Our Guide to Buying the Right Tires for Your Car
Few people like buying new tires. They are one of the more expensive maintenance items on a car, choosing the right ones for your vehicle can be confusing, and it can take a big chunk out of your day to get them installed.
You have to do it though, as driving on worn tires with little tread left is unsafe and can leave you stranded on the side of the road. You should plan on spending at minimum a few hundred dollars to buy a set of tires and have them installed on your vehicle.
If you’re getting ready to buy new tires, follow our step-by-step guide on the following slides to find out how to choose tires that will work on your car, match your driving style, and not break the bank.
How to Buy Tires: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Determine if You Need New Tires
Before you replace your tires, you should figure out if you really need to. If your car is pulling to one side, slipping around, or not confidently stopping when you brake, it might not be your tires – or it may be a simple fix like filling underinflated tires.
Our article on ways to tell it is time for new tires is an excellent guide to the warning signs that you should look out for with worn tires. You should also check your tire pressures and visually inspect your tires for punctures, uneven wear, and worn tread.
- (a) Do They Have Enough Tread? Try the Penny Test
Take a penny and insert Abraham Lincoln’s image headfirst into the most worn part of your tire. If you can see the top of Abe’s head, it’s time to buy new tires. Some tire experts suggest you do the test with a quarter. If you can see the top of George Washington’s head, you should be planning to buy new tires soon.
It is good to buy new tires before they become so worn that it is an emergency. You can save money if you have the time to shop for the right tires, rather than having to take whatever the shop has in stock because you’ve had a blowout, and you have to get back on the road.
- (b) They Still Have Tread, but Are Your Current Tires Too Old?
Tires are only considered safe for a certain number of years. There’s a number printed on the sidewall of every tire that shows its production date.
“Tires don’t have an expiration date, but after five years they should be carefully inspected,” says Keith Welcome, a project engineer at Bridgestone Americas. “After 10 years, there’s a pretty good chance that the compound has changed enough that the tire should be replaced.”
In most cases, tires will wear out well before they get too old, but if the car isn’t driven much – think of your aging parent’s car – check the date on the side of the tires to see if they are still good.
Choosing the Right Tires
There’s more to selecting the right tires than finding some that fit and slapping them on your ride. You need to look at your vehicle’s minimum requirements, how you drive, your expectations for tire life, the weather where you do most of your driving, and the surfaces you travel on.
Your tires do more than just carry the weight of your car. They are expected to give you traction when you need to get going, allow the car to steer with confidence, and have maximum grip when you brake. They have to do all that in dry or wet conditions, without making too much noise or hurting your fuel economy.
Most mainstream passenger cars come from the factory on some form of all-season tires. Some performance models are equipped with summer tires, which don’t have much grip in wet weather and have even worse performance in winter weather. Keep the typical weather conditions where you drive in mind to avoid choosing tires that compromise your safety.
The placard on the door pillar behind the driver and your owner’s manual will spell out the minimum tire requirements for your vehicle, as well as the air pressures that the tires should contain. Other requirements are more subjective, and you need to decide which attributes are most important.
Our guide to tire types can help you through this decision.
Do You Like Your Current Tires?
A great question to ask is “what do my current tires do well, and how could they be better?” If, for example, your current tires are too loud, you can work with your tire retailer to find tires that tend to roll more quietly.
You will want to think back to what the tires were like when they were new. Since your current ones are worn, they’re not a good benchmark to use when thinking about replacements.
If they didn’t corner with confidence, you could look for more aggressive high-performance rubber. Was winter traction a problem? Maybe you need more capable all-season tires, or a set of winter tires (pictured above) just to use during the cold months. If your current tires were perfect, the buying process will be quite a lot simpler.
Learning to decipher the numbers on the sidewall of your current tires will help you figure out their characteristics. You’ll want to make sure your new tire choice meets or exceeds your vehicle’s load-carrying and speed ratings.
2. Finding the Right Tire Size
Consult your owner’s manual or the placard on the door jamb behind the driver to find the appropriate size and specifications for your vehicle. Don’t look at the sidewall of your existing tires: They may not be the same size as originally came on your car or truck.
Putting the right size tire on your car ensures that the speedometer will be accurate, the proper loads will be placed on the transmission and other driveline components, and they won’t rub on suspension or body parts.
One of the few times you can shift away from the vehicle manufacturer’s specification is when you are installing wheels with different diameters than your stock wheels. Even then, you’ll want to ensure the overall diameter of the tire/wheel package is a close as possible to the original setup and that the new tire width doesn’t cause it to rub when the suspension is compressed or you are tightly turning the vehicle.
3. Evaluating Treadwear Warranties
Most mainstream tires will come with a treadwear warranty. While that number might give you some guidance about the expected life of the tire in comparison to others from the same manufacturer, it is often a number fashioned by their marketing department.
Don’t expect to get a lot of cash out of a treadwear warranty. Most come with pages of fine print, and the guarantees are prorated, so you’ll only get a fraction of what the tire cost. Generally, you’ll be required to use any money you get back toward the purchase of an identical tire. If the tire didn’t last, why would you want to buy the same one a second time?
© A treadwear warranty is different than a road hazard warranty. We’ll get to the road hazard warranty in a few slides.
Shopping for Tires
There are lots of places to buy car tires, and each comes with positives and negatives. The most important factor are finding a shop you can trust that will give you a good deal in a timely manner without cutting corners.
To get new tires fast and cheap, you may have to give up on getting specific brands or types. If you want something unique, you’ll probably have to wait a while and pay more. Before you accept any tire deal, you should look at online reviews, especially from owners of the same vehicle that you are buying your tires for. While it is easy to find low prices on cheap tires, they might wear quickly, ride poorly, or have other performance issues that explain their low cost.
© On the next few slides, we will look at different places to buy tires and the pros and cons of each.
1. Online Sellers
Buying tires online can save you a significant amount of money, and you can order the exact tires that you want. That’s especially true if you are looking for uncommon tire sizes or types, which are unlikely to be stocked at warehouse clubs or local tire dealers.
Tirerack.com is a massive online tire retailer, though it is not the only one. They offer thousands of tire brands, types, and sizes, backed by extensive online recommendations and reviews. They tout the experience and inventory to package custom wheel and tire packages for almost any vehicle, from Mini to Maserati.
The downsides of buying online include the time and expense that it takes to get the tires delivered to you or a local installer. If the tire is damaged or not right for your vehicle when it arrives, there can be return shipping charges and delays.
© Goodyear now offers the ability to order tires online and have them delivered and installed at a local Goodyear retailer.
2. Local Tire Shops
Your local tire shop – whether it be locally owned, an outlet, a national retailer, or owned by a tire manufacturer – can give you personalized service with many different tires in stock. Though you’ll likely pay a higher price than a warehouse club or online, the customer service may be worth it.
Local tire shops are also a good choice if you are looking for unusual tires, have a special application, or need a lot of help in deciding what tire to buy. They’ll generally take appointments to make the process as easy as possible.
© If you order tires online, you’ll likely have to find a local retailer to handle the installation task for you.