Buyer Beware of the Fine Print

I don’t usually write about cautionary tales of consumer experiences, and I very rarely write negative reviews. But I had to document this suboptimal purchase from Costco. A few things you should know first and foremost, many members of my family shop at Costco and have been Costco members for many years. In general, we like Costco Warehouse’s selection of items and bulk pricing, especially, on food when some family members have a whole family to feed.

I’ve gotten tires replaced at a few different Costco Tire Centers in California, and the tires have lasted me a long time. Recently, my car, a 2016 Toyota Rav4, had a flat tire in early December, 2021 and the tread was worn down on all of the tires. I bought this car used in July/August of 2019, and the tires on the car had lasted me until December, 2021 when I got the flat tire. It’s worth noting, that I moved to Virginia from California in September, 2021. I had found some online tire stores that sold a set of 4 Michelin tires that would fit my car for $350 – $400, but my family insisted I get the replacement tires form Costco’s Online Tire Store. The cost for similar Michelin tires on Costco’s site was ~$673. Now on the less expensive online tire stores, installation of the tires would cost between $50 – $100, while on Costco’s site installation was included; the tires would be purchased on Costco’s site online, shipped to a Costco Tire Center near where I lived, and installed at that particular Costco Tire Center.

So on 12/11/2021, We purchased the 4 Michelin Tires (Michelin Defender T+H All Season Tires 225/65R17 102H with an 80,000 mile warranty) with installation for ~$673+. Now, though initially, I had found better deals for similar Michelin Tires online, I was satisfied with the Costco Tire Center purchase decision, at the time, because, after all, both my family and I had bought tires from different Costco Tire Centers in California that were durable and had a reasonable drive-able lifespan. It is important to note, also, that the tire package we bought included a generic TPMS Service Pack, which are digital tire pressure sensors, that let the driver know if there is low tire pressure in any of the tires through a “low tire pressure signal” on the Rav4’s driver’s side digital display.

So when the tires arrived at Costco, we went to have the new tires installed in the car. The installation went fine, and I drove home glad to have a fresh set of tires. After a few weeks, the digital tire pressure gauge lit up because the weather had become much colder (typically, most gases, regular air and nitrogen in the case of these tires, contract with colder temperatures and expand with hotter temperatures), so we bought a digital air pump to fill the low pressure tires. After we adjusted the air pressure in the tires due to the cold temperature, the low pressure light on the car’s digital display went away, and the car was driving smoothly again.

Then in late January, 2022 or early February, 2022, I noticed a thumping sound from the right side of the car as I was driving. However, the tire pressure gauge did not light up. I wondered if there was a problem with the newly installed TPMS sensors or some other non-obvious problem. When I first heard this thumping as I drove, I checked all the tires visually when I parked the car and didn’t notice any visual differences in tire pressure, so that baffled me even more because if I heard a thumping, I figured that one or two tires was considerably deflated compared to other tires. I had just had the new tires installed not more than 2 months ago. It is also worth noting, at this point, that I experienced no problems with new tires from California’s Costco Tire Centers, and definitely, no problems other than improper tire pressure within the first few months. So it would seem there was a problem with the installation or someone was sabotaging my vehicle, where I lived or where I had driven my car. During this approximately 2-month time period, I only drove the car within Northern Virginia. Typically, newly installed tires should be rotated after 5000-7000 miles and alignment checked and balanced 1-2 times a years (every 6 months, conservatively, or 12 months, on average). It wasn’t an out-of-alignment problem because that usually just affects how much a car pulls to the left or to the right when driving straight. The tires were replaced at 41205 miles on the odometer. Today, my odometer read 41975. So I had driven less than 800 miles and the new tires were installed less than 3 months ago. On the notes of the tire installation, there was an explicit note that the tires needed to be rotated and balanced at 46205 miles, so that was very unlikely to be the problem.

So when I started to hear the thumping sound, I thought it was a tire pressure problem, but there was no digital indication on my driver’s digital dashboard. However, I continued to hear this thumping sound, but I didn’t know what the problem was even after a visual check of the tires. Then when I was driving on the Dulles Toll Road, the front-right tire got a big puncture and became completely flat. I had to pull-over and, eventually, Geico road-side service came, and I was able to drive home with the spare tire.

The next day, I went back to the same Costco Tire Center, where we had the tires installed. We had the 80,000 mile warranty. But apparently, there were some caveats in the Warranty’s fine print that we did not read. And even though, it seemed that the tire went flat because of non-repairable punctures or the impact damage of a pot-hole; the usable-tread remaining determined how much we would have to pay for the tire. And apparently, in less than 3 months and less than 800 miles, we had to pay $67 for a new front-right tire to be installed compared to the ~$168/tire we payed for the set of 4 new tires at the beginning of December. I was dubious that the actual amount of worn tread on tires that had been driven for less than 800 miles came to a pro-rated amount of $67 even though the actual reason for replacement of the tire was due to non-repairable punctures or the impact damage of a pot-hole.

In the end, it’s not as if $67 was unaffordable. It was a matter of principle on what one might expect from a reasonable tire warranty and a new set of tires for which close to 1.5 times the competitive price was paid.