Whether you get a flat tire on the way home or discover that your tires are due for replacement, repairing or getting a replacement tire can be a stressful, time-consuming and often expensive job that we only think about when problems arise.
Brick and mortar places to purchase a new tire abound, but many consumers are now venturing online to find new shoes for their cars, SUVs and trucks instead. If you decide to go the online tire store route, you can usually have them drop-shipped to a tire shop of your choice and installed. Keep reading for our picks for the best place to buy tires online, as well as some tire-buying tips and explanation of how we arrived at our selections.
If you’re an automotive enthusiast, you’re likely familiar with the offerings from Tire Rack. The Indiana-based tire and wheel seller has been the go-to for that hard-to-find wheel, offering tire sizes for everything from classic cars to trackable vehicles. Tire Rack tests tires on its track and on a road course. It also uses a hockey rink for ice driving and winter testing. It rates the tires on its site and you can browse its results to find a tire that fits your needs.
Tire Rack’s site has a “Tire Decision Guide,” tool that helps guide you to the right tires for your needs. The survey suggests the right tires for you based on the answers that you supply. You can prioritize pricing and performance and find the right tire for your needs.
According to Matt Edmonds, executive vice president at Tire Rack, if you order a tire that doesn’t appear to fit the vehicle you own, one of Tire Rack’s customer service representatives will reach out to double confirm that you want the tires you have chosen. That’s because returning tires that don’t fit is not easy. Tire Rack does allow returns within 30 days of your tire purchase, but you’ll need to call its customer service line to find the best solution to return tires that aren’t right for you.
Tire Rack also offers a free two-year road hazard warranty on all the tires it sells (on top of the manufacturer’s warranty for whatever tires you choose). If you get a flat thanks to a road condition like a pothole or hit a nail on your way to work, Tire Rack will cover your repair or replacement with limitations. Conditions do apply so be sure to read the details of the warranty.
For installation, Tire Rack works with local installers all over the country that have been vetted by the company. You choose your tires and can have them dropped shipped to a local Tire Rack-approved installer. Installation costs vary based on location and types of tires. You can also utilize Tire Rack-approved mobile installers as well and have the tires drop-shipped to your home. Tire Rack offers free shipping on orders over $50.
The Indiana-based company also does offer sales and discounted tires. Edmonds notes that nothing is wrong with the tires the company has on sale, and in many cases they’re being offered at a discount because there are new versions coming in, or the tires have been sitting in climate-controlled storage and are two years old or more.
In Consumer Reports’ Tire Store report, Tire Rack performed well across the nine categories that CR readers were asked to assess and scored a 89 out of a max score of 92 on its rating scale. The online retailer was knocked for its lack of “free perks,” which included free add-ons like free tire rotation, tire balancing and tire mounting. It does, however, have an A-plus Better Business Bureau rating.
TireBuyer offers similar features to Tire Rack and Discount Tire (below) by allowing you to purchase tires online, ship them to a local installer, and get them installed. TireBuyer is owned by one of the largest tire distributors in the US, American Tire Distributors.
If you buy tires at TireBuyer, you have to have them installed at one of its 9,000 installers all over the country in order to get free shipping. If you decide to ship them to your home, you will pay what Tire Buyer calls a “small fee” for shipping. Because it is part of such a large network of tire distributors, TireBuyer says you can get your tires to your installer within 24 to 48 hours of ordering.
TireBuyer does not offer a robust sizing tool to choose the right tires like Discount Tire and Tire Rack do, but should you end up with the wrong tires you have a few options to return them. If you had the tires shipped to an installer, returns are free and handled at the installer. TireBuyer has its own network of trucks, which makes it easier to handle these kinds of returns. If you had the tires sent to your home or a non-TireBuyer shop, you’ll need to use FedEx to ship. The return shipping fees (usually $7.50 per tire when you drop the tires off at a FedEx location, or $15 per tire when you arrange a FedEx pickup) will come out of your refund.
TireBuyer also offers a relatively liberal return policy for tires that have been used. You have up to 45 days to return tires, though there are some rules (they can’t have been used off-road, they can’t have uneven wear, etc.) that you can learn more about here.
One thing to note, when we tried to find tires for our 1989 Volvo 240 DL Wagon, TireBuyer had no suggestions in or around the Los Angeles area. Also, TireBuyer did not show up on Consumer Reports’ survey, but like Tire Rack has an A-plus BBB rating.
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 developed system that uses data from customers as well as real-world testing data (like that that 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. 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 purchased 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 purchase and have tires installed at one of its shops. The prices can range from $10 per tire to as much as $100 per tire, depending on how pricey the tires you purchased are.
For those on the hunt for deals, 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.
You guessed it: You can, in fact, buy tires online at Amazon. You can buy both tire and wheel assemblies as well as tires, and it will ship them to a local store or to your home depending on what you prefer.
You should know which tires will fit the vehicle you are shopping for before you start poking around on Amazon. Unlike Discount Tire and Tire Rack, Amazon offers a very simple series of drop-downs to estimate which tires might work on your vehicle. If you are a Prime member, you do get free shipping and, depending on the tire you buy, free returns.
Amazon also offers installation locations at tire shops and home installation through its less well-known Amazon Home Services platform. You can choose to use the installation service regardless of whether you purchase tires from Amazon, too. Amazon works with highly rated (on its site) local businesses to connect you with the right installer for your needs. Installation cost is based on which company you choose to go through and can range anywhere from $40 for two tires to be installed, to $100 for four tires. The service gets 4.8 out of 5 stars on more than 1,200 reviews.
The warranty question gets a bit muddier with Amazon, too. Essentially, Amazon does not offer any kind of road hazard protection like Tire Rack and Discount Tire, it offers the warranty that comes with the tire from the manufacturer, which only covers things like faulty materials or uneven wear (but only under very specific circumstances). Many buyers on Amazon complain about the fact that they struggled to get warranty information from Amazon despite their purchases. You’ll need to register your chosen tires with the manufacturer to utilize the manufacturer’s warranty. Additionally, each installer will offer various warranties, so check with the installer you choose to find out what might be covered and what won’t be, should you decide that you want a road hazard warranty.
Returns are handled the same way that you would handle returns for any item you purchase from Amazon, which also means that return policies are largely up to the sellers of each specific tire. In most cases you can take the tires to an Amazon Locker, UPS location or another mailing facility to return them if they don’t fit your vehicle. Be sure to read about the return policy on the specific tires you are purchasing before deciding to drop a bunch of cash, though.
Sales and discounts on Amazon are a bit hard to find since it will vary widely based on both the manufacturer and the seller. If you choose to go with Amazon it’s best to really read the fine print and know what you are signing up for when purchasing tires via its online platform.
The BBB rates Amazon as a whole an A. It does not offer scores for the Amazon Home Services platform. Consumer Reports’ Tire Survey did not include Amazon.
Priority Tire is your basic online tire seller. Unlike Tire Rack, Discount Tire and Amazon, Priority Tire focuses solely on tires and does not offer wheel and tire packages.
Priority Tire also does not offer to ship the tires to a local installer. It only ships tires to your home, and you’ll need to haul them to an installer or find a mobile installer who is willing to come to you to do the work. It ships free via FedEx Ground, and while it does offer shipping to places like Alaska and Puerto Rico, it charges for those locations (around $150 to $200 per tire).
If you happen to live near one of the three warehouses located in Florida, Pennsylvania or Texas, you can order tires and pick them up at the location. Priority Tire says it offers some promotions for local pickup.
Like Amazon, Priority Tire offers a basic tire selector that defaults to the manufacturer’s suggested tire size and type. If you want anything more robust, you’ll need to use one of the other sites to choose a different size or type of tire that will still fit your vehicle.
Priority Tire does offer a 90-day window for returns, and like Tire Rack and Discount Tire, it will work with you to make things right if you get the wrong tires.
One significant thing of note is that, like Amazon, Priority Tire does not offer a road hazard warranty at all. If you want to take advantage of a manufacturer’s warranty, you’ll need to go through the tire manufacturer. Also, Priority Tire does not offer rebates though it does offer a revolving set of deals listed on its site.
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 Better Business Bureau.
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 Tire Rack’s Matt Edmonds, as quoted above, for general tips for finding the right tires for you and saving money in the process.
What to consider when buying tires
According to Petersen at Consumer Reports, 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.
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 price 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 retailer you purchase it through.
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.
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, 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.
Written by Abigail Bassett for Roadshow.