Before You Buy These Car and Truck Products at Costco, Think Twice

/ / Car Accessories
Exterior and parking lot of Costco store

Costco has a reputation for offering a broad range of products at reasonable prices on everything from food to household items to garage essentials. Does that mean you should buy everything there? Probably not.

Particularly if you like to buy in bulk, Costco could be a good deal, and not just for household items. Costco carries a variety of automotive products that seem like a good deal. Price isn’t everything, though. Just because something is affordable doesn’t mean it’s the best buy. While products like Kirkland brand motor oil might be worth buying, not everything is a clear win.

There are some items you should avoid when shopping in the automotive aisles at Costco. At the very least, you’ll want to do your research before buying. Search up price comparisons to see whether another retailer can beat the price, quality, or both. Then, think twice about buying these car and truck products from Costco.

Car Batteries

Person attaching jumper cables to a car battery

Of all vehicle essentials, car batteries might be the most essential purchase. A dead battery is inconvenient, but it could also be dangerous, especially if your vehicle loses power while you’re on the road. Car batteries are easy enough to replace, and you’ll find them at every automotive store. Where to buy a replacement car battery comes down to price and quality, and Costco seems to measure up, at least on the surface.

However, there is a catch. Car batteries at Costco might be a good deal, but that’s before you factor in the membership cost. If you’re buying everything else at Costco and shop there anyway, snagging a battery on the way out might make sense. If you don’t already shop at Costco — and this is true for buying just about anything there — it won’t be worth the yearly membership fee to get access. Costco memberships start at $60 a year (plus sales tax), but to get rewards and discounts, you’ll need the Executive Member card at $120 per year (plus tax).

Costco carries Interstate batteries online. In-store offerings may vary and batteries come with a 36-month warranty. Prices do seem competitive; a FAYTX14 battery is about $60 cheaper at Costco versus Tractor Supply, for example. However, Costco won’t install your battery whereas some similarly-priced retailers will, so that’s another reason to think twice about buying from Costco.


Vehicle tires in the snow

Tires might seem like another no-brainer at Costco, mostly because the stores are a one-stop shop for groceries and everything else. Ironically, the cost might have you thinking twice. Costco carries various high-profile tire brands, but the bad news is that their prices are often higher than competitors.

Prices aren’t bad, per se, but even after promotions or discounts, Costco’s tires have a reputation for being pricier than other vendors. This can also vary by region, so a careful price comparison before impulse buying new tires can save you money.

Tires can be expensive, especially if your vehicle requires an oddball size, but the average tire price is somewhere between $80 and $250 per tire. Like other stores, Costco also offers a maintenance program with lifetime service for each set of tires, so you can return to the store for rotations, balancing, pressure checks, and flat tires. For what it’s worth, tire stores like America’s Tire also offer free pressure checks, flat repairs, and more if you purchase tires from them.

Before buying tires, consider whether the perks of shopping at Costco are worth the sticker price. Getting new valve stems (rubber only; stems with sensors cost extra) and nitrogen instead of compressed air (it’s meant to sustain tire pressure better over time) might be worth the investment, but that ultimately comes down to personal preference.


Velox wheels on a car

Costco’s wheels are another seemingly good deal, but there are some drawbacks built in there, too. If you want to buy wheels from Cotsco, you have to order them online. Then, you’ll have them shipped to your home.

Finally, you have to bring your wheels into Costco to have tires mounted (and bring the tires you want if you don’t buy them at Costco). Installation is not free, either; it costs $18.99 per wheel. It’s unclear whether you can bring wheels from somewhere else and have Costco tires installed on them, but Velox Wheel is currently Costco’s only vendor for wheel orders.

With Costco’s selection of wheels, it seems like it would be far less work to shop elsewhere, specifically at stores that either have wheels in stock or get them shipped to their retail space. It’s unlikely that the cost savings of DIY’ing part of the process is worth it, especially because Costco’s wheels aren’t the highest performance or flashiest. Ordering online also means you can’t check out how the wheels look ahead of purchase.

If all of that isn’t enough to make you think twice about buying wheels from Costco, many customers complain about the installation service itself. From Costco’s staff not reading directions to the finish chipping off during installation, not every buyer was happy after experiencing Costco’s custom wheel service.

Battery chargers

Car batteries

An automotive battery charger is a handy failsafe to have in your vehicle, but you might want to think twice about tossing Costco’s battery charger into your cart during your next shopping trip. Reviews aren’t great online for various battery products from Costco. Although the charger products aren’t super expensive, there are better options out there.

Costco’s automotive battery chargers don’t perform well or consistently, according to consumer reviews. For example, the UltraPro Elite Smart Battery Charger and Maintainer only costs $50, but offers little functionality and not much peace of mind, either. Consumer complaints say the unit falls apart easily (or arrives broken), the instructions are poor, and the cord is too short to be useful for charging a car battery without an extension cord.

For something you might buy on a whim, this product is a bit of a gamble. For that reason, it’s reasonable to be wary of other battery products at Costco, too.

Battery jumpers

Promotional image for Type S battery jumper

Battery products are one of the least predictable things to buy at Costco, based on reviews. Some products receive decent reviews (such as Type S and Michelin products), while others are hit or miss. With a handful of jump starter/power bank products available, Costco doesn’t seem to have all the functions dialed in.

The portable CAT Cube jump starter, for example, was labeled a piece of junk by various reviewers who complained that it wasn’t reliable (with some suspecting they received duds), overheated quickly, and in multiple cases couldn’t start a dead battery at all. The complaints on the CAT Cube may reflect more on CAT than Costco, but with few options, it seems like Costco should put more effort into vetting its automotive products.

Another less-than-stellar battery jumper comes from Imazing. While its overall rating isn’t bad, many Costco shoppers reported various failures with this product, too. The moral of the story? Think twice about buying a battery jumper at Costco, and read reviews at other retailers first. Consider Michelin or UltraPro if the product is a must-have on your shopping list and Costco is your only option.

Utility trailers

DK2 utility trailer

Costco, like other big-box retailers, sells many things that the company doesn’t necessarily know much about. Case in point? Costco sells utility trailers, something you wouldn’t expect to see parked outside the garden center. Two models (apparently all the retailer has available currently) of Costco utility trailers have poor reviews, and it’s not exactly shocking why.

Both of Costco’s utility trailers are from DK2, so there’s no backup option to choose if you’re in the market for a trailer and don’t have many store options nearby. Despite costing $1,300 and up, the trailers don’t have solid reviews and max out around four stars. That may not sound terrible, but for over $1,000, consumers will likely agree it’s reasonable to expect a functional product.

According to Costco shoppers’ reviews, these utility trailers rust easily, the paint coating flakes off, assembly is a hassle (even when the manufacturer includes the right parts), and the hardware has a tendency to arrive damaged or incomplete (missing bearings). Some shoppers also reported issues getting their trailers licensed with their local department of motor vehicles for various reasons.

With all of that in mind, even the heartiest DIY’er likely won’t want to spend over a thousand dollars to try and piece together a trailer that’s meant to be towed at highway speeds — especially one that may or may not include the right parts or withstand a 35 mph drive.

Diagnostic tools

ThinkCheck M70 scan tool

Diagnostic tools are useful to have and might be something you toss into your Costco cart because they’re nice to have. True, a reliable diagnostic tool can save you a ton of money — but Costco’s might not fit the bill.

Diagnostic tools like ThinkCheck and ThinkCar are sold at Costco, and the latter isn’t cheap at over $800. However, neither has good reviews, especially the sub-$200 model. In another case of when you need it to work, it better work, diagnostic tools are expected to function properly. Unfortunately, Costco shoppers say that the ThinkCheck diagnostic tool doesn’t work properly (if it works at all) and that the directions are poor.

The pricier ThinkCar tool didn’t receive as many reviews (the steeper price point might explain potentially low sales), but consumers called it “overkill” for the average driver while some claimed it didn’t work.

The one plus that various shoppers pointed out is that Costco has a very lenient returns policy. The return policy is one reason why many consumers shop for various things at Costco and take chances with bigger purchases.

Costco’s return policy stipulates that electronics can be returned within 90 days of receipt while “limited useful life expectancy” products (like tires and batteries) are covered by warranties. If you do take a chance on a car and truck product and it doesn’t work out, odds are that Costco will give you your money back with no (or few) questions asked.

Dash Cams

Type S dash cam

Dash cams probably aren’t the type of impulse buy you’d grab at Costco, but the returns policy could tempt you to take a chance. Unfortunately, Costco’s current dash cam offerings aren’t impressive. At price points over $130, the two most-rated dash cams are around three stars out of five and probably aren’t worth buying — especially because they’re not available in store.

Neither the Type S or Car & Driver dash cams from Costco are well-rated. The Type S dash camera has almost as many one-star reviews as it has five-star ones, with consumers saying the app is buggy, the device powers off randomly, and that the technology is already outdated.

The Car & Driver model had fewer negative reviews but received similar complaints about a lack of functionality, random failures, and glitches. Some reviews also suggested that the product worked until just after the return window, then died, meaning they couldn’t take advantage of Costco’s return policy.

A dash cam from Costco isn’t the worst purchase you can make when it comes to automotive products, but other retailers have much higher-rated offerings. Skip Costco and choose a highly-rated dash cam from another manufacturer, regardless of budget.

Car wash systems

Unger Rinse N Go Max bucket

Washing your car can be a chore, but spending a ton of money on a wash system might not make it any easier — at least if you buy one from Costco. If a standard hose and bucket isn’t the way you want to go while washing your car, an all-in-one system might sound like a treat. From a power-washing function to special bristle brushes that are gentle on your vehicle, a car washing kit sounds like it would be useful.

However, reviewers say Costco’s $550 wash system isn’t worth the money at all. The system claims to deionize water to remove contaminants, ensuring your vehicle is shiny and not streaky or water-spotted afterward, but most consumers weren’t able to reap those apparent benefits. Instead, reviews point out that the accessories do not attach securely, which means a useful life ranging from less than a minute to a few months before failure.

The water-softening function seemed to work well, but with so many complaints about the fittings and accessories (leaks are a common theme), it doesn’t seem worth the $550 gamble to try Costco’s Unger wash system. Another Unger system — this one cheaper at $180 — had many more (and slightly higher-rated) reviews, but the complaints were similar. Consumers called the system “cheap,” mentioned how the hoses were “too short,” and filter media (which has to be replaced) was “too expensive.”


Cars parked outside Costco

Costco might not have new model Volvos or Chevrolets on display in its stores, but the retailer has a special discount program for members who purchase certain new vehicles. If you haven’t drawn the line at what not to buy at Costco just yet, a vehicle might be one of those purchases.

While Costco itself isn’t selling the vehicles, its program means that you can get cash back for being a Costco member and buying specific vehicles. Programs vary by region (you’ll need to enter your zip code to find the specials), but Costco’s advertising seems to suggest it offers deals on everything from sedans to pickups to RVs. Deals change throughout the year — at time only listed electric vehicles from specific brands including Cadillac, Volvo, Chevrolet, and Polestar. 

UPDATE: A Costco representative reached out to SlashGear to add, “We also have displays at several Costco warehouses, usually featuring a vehicle that is part of a Limited-Time Special or featuring other brands when we don’t have a special promotion. Additionally, we work with automakers to offer Limited-Time Specials throughout the year.”

The only issue is that Costco’s deals aren’t anything special compared to the cash-back programs offered by auto dealerships; $1,000 off through Costco doesn’t exactly compare to $10,000 cash-back deals from Volvo, for example.

It does appear that the Costco deal is on top of automotive brand deals, but it’s not clear whether all dealerships will accept the incentive. Costco does say to take the paperwork, once you apply, to “any” dealership, but there is the question of whether an in-house deal voids that potential offer. This is another purchase to think twice about, but for some consumers, taking Costco’s deal could make a planned purchase that much cheaper — at least, in this case.

UPDATE: A Costco representative added, “member-only incentives can be combined with other incentives currently available that the member qualifies to receive, this includes their Costco member Prearranged Price, if they visit a Costco Auto Program Approved Dealer.”

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