Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I was pretty certain I just needed new tires for our Subaru when I dropped it off Monday night for an oil change on Tuesday, but I asked them to check the wheel bearings just in case the rumble I was hearing meant I was in for more than a $50 bill. With 118,000 miles, it wouldn't be unreasonable to need to replace the original bearings. Fortunately, I just need tires.

This will be the third set of rubber for this car, which we purchased new back in 2008. The OEM tires, which I'm fairly certain were Bridgestones or Yokohamas, lasted four years and 76,000 miles. They were okay – much better than the Pirellis on the Camry that preceded the Subaru, especially in winter (even setting aside going from FWD to AWD). This second set, Continental DWS (Dry, Wet, & Snow), have lasted 42,250 miles. I got them on recommendation from an expert I trust, but I haven't been impressed with their performance since the second winter. Hydroplaning in some conditions (standing water in the tracks of lanes) started becoming an issue about a year ago, even with good tread left on the tire. I won't be buying Contis again for this car.

The Subaru's been paid for the entire time we've owned it, fortunately, but medical/health-related debt that we're just crawling out from under has kept us from building up a nest egg for a down payment on a replacement. With the addition of the Poissonnier and limited prospects for advancement (or even substantial raise) on the horizon, it's pretty clear that we'll be keeping this car for as long as we can. That's fine; I like not owning a car payment.

We use the car primarily as our "nice" car, for longer trips where it's nice to have an AUX jack and dual-zone climate control, and for bad weather/winter driving. Our daily driver is the '02 Buick LeSabre we inherited from Mrs. Hayes' grandfather when he ceased driving a few years ago. It's not even cracked 70,000 miles yet, though it's been racking them up steadily as our daily whip (to & from daycare and the bus stop) and grocery-getter. We won't be replacing it, either, though it needs a new set of rear shocks ($$) soon.

So, I've been researching tires. I'll be buying all-seasons because it's too early for snow tires and I can't afford a second set this year. I might decide to get a set of snowshoes for it next year, but who knows if I'll have the scratch when the time comes. Costco has a limited selection and very little price incentive, but they do come with Costco's warranty against damage/failure under normal operation. If I buy them from an online retailer, I have significantly more choice, but no substantial difference in price, and I'll have to find someone to install them. My independent mechanic doesn't do tires & alignments, but recommended another shop that's pretty reputable. Still, I'd feel like a jerk for bringing in the tires and only paying them for the mounting & balancing.

I should probably mention the tires I've been considering at this point. I'm sticking with the same size rubber as the previous two: 225/55-R17. The low-end decent buy is a set of Kumho Solus TA71s, which would run about $370, plus labor. The reviews seem reasonable, but the treadwear ratings mean I'm likely to need to replace these sooner. Mid-range options (all online) are the BFGoodrich T/A Sport ($505), Yokohama Geolandar G91FV ($565), & Nokian WR G3 ($580). The top choice is a set of Michelin Defender LTX M/S ($680 at Costco), but even with universally good reviews (and the best snow performance) those might be cost-prohibitive.  My upper limit is about $750, including mounting & balancing. I'm wondering if I'll need the TPMS sensors replaced... If I can't get the Defenders, I'm leaning toward the Nokians; I trust the Finns when it comes to making a quality, truly all-weather tire.

Naturally, all this will cost about what my trip to Sacramento will run for flight & lodging. We have another wedding next month to boot.

Has anyone had experience with getting their whip re-shod at Costco? Or, for that matter, buying tires online and taking them in somewhere for mounting & balancing? I'm wondering if my inner Minnesotan is trying to talk me out of this because I don't want to offend the independent shop by taking some profit from selling the tires out of their pocket.

15 thoughts on “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”

  1. I've never owned snow tires, but I've also always lived in the city. After last winter, I'm beginning to think that after the move to the country and living on gravel it might be something to more strongly consider.

    1. The last car I owned had brand new winter tires on them. Those were the only two winters I've ever had anything other than all seasons, and I will say they made a very noticeable difference. For some stupid reason, I just left those tires on all year instead of finding a set of rims from a salvage yard. Outside of those two years, I've been pretty content with just getting all seasons and trusting myself to drive slower or stay put when necessary.

  2. I'm wondering if my inner Minnesotan is trying to talk me out of this because I don't want to offend the independent shop by taking some profit from selling the tires out of their pocket.

    Still, work is work.

  3. Two experiences with Costco: one routine and one negative.

    Routine is replacing a pair of tires on my Camry.
    Negative is trying to replace a pair on our Ford Escape (on-demand 4WD). They refused, saying they would only replace in sets of four Because 4WD. Sorry, I only need two, and this sounds like bullshit to me. Les Schwab had no problem selling and installing a pair. I have nothing but good things to say about Les Schwab*

    *Ok. Not true. A friend of ours was an assistant mgr at our local store and got completely screwed over by the franchise owner and manager. Ended up having to move. Got quickly snapped up by another store because he was good at his job. But I don't think that manager is around any more, so I have not held the grudge.

        1. Just called Costco for a quote. Their price on the Defenders was very competitive, but I had to specifically ask whether the tire would fit my vehicle (Michelin sells both a passenger car & a light truck tire under the Defender name). That's when the guy looking at the computer realized he couldn't sell them to me because the Defender has a lower speed rating than the OEM tire for the vehicle. There's a 19 mph difference in the two ratings – with the H-rated tire I'd only be able to go up to 130 mph instead of 149 with the V-rated tire that originally came on the car. Even if I were inclined to drive the car that fast, the only way it'd hit that speed is being dropped from space.

          He also said they couldn't sell them because the load index on the Defender was greater than stock, which makes no sense. That means the tire's stronger and able to support a higher payload – in this case, a mere 210 pounds.

          Pretty eyeroll-worthy.

  4. I've heard really good things about discount tire from multiple co-workers. They have similar prices to costco and a similar warranty for puncture and the like. Previously, I've used Costco and they are fine expect for the lack of selection. We're going to be replacing tires soon on our Honda Fit, and I'll probably go with discount.

      1. Yes yes! to Discount Tires. Good experiences for me there. (But no to Tires Plus). My buddy has used Costco and felt the experience was fine. I've used the buy three get one free at the Toyota dealership to good effect and free alignment checks and rotations are nice. Also bought a single and later a complete set at Fleet Farm for our old Civic: so-so selection but good prices and service.

        I'd also say that you shouldn't feel guilty if you get a good deal on tires elsewhere and bring em to a small, local shop for mounting and balancing. If they offer those as stand-alone services, take advantage. You give them an opportunity to do some work and maybe they impress you enough that you buy the treads from them next time.

        I'm interested in knowing what you end up with. Our '15 Outback (purchased in '14) will be up for some tires in the next year or so. I don't get to drive it much, but my wife hasn't mentioned anything about the ride on the tires it came with.

        1. I bought tires for my '67 F100 at Farm & Fleet after the right rear shredded itself on the way to lunch. That was an expensive lunch. Pretty decent tires, though – and much needed (along with the 700 pounds of sand tubes) come winter time. Pretty sure Pa routinely bought tires for his string of beat-up Volvo 240s at Fleet Farm and mounted/balanced them at work.

          In the forums I've seen a bunch of folks complaining about the OEM tires that came on our generation of Outback, but I thought they were fine. They were primarily intended to balance durability, handling, and ride comfort, and they did a reasonable job of all three without being dangerous when the weather got dicey. cheaptoy's "trusting myself to drive slower or stay put when necessary" approach was pretty congruent with how I viewed them. It seems like a number of folks with your generation of Outback are electing to get the Defenders as their next set (if they're running all-seasons year round). Most folks seem to agree that it's a great tire.

  5. Played some quote footsie yesterday with Discount Tire & Costco, angling to get a documented out-the-door quote on the Defenders from Costco on our Subaru (which they won't install them on) because their price was $200 less than Discount's. Long story short, I'd have to go in and get a quote in writing, which I'm guessing the sales rep will nix when they ask for the make/model of car.

    Discount gave me a pretty good price on the Nokians, which are the superior tire for bad-weather driving, but it was still a bit more than I could reasonably spend. Crap.

    Then I finally did what I should've done from the beginning: called the guy Pa worked for. He gave me a rate on the Nokians for $34 less per tire, shipped up from Chicago next week. I suspect he might give me a discount on mounting/balancing, too, but even if he doesn't I'll come out ahead. For that savings all I'm out is a drive across the state instead of a drive across town. I'd been leaning hard toward the Defenders, which are rated for 20k more miles than the Nokians, but it seems silly to spend $300 today to buy futures of an additional two years out of tires on a car that'll be pushing 200,000 miles at that point.

    I'm probably better off sinking that $300 into the Poissonnier's education fund.

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