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 to find out how to choose tires that will work on your car, match your driving style, and not break the bank.
1) 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.
Do They Have Enough Tread? Try the Penny Test
Take a penny and insert Abraham Lincoln’s image head first 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.
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 Willcome, 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 parents' car – check the date on the side of the tires to see if they are still good.
2) Choose the Right Tire Type
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 owners 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 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.
Finding the Right Type
You can waste a lot of money by putting the wrong tires on your vehicle. If you’re driving a Toyota Prius, you probably don’t want or need expensive ultra-high performance summer tires. Likewise, if you own a Porsche 911, installing ultra-long-wearing touring tires will kill your car’s handling potential.
Our guide to tire types describes the different styles that you will find on the market. You want to choose a set that meets your requirements without going too far. Sure, that ultra-aggressive off-road tire would give your Jeep Wrangler great extreme-terrain performance on the weekend, but it would be a handful when you are driving it down the freeway the other five days a week to work.
It is best to be a bit conservative when changing from one tire type to another. If you want a bit more of a performance edge for your sedan, maybe shift from the Grand Touring tire that it came with to a new set of performance all-season tires. Jumping to an ultra-high performance summer tire would likely be a waste of money, as your sedan will only handle so well, no matter what type of tires are on it.
Automakers generally do a good job of matching the tires that they install at the factory to the car’s engineering. If you are in doubt of what tires to buy, the same type that was installed as original equipment on your vehicle is a safe choice.
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.
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 shortly.
3) Shop for Tires
There are lots of places to buy car tires, and each comes with positives and negatives. The most important factors 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.
Coming up, we will look at different places to buy tires and the pros and cons of each.
Member-only warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club generally have great prices on new tires and can install them quickly. However, they have a limited selection of types, models, and tire sizes in stock. If they have to special order something for your car, you might have to wait some time for them to come in.
Both Sam’s Club and Costco provide road hazard warranties, plus tire balancing, rotation, and flat repair services for the lifetime of your tires. They frequently offer sale prices on specific tire brands.
The warehouse tire centers can become very busy, so you might have a long wait to get your tires installed. Luckily, the warehouses accept appointments for tire installations. Costco’s $15-per-tire installation fee includes nitrogen inflation.
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.
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 as well.
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.
For buyers with convenience at the top of their wish lists, many car dealerships now sell tires. Buying at a dealer can save you a lot of time, as you can get your tires installed at the same time as you have an oil change or other service performed.
You’ll likely be limited to original equipment tires (identical to the ones that came on your new car) or something very similar at a dealer. If you're looking to change your tire model, they might not be the best place to buy.
The price of the tires and installation may be a bit higher at dealerships, but the ease of the process may be worth it.
4) Watch the Extras
When buying tires, some costly extras can add up to an unwelcome surprise. Some are necessary; some are not. You'll have to pay installation charges, disposal fees for your old tires, taxes, and the cost of new tire stems (which should be replaced when you buy new tires).
Depending on the age of your car, you’ll likely also see a charge for rebuilding or resetting the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). They’re the devices in the tire that send a warning to your dashboard if a tire is low. It is normal to see a charge for this when you get new tires.
Some tire retailers include a separate charge to fill your tires with nitrogen, which stays in your tire longer. Others (such as Costco) include it for free. If it is just a couple bucks per tire, it's probably worth it. If they want tens or hundreds of dollars for the service, it's time to decline politely.
Some tire retailers include road hazard warranties (which are different from tread life warranties) as part of the installation cost, while others charge extra. Road hazard warranties typically cover things like flat tires and other failures unrelated to tire wear. Some include roadside assistance.
If a warranty is an additional cost option, tread carefully and read the fine print about what is and is not covered, how long the warranty is good for, and how and where you can make a claim. If the policy requires you to get coverage at a specific shop, and you travel long distances away from there, your chances of being nearby when you need the coverage are small.
Think about how much you travel, where you drive, the road conditions on your commute, and the potential costs you might have to incur if a tire is damaged. If, for example, you live in Detroit and it covers pothole damage, buying the warranty is probably a good investment. The policies often run about $10 to $20 per tire.
5) Get Them Installed
Getting your tires installed is the easy part, you’ll just have to give up some time to get it done.If you have an appointment, you might be able to have them installed in less than an hour. If the shop is busy, you may need to leave your vehicle all day.
Before you leave the shop, take a look at each of your wheels and new tires. Sometimes wheels can be damaged in the installation process, and you want any damage noted. If your new tires have a directional tread pattern, make sure that they are all oriented the right way. Everybody makes mistakes now and then, and it is better to catch them before you drive away.
It often takes TPMS sensors a few miles to sense the air pressure in new tires. If the pressures aren't close to matching the numbers on the door placard, or one tire is way off, head back to the shop to get the air pressures adjusted or determine what is wrong.
Get Your Wheels Aligned
Wheel misalignment is a common cause of improper tire wear. You can protect your expensive new tire purchase by getting a four-wheel alignment around the time you get your tires. Some tire shops and most auto dealership service departments have the equipment to perform the service.
It is also a good idea to have your shocks or struts checked for excessive wear or damage. Their failure can quickly lead to uneven tire wear.
6) Maintain Your Tires
Now that you have new tires, you want to take good care of them. That means watching your tire pressures and occasionally inspecting them for uneven wear, sidewall damage, or punctures that can develop into leaks and leave you stranded.
If you notice your vehicle pulling to one side or another, it can be a sign of misaligned wheels, and you’ll want to get it checked before it wears your tread unevenly.
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