Why car tire prices vary

Consumer Reports News: November 08, 2012 04:08 PM

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We always publish the prices of the tires we test. But that often leads to a lot of comments from our readers and the manufacturers, mostly asking how we bought tires for so little (or so much) money. Actually, most people fail to read the fine print. And this leads us to how you can save money when buying your next car tires.

The numbers we publish are the retail price we paid, and for the size tested.

We buy the tires almost a year prior to the official test results are published, so in some instances we pay a premium to get our hands on a tire that was newly introduced. We realize that there is always the chance that prices creep up due supply, cost of manufacturing, and general inflation trends. There are also other variables that affect
pricing, such as:

  • Tires often don't have suggested retail prices. The price is set by the tire retailer. But our advice still holds: Shop around for the best price - this can save you more than you think.
  • We don't include shipping, mounting and balancing costs; road hazard warranties; disposal fees for old tires; or taxes.
  • Size matters. Tires aren't like shoes: The bigger the size, the more you pay. Hence, you'll pay less for a smaller tire and more for a larger size tire than what we tested.

But how much can prices vary?

Tire Size Take the popular Michelin Defender all-season tire, which comes in a wide range of sizes to fit small to large cars. Expect to pay about $82 for a 175/70R13, sized for a small, older car. For larger cars you could shell out more than $201 for a 215/55R17 version of the same tire. Both prices were obtained from one retailer, but similar fluctuations based on size are common. As a matter of record, we paid $130 for our 215/60R16 size last fall.

Retailer This is where it gets tricky. I recently looked online and found a wide variety of prices for the Defender in our 215/60R16 size. Also, when shopping via the web, you should know that prices vary by shipping region and applicable state and local taxes. One word of caution: Pricing changes like my 401(k) portfolio, rising and falling, often with little notice.

To illustrate the fluctuations, I charted price variations for the Michelin Defender, size 215/60R16, among major retailers. For this, I gathered Internet pricing for shipping to my house in Connecticut, along with the local installation price (using $20 as a standard fee, if there is a charge). The total cost reflects the price for all four tires, purchased, mounted, and fitted.

Internet tire price $ Internet price $ with shipping Local installation price Total cost
Sears 140 Free shipping to store 142 $568
Town Fair Tire 145 Free shipping to store 145 $580
Sears 133 140 147 $588
Online Tires 132 132 152 $608
Four Quick Tires 139 139 159 $636
Tread Depot 128 140 160 $640
Tire Rack 136 157 177 $708

Bottom line: Price alone is not the key consideration when buying tires. In fact some retailers with higher tire prices had the better deals for getting the tires installed on your car, and some even included additional features, such as lifetime rotation and flat repair. With this example, we could potentially save $140 with careful shopping. So shop around and consider the full cost of getting the tires on your car.

See our complete tire buying advice and Ratings.

Gene Petersen

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