Waiting can really cost you, so don’t put it off.
Yes, its probably the last thing you want to spend money on and you probably only think of replacing your tires before a long road trip or if the mechanic says you need tires. Neither of those scenarios are ideal for an expensive purchase. But if you’re proactive about the condition of your tires, you can plan for the purchase and buy them on your schedule, not one that’s forced by a blowout – or worse. Here’s how to tell when you need new tires and how to shop for them with confidence.
How to Tell If You Need New Tires
It can be hard to tell until you look closely. From the side, which is the main way you see your tires, the tread may look fine. But if you turn your front wheels to one side or the other when you park your car you can easily see the full width of the tire (use your phone to snap a photo of your rear tires). That way you can see the the inner tread bands which should have at least 2/32nd of tread or more.
To tell, use the penny test: take a penny and stick it into the tread with Lincoln’s head down. If you can see the top of his head you need new tires.
Many tires have clever wear indicators. Continental CrossContact LX25 tires has the letters ‘DWS’ molded into the tire’s tread. If the ’S’ disappears, it means the tire is no longer as capable in snow as it should be. If the ‘W’ fades, it means that it won’t perform as well on wet surfaces as it should. And if the ‘W’ fades, well, it’s really time for new tires: this means it won’t be as capable on dry surfaces as it should be, and most of us drive on mostly dry roads most of the time. Cooper Tires feature a wear square that disappears one side at a time until a ‘!’ is revealed telling you it’s really time for new tires. And Michelin has bars that are revealed in the channel between the tread as the tread wears down. Look for the Michelin Man on the side of the tire to locate the wear bar.
How to Choose New Tires
Don’t just trust your car dealer or the tire store to recommend great tires. While these folks usually mean well, they often have incentives to offer you one particular tire over another. Maybe they got a great wholesale price, maybe they have overstock they need to sell, or maybe they are giving you great advice. To know the difference, do your homework before you head out to buy new tires. And unless there’s damage to your tire, don’t feel pressured to buy tires on the spot (I won’t return to retailers or dealers who try to pressure me to buy tires by scaring me).
Tire Buying Checklist
Take a photo of your current tire; it contains key details that will help you shop for new tires. Take note of the tire size; it’s expressed in a series of numbers and letters on the sidewall, something like this: 235/65R18. From there:
- Begin with the type of tires you need. The vast majority of tires are all season tires and these are fine for most cars, trucks and SUVs. If you need winter tires you will most likely need a second set of all season or summer tires for non-winter months; winter tires will literally melt on hot summer roads
- Be sure to focus your search on tires that are designed for your type of car — sedan, SUV or truck
- Buy tires in pairs – 2 or 4. If you only replace 2, put the new tires on the rear and move the rear tires to the front. This will give you the most control on the road
- How many miles do you drive each year? Factor this into your decision. If you drive a lot, you may want a tire that has a tread rating, or warranty, for 60,000 miles or more; if you only drive short distances, say, a few thousand miles each year, a lower tread rating could be good choice and save money
- How much weight do you need to handle? Consider the weight of your car, how much you normally haul — people, gear, luggage, etc— and if you tow, how much tow capacity you need. Your new tires will need to capable of handling the maximum weight
- Set a budget and if you’re a sale shopper, look for a “3 for the price of 4” sale, set a sale alert on your internet browser or search for a coupon
- Budget for installation and balancing your tires; also budget for wheel alignment, especially if your tires are badly worn. Some of this may be included in the price of the tires, but not always. Also ask if tire rotation is included; often it is and this can help you get more mileage out of your new tires.
- Look at the tread rating, or warranty that indicates how many miles you can expect drive on these tires. Also, consider any add-ons you may want, such as roadside assistance or road hazard protection; are these included in your purchase? Keep in mind that if a tire wears out before its warranty is up, generally you’ll get a discount on a new set or a pro-rated refund based on the lifespan of the tires
- Consider specific features of any tires you’re considering; how does the manufacturer imprint wear bars on the tread? Does the tire perform especially well in your typical weather conditions?
- If the information you’re hearing from a tire seller doesn’t make sense, check the tire manufacturer’s site. They want you to make the right choice.
You can order tires from Tire Rack or Tire Scanner and have them delivered to your mechanic (or your home if you our someone you know can install tires). Personally, I like these sites for comparison shopping for tires because they provide so much information. Or, you can go directly to a retailer like Costco or Walmart, a mechanic, dealership or tire store for both purchase and installation.
And, then, when you head out to the beach or mountains for that much-needed road trip, you’ll have one less thing to worry about.