Most car owners—61 percent—choose a different brand of tire when purchasing replacements, based on a new tire survey conducted by Consumer Reports. And one in five consumers tries to negotiate a lower price. Those that do have a 72 percent success rate, with an average savings of $22 a tire.

These are among the findings from a large-scale survey of 48,525 CR subscribers, who reported on 50,125 tire-buying experiences in 2016. From studying the findings, we not only identify tire-buying trends but also learn some money-saving strategies. (Read the full tire buying report and see the tire retailer satisfaction ratings.)  

Buying Traction

Most tire buyers (86 percent) reported conducting some research before buying, and most of them relied on websites and dealerships. At 43 percent, the most frequent online activity was to compare pricing, including looking at different tire brands and types. This early focus on cost later paid dividends as the shoppers completed their transactions, armed with information to empower haggling.

The cost for replacement tires depends heavily on what type of vehicle they are for, ranging from small-car tires averaging $137 apiece up to performance-focused sports car and pickup truck tires at $187 per tire, as reported by surveyed owners. Within each vehicle class, there can be significant variance based on sizes, performance, speed rating, and retailer. And as our tests routinely show, price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

Cost Per Tire by Car Type

Car Type

Percent of Cars in Survey

Cost Per Tire*

Sedan

33

$145

SUV

31

$178

Coupe/Hatchback/Wagon

13

$137

Pickup Truck

12

$187

Minivan

6

$142

Sports Car

3

$187

Other

2

$152

  1. *Median cost per tire shown is only based on the reports of drivers that purchased and installed four tires at the same location. It includes installation fees.

Among Consumer Reports subscribers, Michelin is by far the most purchased tire brand. It's no wonder, as Michelin holds the top position in many of the categories we test. Considered a premium brand, with prices above many other household names, the added cost can often be justified when comparing projected treadwear based on CR tests. The survey respondents show that in fact some other brands were more expensive on average.

Median Price Paid per Tire

Tire Brand

Price Paid

Nokian

$223

Pirelli

$194

Toyo

$190

Michelin

$189

Nitto

$189

Continental

$178

Bridgestone

$172

BF Goodrich

$164

Goodyear

$159

Yokohama

$157

Dunlop

$157

Big O

$157

Firestone

$145

Hankook

$144

Cooper

$143

Mastercraft

$136

Nexen

$136

General

$134

Sumitomo

$133

Kelly

$131

Kumho

$130

Falken

$130

Uniroyal

$125

Those consumers who were bold enough to negotiate on their tire prices were successful almost three-quarters of the time. In particular, consumers who shopped at Discount Tire, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Kauffman Tire, Tire Discounters, Tire Warehouse, and Tires Plus reported negotiation success rates of 80 percent or greater. Interestingly, successful hagglers at car dealerships saved even more than tire negotiators in general, at about $28 per tire.

Negotiators were the least successful at Walmart, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, and Costco.

Beyond shaving money off the purchase price, nine out of 10 customers who purchased and installed four tires at the same retailer received at least one free perk or service. More than half got a tire rotation, tire balancing, and/or tire mounting at no charge. “Other freebies” mentioned by subscribers included reward cards or prepaid gift cards, rebates, discounted services, free alignment or air pressure checks, flat-tire repair, seasonal tire storage, nitrogen gas, and oil changes.

Free Perks Obtained When Buying Four Tires

Free Perk

Percent Who Got the Free Perk

Any Perk

90

Tire Rotation

61

Tire Balancing

61

Tire Mounting

55

Tire Disposal

36

Vehicle Inspections

15

Transportation or Loaner Car

4

Accessories

1

Other

6

Perks were also available to online shoppers, with around one-third benefiting from free shipping. In fact, over half the customers of Tirebuyer.com, Costco.com, Walmart.com, and Amazon.com reported receiving free shipping.

Another common benefit is a road-hazard warranty that typically provides a prorated replacement for tires damaged before their traditional tread life has expired. About 18 percent of those who installed all four tires were not sure if they received a warranty with their tires, suggesting that many consumers may not be well-informed about what they're getting with their tire purchase.

The coverage you’ll get with road-hazard warranties differs somewhat depending on the retailer. Most consumers who bought a warranty or got one for free with their tire purchase (77 percent) report that it included flat-tire repair and/or tire rotation. The retailers cited most frequently for including this additional warranty protection for free include Les Schwab Tire Centers, Kal Tire, Costco, BJ’s, and Dunn Tire.

Those who pay for a road-hazard warranty out of pocket spend a median of $54 for it. (Be sure to read the small print before ascribing much benefit to such programs, as the coverage does vary. In our experience, it is often worth the peace of mind.)

Bottom Line

Tire buying can be broken down into two distinct phases: Choosing the tire and choosing the retailer. As our new tire retailer satisfaction ratings show, there are differences among walk-in stores and websites. Likewise, there can be significant variables when it comes to calculating the overall costs for buying the tires and having them installed. When comparing prices, be sure to consider what freebies are offered. It can be worth paying a bit more for the tires if the complete deal looks more favorable.