THE WHEEL DEAL
Shopping around for the best deal on dependable, quality tires isn't as simple as comparing advertised prices. Most do not include installation, which can easily add from $50 to more than $100 to the "out the door" cost of new tires. Some vendors include services such as disposal of the old tires, while others charge extra. Watch out for shipping fees from online sellers such as Tire Rack, where prices quoted by local installers vary widely and may not include services or guarantees offered to customers who buy directly from the auto shop.
This price comparison focuses on eight nationwide chains that sell and install tires: Walmart; Sears; Sam's Club; Pep Boys; Discount Tire/America's Tire; NTB/Tire King/Merchant's/Big O; Costco; and BJ's. Our winner offers not only an expansive set of services for a low price, but also 24/7 roadside assistance for flat tires — nice peace of mind for drivers who don't already belong to a roadside service club.
8. SEARS AUTO CENTER: $19/TIRE
At Sears, we were quoted $19 per tire for an installation package that covers mounting, lifetime balancing and tire rotation, and a multi-point inspection. But there's also an additional cost for services sometimes included in competitors' cheaper packages, such as $3 per tire for disposal, and a steep $10 to $15 per tire for a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) kit. If you want a road hazard warranty that covers tire failure under normal driving conditions, that's also a separate charge that amounts to about 20 percent of the cost of the tires, Sears says.
7. NTB/TIRE KINGDOM/MERCHANT'S TIRE/BIG O: $17/TIRE
6. PEP BOYS: $26/TIRE
Pep Boys' quote of $26 per tire is hefty, but it does include a fair amount: disposal, balancing, mounting, and a TPMS kit for vehicles with a tire pressure monitoring system. Buying tires onsite also comes with one year of roadside assistance, a courtesy vehicle inspection, free lifetime rotations and air-pressure checks, and a treadwear mileage warranty. A road-hazard warranty would add another $78 to our tab, according to the store.
5. DISCOUNT TIRE/AMERICA'S TIRE: $21/TIRE
Discount Tire and America's Tire locations, both owned by the same company, claim a $19 base cost for tire installation, but it's worth noting that we were quoted $21 per tire. The price includes lifetime rotation, balancing, flat repairs, inspections and air checks, and TPMS kits, but not tire disposal, which adds another $2.50 a tire. Road hazard coverage is lumped into the chain's certificate for repair, refund, or replacement, which covers tires for three years after purchase. We were quoted an additional $103, or just under $26 a tire, for certificate coverage.
4. WALMART: $13/TIRE
Despite a low installation fee of $13 a tire, Walmart's package is less generous than our top tire shops. It includes mounting, valve stems, and lifetime balance and rotation every 7,500 miles, plus tightening of the lug nuts after the first 50 miles. (You'll pay an additional $10 per tire for installation if you didn't purchase your tires directly from Walmart.) If you want a road hazard warranty thrown in, installation jumps to $23 a tire, applicable only to tires bought at Walmart. Disposal, quoted by our local store, is an extra $1.50 per tire. TPMS kits bump the cost up another $3 per tire.
3. BJ'S: $15/TIRE
BJ's, a warehouse club with more than 210 clubs concentrated along the East Coast, offers members auto services and a variety of tire brands for sale. The installation package costs $15 a tire and includes lifetime rotation, balancing, flat repairs, and inflation checks, as well as a road hazard warranty. Disposal is free, but TPMS kits may add up to around $4 per tire, according to a local club. BJ's will not install tires purchased elsewhere.
2. COSTCO: $15/TIRE
1. SAM'S CLUB: $15/TIRE
Sam's Club is our winner for its rich array of included services, coupled with attractive pricing for club members. A $15 tire installation package includes mounting, new valve stems, lifetime balancing and rotation, lifetime flat repair, tire disposal, and road hazard protection. If the vehicle is equipped with TPMS, drivers also get a free reset when the tires are serviced, though a replacement TPMS kit would be extra. But the star attraction of the Sam's Club package is 24/7 emergency roadside tire-change service, available for three years after the date of purchase.