Monthly Archives: July 2016

Tire Buying Tips

Some people might assume that buying tires online and having them shipped to you is too expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome. So they continue to schlep down to the corner tire store, or buy from a chain store and wind up paying more than is necessary.

However, thanks to easy-to-navigate Web sites, consumers can provide their car’s year, make and model and quickly be shown a wide selection of tires that fit their vehicle. The choices are easily sorted based on the driving requirements, prices or other factors. The tires are then “drop-shipped” to a local tire store for installation at an additional cost. Consumers we have talked with have been amazed at how smoothly the online tire-buying process works. In fact, one shopper called it, “One of my best online-shopping experiences.”

Advantages of Online Tire-Buying

The Internet route offers the following advantages over the traditional tire-buying experience:

  • Online tire prices are lower, particularly when compared to inflated costs at dealerships.
  • Consumer reviews help buyers make informed decisions.
  • Buyers avoid aggressive “upselling” found in many brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Some online tire-buying Web sites, such as Tirerack.com offer their own independent tire tests.
  • There is no state sales tax on most Internet purchases (depending on the laws in your state).
  • One can find an excellent selection of hard-to-find performance and specialty tires.

Disadvantages of Online Tire-Buying

Purchasing tires over the Internet does have a few drawbacks. Here are a few things to know before proceeding:

  • The purchase requires advance planning and takes days.
  • Buyers can’t inspect the actual tires before purchasing.
  • A trusted local installer still needs to be located.
  • Some buyers prefer the face-to-face interaction with an expert.
  • Shipping costs are high, particularly for overnight delivery.

Navigating Your Way to a Good Deal

The process starts with choosing the right tires for your needs. With some 160 different brands in the marketplace, the choice can be overwhelming. Many people are confused by what has been called sidewall graffiti, the hieroglyphic-like information about size, speed and load rating. In most cases, all you need to know is the year, make and model of your car. If you have put aftermarket wheels on the vehicle, you might need to know your wheel size before proceeding.

Nearly all online tire-buying sites allow you to view the list of tires using different sorting methods. If you have a brand preference, such as Michelin, you can sort the list so you can look at all those tires first. You can also cross-shop other brands by reading reviews from people who have bought these brands. While consumer reviews are important, it’s also a good idea to read the opinions of experts who have a greater depth of comparative knowledge.

Find a Good Car Mechanic

We hear it all the time: “Where can I find a good car mechanic?” In the past, word of mouth was probably the best way to find an auto repair shop that would do the job right and charge a fair price. But now, a good mechanic might be only a few mouse clicks or touchscreen taps away.

Crowdsourced review sites have greatly simplified the search. Here are a few tips on how to work these sites to find a good car mechanic in your area. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes a highly rated shop might disappoint, but at least you can tilt the odds in your favor.

Yelp
Yelp.com describes itself as a site that “connects people with great businesses,” whether that’s a hot new restaurant or a top-notch dentist. And, luckily for car owners, it also has auto repair reviews. The site is free and has a mobile version, plus apps for Android and Apple mobile devices.

We’ve had good experiences with Yelp recommendations as we looked for a mechanic to work on Edmunds’ long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300, which is the subject of our Debt-Free Car Project. With our new long-term vehicles, we tend to use dealerships exclusively. But because containing costs is important for the Lexus project, we’ve used Yelp four times to locate independent mechanics. Of the four, we would go back to three of them. We’ve found Yelp to be the most useful site, thanks to its review volume and convenience.

Here are a few tips to help you narrow down your mechanic search. Type “auto repair” into the search field and enter your ZIP code. You can filter the results based on distance, most reviewed and highest rated. The goal should be to find a place that strikes a balance between a good rating and a substantial number of reviews. For example, a place may have a glowing review, but if it’s the only review, that customer’s experience might not be the same as yours. Or worse, it could be a misleading review from an employee or business owner.

Yelp has an algorithm that helps it spot misleading reviews, but sometimes they can slip by undetected. That’s why it is important not to put too much stock in one review. Instead, see what patterns emerge after you’ve read numerous reviews. Look for reviews that are specific and give plenty of details about the users’ experiences.

Sometimes, the owner of an establishment will reply to a review. This response can either be a thank you to someone for a good review or a defense or apology if the review was a negative one. Either way, we consider a thoughtful reply a good sign — particularly in response to a negative review. It shows that the business cares about its reputation.

Angie’s List
Angie’s List prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for its reviews, which cover everything from automotive listings to home repair and even wedding planning. In a search we did for our area, Angie’s List provided a number of repair shops nearby, but we found the volume of reviews lacking when compared to Yelp. For example, one repair shop we used for the Lexus had just one review on Angie’s List, and it was from 2008. The same shop had 22 reviews on Yelp, with the most recent one being less than a month old.

The small number of reviews on Angie’s List can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the chance of a falsified review drops considerably, since the site requires a paid membership to access the site and post a review. But at the same time, it is hard to get a feel for a shop that has very little feedback.