I recall someone on an internet message board recommending TireRack.com to me at least ten years ago. I’m not sure whether their level of service has increased, or I just misunderstood how it worked the first time I checked them out, but it wasn’t until Monday that I realized I could order tires from the site and have them shipped directly to a local shop for installation. Previously I had been under the impression that buying tires from their site would entail having the tires shipped to my house to either install myself (nope) or calling around to shops around town asking if I could bring my own tires for installation. While that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I found the thought of it unpleasant so I never bothered.
Wanting a simple, straightforward process for purchase and installation, I’ve been buying tires at NTB for many years. I don’t have any serious complaints about my experiences there. I don’t feel I was ever ripped off, although their labor pricing is on the high end. I believe I got quality tires at competitive prices and they were mostly pleasant to deal with.
But I recently used an Express Oil Change/Tire Engineers shop within walking distance of my house to have a rear brake job done on our 2004 Odyssey. I was very impressed with their service and pricing. What really jumped out at me was that they replaced a broken tail light for about a quarter of what NTB had recently quoted me. Knowing this Tire Engineers shop would be honest and not nickel & dime me for minor work led me to decide to use them the next time I needed tires. Plus, it’s incredibly convenient to be able to drop your car off and walk home.
It’s a very small location, though, and I assume they keep very minimal tire inventory on hand. I have always had qualms about the limited selection NTB had for me to choose from, and the one I’ve been going to is enormous. So my plan was to use Tire Rack to research what tires I wanted, get an idea for how much they cost, then call Tire Engineers to see what they had on hand and get them to special order some if necessary.
Once I started browsing the Tire Rack site and realized I could just buy the exact set of tires I wanted from them and have them shipped directly to my Tire Engineers location, I was hooked. I compared several different models at a few different price points after filtering out high end performance tires and then sorting by consumer reviews. We’re not looking for anything fancy for an 11 year old minivan. My requirements amounted to: 1) good traction on wet pavement, 2) low price. I settled on the General Altimax RT43 (size for my van is 225/60R-16) because at $85.24 per tire it’s extremely affordable and the reviews were all stellar. I don’t like to trust consumer reviews unless there’s a critical mass for a particular item, and this model had almost 200 reviews.
After you add the tires to your shopping cart, you can choose whether to pick them up (mine were in Shreveport, LA), have them shipped to your home, or have them shipped to one of their network installers. If you want to ship to an installer, they’ll show you a map of all your options based on your zip code, and provide a list showing each shop’s price for mounting & balancing tires, along with any other charges. It’s extremely helpful. Here’s the list for my zip code. It allowed me to see mounting & balancing can run anywhere from $12 per tire to $40 per tire, depending on the shop and the size of the tire. The Express Oil Change/Tire Engineers close to my house listed $16.99 per tire, which obviously isn’t the cheapest (still well below the most expensive), but it’s important to me to use a place I feel is trustworthy, and the whole walking distance thing makes it worth it.
Before I checked out on the site I called and talked to the shop manager where I wanted to have them delivered. I wanted to confirm that they had taken delivery from Tire Rack before and wouldn’t be caught off guard when my tires showed up. He assured me they were good with installing tires from Tire Rack and he took my name and number and said he’d call me when they arrived.
As I proceeded to check out, I saw the shipping charges of $18.24 per tire for UPS ground. It ain’t Amazon Prime.
I wasn’t too surprised when I received email notification the tires had been delivered (just over 25 hours after placing my order) and a couple hours later the shop hadn’t called. So I called them wanting to set up an appointment for installation and he told me that service is first come, first serve. I was mildly annoyed, but so be it. He told me they open at 8am.
I arrived around 8:30 the next day (after getting my run in), filled out the paperwork, and told him I wanted a four wheel alignment and oil change in addition to mounting and balancing the tires, then walked home to get ready for work.
I was expecting the van to be ready by lunch time, and was surprised when I finished lunch and hadn’t received a call. I called the shop and was told it probably wouldn’t be ready until 3:00 or 4:00. I had a 4:30 meeting scheduled so as 4:00 approached I called back to see if it was almost ready and was informed it would be another hour and a half. I confirmed their closing time of 6:00 and went to my meeting. Finally got a call around 5:30 that it was ready. We went to pick it up and I paid for the labor.
All the charges matched up with how they were listed on Tire Rack, except that instead of mounting and balancing being $16.99 per tire, they charged $18.25 per tire. Taxes were a separate line item, so that’s not attributable to taxes. My guess is that their prices have gone up a bit and they haven’t updated their profile on Tire Rack. So that’s something to watch out for. If the difference had been significant I would have said something, but I’m not the kind of guy who complains about a $1.26 price discrepancy. They charged $79.99 for the alignment, a service that wasn’t listed on Tire Rack so I didn’t have expectations for pricing on that. I just looked up NTB’s price for my make and model, and it’s $89.99. So I’m happy with what I paid for that.
As far as the overall experience of buying tires from Tire Rack, it was positive and I’d do it again. The only complaint I have about my entire experience was how long it took my local shop to do the work, but that’s not Tire Rack’s fault. And it should be noted I never requested a specific time to pick the vehicle up, and they never promised a specific time.
To sum up, here are the pros and cons as I see them:
- They essentially have every tire in existence available on their website. It’s impossible to have a bigger selection to choose from.
- The information on the site for research is exhaustive. I’ve never felt better informed about a tire purchase.
- Although I didn’t use it, they have a live chat service for answering questions if you need it.
- The large database of consumer reviews gives you confidence you’re not overpaying for crap tires. You can buy a very inexpensive tire with the knowledge that hundreds of other people had good experiences with it.
- Their prices are in line with the cheapest prices you’ll find anywhere for any given tire, and they include road hazard protection, something other places charge extra for.
- You can select from an enormous network of installers and see each shop’s installation charges before you decide where to ship.
- Shipping is lightning fast.
- Shipping costs more than make up for any savings on buying from them vs. a local shop. NTB charges $10 more per tire on my model, but I paid $18 per tire in shipping. (But the chances my local NTB would have had this exact tire in stock are slim, and they would have tried to sell me a different, more expensive tire).
- There might be a discrepancy between the installation charges listed on the website vs what your shop actually charges, so you should verify labor costs in advance, directly with the shop.