Sticky Spice wrote:Here's what I do know - I need two front tires and a front end alignment before I take my minivan in for inspection. I have 115k miles on this thing so I'm really only hoping it lasts for about 40-50k more. I want all-season tires.
Here's what I need to know:
- should i buy the tires at a tire store and have them install?
- should i buy at a club store and have them install?
- should i buy on internet and have trusted mechanic install?
I keep hoping I'll see a coupon or sale or something in the papers where they'll throw in the alignment. I know the fees they can tack on can add up like balancing, new tire tax/fee, old tire disposal, etc.
My Dad owned a chain of tire/automotive repair shops and I grew up in the business. In one capacity or the other, I worked at the stores for over 10 years including 4 years as a manager (after I graduated college).
1st of all, don't buy tires online. If you do that, you'll end up having to pay for any future tire maintenance including rotations, balancing and tire repairs which will more than offset any money you may save by shopping online. If you buy tires and have them installed at the same place, most tire stores will include some maintenance. Not only that, if a tire is defective or has a road hazard, it will be a royal pain-in-the-ass if you have to try go get it adjusted over the phone/internet.
It's a very common misnomer that people need to get an alignment every time you get tires. Balancing... absolutely, but not alignments. An alignment is actually a mechanical procedure that entails (if you do it correctly) hooking all 4 wheels of the vehicle up to a computer and testing camber, caster and toe of all 4 wheels. Each vehicle has their own specs and if the specs are out of tolerance, the mechanic can adjust them back into specification. It's actually a lot harder than you think to knock a vehicle out of alignment of course most repair shops won't tell you that. The number one symptom of an alignment problem is uneven tire ware, not pulling. Pulling is almost always related to tire problems and not the alignment. Most vehicles don't even have caster adjustments which is the adjustment you would need to make to compensate for a pull. Look at your tires and if they're worn pretty evenly, there's a good chance your alignment is fine. Keep in mind a little outside edge wear on the front tires is normal if you haven't rotated them in a while... especially on a van.
This is what I recommend (assuming you don't already have a mechanic you trust). Buy your tires from a big name chain tire super store that doesn't even do alignments. Not only will the prices be competitive, but these guys only care about selling you tires and won't be concerned about trying to squeeze extra money out of you for an alignment (although they will try to sell you a road hazard warranty
). Even though they don't do alignments, they should be very familiar with the type of uneven tire wear that's caused by vehicles being out of alignment. Then ask one of the managers to look at your old tires (before they take them off the car) and get his professional opinion as to whether or not you should take it to a mechanical shop and have the alignment done. If he says "yes", have them install the new tires and then immediately take it to a shop that specializes in alignments and front end work or maybe even the dealership. Do NOT take it to the cheapest place you can find as you will almost assuredly get a half-assed job. Oh, and if you ever see a "free alignment" coupon... RUN!!! If it's free, it's not a certified technician performing it. Also, almost every single front wheel drive car requires either a "four-wheel" alignment or a "thrust" alignment... all done on a computer... and definitely NOT free. "Front end" alignments are virtually a thing of the past.
That's pretty much it. Good luck!