Virtual Tire Shopping is the New Rage: Are You on Board?

Your next set of vehicle or equipment tires is only a few mouse clicks away. But are you ready to switch from the local tire shop to a virtual shopping experience?
Virtual Tire Shopping is the New Rage: Are You on Board?
Jon Salzman, automotive technician at Olson Tire & Auto Service in Wausau, Wis., mounts tires for a customer, a complimentary service when tires are purchased locally, but an added charge when bought online. (Photo by Ed Wodalski)

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Can buying tires online for your work trucks, trailers or equipment save you a bundle? Or are you better off shopping at a local dealer?

Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for, says online tire shopping can save you money … if you know how to use the system.

“What I mean is it’s a lot easier to get a total picture online because you’re at a computer that can total everything.” And that can be less confusing than dealing with a salesperson, he says. “You might be quoted the price of a tire without realizing you still have to get three more tires; you need to have it balanced and stems put in.”

Reed says he saved $15 per tire the last time he shopped online – $60 for a set of four – but might give his local dealer a chance to price match when it comes time to re-tire.

The greatest advantage of online buying is the ability to comparison shop – by brand, by price or by whatever criteria is most important to you, he says. Thanks to easy-to-navigate websites, you can provide the year, make and model of your service van or work truck and quickly be shown a wide selection of tires that fit.

Reed says the primary disadvantage to purchasing tires from a Web seller is delivery time, especially in an emergency. “In most cases, tire stores will have an inventory of their own, but they also have access to the local warehouse. They can have the tires you selected on your car in half a day, if not faster. And people like the idea of just getting it done,” he says. There’s also the perception that online is cheaper, which is not always the case. “You have to make sure there is no ‘gotcha’ in shipping and handling.”

Here’s a quick overview of some things to consider when shopping online:

The pros:

  • A wealth of tire knowledge, ease of comparison
  • Consumer reviews can be helpful
  • Online prices generally are $15 to $20 lower per tire
  • Large selection of hard-to-find sizes and specialty tires
  • No suggestive upselling
  • Tires can be purchased 24/7

The cons:

  • Purchases require advance planning and can take days to arrive
  • You can’t touch and inspect tires before buying
  • No face-to-face interaction
  • Shipping costs can be high, particularly for overnight delivery
  • You need to locate an installer
  • Installation fees can run $20 per tire
  • Warranty issues must be resolved with the seller

For online buying, you can go to a number of established sellers., in Bellevue, Wash., for example, is the online division of American Tire Distributors in Huntersville, N.C., a distributor with more than five million tires and wheels in stock. The company carries a dozen brands and promises delivery in 1 to 3 days in the Lower 48, with delivery options for Alaska and Hawaii. The company currently does not offer delivery in Canada and does not carry tires for heavy equipment.

TireBuyer estimates savings of 5 to 20 percent over buying from a local retailer, depending on the product, with customer support available by phone, online chat or email. The company works with a network of 2,000 installers nationwide. A checkout option enables you to choose the closest one.

If you want to do a cost comparison to traditional tire-buying, keep these factors in mind:

  • Tire price
  • Shipping cost
  • Cost of installation
  • Disposal fees and excise taxes

Depending on the seller, tires may be shipped directly to you or to an installer you choose through the seller’s website. TireBuyer offers free delivery in the Lower 48. If you have them shipped to your shop, you can contact local service centers to ask if they will mount tires you don’t purchase from them. They may be happy to take on the service work but not warranty the tires themselves., based in South Bend, Ind., another popular online site, allows you to search by vehicle, tire size and brand. The locator feature lists installation price, which can vary by $25 a tire (from $10 to $35 for a 60 Series) in the same geographic area. Additional costs include valve stems, disposal fees, run-flat service, TPMC (tire pressure monitoring cap) service and shop fee.

Other online tire stores include mass marketers like Walmart, and the rent-to-own company, as well as, which offers industrial and construction tires, including skid-steers and graders.

Kent Olson, owner of Olson Tire & Auto Service in Wausau, Wis., a preferred installer for both TireBuyer and TireRack, says more people are looking online before making their tire purchases. But he doesn’t believe buying tires online is necessarily less expensive.

“If you brought your own steak to the restaurant, you could buy the steak cheaper than you could at the restaurant, but the preparation cost would be different,” he says. “At the shop, if you buy tires from me, I don’t charge you to mount them. I don’t generally charge freight, unless it’s not available through my local normal channels.”

Olson admits being a preferred installer does drive traffic and offers an opportunity to provide additional service. “You can’t align a car over the Internet,” he says. “The other reason [we install online-purchased tires] is you don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If you know it’s going to happen, you certainly try to incorporate it into your marketing philosophy.”

Olson believes online reviews can be helpful wherever you make your tire purchase. “I think if there are enough reviews so you get a balanced option, not one or two, but a company like TireRack where they compile a thousand reviews, and you get a general scoring, I think that’s helpful,” he says. “It tells you what works well and what doesn’t work well, particularly for light trucks and passenger car tires.”


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