match it. Tires are often priced "by market," meaning a tire store 60 miles a way could have the exact tire for a lot less, as Gibson discovered.

    -TireRack.com is a great starting point to learn more about a tire, what owners say about it and what it would cost if you bought it outright.  But remember their prices do not include mounting and balancing, and you may have to pay shipping. So it is not necessarily a fair price to compare.

    --Then negotiate the price of the road hazard warranty. Many shops will now charge up to $30 per tire, but since that is pretty much pure profit for them, they often lower the price if you haggle.

In the end, Gibson's new Firestone Destination LE's came in just above $500 for the set, almost $300 dollars less than his $835 initial quote.

Check Bill Before Paying

Finally, look over the bill carefully before you pay.

Expect to see a mounting fee, tire disposal fee (mandatory) and valve stem fee if you received new stems.

Some stores, however, will charge you for an extra warranty, lifetime balancing, and alignment automatically, without even asking you.

If you do not want those services, make it known, so you don't waste your money.
    
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