Consumer Reports research shows that price is the primary factor for tire shoppers. But it’s just as important to consider how long a tire is expected to last so that you can understand the total cost of ownership over the life of your tires.
This comes through loud and clear in our testing. In our last test of all-season tires, we found that the inexpensive GT Radial Champiro VP1 wears only half as long as the top-rated Michelin Defender. And while at $64 per tire, the GT Radial Champiro VP1 seems to cost half as much as the Michelin Defender at $120, the cost per mile for each tire is almost the same thanks to the excellent projected tread life of the Michelin. Replacing tires less frequently will also save you money on installation costs. (Our tests show the Michelin Defender also provides better handling and winter-driving performance.)
By looking at the complete cost and performance picture, you might find that you can get a better tire without higher long-term costs.
However, if you don’t plan to hold on to your car for years to come, saving money now might be more important. The key is to make a purchase decision that addresses your needs today and down the road.
Understanding The Total Price Of Tires
When it’s getting close to the time for a new set of tires, many people start getting nervous. They know tires are expensive, but they aren’t sure how much a new set will cost. Add-in installation, tire disposal fees, additional services, and maybe even a road hazard warranty, and the price of tires can start to add up.
As you may have guessed, tire costs vary widely depending on the brand, style, and tire size (for example, 20-inch tires for a large pickup truck will be much more expensive than 15-inch tires for a small hatchback). Whether your tire purchase is planned or an unforeseen need, tires can be more expensive than a typical everyday expense. Luckily, most people buy new tires every four years or thereabouts – so once you have a new set, you won’t have to think about replacing them for a while.
General pricing guidelines for new tires:
- Inexpensive tires will generally be in the range of $50 – $150 each.
- Moderately priced tires will usually be in the range of $100 – $300 each.
- High-end tires (ultra-high performance or specialty off-road tires) can be $300 – $1000 each.
While these tire prices may seem high, remember that tires are a highly engineered product, designed to keep you, your vehicle, and your passengers safe on the road. Also remember that as with many products, with tires, you get what you pay for. Paying a bit more can get you a higher-quality tire that may last longer and feel better on the road.
Paying more may also get you a longer tire mileage warranty. On the flip side, if you’re only planning to keep your car for a year or so, you might consider buying a cheaper tire, since you may not be as concerned with long tread life and a long mileage warranty. (However, keep in mind that when you opt for cheaper tires, you may be sacrificing up some traction, braking power, hydroplaning resistance, etc.)
To help save money, shop for tires online and keep an eye out for sales, rebates, and discount codes. Tire manufacturers frequently offer mail-in rebates and seasonal sales, while some online retailers offer unique promotional codes. If you buy tires online, you may also be able to take advantage of an easy payment plan like PayPal Credit.
What determines the cost of tires?
Several variables determine the cost of new tires, including the tire’s brand and size.
Haynes says a typical passenger car has 16-to-18 inch tires, while a truck may have tires up to 20 inches.
“Consumers should be aware that size drives the price,” Pfefferle says. “If a consumer has a 15-inch tire, they can probably get a really good tire for $125 each. If they have a 20-inch tire, it will probably be double or even more for a high-quality tire. Costs of tires have gone up, and the more specialized the vehicle, typically the more expensive the tires.”
Randal Regan, service writer at Marc Yount’s Tire Pros in Evans, Georgia, says brand plays a big role in overall cost.
“The more they spend on research and development, the more you pay for the tire,” he says. “But usually it’s a better tire.”
“Vehicles are built around the tires [the manufacturers] have chosen to use on them, and the more high-end the vehicle, the more expensive the tire,” he adds.
Haynes says higher quality tires cost more than bargain brands, but there are many advantages to buying better-quality tires.
“Low-cost tires … come with low-quality rubber,” Haynes says. “They’re not maximizing fuel economy and handling. You get more bang for your buck if you’re buying more quality tires [because they’ll last longer.]”
Specialty tires can also cause the price to go up.
According to CostHelper, snow tires can cost between $60 and $550, while summer tires used on luxury vehicles or sports cars can range in price from $100 to $1,400.
Should I pay more for a long tire mileage warranty?
Many people want their tires to come with a long mileage warranty – but is it worth paying extra for this? A mileage warranty is essentially a guarantee that you’ll be able to drive a certain number of miles on a tire before it reaches the end of its life. Let’s look at an example. The Michelin Defender T+H tire comes with one of the best mileage warranties in the business – 80,000 miles. If you have Defender T+H tires and they wear out when you’ve driven 70,000 miles, you can submit a warranty claim to Michelin.
If your claim meets their requirements, Michelin will refund a portion of the tire purchase price, prorated based on the 10,000 miles of tire use you didn’t receive. (Tire tip – in order to keep your tire warranty in good standing, you’ll need to have the tires rotated every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, check the tire pressure regularly, and keep the vehicle in good alignment.)
Many tires come with shorter mileage warranties, and some tires (high-performance tires, off-road tires, and winter tires) don’t have any mileage warranty at all. A mileage warranty is nice to have for sure, but it’s worth remembering that if your tires don’t last for the full amount of miles, you’ll only recover a prorated portion of the tire cost, and you’ll have needed to rotate the tires regularly. If you can’t show proof of rotation, the tire manufacturer could deny your warranty claim. You should also check your tire pressure and have your vehicle aligned regularly – over-/under-inflation and misalignment can void your tire warranty.)
Supply and demand
Global demand for tires has increased, with countries like India and China putting more and more trucks on the road every year. Demand in North America and Europe is down somewhat.
That reduces the pressure on supply, although Phillips says much of the need for tires in emerging markets is filled domestically.
“We’ve got a bit more supply here than demand at present,” he says, “But by the end of the year and through 2014, I expect that will change. When global demand picks up again, we’ll have problems here because there’s not enough North American capacity to meet demand. And when the commodity brokers see that, we’ll probably see more price manipulation as we did in 2011.”
In the short term, Phillips expects prices to stay relatively flat, but when global demand starts to rise, tires and their raw materials costs will start going up right alongside.
“Steel is more stable than rubber, and rubber is more stable than oil, but each is subject to its pressures,” he notes.
The good news, according to Goodyear, is that raw materials pricing has been stable over the past few months. That doesn’t mean we’ll see discounts on tire prices, but they may not be jumping as frequently as they have over the past few years. Enjoy it while you can.
Installation fees and other service options
At a minimum, your new tires will need to be mounted (i.e. installed on your vehicle’s wheels/rims) and balanced so that they don’t vibrate when you’re driving. There’s usually a standard fee for this service, which is called mounting and balancing. This fee will vary depending on the tire size, your area and the tire installation shop you choose, but it can range from $15 to $45 per tire. Some tire shops offer Road Force Balancing, which may be slightly more expensive. Still, many people believe it’s the most consistent and accurate form of balancing because it simulates the weight of the vehicle on the tire.
In addition to the mounting and balancing fee, there may be federal or state disposal fees or taxes, and your local shop may charge their handling fee to dispose of your old tires. State tire disposal fees range from $0.25 per tire in Kansas to $10 per large truck tire in Louisiana – but most states charge just $1-$2 per tire.
Another potential charge when you buy new tires relates to your vehicle’s TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors). All vehicles built after 2008 are equipped with TPMS, which is designed to alert you if the air pressure in any of your tires is too high or too low. When you get your new tires installed, these sensors will need to be serviced in order to function correctly. Your installer may charge an extra fee to perform this service. In extreme cases, if one or more of your TPMS sensors has a dead battery or has some deterioration or damage, you may need to replace the sensors with new ones. This would result in an additional fee.
Tire Value by Category
The value story differs from category to category. Each tire type is engineered for specific purposes, with known strengths and limitations. All-season tires aim to perform well in a wide range of conditions and achieve a long tread life. With many performance all-season tires, the grip is improved to bolster handling, but this takes its toll on longevity. The trend continues to ultra-high-performance all-season tires and UHP summer tires, which deliver the ultimate in road-holding in just fair weather and for relatively limited tread life.
The general rule is: Higher-performance tires cost more and wear faster, leading to a higher cost per mile, as shown below. Replacing tires is expensive, but when faced with a large bill for tire replacement, installation, and possible service to the tire-pressure monitor, resist the temptation to downgrade your tires. Doing so will shortchange you and your car by potentially reducing its braking and handling performance.
On the other hand, do be aware of the tires fitted to your next car, so you can better understand this ownership cost. If the ultimate in handling is not a priority, consider a version of the car with all-season or performance all-season tires, if available.
The relative tire performance is indicated on the sidewall in the speed rating. On the sidewall is a code that refers to the size, speed rating, and load capacity for the tire. In 225/40R18 92Y, the last letter “Y” is the speed rating. This indicates the tire’s maximum speed when carrying the load defined by the load index (in this case, the 92)—not how fast you should drive!
Regular all-seasons are usually rated S (112 mph) or T (118 mph). Climbing up the scale to performance all-seasons are H (130 mph) and V (149 mph). UHP tires are rated ZR (149+ mph), W (168 mph), and Y (186 mph). And winter/snow tires may carry the letter Q (99 mph) or higher.
Other common add-on services
Your installer may recommend an alignment when you get new tires. It’s a good idea to consider an alignment because if your vehicle’s wheels are out of alignment, your new tires may wear unevenly. This can cause them to wear out prematurely or perform poorly. Keeping your vehicle in good alignment will help get the most life out of your tires. A wheel alignment generally costs around $100.
Your installer may also offer the ability to fill the tires with nitrogen instead of air (this is completely optional and generally costs $5-$10 extra per tire). Tires filled with nitrogen tend to stay inflated at the proper pressure for longer than regular air, and there should be less moisture inside the tire, which may help preserve the life and prevent corrosion of your TPMS sensors.
Finally, your installer may recommend an extended road hazard warranty or lifetime rotation and maintenance services. These programs are designed to protect your tires beyond the manufacturer’s warranty, which usually don’t cover the tires for damage due to potholes, curbs, sharp objects, etc.
It’s easy to dismiss tires as low-tech commodities requiring more time and effort to maintain than they are worth. The truth is you get out of your tire program what you put into it.
Fleets with strong tire programs treat tires as assets. According to Continental’s Clif Armstrong, fleets that are ahead of the curve on tires treat them as investments.
“Thirty years ago, when your $150 tire wore out at 40,000 miles, you just disposed of it and bought another one,” he says. “With tires at $350 or $400 and even up to $700 for wide-single tires, you have to treat them as assets. The tread has wearability value, and the casing can be retreaded or sold.”
The more retreads you get from a casing, the better the value, Armstrong says. “It’s conceivable today to run a tire/casing out to a million miles with excellent maintenance and several retreads.”
The key factor in maintaining the value in your tire and casing investment is proper maintenance and management-and maintaining tire inflation pressure.
“Improper inflation reduces tire life,” says Bob Montgomery, vice president of intelligent transportation systems for Stemco.” Low tire pressure also leads directly to irregular wear and premature failures, which the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations says are 90% attributable to under-inflation.”
Automatic tire inflation systems, such as Aeris from Stemco, can keep tires at their optimum pressures while providing real-time data to detect leaks, analyze tire performance, calculate fuel economy and even identify mismatched dual tires.
On the pressure monitoring side, several available technologies can alert drivers or fleet management of an impending tire failure through telematics.
Continental’s ContiPressureCheck, for example, also uses temperature compensation to tell if a hot tire is underinflated. Without some form of temperature compensation, a hot tire that is underinflated might appear to be fine, because the contained air pressure is at or above its cold inflation pressure.
Aeris, PressureCheck and similar inexpensive and reliable technologies really can extend tire life. Perhaps not to 1 million miles every time, but considerably further than if you do nothing buy kick them a couple of times a week.
It’s important to shop around. The performance and treadwear data in our tire ratings are great for discovering relative value, but there are plenty of discounts to be found that can adjust the math in favour of one tire or another.
As an example, we recently found free shipping, a 6 per cent discount, and even a $70 rebate—all of which can sweeten the deal on a set of tires. It pays to surf both the manufacturer and local retailer sites to scout out discounts. Don’t feel bashful to ask your local dealer if they can match an online deal, or at least include some freebies like road hazard insurance, mounting, or balancing.