Buying Tires Doesn’t Have to be Intimidating, We’re Here to Help
One of the most important purchases as car owners is tires, as this is the vehicle’s most important safety feature. Let’s face it – after the often intimidating car buying experience, the last thing you want is a repeat when replacing your car’s tires. Here are 9 important tire buying tips to make the buying experience a little better.
Growing up with my mechanic dad, believe me, I know the importance of good tires. It’s the only thing between you and the road. You and your family’s safety depends on good tires. Keeping them properly inflated saves fuel. Worn tread is not a good thing and can cause an accident. Yeah, yeah, check all that.
But if you’re like me, buying tires ranks right there with going to the dentist. You’d really rather do ANYTHING but make an appointment. You know you have to do it, but you put off the purchase until it’s perhaps the last minute.
Let’s remove the stress of the tire buying process with these 9 secrets you should know about buying tires.
9 Tips for Buying Tires
1. All tires are not created equal
Yes, tires all look alike. They are round. They are made of rubber. They have indentations called treads. And they are perhaps THE most important safety feature of your vehicle. Just like shoes, tires are made by multiple “designers,” including Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin, Dunlop, Yokohama, and more. And like designer shoes, choosing the right tire brand depends on so many facets of your vehicle and driving habits.
For example, if you live in the northeast, winter tires with its softer rubber designed to grip on a slippery surface will give you more traction in the snow. (You wouldn’t wear stilettos during a winter snow storm, right?) If your home is in Florida, winter tires wouldn’t make any sense, while summer tires (made of tougher, more rigid rubber) might last longer in the hot weather. The most popular tires are all season (all weather) which perform well in most driving situations.
2. Know when it’s time to replace your tires
You don’t have to be an experienced auto mechanic to know enough to be safe. Take time to LOOK at your tires – all 5 of them! Yes, it’s important to check your spare too. Do they look, worn or damaged? Do they pass the penny test? Insert a penny into the tire tread with Lincoln’s head pointing toward the center of the tire. If its head isn’t partially hidden by the tire, the tire needs to be replaced. And it’s okay to confirm your results and have your tires checked by a professional.
3. Decipher the tire codes
Perhaps the biggest mistake consumers make is choosing the right tire. And this is as easy as getting down and dirty to look at the code on the sidewall of your tire, a combination of letters and numbers. These indicate the size, type, and performance of the tire.
The first three-digit number in the tire size refers to the tire width. For example, my 2014 Ford Escape’s tire size is 235/45 R19 tire, the tire width is 235 millimeters, measured from sidewall to sidewall. Aspect Ratio is the ratio of the height of the tire’s cross-section to its width.
The two-digit number after the slash mark in a tire size is the aspect ratio. For example, in a size 235/45 R19 tire, the 45 means that the height is equal to 45% of the tire’s width. The bigger the aspect ratio, the bigger the tire’s sidewall.
The letter “R” in a tire size stands for Radial, which means the layers run radially across the tire.
Wheel Diameter is the size of the wheel measured from one end to the other. This is the size of the wheel that the tire is intended to fit. A size 235/45 R19 tire is made for a wheel with a 19″ diameter.
While this may sound Auto Geek to you know, tire codes are important to know when pricing your new tires as it’s the unique descriptor.
4. Size does matter
When you do finally take the step to shop around (see below), most tire dealers will ask the make, model, and year of your car. But you may still have different size options as well. Your choices may include bigger tires fill the wheel well, or smaller less expensive tires.
Whatever your choice, make sure the tires fit the recommended speed rating; can handle your car up to a designated top speed; and can accommodate the weight of your car (load rating). Check your tire’s sidewalls for these codes, or simply open your owner’s manual.
5. Decide what you need from replacement tires
Chances are you’ve been driving the car for some time. Think about your driving experience. Is something not up to par? Are you looking for a more comfortable ride? More steering control? Less noise? Longer wear? Tires that are standard with a new car are usually one size fits most, so if you feel, you might be better with a new brand, then ask your tire technician for your options when buying tires.
I recently replaced my car tires for the first time since purchasing my Ford Escape in the fall of 2013. The Continental tires worked great in the Colorado winter, driving in the mountains, and even on some off-road trips. And they lasted over 40,000 miles. So if it’s not broke, then why change the tire brand?
6. Shop around.
Just like any consumer purchase, drivers have a lot of options. Go ahead and take the information you’ve gathered from above, and shop around. You can return to your dealership, although oftentimes this is the more expensive option. (NOTE: My Ford dealership actually offered to match any other tire quote, so ask them about price matching.)
For convenience, many consumers first consider their local tire shop or discount tire store. It’s often a matter of convenience and usually located closer to your home. Prices are usually reasonable, and I’ve discovered that the service managers or technicians are very helpful. Quotes are also as simple as a phone call or stopping by the store.
7. Read the reviews
Take all your options and quotes and start reading the reviews. See what the experts say about the tires. Expensive doesn’t always equal the best tires. Sometimes inexpensive tires wear as well as their premium competitors. But sometimes you do get what you pay for.
Subscription service like Consumer Reports separate tires into categories, such as braking, hydroplaning, tread life, ride comfort, and more. But there are so many reviews out there available simply at a click of a mouse – google your car, tire brands, etc. When you’ve read all the reviews, it’ll help you understand the differences, allow you to ask for what you want, and hone in on buying tires.
8. Decide what to spend
Gather your reviews and compare these to your quotes. Be sure to consider a warranty when buying tires. The warranty gives you an idea of how many miles you should get out of the tires. On most cars, tires last three to four years (40,000 -80,000 miles), which is covered by the warranty. However, if you traditionally put a lot of miles on your car, consider adding hazard insurance, usually only $15-$20 per tire. Also, many of these local tire stores include complimentary tire rotations, flat repairs, etc. – so be sure to ask!
Since tires can be a huge expense, consider financing options. On my recent tire purchase, I spent over $1,100 for 4 new tires. I had saved half of that, so instead of putting the balance on a credit card, I applied for Discount Tire’s 9 months same as cash financing program. I qualified! Just be sure to pay off BEFORE the 9 months as the interest rates after the interest-free period are extremely high!
9. Purchase your tires with confidence
You’ve done your homework. You’ve shopped around. You’ve read the reviews. Prepared your budget. Now, go ahead and take the plunge!
With these 9 tips for buying tires, purchase your tires with confidence and take your car on the road.