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How to Shop for Tires

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BY A MAN WHO SELLS THEM FOR A LIVING

Buying tires for the uninitiated can be a confusing prospect. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get the best bang for your buck when buying tires for your passenger vehicle or light truck.

Step 1: Size and Style

Probably the first question the salesmen will ask you is, "What size tire do you need?" Those numbers are on the sidewall of your existing tires. Look for a series of three numbers, usually beginning with a P (for passenger) or LT (for light truck). Examples would be P205/70/R15 or LT235/85/R16 (where the R stands for radial). Most modern vehicles also have a factory placard mounted on the driver's side door jamb which indicates what size tires were on the vehicle when it left the manufacturer. There is also a load index number and speed rating letter after your tire size. Examples would be 89H or 91V. This is useful to your tire salesmen, since there are often tires of the same size but with different speed ratings. You will also need to know what type of tread design you want. Most passenger vehicle tires would be replaced with a highway tread, while pickup truck owners may choose highway, all-terrain, or mud-terrain tread. You will also need to choose black sidewall, white sidewall, or white letter sidewall.

Step 2: Name Brand, Private Label, or Import?

Decide if you want a recognizable brand name tire (such as Michelin®, BFGoodrich®, or Uniroyal®) or whether an imported or private label tire will be acceptable to you. Generally, a name brand tire will be more expensive than an equivalent tire whose manufacturer's name you do not recognize. Some of these may be companies such as Nankang, Kenda, GT Radial, Kumho, Nexen, Sumic, Accelera, etc. Many are imported from China and are what I term "entry level." Normally these imported brands will be the least expensive and generally do not carry mileage warranties. They may not deliver as many miles as their name brand competitors, but they are generally just as safe and secure. The three major international manufacturers of tires—Michelin®, Bridgestone, and Goodyear—often produce tires other than under their own name. For example, Bridgestone manufactures Fusion and Primewell and Goodyear produces Kelly and Dunlop.

Step 3: Mileage, Manufacturer's Warranties, and Road Hazard Insurance

Decide if you want a tire with a mileage warranty from the manufacturer or whether you are happy buying a tire whose mileage is not guaranteed. Beware of salesmen who tell you they have a "50,000 mile rated tire." This probably means that the tire is not warranted to deliver the stated mileage. For example, a "50,000 mile rated tire" means is that the UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grade) label for treadwear (a number usually from about 220 to 800) is equivalent to that of a tire which is guaranteed for 50,000 miles by its manufacturer. Thus, if you buy a BFGoodrich® tire with a 560 treadwear and a 60,000 mileage warranty, there is no guarantee that if you buy a similar size Nexen tire with the same treadwear that the Nexen will deliver 60,000 miles. Treadwear numbers are molded into the sidewalls of all passenger tires, along with temperature and traction ratings. The treadwear numbers are assigned by the manufacturers to their products after doing tests according to government standards. The numbers are theoretically proportional: a tire rated 600 should get twice the miles of a tire rated 300.

All tire manufacturers warrant their tires against workmanship and material. If a tire fails due to one of these causes, the tire can be returned to the dealer where you purchased it and be adjusted on a pro-rated basis. You will be charged for the tread you wore off the tire, and be credited back an amount which reflects the tread left on the tire at the time of failure.

Manufacturers are not responsible for road hazard damage. If you buy new tires, drive off the dealer's lot, hit a bolt in the road, and destroy one of your new tires, the manufacturer is not responsible. One way to protect yourself is to purchase road hazard insurance, which is generally an extra expense running about 10% of your original purchase price.

Step 4: Out-the-Door Pricing

Select at least three dealers from which to obtain prices. Tell your tire salesmen what kind of car you have and what kind of driving you do. Let him give you good, better, and best pricing scenarios. If you have not specified brand names or warranted mileage tires, then let him give you all the pertinent information about the tires he is quoting you on. Insist that he give you the "out-the-door price" so that you can accurately compare pricing between dealers. To say that a given tire will cost you $105 leaves out a lot of pertinent details. Out-the-door pricing should reflect the cost of the new tire, cost of removing your old tire off its existing rim, mounting of the new tire, new stems (if appropriate), bolting the tires on your vehicle, disposal of the old tires, state excise, and state sales taxes. Find out if free rotation and/or free balancing is included. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 6,000 miles. Try to schedule your tire rotations in conjunction with your vehicle oil changes, which makes it simpler to remember.

Step 5: Compare Your Prices

If you are unsure how to compare dealer prices, try to have all three dealers quote you on an identical tire. The two basic components of your dealer's price are 1) the wholesale cost of the tire to him and 2) the amount he charges for labor to mount your new tire. Dealers do not necessarily all pay the same wholesale price. Some belong to buying groups, while others do not. Some have high markups, some lower. Nor do all dealers charge the same amount for labor. You might try to isolate some of the costs by asking your dealer how much he would charge if you were to bring your own tires to him for mounting. You also might check the internet for your cost of the actual tires. There are many sources of information on the internet. Tirerack.com is one of the best and features competitive prices and consumer reviews of the tires they sell.

Step 6: Visit and Decide

Visit the dealer. Inspect his shop. Find out how long he has been in business. Are any of your friends or neighbors familiar with the dealer? Finally, make your decision. Don't hesitate to call or email me if you have questions, even if I haven't given you a quote.

[This article was written by Carl Watner, who has been selling tires at Inman Tire and Feed in Inman, South Carolina for over twelve years. Call him at 864-472-2876 or contact him through the website].

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