My experience buying new car tires
I've purchased my last few sets of car tires at tirerack.com, so that was the obvious place to start my search for the best price. At tirerack.com, my cost for a set of four tires ($141 each) shipped to my front door was $645.04. Once I figured in a ~$20 mount/balance/disposal cost per tire at my local garage, I was looking at a total cost of about $725!
For that kind of money, I was willing to make a few calls to local tire stores to see what it would cost to make my purchase from a local tire store. First, I started looking into Sullivan Tire, a regional tire chain. I checked them out at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) web site, and found that they had a satisfactory record. I was also pleased to see that they offer a 5% discount to AAA members.
I requested an internet quote from sullivantire.com, and promptly received a detailed quote via email for $746.08 installed plus tax. Phone calls to their two closest stores surprisingly resulted in two different quotes ($720 & $749), and it was noteworthy that both of the people I spoke to were polite, professional, and really seemed intent on getting my business.
My next stop was Town Fair Tire, another regional tire chain. The first red flag was raised when I saw the unsatisfactory record that the closest Town Fair Tire location had with the Better Business Bureau, apparently earned by ignoring customer complaints brought to their attention by the BBB. I called the two closest stores anyway and was given pretty pricey quotes ($802.80 & $908.87), although they said they would beat the best price I could find by 5%. Both of the people I spoke with used the same scripted sales pitch, which included trying to talk me into buying a different tire that they apparently had in stock. Even worse, one of the people spoke to me very unprofessionally, including walking away from the phone to speak with someone else in the middle of our conversation.
At that point, I called back the Sullivan Tire store that had offered the best price, and said that I was ready to buy now if they would match the 5% Town Fair Tire lowest price guarantee. My man at Sullivan tire agreed, and not long after I had my new tires installed while I waited. After tax, I ended up getting my tires a little cheaper than the ~$725 it would have cost to deal with the tirerack/local garage shuffle. Sullivan Tire also offered free lifetime rotations and checked my SUV's alignment as part of the deal.
My biggest disappointment with this whole process was that old fashioned phone calls saved me more money that buying via the Internet. While the Internet was an invaluable tool with regard to researching tires and places to purchase them, it really didn't help me get the cheapest price.