How Important Are Your Tires? How to Make the Right Tire Choice

In good weather and bad, the right tire choice can be the difference between comfortable or not, smart or expensive or, safe or sorry. Here's how to know.

On The Winter Driving Track Featured Image911

On The Winter Driving Track Featured Image911

Here’s How to Know You Know

Just imagine… you’re driving with your baby sitter in the front seat, your kids tucked tightly into their car seats and you approach an intersection and … slide right into the middle of it. Oncoming cars fly by you like a chase scene in an action movie. Luckily, none of them hits you and you’re able to go on with your day, save the spooky feeling left ringing in your bones. You could have all been seriously hurt, or worse.

For me, that was a snowy day many years ago. The crazy thing is, I didn’t even think to have my tires checked. It was snowing and I chalked it up to ice on the road. But I was the only one sliding; every other car on the road was just fine. Luckily, not long afterward my mechanic recommended I get new tires. I quickly agreed and bought them on the spot.

My first mistake was that I didn’t know the condition of my tires. My second mistake was that I should have been in control of the situation. Even though I got new tires, did I get the right ones for my driving style and conditions? Did I pay too much? Would they wear too quickly? All questions I didn’t think about because … I didn’t know.

Well, now I do, and if you keep reading, so will you.

Related: Michelin’s Safe When New, Safe When Worn: Do Tires Get Better With Wear?

Winter Tires Grip The Snow For Better Traction Ebay Motors

Winter tires grip the snow for better traction. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Understanding What You Need to Make the Right Tire Choice 

I’m sure the service technician at the car dealer meant well when he sold me a set of tires. I’m also sure he made a nice commission and probably didn’t care much about what mattered to me in a new set of tires. What I should have done was a bit of research and then look at independent retailers such as those listed with eBay Motors. From there, you can look for what you need, as you would when buying a pair of sneakers or a vacuum cleaner.

Some things to consider include:

  • Size recommended by the manufacturer
  • Type of tire — all season, touring, winter, run flat
  • Speed and load rating — if you do a lot of highway driving with a car full of kids, or if you tow heavy equipment, this is important
  • Length of wear/warranty — how long do you want your tires to last?
  • Location of installer — you can buy tires and have them shipped to an installer near you or in some cases, have an installer come to you

The service technician at my dealership didn’t ask me any of these questions, which is why I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the right tires for my car.

Related: Continental Tire Review: These Run Flat Tires Will Change Your Life. Really.

Next: Choose the Right Tires for Your Driving Situation(s)

When buying tires, ask yourself: What conditions do you mostly drive in, and which conditions are most challenging or possibly even dangerous?Cold, snowy, perhaps icy weather? Rainy, slick pavement? Seasonal mud and gravel that spill onto the road? A gravel driveway or trails? Steep hills? Occasional floods and standing water on the street?

Where I lived in Connecticut it was all of the above for a lot of the year. Now that I live in Texas I don’t need to worry so much about snowy or icy conditions, but rain-slick streets, mud, gravel and floods are common.

Related: What an Eye Opener: Pirelli’s Fantastic New P Zero AS Plus 3 Tires

Winter Driving School

Winter driving school is a great way to understand the difference tires make. Photo: Scotty Reiss

All Wheel Drive Vs Front Wheel Drive

If you ask me, everyone needs AWD. Though that’s not necessarily true and AWD can mean an extra $2,000 on the price of a new car. For most driving situations, FWD is fine, even in snow and mud. Typically front wheels get a good amount of traction with the weight of the engine and the vehicle.

But for drivers who face hilly, slick, icy, snowy or gravely surfaces, all wheel drive offers added capability. It ensures that the rear wheels are turning along with the front wheels so you have as much traction on the rear wheels as you do the front wheels.

Winter Tires Vs All Season Tires

All season tires are sort of like a perfect barn jacket: great for most seasons, but probably too much or too little in extreme hot or cold weather. All season tires on an AWD vehicle, however, are probably good even in very snowy climates. But with FWD or RWD alone, you probably need winter tires.

I was able to try out all season tires and compare them to winter tires in a front wheel drive Toyota Camry and in a rear wheel drive Porsche 911. The Camry actually did OK with the all seasons as long as I went slow, picked spots where I thought the snow wasn’t too deep and I was likely to get stuck, and kept my momentum steady. But with winter tires, I was able to drive through anything, which of course, was more fun. It made me think of slow-going on the highway when a storm has just rolled in but the plows are not out yet.

Related: Hercules Tires Review: Why These Tires Gave Me New Confidence Behind the Wheel

Even Sports Cars Can Be Capable In Winter Ebay Motors

Even sports cars can be capable in winter. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Rear Wheel Drive with Winter Tires

Even more fun was the Porsche 911 with winter tires. I think of a 911 like I do a great piece of David Yurman jewelry: If you make the investment, you should wear it; don’t simply save it for fancy events. If you buy a Porsche (or, Miata, or Supra, or BMW 3 series) and live in a snowy climate, invest in winter tires. You’ll never have to leave your baby home because of the weather and you’ll be completely capable on snowy roads.

All Wheel Drive with a Heavy Load 

This one surprised me. We took a lap in a Ford F-150 equipped with all season tires and with a heavy load in the bed. It was fine, but slow going; I could feel the load pull the weight of the rear end of the truck, even though all four wheels were gripping the snow quite well. For occasional winter driving, it was capable.

All Wheel Drive with Winter Tires

But for more challenging climates, such as regular ski weekends, frequent storms and those days when you have to run errands as the snow piles up, I’d feel much more secure and comfortable with winter tires. On the  winter tires lap I was able to drive much faster and with much more control.

Winter Driving School With Ebay Motors

Our Winter driving school test car lineup. Photo: Scotty Reiss

When Winter Tires are the Right Choice

Learning that drivers in Quebec are required by law to swap their all season tires for winter tires was an eye-opener. The idea that risking your safety and that of others isn’t an option just makes sense. But, Quebec gets a lot of snow and winter is a long season. But do winter tires make sense for everyone who lives in a snowy climate? Maybe, and maybe not. You should consider them if:

  • Winter temperatures, October to March, are typically at or below 40 F
  • Snow, sleet and ice are a regular occurrence
  • Terrain is hilly or uneven
  • You don’t always have the choice to stay off the road in bad weather
  • You are responsible for the safety of others

Winter tires should not be driven in warmer temperatures; they’ll wear quickly and end up just as unsafe in warm weather as all season tires are in winter weather.

The good news is that most drivers buy a set of winter tires and swap them in the fall and spring, meaning each set of tires lasts twice as long.

You Can Buy Tires Online And Have Them Shipped To An Installer

You can buy tires online and have them shipped to an installer. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Don’t Be Like Me. Get the Right Tires

Back in the day buying tires was not easy or fun. Now, you can buy on line and have them shipped to your installer or to your home. You can pick exactly what you want and need and you can shop price. And you can be sure you get exactly what you need so you and your precious cargo are safe on the road. You’re welcome.

Disclosure: I was a guest of eBay Motors for a winter driving event. Travel and accommodations were provided but I own all my opinions and scary situations.

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