Tire purchases include models like this one

Tires may all look the same, but just as there can be dramatic differences in their performance, there can be variations in the tire-buying experience. A large-scale survey conducted by Consumer Reports on the tire purchase and installation process shows that CR members tend to be an informed group who place a priority on all-weather grip, brand, and price.

And, the survey shows, they experienced a range of satisfaction when it comes to tire retailers, particularly when looking at the various elements of the buying process.

“Tire buying can be a complicated process,” says Adam Troy, Ph.D., a senior survey researcher for Consumer Reports. “But we see that consumers are generally satisfied with the overall experience. A clear takeaway is that using the internet can empower consumers to do their research in advance, compare pricing, and even purchase tires and ship them to a local shop for installation. We found that savvy shoppers were able to successfully haggle, often saving money. Many shoppers also gained free extras thrown in with their tire purchase.”

More on Buying Tires

To gain insights into how consumers think about buying tires, CR surveyed 34,477 members, who in turn reported on 36,098 tire purchase and/or installation experiences at walk-in chains, online retailers, independent tire retailers, and car dealerships. In order to qualify for this survey, members must have purchased one or more new tires for their vehicle between fall 2017 and fall 2018.

Here are some of the key survey highlights.

What Drives Tire Purchases

Two factors dominate the reasons for buying replacement tires: tire age (48 percent) and wear (46 percent). About 13 percent of consumers surveyed said they bought new tires because the old ones had a flat, were damaged by a road hazard and/or had a sidewall bulge indicating damage to the inner tire lining.

When it came time to buy, over 80 percent of consumers purchased a full set of four tires—that's the ideal strategy to ensure balanced performance and to take advantage of common sale incentives. And, more than 80 percent bought all-season tires.

Among the myriad tire attributes consumers must consider when tire shopping, CR members clearly valued all-weather grip, as 50 percent prioritized this feature. All-weather grip serves as a good summary of how a tire performs in a range of conditions, including on dry, wet, icy, and snowy roads. How tires measure up in that regard is available to CR.org members, and our results are based on extensive testing.

When shopping for tires, shoppers were more likely to consider brand, the length of the manufacturer’s treadwear warranty, handling, braking, or the Uniform Tire Quality Grades (UTQG) rating on the sidewall for treadwear, traction, and temperature than getting the lowest price.

However, the most commonly reported reason for selecting a particular tire brand was price (44 percent), followed by tread life (40 percent) and brand trust (31 percent).

“There can be a real difference between perception and reality when buying tires, especially with the influence of marketing,” says Gene Petersen, head of CR’s tire test program. He says that when it comes to assessing value, it's important to do your homework. “When looking to get the most for your money, check the CR tire ratings for both performance and estimated tread life in narrowing down your choices. Then use price and free extras to help break the tie,” he adds.

Tire Features Consumers Look for When Tire Shopping

Tire Characteristics1

Percent

All-weather grip

50

Brand

47

Length of manufacturer's treadwear warranty (miles)

39

Handling

37

Braking

25

Treadwear traction temperature ratings (located on sidewall of tire)

25

Lowest price

20

Free follow-up services and maintenance

19

Retailer recommendation

14

Car manufacturer's recommendation

12

  1. Members could select more than one characteristic.

How Consumers Shop for Tires

Most respondents (88 percent) researched tires before buying them, some by speaking to local mechanics (16 percent) or dealerships (13 percent). But research was much more likely to have been done online, where respondents could identify the right tires for their vehicle, compare prices, and get information from the tire maker websites.

Research Done Before Buying Tires

Research1

Percent

Searched online for the right tire type for the vehicle

42
Compared prices of different tire brands or types online40

Searched for the best price for the desired tire online

32
Visited tire company websites27
Spoke to a mechanic about tires16
Visited automotive websites15
Went to a dealership13
  1. Members could select more than one behavior.

Which Tires They Buy

Sixty percent of tire shoppers bought a different brand of replacement tires from what they previously had on their car. At least 40 percent of all shoppers indicated that price and/or good projected tread life were their leading reasons for buying a particular tire. 

“It is possible to upgrade performance by choosing a different model than came on the car from the factory,” says Petersen. “But without doing your research, it is also possible that the replacement may not hold the road as well.” Petersen adds that it's a safe decision to stick with the original equipment tires because they were optimized for that particular car, though replacement tires can sometimes offer longer tread life and better all-weather grip.

The cost for the replacement tires depends heavily on what type of vehicle they're for, ranging from a median of $137 per tire for coupes, hatchbacks, minivans, and sedans to a median of $187 per tire for sports cars, as reported by surveyed owners. Of course, within each vehicle class, there can be significant price variance based on size, performance, speed rating, and retailer. The median installation cost for each car type was $19 per tire.

Cost Per Tire By Car Type

Car Type

Percent of Cars in Survey

Cost Per Tire1

Sedan/hatchback/coupe

40

$137

SUV

36

$162

Pickup truck

12

$175

Minivan

5

$137

Sports car

3

$187

  1. Median purchase price does not include cost of installation. 

Where They Buy Tires

Tire shoppers have many choices in where they can buy their tires; this surveyed group cited 29 retail chains, spread among major tire retailer chains such as Discount Tire, wholesale clubs such as Costco, online retailers like Tire Rack, and general automotive stores such as Pep Boys. Independent tire shops and car dealerships are rated as two separate groups.

Among the stores, independent retailers were the most frequented by tire shoppers (23 percent), followed by Costco (16 percent), car dealerships (15 percent), and Discount Tire Centers (11 percent). Among those stores, only independent retailers score a top mark for overall satisfaction.

While no retailer earned our top mark on all the factors in the survey, more than half were rated favorably overall.

Collectively, the least-satisfying retailers were often dinged for the lack of free perks offered (e.g., tire rotation and tire balancing) and the slower time taken to install tires. Even still, they’re viewed fairly favorably by their customers overall. 

See the complete tire retailer ratings.

Satisfaction With Tire Buying

Overall, around 9 out of 10 tire buyers are highly satisfied with their purchase and/or installation experience, although, as our detailed retailer ratings show, their experiences can vary widely among the different aspects of the purchase and installation experience. At least 3 out of 4 tire buyers are highly satisfied with the quality of installation service (84 percent), sales service (83 percent), ease of checkout (83 percent), and the price they paid for tires and installation (75 percent).

It’s important to note that people who buy their tires from one of the online-only tire retailers in our survey (Amazon.com, Discount Tire, and Tire Rack) did not appear to have much difficulty finding a good installer. Around three-quarters or more of the online tire buyers are particularly happy with the quality of installation from the shop they chose—a proportion that's on a par with—or higher—than the quality of installation ratings for many retailers that typically sell and install tires.

Bottom Line

Consumer Reports members in the market for new tires are a savvy group, and they use various tools available, from local mechanics to online resources, to help make informed decisions. Based on interests expressed through the survey, shoppers would benefit by checking CR.org tire ratings, which are based on testing hundreds of tires per year and extensive treadwear evaluations.

Once you've selected the replacement tires you want, there are many retailers to choose from. The best ones often have compelling tire prices and high installation quality—although all the retailers in the survey did a decent job of satisfying consumers overall.

Don’t forget to negotiate the price of your tires. Although relatively few respondents attempted to haggle (17 percent), among those who did, nearly 70 percent were able to negotiate a lower-than-advertised price for the tires and installation, saving a median of $29 per tire.