Earl Stewart is the owner and general manager of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. The dealership is located at 1215 N. Federal Highway in Lake Park. Contact him at www.earlstewarttoyota.com, call (561) 358-1474, fax (561) 658-0746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to him on Seaview AM 960, FM 95.9 and FM 106.9, which can be streamed at www.SeaviewRadio.com every Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.
In case you're a little rusty on your Latin, caveat emptor means "let the buyer beware." This is something to keep in mind when you buy anything, but the danger of being ripped off when you buy new tires ranks right up there with buying and servicing your car.
Retailing tires is very important to, not only tire companies such as Goodyear, Firestone and Michelin, but independent retailers such as Pep Boys and Tire Kingdom.
In recent years, car dealers have become very interested in selling tires, too. The reason is car customers too often don't return for service and service is generally more profitable to car dealers than selling cars.
Independent service departments and tire manufacturers' retail service and tire outlets are taking away car dealers' service business. Tires are something that you have to buy regularly for your car. Wherever you go to buy one or more new tires, the tire seller will take that opportunity to sell you additional services and products. You can bet your life on it.
Tires have become "loss leaders" for car dealers, tire factory service stores, and independents. When I say loss leaders, I don't mean that you don't end up paying the tire seller a profit on the tire transaction. What I mean is the advertised price would result in a loss to the seller if he really sold it at that price. This is very similar to car advertising.
Car dealers go through a great deal of thought and effort to advertise a price which is perceived to be lower than they will really sell you the car and tires sellers do the same thing. You can be sure that you can never buy a tire advertised on the Internet, newspaper or TV for the price you see.
To demonstrate this, I chose one of the largest tire sellers in the U.S., Tire Kingdom. I chose them because, as the leader, they set the pace in how tires are sold and advertised. Buying tires from other sellers, including most car dealers, will be at least as risky and often more so.
I sent a mystery shopper to two Tire Kingdom retail tire and service outlets in Palm Beach County. My shopper responded to an ad for a special sale which is blanketing TV, newspaper and the Internet. The ad says from Aug. 1 to Aug. 12 you can buy one tire and get the second one free. I watched the TV ad several times and it is literally impossible to read the fine print disclosure. By going to Tire Kingdom's website, I was able to read the fine print, but the vast majority of respondents to this sale would come from TV and be clueless to the "gotchas" in the fine print.
The first revelation to my mystery shopper was that only certain makes and types of tires were eligible. No name brands such as Michelin or Goodyear were available for this sale. Interestingly, there was an inconsistency on this between the two Tire Kingdom stores we shopped. In fact, there were several inconsistencies between the stores on types of tires, prices and other procedures.
To me the biggest deception was the tire buyer was required to purchase "road hazard insurance" and a wheel alignment.
The prices on the insurance ranged between 14 percent and 18 percent of the total price of the tires and the prices of the wheel alignment ranged from $114.99 to $79.99. The advertisement didn't say they are advertising a package deal for tires and road hazard insurance and wheel alignments. But the fine print (indecipherable on TV) disclosed this condition.
Being required to buy a four-wheel alignment is wrong for two reasons. First, buying a wheel alignment should be your decision and not tied to the purchase of tires. Second, what if your wheels don't need an alignment? You may have had your four wheels aligned two hours ago, just now run over a nail in the road, and now have to buy a tire.
The fine print also tells you that you must pay $1 per tire for the state tire tax. This is a real tax but it should be included in the quoted prices. There's another fee you are charged which is a "tire disposal fee" which Tire Kingdom can charge you any amount they like. It's not specified. The truth is Tire Kingdom actually sells many of their take-off tires to used tire dealers for a nice profit. I do the same thing in my dealership and that profit offsets my cost of having take-off tires hauled away and disposed of. And the final "gotcha" is the infamous "shop fee" which usually is 10 percent of the full retail price of the service invoice with a cap of $35.
Now remember, there is no legal prohibition or cap on "tire disposal or shop fees." Tire Kingdom imposes their own caps and prices on these rip offs. Other tires sellers are left to their own chutzpah and imagination to gouge you to the limit of your tolerance.
In the fine print is "no carry-outs." I've seen this in some restaurants, but it's an unusual term for Tire Kingdom and other tire sellers to tell you that before you can buy their tires at their advertised price, you must pay them whatever they want to charge you for mounting and balancing those tires.
I'll end this article with constructive suggestions of how you can avoid these sorts of unfair and deceptive advertising and sales practices.
Refuse to play the tire sellers games. Demand an "out the door" price for the specific brand and style of tires you want. Make it clear that it must include all federal, state and local taxes, all fees such as shop and tire disposal, all extra services such as alignment, all extra products such as road hazard insurance, and all services associated with putting the tires on your car such as mounting and balancing.
Ideally you should do this on the telephone and make it clear that you have only one check left in your checkbook and you will be filling it out at home for the total amount due, an out-the-door price. Of course, you should do this at least three times with three different tire sellers and buy them from the one who gives you the lowest price.