By Lori Robertson, SCCA Solo National Champion
Internet shopping is a wondrous thing – compare prices, click and buy, day or night, and get your order dropped right on your doorstep.
But what about tires? As with most online purchases today, the majority of shoppers are women. And when they shop for tires, nearly all of them go into an actual store to ask employees for recommendations, comparing a range of products, and getting the tires installed on site. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that Tire Business, a leading trade publication, has shown that 65 percent of in-store tire purchases are made by women.
However, more and more retailers are selling tires online, with enough information on the Web to compare prices and read consumer reviews – to virtually “kick the tires” of your choice. Typically, tires are shipped to an installer you select, so you don’t have to worry about finding your new tires on your doorstep and hauling them to your mechanic.
Start with some research
Before any online or in-store purchase, it is important to start the shopping process with online research that will help narrow your choices, hone in on what is best for your car and find a brand within your price range. Kim Fronek, 43, from Cleveland, Ohio, is a regular Internet shopper who recently purchased her tires online for the first time. She loved reading the online reviews, but cautioned that shoppers should take them with a grain of salt.
“When you read a lot of reviews, you start to see a pattern of either positive or negative comments that will give you an overall impression,” Kim said. “I looked for information about ride, handling and performance in different weather conditions – being in my 40s, it’s something I think about more now.”
Consider your options
Online tire retailers carry dozens of brands in thousands of sizes and making the right choice can be intimidating, at first. Luckily, you can start the process in most cases by focusing on the make and model of your car. If you keep the following criteria in mind the rest of the process will go smoothly:
1. Price: Look online for the price range of the tires that fit your car. Less expensive tires don’t always mean lesser quality. This is where online reviews come in handy. If you find a highly-rated tire that’s at the lower end of your price range, chances are you will save money and still get a quality tire.
2. Tire “Tailoring”: Where do you live and what is the climate like? What kind of driving do you do – mostly highway or local roads? What kind of mileage will you put on your tires? Do you drive a truck, a minivan, or a sedan? Most tires that come with your car are all-season tires, but this is your opportunity to get a tire more suited to the climate and your driving style. For instance, high- or ultra-performance tires don’t have to be expensive, but they may be better suited for your car’s “lifestyle”.
3. Warranty and replacements: Compare warranties on your tire choices and evaluate how the company handles replacements. Online comments are key here too – customers are quick to point out when a product was not to their satisfaction, or, conversely, when a company’s service exceeds their expectations.
4. Run-flat tires: Can you imagine never having to worry about getting a flat? For solo drivers, or for those driving late at night, run-flat tires can be a lifesaver. Run-flat tires, which are factory-installed on a number of luxury cars, are now coming on the market as replacement tires. These tires can be driven at normal speeds for some distance even with a deep cut or puncture. A word of caution however, run-flat tires work best with vehicles with tire pressure monitoring systems that can immediate notify the driver of a drop in tire pressure.
The speed factor of the ‘net
In addition to saving money, Internet shopping is an enormous time-saver. Many Web sites compare tire sizes and prices side-by-side so you can make quick comparisons. You don’t have to travel to multiple stores, and best of all, you don’t have to spend time waiting for your tires to be installed.
Kim from Cleveland said she probably spent about two hours online compared to the six hours she would have spent looking through the paper, calling and visiting stores and then waiting for the tires to be installed.
“It was seven days from purchase to install,” said Kim. “And since I made an appointment at my local installer when I bought the tires online, I didn’t have to wait for my turn at the shop. I just brought the car in and within 30 minutes I was done.”
You can find tires online at the same stores you shop IRL (in real life!), such as Sears, and a quick Google search will get you many more online retailers. This is a short list of my favorite sites:
Tirerack.com: This online store has it all – handy menus help you choose your tires by car make, model and year, and then further refine your search by performance criteria. Online customer reviews and warranty ratings are definite plusses.
Roadandtrack.com and Motortrend.com: You may have never picked up an actual auto magazine for casual reading, but these two Web sites have reader forums, blogs and searchable content to for more information not just on specific tires, but excellent advice on tire buying and care.
Tirereview.com: Mostly for those in the tire trade, the “For Consumers” section on this site includes buying and maintenance tips for tires, plus a link to a women-specific auto guide.
Consumerreports.org: While Consumer Reports is known for rigorous testing and product ratings, the Web site also has car experts blogs, consumer forums, and online consumer reviews.
About the author: Lori Robertson is sponsored by Kumho Tire USA and is a 4-time Sports Club Car of America (SCCA) solo racing champion in the Prepared and Stock Car classes who entered the sport in 1997. More information about Lori Robertson and buying tires can be found at www.kumhotireusa.com.