How to Order Tires Online

by Kevin on August 20, 2009

A few weeks ago I told you my wife got a flat tire. We ended up car pooling for three days while we waited on the tires I ordered online to arrive at the house.

One reader, Leigh, asked if I could go into more detail about ordering tires online after I wrote a post about preparing for unexpected car expenses.

How to Effectively Order Tires Online

I would recommend the following steps for ordering tires online:

Plan for Tire Replacement

Remember those frugal car maintenance tasks I do? I need to add “regularly check tire pressure and tire tread” to it.

The lesson here is simple: if you are consistently checking your tire pressure, tire tread wear, and overall health of the tire you will be aware of when they need replacing. I had not done this on our cars and my wife’s flat tire brought the need to replace the tires to my attention.

Of course by that point we were behind the eight ball and if school was in session likely would have had to buy tires at retail price. Thankfully we didn’t have to do that.

Discover Your Current Tires

You need to know what tires you currently have before you can make an educated decision on where you want to go. You will need three important variables about your tires.

All of this can be found on the outer sidewall (the side that faces out away from the car with the writing on it):

  • Section width (the width of the tire from outer sidewall to inner sidewall in millimeters)
  • Sidewall aspect ratio (essentially how much tire there is between the rim and the tread)
  • Tire and wheel diameter (what size wheels the tires are designed to fit)

For my wife’s 2002 Honda Civic the tires are 185/70/14. This means the tire is 185mm wide, has a somewhat tall tire (a lot of tire between the tread that his the road and the rim), and fits on the standard 14″ wheels.

Unless you are switching wheels your new tires will need to match your old tires in terms of size, but not in terms of brand.

Research Tire Options Online

For every brand of tire out there you will find hundreds of opinions. Some people hate one tire company while others love the exact same company. Once you pick a brand then there are usually going to be two or three tire options from that brand that fit your vehicle. It can be hard to make a selection.

Enter stage right: the internet.

My two favorite places to buy tires are TireRack.com and DiscountTire.com. Both have tools available where you can input your car information (Make, Model, Year) and it will spit out what the manufacturer’s original equipment on the vehicle was. This can be used to make a tire selection as long as you verify your old tires are the same size.

The internet make it extraordinarily easy to do research on tires, quality, etc.

My only advice here is to read reviews, read specs, and don’t necessarily go for the most expensive or the cheapest tire. (If anyone is a tire expert please chime in in the comments!)

I’m a fan of Michelin, Pirelli, and Yokohama tires. I focused my search on these three brands and discovered an inexpensive Pirelli Tire at TireRack for $62 (the Pirelli P4).

Call Local Shops for Pricing

As cheap as TireRack’s tire option was you still have to pay shipping and wait for the tires to arrive. I decided I needed to call some of the local shops to see if they had the tires in stock. I would be willing to pay a premium to get the tires installed immediately.

When I called around no one had the tire in inventory. I got a couple of “No, man, I haven’t sold those in a while.”

This was concerning so I checked DiscountTire to see what their price would be. I wondered why the shops hadn’t even had the tire in a while.

Remember how the tire was the Pirelli P4? DiscountTire didn’t have the P4. They had the P5.

I did a little bit of research, looked at Pirelli’s USA website, and discovered that the P5 was the new tire. The P4 was older and thus local shops weren’t carrying it. (Plus not many around here carried Pirelli tires at all.)

Also when compared to what tires the local shops offered in that price range the Pirelli was by far a superior tire according to the reviews I read on both websites.

Order the Most Competitive Tire

After discovering the newer tire I checked the price. The P5 was $62 on DiscountTire, and the P4 was $62 on TireRack.

DiscountTire offered free shipping and no tax.

TireRack’s shipping was $40 and no tax.

You can imagine which tire I ordered! We got the new P5 three business days later from DiscountTire. We had them installed at WalMart for half the price of one of the local shops.

This is the second or third set of tires I have ordered online. I’ve not had a problem at any point. The tires show up on time, I get them installed, and get back to driving. It can be overwhelming at first, but a little bit of research will get you pointed in the right direction.

Additionally the representatives of both TireRack and DiscountTire have been very knowledgeable and offered solid advice rather than being mindless drones just taking an order.

Have you ordered tires online? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?

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Mike August 20, 2009 at 5:25 am

I used to be involved in SCCA racing, and have ordered dozens of sets of tires online. Now, with our family cars, I do the same thing. It’s by far the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to get it done.

I personally support TireRack every chance I get since they’re so supportive and involved with both pro and amateur racing. Their service is great, shipping is fast (I’m in Ohio, so I’m just a few hours from their South Bend warehouse), and their prices typically beat the local stores by quite a bit.

fern August 20, 2009 at 7:28 am

What you completely glossed over in your analysis is that online tire sellers like TireRack.com don’t offer free flat tire repair or tire rotation service, which many brick and mortar national chains do.

I’ve ordered from TireRack before and while their prices were better than my local Town Fair Tire, I’m going with the latter next time becus the savings in tire rotations is worth it.

Kevin August 20, 2009 at 7:38 am

I don’t think I glossed over anything. My tire rotations are included when I get my oil changed. I never pay additional for tire rotations.

There are some people that don’t think you should rotate your tires. (I’m not one of them, just saying.)

Regarding flat tire repair it is my understanding that generally speaking there are not many flats that can be repaired effectively in the long run. A replaced tire is generally a better option than a repaired but compromised tire.

TireRack and DiscountTire do offer a flat tire/road hazard warranty for additional money. Not sure how much more.

Kelly August 20, 2009 at 11:28 am

Where did you get them installed, and for how much?
We need new tires, like yesterday, and I was considering Costco, but want to do some price checking.

Also where are people getting their tires rotated free? I think I pay for that.

Fixing a flat is relatively cheap in my experience. Also it helps if you’re having construction work done on your home to check the ground since you can’t trust the contractors to clean up nails. (we had 3 nail pops in various tires from our roof being replaced.

Kevin August 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

Believe it or not I got them installed at WalMart for $48. Other shops were wanting to charge $100 ($25/tire) to do it.

I wouldn’t take nice wheels to WalMart without some hesitation, but with the steel wheels and hubcaps my wife’s car has… why not? It’s hard to mess up a tire installation that basic.

We get our oil changed at Big 10 (a southeastern shop). The price of the oil change includes free tire rotation. If it didn’t I would rotate at home because I have a floor jack that would make it easy to do.

It depends on the type of flat and if you drove on the flat tire at all. You definitely have to be careful about that construction work!

Ricky August 20, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I had a positive experience with an online company called Edge Racing. The only catch is that they only carry high performance/ low profile tires. If your car requires these I would highly recommend that site. I paid about $20 less per tire than any other company I shopped, including Tire Rack and Discount Tire Direct. I have purchased rims from Discount and I had a very pleasant experince with them as well. They did send me the wrong center caps for the wheels I had ordered, but they corrected it immediately and expedited shipping at no cost to me due to the error.

Kevin August 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm

I’m actually looking at some Nitto tires for the BMW. Can’t get Edge Racing’s website to come up. Are they still in business?

Leigh August 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm

thanks so much for this – it’s really helpful!

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