Your Corner Wrench: It pays to shop around for tires

Tires are the single largest maintenance item for our cars, so here are a few pointers to ensure you're getting the best price

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We’ve known for years that tires have long belonged on the death-and-taxes list of inevitability. For the overwhelming majority of us, tires represent the single largest maintenance item for our rides; the marketplace is chock full of choices and in most communities, consumers also have plenty of retailers to choose from. What else could we need? How about available manufacturer-suggested pricing on tire-makers’ websites? They’re pretty much nonexistent and without them, how do we know if we’re getting a deal?

First, consider that there are about as many ways of pricing a tire as there are tire shops. Some retailers don’t mark up their rubber one single cent, hoping that they can achieve incremental sales to you when they have your vehicle on the hoist with the wheels off. These shops will, at the very least, try to sell you a wheel alignment when you purchase new tires, arguing that it’s a good way to protect your investment and achieve maximum lifespan. And they’re not totally wrong — by the time your ride needs a new set of boots, it’s possible the suspension settling a few winter curb kisses have necessitated the need to verify the steering specs.

Some shops offer minimal markups in the range of five to 10 per cent and include lifetime rotations at no extra cost. Again, this is a cheap and effective way to achieve your loyalty so the shop can suggest other maintenance and repairs. The normal markup on auto parts is in the 30 to 40 per cent range, but tire sales are so competitive, very few garages ever attempt to earn this type of profit.

Generally, regional and national chains usually operate with a fixed profit margin on their tires. Yes, it can be higher than what certain smaller, independent shops apply, but shoppers in these larger centres often benefit from their lower acquisition costs due to their massive volume purchases.

Once you’ve selected a particular tire, make sure you get the correct product code or part number before calling around for quotes. Goodyear, for instance, markets several distinctly different tires under the Wrangler name — with the correct product code, you’ll be able to compare apples to apples.

Finally, ask about road-hazard warranty. This used to be a mainstay of tire retailers, but has pretty much disappeared. It can provide some financial relief if a tire is rendered useless due to a severe puncture or blow-out; some still offer such warranties, and others will provide it at a modest cost. If you regularly drive on less-than-ideal road surfaces — and here in Canada, who doesn’t? — it can be very worthwhile.

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