Tires may all look the same, but just as there can be dramatic differences in their performance, there is variation in the tire-buying experience. A large-scale survey conducted by Consumer Reports on the tire purchase and installation process shows that shoppers tend to be an informed group who place a priority on all-weather grip, typically replace all four tires at a time, and have a range of satisfaction when it comes to tire retailers.

“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 and sometimes gaining free extras.”

More From Our Exclusive Tire Survey

To gain insights into tire buying, CR surveyed 48,525 subscribers, who reported on 50,125 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, subscribers must have purchased two or more new tires for their vehicle in 2016.

Reading the thousands of comments received through the survey, there are tips and lessons throughout, but the most significant takeaway is the reality check that replacing tires is often an expensive, time-consuming, complex process that can be fraught with pitfalls. There are many tales of errors, sneaky upsells, and random problems, such as with lug nuts, balancing, and alignment. But studying their experiences, there are clear lessons to save time, energy, and money.  

What Drives Tire Purchases

The buying process was prompted when owners noticed worn tread for three-quarters of the survey respondents, with 84 percent of that group citing the wear as being even. Most of these consumers noticed the wear themselves (80 percent), and about a third also or alternatively had the wear pointed out by a mechanic. (Learn about when to replace your tires.)

The second most common reason to buy replacement tires is damage (15 percent). For these consumers, sidewall damage was to blame in 42 percent of cases; it’s a condition that cannot be repaired with a patch, plug, or tire inflator kit. Among the other causes of tire damage reported by these consumers were a flat tire (27 percent), road hazard (27 percent), and defect (6 percent).

Just 1 percent bought tires because they simply wanted new ones, which may suggest that the marketing hype pushing for a cosmetic or performance upgrade may not be persuasive. 


All-Weather Grip Is the Most Sought-After Feature

When weighing the myriad tire attributes, survey respondents clearly valued all-weather grip, with 54 percent prioritizing this feature. From a testing perspective, 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. That information is available to CR.org subscribers based on our extensive testing. Otherwise, shoppers have to rely on marketing claims, sales pitches, and word of mouth.

The length of the treadwear warranty, brand, traction, and handling proved to be of greater concern to respondents than getting the lowest price. When it comes to performance, grip is the primary goal for subscribers, as seen through strong interest all-weather grip, traction, and braking.

Still, perceived value matters as subscribers who purchased a different brand of tire from their previous set often factored in price and longer tread life. When choosing between two similar tire models, price and free extras are a smart way to break the tie and make the final purchase decision. 

Tire Features Consumers Look For When Tire Shopping

Tire Characteristics1

Percent

All-Weather Grip

54

Length of Manufacturers’ Treadwear Warranties (Miles)

49

Brand

47

Traction

44

Handling

43

Braking

31

Free Follow-up Services and Maintenance

31

Lowest Price

31

Treadwear Traction Temperature Ratings

27

Tread Type

23

Retailer Recommendation

20

Other

11

  1. Subscribers could select more than one characteristic.

How Consumers Shop for Tires

Most respondents (86 percent) researched tires before buying them, often by speaking to local mechanics and dealerships, and going to automotive websites. However, the most common sources people turn to when researching tires are tire company websites (33 percent of all tire buyers). Though pieces of information can be gleaned from such sources, it is important to gain buying insights from an independent source that doesn’t benefit from the sale and has the testing rigor to provide expert, unbiased insights.

The internet puts much information right at hand, and it was used by 65 percent of the respondents during their purchase process. Websites were used primarily to compare prices and search for the proper tire for a particular vehicle.

Use of Internet During the Tire Purchase Process

Internet Behavior1

Percent

Compared Prices of Different Tire Brands or Types Online

43

Searched for the Right Type of Tire for the Vehicle

42

Searched Online for the Best Price for a Desired Tire

33

Purchased Tires Online but Picked Them Up at Walk-In Retailer

8

Purchased Tires Online and Had Them Shipped to Home

4

Other

6

  1. Subscribers could select more than one behavior.

Which Tires They Buy

With their research complete, more than half of all respondents (61 percent) bought a different brand of replacement tires from what they previously had on their car. More than a third of these consumers indicated that price and/or better projected tread life were their leading reasons for changing. Those who stayed with the same brand often did so because they trusted the brand (44 percent). It is always a safe decision to stick with the original equipment tires because they were optimized for that particular car, though they may not be the best-performing tires.

The cost for the replacement tires depends heavily on what type of vehicle they are for, ranging from a median of $137 for hatchbacks and small cars apiece (including installation) to a median of $187 per tire for sports cars and pickup trucks, 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.

Cost Per Tire by Car Type

Car Type

Percent of Cars in Survey

Cost Per Tire1

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 is based only on the reports of drivers that purchased and installed four tires at the same location. It includes installation fees.

Where They Buy Tires

Tire shoppers have many choices in where to buy tires; this surveyed group cited 33 retail chains, spread among major tire retailer chains such as Discount Tire and Tire Warehouse, 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 also rated as two separate groups.

Among the stores, independent retailers were the most frequented by tire shoppers (21 percent), followed by Discount Tire (15 percent), Costco (15 percent), and car dealerships (14 percent). Most customers purchased the tires and had them installed at the same retailer (89 percent).

Costco, Tire Rack, Les Schwab Tire Centers, Discount Tire, and independent retailers are the top-rated tire retailers for overall satisfaction. (Several retailers in the survey, such as Les Schwab Tire Centers and Discount Tire, are regional.) The satisfaction scores for the majority of retailers were tightly clustered. That said, the leaders scored significantly better than more than half of the tire retailers evaluated.

When retailers succeeded, survey respondents shared praise and even appreciation. About one of the most satisfying retailers, a Costco customer wrote, “Costco’s tire purchase and install process was easy and their communication timely and accurate. . . . What's not to love?”

No retailer earned high marks across all the factors in the survey. For example, although Costco is among the top-rated retailers, especially for the prices they charge and installation quality, its consumer ratings for selection, waiting area, and time for installation are middling. Tire Rack, the most satisfying online retailer, is one of the few retailers to get top marks for both selection and checkout ease. This is, however, a common trait among the three online-only retailers in our ratings. (Amazon.com and TireBuyer.com are the other two.)

Sears, NTB, Pep Boys, Tire Kingdom, and Mavis Discount Tire are among the lower-rated tire retailers.

The negative comments about the lower-rated retailers can be wince-inducing, and they often cite multiple problems. For example, one Mavis customer wrote, “Sloppy, unprofessional, and incompetent. I had to go back numerous times to straighten out the errors they made.”

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, almost nine out of 10 tire buyers are highly satisfied with their purchase and/or installation experience, although, as our detailed retailer ratings show, there is variance among the facets of the purchase and installation experience. Just about three in five tire buyers were especially happy with the price they paid, selection of brands and models available to them, and waiting area of their chosen installer.

It’s important to note that people who buy their tires from one of the online-only tire retailers in our survey (Amazon.com, TireBuyer.com, and Tire Rack) do not appear to have much difficulty finding a good installer. Around 80 percent of the online tire buyers are particularly happy with the quality of installation from the shop they chose—a proportion on par with or higher than the quality of installation ratings for many retailers that typically sell and install tires.


Bottom Line

Consumer Reports subscribers 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 the replacement tires are selected, 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 on the price of your tires. Although relatively few respondents attempted to haggle (21 percent), among those who did, 72 percent were able to negotiate a lower-than-advertised price for the tires and installation, saving a median of $22 per tire.

Monitoring your tires and preparing for replacement are the keys to a safe, satisfying ownership experience. Planning ahead, comparing prices, and negotiating can turn that smart tire choice into a good deal.