If you can’t walk to work or don’t have access to public transportation, you’re likely at the mercy of your automobile. When your car is running fine, life is good. If something goes wrong, however, life can be pretty miserable. Repairs and replacement parts are expensive and tires are no exception.
As the cost of tires – up 57% since 2006 – continues to climb, some motorists have been left with no choice but to rent a set of rubber to keep their vehicles on the road. Often these individuals can’t afford tires and don’t qualify for traditional financing. According to story in the Los Angeles Times, tire rental businesses “provide ready credit to consumers who can’t get a loan anywhere else.”
In exchange for access, consumers are often pay a huge premium for their tires, as much as four times above retail value. Additionally, should a motorist fail to make their minimum payment, some dealers have been known to “aggressively repossess” tires, leaving the customer’s car on cinder blocks.
According to the L.A. Times, the rent-to-own industry now boasts a customer base of 4.8 million people and rakes in over $8 billion each year. Although the rental tire business makes up just a small piece of that market, they stand out because giving back tires – rather than say a big-screen television – means giving up your ability to get to work and not just your ability to watch your favorite sitcom.
As the country pulls itself out of the recession, rent-to-own tire centers have started to roll. Tires now make up two-thirds of RNR Tire Express’ sales and 70% of sales at Atlanta-chain Rimco. Leading the way, however, is market leader Rent-a-Wheel which hauled in $100 million in sales in 2012, good enough for seventh place among independent tire dealers in the U.S.
Tire dealers argue they are merely providing a product in demand and consumers, who have their backs to the wall, can’t do anything but go along for the ride – on one hell of an expensive set of wheels.