Winter tire changeover, and its partner in crime in the spring, are an essential part of owning a vehicle in most of Canada, but it's also one of the most difficult. It can feel like every one of Canada's more than 20 million vehicle owners are all vying to get the same service done at the same time by the same handful of garages, a task that's gotten tougher and potentially riskier since COVID-19. Mobile tire change services offer an alternative that works around you, instead of the other way around, to get your vehicle ready for the next season.
With such high demand for unloved and low margin tire changeovers, getting an appointment can be tough. Full-service mechanics often don't want to turn away repair work, so they limit tire appointments or eschew them completely except for regulars. Even the biggest tire chains can see lines an hour before opening as customers try make the day's list. If you have a great relationship with your mechanic, you might grab one of the prime appointments, but if you don't, then you might spend hours or days waiting for winter to hit.
For some owners, there's an alternative. A mobile tire service brings their equipment to you, handling your seasonal tire change right in your driveway by appointment only, so you always know when your tires are going to get changed.
There are mobile tire services across Canada, ranging from big national names like CAA to smaller local options and everything in between. We spoke with two of these services to learn more about mobile tire change services.
"The way our model runs," said Crystal Karam, owner of Tirechangers.ca which operates in Ottawa, around the GTA, and more, "is we need to have winter or summer tires already on rims. They need to provide their lock for their wheel locks and have the car door unlocked. We don't sit in the vehicle; we just open the car doors to see the sticker [with tire pressure information]."
The entire process can be done in nearly any driveway. What's needed? "Space around the vehicle... for the technician to have movement around the vehicle with all the equipment." The technician also needs somewhere to park their vehicle, but you're not likely to see a large truck parked at your house all day. You're more likely going to see a van or a pickup. "They don't have anything more than just the jack, an air compressor to fill the tires with air, and the other equipment that they need to swap the tires in a safe and efficient manner."
Parking lot changeovers are possible as well, though several of the services point out that they will need approval, sometimes written, from the property owner. Karam said that they have some companies as clients who will schedule a full day of tire changes for employees at the job site, with some employers even paying for the swap. "That's quite beneficial as well for people that are forced to have to go into work, at least they're not having to take time off of work, and they enjoy that," she said.
When customers are worried about COVID, a mobile tire service can swap your tires without any contact between owner and technician. "When our technicians arrive at our customer's door, they can call the customer to let them know that they've arrived." Karam said even billing and payment can be done over the phone, that customers "were able to have the whole service done from beginning to end, with no contact at all."
"A lot of the seniors were letting their friends and neighbours know that their service existed," Karam said of early 2020, adding that many customers said they were fearful of waiting at a garage. She said mobile changes have also been popular with parents trying to juggle the ever-changing restrictions and sudden requirements to isolate that have become common with schools.
Have things gotten busier with the pandemic? Once people discovered the service, yes. "I do think it is getting a lot busier with COVID. People evaluate the idea of having contact with service, and not having to wait in a garage or a dealership and having the comfort of staying in their own home."
We also spoke with Stephen Olmstead with CAA Atlantic. Through its regional clubs, CAA offers mobile tire changing to its members across much of Canada. Olmstead said that it was convenience, preparation, and trust helping to drive the growth of mobile services. "People want to be prepared and not surprised by winter weather." CAA can get your tires changed quickly, sometimes even the same day, he said. "Swap your tires while you're working or when you're at home or anything like that," Olmstead said. "So, it's basically as easy as ordering food for delivery. It's very convenient and it's timely." He also said that CAA's service is done by the group's technicians who are "famous for roadside assistance."
Mobile service isn't ideal for every customer. You need to have parking (or a landlord open to the idea). You also need to have both sets of your tires mounted on wheels. While some of these services bring along a tire changing and balancing machine, it's not the norm. It also tends to cost more because of that extra gear required in a larger service truck.
Mobile services can be more expensive than a swap in a shop, but, as Karam points out, their service only changes tires. You won't get any maintenance upsells, even if your air filter is looking a bit extra dusty. For many, that alone might just be worth any difference in price.
General Service fees:
Tirechangers - 59.99 per car, offering multi-car discounts.
CAA Atlantic - $59.99 or $69,99 depending on membership
CAA ON - $120 for base member per car, $100 for plus, $80 for premier.