Automotive, Tips & Advice, Winter Driving

Road Test & Beyond: Time For New Tires – Should You Buy From The TIRE RACK Or Buy Locally?

If you’ve ever done a search on-line for tires or looked in any of the large auto magazines you’ve no doubt seen advertisements by a company called The Tire Rack. They have a huge selection of tires and rims for just about every make and model of vehicle sold in North America.

Is it worth it for Canadians to purchase tires or rims from the U.S. or is it just more convenient and cost-effective to keep your hard-earned dollars in Canada? What kind of hassles and costs are you going to have to deal with if you end up buying from the Tire Rack?

Funny you should ask…once again I took a financial hit to tell you, the reader what you might encounter. I decided to use my wife’s hard-earned dollars to purchase a set of winter tires for her car and once again I did it incognito – I didn’t tell the site (Tire Rack) or the place that installed my tires, who I was and what I was up to until after the fact..

First up, I have to point out that I did try to purchase the tires here in Canada. Whenever possible I like to keep my money on this side of the border and support my local retailers. In the end though, it all comes down to two things: selection/variety and the almighty dollar.

Our local Chrysler dealership had a buy 3 get 1 free deal on Bridgestone Blizzak tires ($265 each x3 = $918), but everyone knows they’re crap after two winters and become summer tires for one season after that. They also had the same deal on steel rims ($95 x3 = $285) which brought the total to $1,300 + tax.

I wanted REAL winter tires – the kind that will get you through the worst winter storms. I’d done a bit of research like everyone should, and settled on one set of winter tires that stood out in many forums and recommendation sites. I chose Continental Extreme Contact tires for my wife’s Dodge Caliber.

They were a little harder to find, but the prices quoted were quite close between Canadian Tire ($196 each) and Active Green+Ross ($188.30). Living in the Niagara region and therefore only 20-30 minutes away from New York state, crossing the border for tires isn’t a big deal for us. In the local paper Active Green+Ross had an ad that stated they would match Buffalo/U.S. prices for tires. Great! I gave them a call.

Turns out “matching” is a term they aren’t familiar with.. it really means “we’ll lower our price just a little to convince you you’re getting a good deal.” They came down from $188.30 to $160 per tire after I provided proof of the better price I found, but they added in $52 for installation and an environmental fee (read: Government grab) of $26.34 bringing the total to $718.34 plus tax. And I had to buy them NOW because there was only one set left in all of Ontario. Hmmm.

So how much did the Tire Rack want for the exact same tires? How about $464!! (plus $52.16 shipping). So Active Green+Ross’ “Price Match” was 65% higher than the Tire Rack. What kind of math do they use?

Granted, they still have to be shipped and installed, but that’s quite a savings – I’d made up my mind to get the tires from the Tire Rack.

Now what?
Well, it’s easy enough, you can purchase online or by telephone. You get to decide who they send the tires to – no point in shipping them directly to Canada because it’s too much in shipping, but sending them directly to a Niagara Falls N.Y. tire store (or any one of a number recommended by them on their web site) is easy, and because they work with them all the time, less chance of issues. I chose Monroe Muffler & Brake on Niagara Falls Blvd because it’s easy to get to. I got confirmation the next day by email that they’d been shipped and then once they arrived at the tire dealer I got another email confirmation that they’d arrived. I then had to phone the store and book an appointment for installation. That was the hardest part – they are so busy I had to wait quite a few days for an opening. I was told they averaged 400 sets of tires per week (not exclusively from Tire Rack) – but 90% of the customers were Canadian!! In addition to selling tires, they are very busy doing oil changes and brake jobs for Canadian customers that come from as far away as Toronto.

It’s far more logical to buy steel rims for the winter tires and not use the factory alloys, so I had to do a bit of searching for those. Scrap yards (sorry, Auto Recyclers) wanted over $1,000 for factory alloy rims (but couldn’t guarantee the quality until they brought them in) and the dealership wanted around $2, 000 for new ones. The dealership would sell me steel rims (buy 3 get 1 free if I purchased my tires there for $99 each), but the local Canadian Tire store sold them (17″ steel rims) for $60 each – that’s where I got them.

So the day arrived for me to get the tires installed. I threw the steel rims into the trunk and crossed at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls (NEVER use Lewiston – it’s always 1-2 hours each way – I swear they are on a permanent Go-Slow strike there). Five minutes later and I’m in the U.S. and ten minutes after that I’m at Monroe Muffler & Brake.

I was asked if I wanted the TPMS sensors (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) installed from the original tires or new ones – or I could go without them altogether. Considering new ones are about $50 plus $4.50 installed each, my wife decided to forgo them in the winter tires. I was told the OEM Chrysler/Dodge TPMS sensors are junk and rust out after a couple of years anyway, so I’d made the right choice. The only downside is the tire pressure warning light remains on all the time and you have to check your tire pressure regularly. We could live with that.

They took the car in right away and I was done in about 45 minutes. The bill for the installation came to $14.50 x4, plus $4 x4 for the valve stems (according to the web site, the valve stems were supposed to be no charge – I didn’t bring up the issue because I felt the price was acceptable). Including N.Y. tax it came to $75.38.

Time to go back across the border. I knew I was going to be paying the Harper Screw Tax (HST) on the tires – no way to avoid that, but I wasn’t expected to get kicked in the wallet for the installation and shipping.

Apparently, if it’s an emergency and you can’t make it over the border then you don’t pay, but if it’s a voluntary purchase then you pay tax on everything. So if you plan on doing this and you’re going on a shopping expedition for a couple of days anyway – just include the tires in your duty-free allotment and you won’t pay extra – including the HST.

So in the end was it worth it? I’d say yes – absolutely. With the Canadian and U.S. dollar trading pretty much on par for the past year or so, the rate of exchange is negligible

It took me less than 3 hours for my round trip to Niagara Falls N.Y. to get the tires installed and 5 minutes to get the steel rims from Canadian Tire a couple of days before going down there. While I was over there I filled up the car at 93cents/ litre instead of $1.20 in Ontario. The only surprise was paying HST on the $52 shipping and $79 installation.

However… if I didn’t live in the Niagara Region, the price of the tires at Active Green+Ross would have been considerably higher – remember they brought them down from $188.30 to $160 each when I pushed for a price-match, so you have to take that into account when comparing the prices I’ve listed below (in brackets).

Until the Canadian retailers – that includes the car manufacturers – get serious about giving us Canadians a fair shake at pricing and stop ripping us off (Audi/VW charge 50-60% more here than the U.S. for the same car), then they don’t deserve our business. I was told by the guy at Monroe, that a friend of his that works at the local Mercedes-Benz dealership that they get lots of business from Canadians because the shop rate is only $60/hour (versus $150-200 in Ontario). The Canadian governments don’t care because they get the tax money no matter where you purchase.

Here’s a complete breakdown of the cost and comparison…..

Active Green+Ross            The Tire Rack/Monroe

17″ Continental Extreme Contact tires    $160 x4 = $640                    $116 x4 = $464
Shipping                                                     N/A                                         $52.16
Installation                                                  $40                                         $14.50 x4 = $58
Valve Stems                                                $2 x4      = $8                         $3.95 x4   = $15.80
Weights                                                      $0.50 x4 = $4                           N/A
Environmental Fees                                  $26.34                                      N/A
N.Y. State Tax                                             N/A                                          $5.87
Border Toll                                                 N/A                                          $3.25
Sub-Total.                                                   $718.34                                    $595.83
HST   (13%)                                                 $71.83                                      $77.46
TOTAL                                                        $790.14 ($918.14)                  $676.54
Savings                                                        $113.60 (or $241.60)
Cost Per Tire                                              $197.54 ($229.54)                    $169.14

Copyright © 2012 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland

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