There’s a set of tires in your life. Today, tomorrow, or down the road, you will buy a tire or two. Unless you are leasing your vehicle short-term, sooner or later, your car or truck will need a new rubber.
The tires are literally “where the rubber meets the road,” and your tires are crucial to the car’s performance and safety. They will suffer wear and tear or lose their fight with risks on the road. But the investment puts people off until they can’t wait any longer.
Tires come in many sizes, serve different purposes, and price widely different. So, you may benefit from some tips about buying new tires.
10 things you need to know before you buy tires:
- Snow safe: Millions of vehicle owners live and work in climates heavy with snow and ice. Many live in more moderate climates but like to travel into snowy environments. “Snow tires” are a must for these folks.
In some situations, cars and trucks still use chains, but for most people, snow tires will provide the necessary traction to ensure your safety in snow or on ice. Snow tires are engineered with deep treads for more grip and power than “all-season” tires, but you do not want to the role on snow tires beyond the snow season.
- 3 season tough: “Summer tires” are designed for hotter climes. A good third of the U.S. is under the sometimes scorching heat. The rubber in many tires just does not like the heat in the highway blacktop. So, summer tires have been developed to grab the road in very hot, dry, and/or wet areas.
These summer tires improve vehicle performance and driver control with better traction and shorter braking distance. But they do not do so well in cold temperatures. You might find your vehicle slipping, sliding, or fishtailing. So, do not mistake “summer tires” for all-season tires.
- All-season flexibility: In most moderate climates, a set of “all-season tires” front and rear should do what you need to be done. They offer a reasonable expectation in changing weather conditions. In those varying conditions, most owners leave the tires on year-round.
However, they are not meant for extremes, so drivers are often disappointed in the performance during unexpected heavy snows and flooding rains. To solve those unexpected problems, you might invest in “High Performance” all-season tires designed for better grip and easy handling.
- Size details: Too many drivers ignore the tires until routine required inspections capture their attention. Then their instinct is to shop for price whereas they should turn to the vehicle’s manual to follow its recommendations. For instance, the tire pros at Telle Tire & Auto Centers suggest one size does not fit all.
They will help you locate the tire’s size and speed rating. They can also explain the tire’s tread wear and its potential life. For example, if you intend to sell the vehicle in the short-term, you may opt for a brand with a lower rating to save money. These details are on the sidewalls of your current tires, but they are a mystery to some. It is not hard to find, but there is a series of numbers that indicate (1) the width of the tire in millimeters, (2) a number showing the aspect ratio (width/sidewall height), and (3) the diameter of the wheel in inches. The numbers provide a standard for shopping.
- Running flat: Many modern models come fitted with “running flat tires.” This innovation lets you drive for short distances after they are disabled by a puncture. You should be able to reach an auto and tire center where you can replace the tire.
You may be surprised to find these cars do not have a space designated for a spare tire, so you should consider replacing it with another run-flat-tire. However, you may want to consider your options because run-flats can be pricey.
- Age matters: AARP points out, “Age matters even with ‘new’ tires.” Considering the natural wear and tear of road and weather conditions, your tires will deteriorate. But you can find their “date of birth” in a four-number sequence on the sidewall following the letters DOT.
This birthday is helpful for two reasons: (1) almost all tires should be replaced after six years regardless of their apparent condition, and (2) when you shop, you can avoid buying “old” tires at stores with slow inventory turnover.
- Use the TPMS: If you bought your car or truck new in the last ten years, it comes equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), a technology that reports your tire pressure on your dashboard. It’s a great idea for the majority of people who simply fail to check their tire pressure manually. Underinflated tires present a safety and performance risk.
However, the TPMS only reports when the tire is 25% underinflated. It still makes sense to check your tire pressure monthly and/or before and after long trips. The pressure you want to measure is listed on the vehicle’s door jamb. So, you should consider the TPMS as a fail-safe, a reminder to think about tire pressure.
- Worthless warranty: Tire warranties may not be worthless, but they may not be what you think. Manufacturers often warranty quality and performance over specific mileage limits. However, most owners never reach those limits. If warranties are the deal-breaker for you, you should review the warranty in detail.
For example, if the tire wears out before its warranty mileage, you won’t be getting a set of replacement tires. The guarantor will offer a prorated credit rather than full price. And, you may have to document the service record.
- Custom cost: If you have customized, your car or truck, you’ll want tires to fit the style. If yours is a low rider, or if you selected decorative rims, standard tires may not fit the bill. If you want to raise or lower the profile, you may need special tires.
Custom tires can make your vehicle look sporty, rugged, or antique. But you will not find the special options at most tire centers, and they don’t come cheap. So, you should use the internet to research style, quality, and cost.
- Off-road: If you ride rough country or off the road occasionally, you can get away with your regular all-season tires. But if you use rocky, pitted, or sandy roads, you need larger heavier tires. If your work requires a truck on construction sites, you will need something very durable.
Large tires with deeper treads make your vehicle look tougher. More importantly, they improve the vehicle’s ability to handle mud, rocks, and sandy soils. Some people buy them for their appearance, but the high price may discourage you unless you really need them for the work you do.
There’s no excuse!
There is so much information out there, you can make smart tire decisions. The simplest approach is to replace a tire with the same brand, size, and quality. But there are some remaining considerations.
If you are replacing a punctured or damaged tire, it is understandable if you only buy a single tire. But you should consider investing in a pair to keep the balance. When you consider replacing one tire, you should check the remaining tires for their condition. And, when you replace any or all tires, you should have them rotated and balanced.
That leaves the challenge of finding a price that fits your budget. You can start with a check on your local big box store. They will provide fast service and attractive prices because they have purchasing leverage. However, you will not find a large selection of brands, styles, or sizes.
Tire centers that operate as chains or franchises advertise good deals and offer discount coupons. The salespeople are still likely to pitch their highest grade items often at a front desk where you cannot check the inventory for choice or product age.
If you know tires and precisely what you want, you might buy yours online. Some websites offer rare designs and custom needs. Buying online does not always offer bargains, and the cost of delivery could negate any savings.
Overall, you may do better at tire service centers where you can develop a relationship with service people and management. A trusting relationship will often cut the best deal especially if you are regular for tire rotation, alignment, brake checkups, oil changes, and other needed or preventative vehicle services.
Tire sales really do not have big profit margins, so you won’t have much success with negotiating the price. But when you are a regular customer at your auto and tire center, the trust you develop is part of every deal you make.
So, if you’re new to the area, you can ask neighbors for recommendations or check online reviews. Consumer Reports suggests, “A quality mechanic and shop should be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).”
With these 10 plus tips on buying a new set of tires, you should be able to make a smarter and more price-friendly decision.