Tires are arguably the most important safety feature on your vehicle. They are the only part of your car that actually makes contact with the ground. Their grip is of paramount importance. Tires are also the part most likely to need replacing over the life span of a vehicle. In fact, tires are pretty much guaranteed to wear out eventually. So it is kind of surprising how little most people know about them.
When shopping for new tires, many of us just take the advice of the sales person.
“Sure, as long as they fit my make and model, throw them on so I can get on with my day.”
If that sounds like something you’ve said before, you’re not alone. However, this is not always the best approach. Sales people, after all, are often pushing an angle. Maybe they are trying to offload excess inventory or poor selling brands. Maybe they know the profit margin on a particular tire is higher than others. The point is that knowing some information about tires — even basic information — can help ensure that you get a good deal on the right tires for your car. Here are eight tips to keep in mind when buying tires.
Know the Size of the Tires You Need
This might sound painfully obvious, but a lot of people have no idea what size their tires are. If you ask them, they’ll just look into space and blink a few times. The result is that plenty of folks end up buying the wrong size. In some cases, that means an embarrassing trip back to the store. In other cases, the tires will still fit your car, but have a negative impact.
Fortunately, the tire size is readily available. You just have to look. The correct size is right on the sidewall of your existing tires. The tire size and its capabilities will be right there. It will read something like “P215/65 R15.” The P means the tires are intended for passenger vehicles. The next number is the tire width, in millimeters. The “65” is the tire’s aspect ratio. The ‘R’ stands for Radial. The final number is the wheel diameter in inches.
If none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry. Just make note of what your car needs (check the owner’s manual if you have to), and make sure you buy new tires that are the right size.
Know Where to Buy Tires
You have a lot of options when it comes to buying tires. Tires can be purchased everywhere from the original dealership, Costco, discount retailers like Wal-Mart, or second-hand on Craigslist. The price charged varies greatly, depending on where you buy.
As a general rule of thumb, car dealerships tend to be the most expensive. Dealerships replace tires using original equipment and factory direct parts. Discount tire retailers tend to be the cheapest option. However, the quality of these tires is not always great. Plus the tires are often just shipped to you. It’s up to you to pay to have the tires mounted on your car and balanced.
The best option in terms of where to buy tires is a local tire store — either a retail chain store or an independent garage. The sales people will help you find the right tires for your vehicle. They usually have a shop onsite too, where the tires can be professionally mounted. However, it is always good to shop around for the best price.
Don’t Buy More Tire Than You Need
Tire salesmen are still salesmen. That means that they will upsell you if they get the chance. So be cautious. A lot of people are driving around on more tire than they need. A “touring tire” might be suggested, but all you really need is an all-season. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when buying tires. Probe the salesperson you’re dealing with on what tires are right for your driving habits.
Also, beware of the trend towards “plus sizing” tires. This involves mounting bigger wheels and tires on a vehicle. Why? Sales people will tell you it enhances the look of a car and can improve the handling. In reality, it’s just a cash grab. The safest course of action is to just replace the tires that were on the vehicle when you bought. Those are likely all the tire you’re going to need. No need to get creative at the suggestion of a pushy salesman.
Keep in Mind Fuel Economy
In addition to safety, the biggest impact tires have on your car is fuel economy. The right tires, properly inflated, can enhance fuel economy. The wrong tires, with incorrect inflation, can lead to more frequent trips to the pumps. If fuel economy is important to you, keep it mind while shopping for tires. Purchasing a different type or size than the tires you previously had may negatively impact the fuel economy.
Conversely, maximizing your fuel economy may require that you purchase more expensive tires from the dealership. Hopefully you can recoup some of that expense with lower fuel costs. Buying generic tires from a discount retailer may save you some bucks initially but could hurt your fuel efficiency going forward. In the end, you’ll have to figure out what is more important to you — the upfront cost of the tires or the fuel economy you get.
New vs. Used Tires
Most debates involving cars — and car parts — come down to “new” versus “used.” This is the same with tires. Many people buy used tires in an effort to save money. Others always buy new tires to ensure that they are safe and reliable. So which is the right way to go?
Used tires are not a bad option, provided they are only slightly used. The key is to ensure that any used tires you buy are in good condition, with plenty of tread on them. You can tell this by looking at a tire and feeling the tread with your finger. If you are buying tires used, be sure to get them from a reputable seller. Many used tires could have defects, punctures, or tread wear that are not readily visible to the naked eye.
If at all possible, buy used tires from someone you know and trust. Keep in mind that new tires will come with some type of warranty protection, whereas used tires won’t offer anything. As with most things, you’ll have to balance cost with practicality and safety.
Consider Tread Wear
How durable a tire is — and how long it lasts — depends on many factors. Your driving frequency, local climate, road conditions, and driving technique all play a part. In optimum conditions, all-season tires can last for 100,000 miles. High-performance tires tend to last less, at about 70,000 miles. Top performance tires last as little as 25,000 miles.
When buying tires, consider what you will be using the vehicle for. How frequently you will be driving it? Where will you be driving? For most of us, regular all-season tires will suffice. Be mindful of suggestions from sales people to go with a higher performing tire. You’re not taking your SUV to the race track. You’re just taking the kids to baseball practice and carting the groceries home. Get some tires that are both practical and durable, instead of ones that allow you to corner faster.
Do Some Homework and Read Tire Reviews
Tires are reviewed and rated, just like everything else. The internet is filled with reviews for every conceivable make of tire. While it might not be the most interesting reading, taking time to read reviews before you go shopping is recommended. Reviews typically cover things such as fuel economy, how a tire handles, and how long it lasts. There are also reviews that delve into how certain tires perform on different terrain and in various weather conditions, including rain storms or winter driving.
Arming yourself with this information is only going to help when you eventually need to buy. You’ll know what to look for, which questions to, and how to get the best deal possible. A little homework can go a long way.
Properly Maintain Your Tires
As with any part on a vehicle, maintenance is half the battle. This goes for tires too. We often don’t think of tires when it comes to routine maintenance. However, there are steps you can take to increase the life and longevity of your tires.
You should rotate your tires to prevent uneven wear. You should also keep your tires properly inflated. Somewhat related to tires, ensure you keep your brakes in good working order. Frequent car washes will remove dirt and debris from the tires. That will help keep your tires safe from punctures or damage.
Keeping your tires in mind. Treat them with the same care and respect you give to the rest of your vehicle. After all, the longer your tires last, the less money they’ll cost you over the life of your vehicle.