Buy 3 tires, get 1 free: is it really a deal?

Soon, if not already, your mailbox, email inbox and favourite social media and web search engine sites will be inundated with ads, coupons and specials on winter tires. The most popular offer is the “Buy 3, get 1 free” deal. But is it a deal?

Most offers are limited, for example, to certain manufacturer models and specific size ranges, or requirements that the customer must pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the first three tires. It’s that last one that can make many of these promotions more expensive that simply paying the regular price for all four tires.

The average markups for tires at most area retailers are in the 20-to 25-per-cent range while the MSRPs can represent margins of 75 per cent or more.

That 20-to 25-per-cent range is low compared to most repair and maintenance parts, but acceptable to shop owners in light of the high dollar value per tire sold and the availability to sell additional services to clients when installing tires. This opportunity to inspect brakes, steering and suspension components (some of the highest profit margin systems in terms of repairs on any vehicle) is the reason behind other offers such as free rotation or seasonal tire storage

Independent shops, regional chains and dealerships will spend countless advertising dollars to get customers into their garages, often with poor results, while no-charge rotations and tire storage bring their customers back twice a year.

Before you get on the web or phone to check out this season’s deals on winter tires, do a little driveway homework first. Check the tire size on your vehicle. The size is printed in large raised lettering on the tire sidewall and for most passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks will start with a “P” as in P225/60R16 or an “LT” in the case of heavier-duty pickup trucks or vans.

Compare this number to the label found on the driver’s door frame or in the glove box. They should match unless you or a previous owner of the vehicle opted for another size.

Also check the load and speed ratings on the tire in your owner’s manual. This two-or three-digit plus one letter designation indicates how much weight the tire can support and its maximum speed. While it’s OK to exceed carmaker specs on these ratings, you should never opt for a tire that doesn’t meet them.

Now that you’re armed with details, you can do some shopping. There are few websites that have pricing info (two that are applicable to our area are canadiantire. com and Some full-line car dealership sites may offer pricing. Stay away from the U.S.-based tire e-retailers such as Their shipping charges to Canada plus duty fees make few of their offerings a real deal.

Your best bet is to phone your preferred tire retailer. This way, you can speak to a knowledgeable adviser who can cover options such as alternate sizing if your original tire size may be too expensive or hard to get.

These experts can also provide information on winter rims, which can eliminate the cost and inconvenience of dismounting, mounting and rebalancing your tires twice a year.

Ask for complete pricing with installation, Ontario Tire Stewardship fees ($5.84 per tire) and taxes included.

If they have a “Buy 3, get 1 free” offer, ask for pricing with that special and their normal pricing guidelines.

Don’t think of winter tires as an added expense to vehicle ownership.

If you’re not wearing out snow tires, you’ll be wearing out all-season (read summer) tires. In fact, with certain auto insurance discounts for driving in the winter with snow tires, you can save money along with your safety.

(Editor’s note: Quebec drivers are required by law to have winter tires on their vehicles.)

Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT winter tires.
Photograph by: Derek McNaughton, Postmedia News

Brian Turner is an automotive parts and service manager with more than 30 years’ experience.