Buying Tires: 10 Tips To Buy Smarter and Save Money

Samples Of Worn Tire
This sample shows the stages of tire wear

What Every Tire Buyer Needs To Know When It Comes to Replacing Your Tires

I hate buying tires. It seems like every time I take my car in for service, a new set of tires is recommended. I hate the pressure: to buy something I’m not familiar with, not knowing if I’m getting a fair deal, and often I’m not even sure I even need them.

Experts can tell you know to know if you need new tires, but frankly, I don’t know what bald tires look like, what 3/32nd of an inch looks like, and even the idea of stopping at the gas station to use the free air filler is not appealing.

And I’m not alone. Even Jimmy Fallon doesn’t want to put air in his tires.

But tires are important; we all get that: it’s the only thing between you and the road; your family’s safety depends on them; keeping them properly inflated saves fuel; letting them become worn can cause an accident. All scary things, but also, intimidating facts.

To demystify the tire buying process, I recently spent some time with Matt Edmonds of the online tire and auto supply company Tire Rack, and got a primer on what we really need to know about tires and the tire buying process (Tire Rack has TONS of great info on tires that I found very helpful in my research). Edmonds and his staff spend time testing out the tires they sell, talking to customers and learning about industry trends. And I have to admit, after spending some time learning about the subject, I feel a little silly being shy about tire shopping.

10 Things You Need To Know About Buying Tires

1. Know the condition of your tires so you know when it’s time to replace them. 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 is head isn’t partially hidden by the tire, the tire needs to be replaced. If you’ve had a rough winter or a bad rainy season that has produced a lot of potholes, it’s probably a good idea to have your tires checked by a professional.

2. If you need tires, be sure to buy the right type of tire. Choose your tires the way you choose your shoes, says Edmonds. Think about it: if you’re going out for a run with your dog or chasing a toddler, you want a good pair of sneakers, not stilettos. It’s the same with your car: you want tires that will grip the road when making a turn, that will stop quickly and that won’t let a little rain or snow inhibit its abilities.

3. Choose the right size tire: A reputable tire dealer will ask the make, model and year of your car and offer tires that fit, but you may still have several size options—bigger  tires that fill the wheel well, smaller tires that are less expensive. Whichever you choose, make sure the tires fit the recommended speed rating–that they are capable of handing your car up to a designated top speed—and that they can accommodate the weight of your car, or load rating. This information is in the tire’s product code, which we have decoded for you here.

4. Winter, summer or all season tires? Just like you wouldn’t wear your Uggs for a run on the beach or your Christian Louboutin pumps for a trek up a snowy hill, you can choose your tires to fit seasonal weather. If you drive frequently in snowy, icy or wet conditions, winter tires may be a good investment; made of softer rubber and designed to grip a slippery surface, they can provide extra traction in the snow, but that soft rubber will wear out quickly on hot pavement. Tires that are frequently driven in hot weather—summer tires—will last longer because they’re made of tougher, more rigid rubber. The most popular tires are all-weather, which perform well in most circumstances, but be aware that they can wear down faster during hot months and don’t have optimal ability in snowy conditions.

5. Decide what you want from replacement tires. A more comfortable ride? More steering control? Less noise? Longer wear? The tires that come with a new car are sort of one size fits most and may not be the best for your particular driving conditions or comfort level. This is your chance to get what you want.

6. Decide what to spend: A tire’s warranty will give you an idea of how many miles you should get out of them. On most cars a set of tires should last three to four years (40,000-80,000 miles), and if you’re worried about having to replace a damaged tire, consider getting the hazard insurance, usually only $15-$20 per tire.

7. Read the reviews (like we have to tell you that). See what the experts say about the tires. Some inexpensive tires wear just as well as premium tires, and sometimes, you get what you pay for. Know the difference and ask for what you want.

8. You don’t always need to replace all four tires at once. If you replace only two tires, the new tires should go on the front and front tires moved to the rear. To have the best control of your car you want the least worn tires on the front.

9. If you decide to rotate your tires, and we all know we’re supposed to do this, rotate front back (most tires can’ t be rotated side to side). Front to rear and rear to front rotation helps to even out wear. Also, if you rotate regularly and there’s an alignment problem, it will be discovered and corrected, and by rotating the tires they’ll wear themselves back into usable condition.

10. Shop around. Don’t just take the tires the car dealer has on hand or what is on sale; call a number of different shops and ask for what you want, compare prices on line and know what you should pay before you buy.

Now, if only the tire store didn’t smell like burned rubber and more like fresh jasmine, I’d be all set.

Car Shopping

Need a new car? Whether shopping for a new car or a used car we recommend using our car shopping service

Tire Shopping

Need new tires? We recommend Tire Rack

Car Repair

Need to get your car repaired? We recommend Repair Pal. Exclusively just for Girls Guide to Cars readers, call (877) 323-1708 to speak to RepairPal Car Genius for FREE automotive repair advice and if needed to find the right shop for you!

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss