Buying tires can be a burdensome chore for the simple fact that many people don’t know a whole lot about them. They’re round, they’re rubber, and they’re expensive, do we really need to know anything else? Well, yes, if you don’t want to suffer the added burdens of extremely poor handling, excessive road noise, or having to replace them twice a year. They are one of those essentials where it just doesn’t pay to try and save a few extra pennies. After all, this is one of the key areas of your vehicle that could save your life someday. If you’d like to take a little extra knowledge with you the next time you need to replace your rollers, have a look at our tire buying guide for a few extra tips.
Do I Need Tires?
The first step in buying tires is obviously to identify that you do indeed need tires. There are a couple of different things to look for. The first thing is excessive wear. Of course, if your tires are bald with little silver cords of steel sticking out of the edges, get tires NOW! But even if you have some tread left, you could still need them. The best way to tell is with a tread-depth gauge. Tire tread is measured in 32nds of an inch. Most states require at least 2/32” of tread, but it can vary from state to state so check with your local DMV to see what your state’s requirements are. This is typically measured at the outer edge of the main (center) tread of the tire. A handy trick for those who don’t have a depth gauge is to take a penny and turn it upside down and place it in the tread; between the top of the penny and Old Abe’s head is roughly 2/32”. So, if you’re at the top of his hair or if there’s a little extra space above his noggin, you need tires. Or, you can have your local technician check for you if want to be really sure.
The other thing to watch for is uneven wear. Is there more tread on one side of the tire than the other? This is a sign that your vehicle not only needs tires, but it needs an alignment. Don’t put brand new tires on a vehicle that needs an alignment, you’ll be wasting your money. Your alignment being off by even a few centimeters can ravage your tires.
What Size Tires Do I Need?
This may seem like a stupid question, but you’d be surprised. Most people would think, I’ll just put on the same size that’s already on my car. That’s a good idea, except for one thing. What if you bought the vehicle used and somebody already replaced the tires…with the wrong size? Putting a different size tire on your vehicle can cause suspension problems, confuse your vehicle’s computer, and throw your speedometer off. Knowing your proper size is very important. That’s when you can check your vehicle’s door placard to see what size tires fit your car. The size is usually written on that little sticker just inside your driver’s-side door, along with the appropriate psi for inflation in case you need to check that as well. If you’ve owned your vehicle since it rolled off the assembly line, you can simply look at the sidewall of your current tires, too; the size is listed there as well. Knowing your tire size helps when you’re price shopping.
Which Tires Fit Me Best?
This depends on your driving habits and conditions. Most people will do well with a decent all-season tire that provides little road noise and good traction. On the other hand, if you’re doing any kind of driving in snow or other inclement conditions, you’ll want something with aggressive treads. You may choose to switch over to snow tires in the winter and keep some decent all-seasons around for summer. If not, make sure you get a good fifty- or sixty-thousand mile tire that’s rated well in snow and rain. You can find articles here at iseecars.com for the best all-season tires and the best snow tires.
However, if you don’t live where it snows (lucky you!), then you may want to check out some of the performance tires; especially if you’re driving a performance vehicle. Nothing gives your performance vehicle that racing-quality feel like sticky tires. Most people will want to stray away from these tires unless they own a performance car because the price of these tires can get to be rather elevated.
This brings us to another point – tire ratings. No, we’re not talking about good tires and bad tires. We’re talking about the speed and load ratings. Your tires are rated for a certain maximum speed and maximum load capacity. If you’re going to be doing any racing (preferably only in legal areas) or hauling anything extensive, you may wish to upgrade the rating of your tires. Load ranges are categorized with numbers from 70 to 110 and each signifies a certain max weight. Speed ratings work the same way only with mph ratings. A list of these ratings can be found here.
Changing Tire Sizes
Hey, we covered this subject already, didn’t we? Sort of. Remember when we said that changing tire sizes was a bad thing? Well, there’s a loophole in that rule. There are alternate sizes to most vehicles for people who want a lower-profile (smaller sidewall) tire or would like to buy aftermarket rims and need a different tire size to fit them. Most of these choices will still throw your speedometer off by a couple mph, but they won’t typically cause the suspension or electrical damage. Your tire dealer should have a list of alternate sizes for your vehicle, or you can visit the website of just about any tire manufacturer to find a tire size calculator.
As always, remember to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles and check the air pressure frequently. This will extend the life of your tires and keep you from unneeded spending down the road.