Buying new tires is rarely an exciting experience for car owners. Not only are they expensive, but choosing the correct ones for your vehicle can also be very difficult. Deciphering summer tires, all-season tires, competition tires, and the rest can be confusing when you don’t know what you need. Finally, don’t forget to set aside several hours of your day to make sure they’re installed properly.
Despite the hassles of getting new tires, it is essential that you change them before they become too worn. Ignoring this maintenance item could mean disaster, in more ways than one. Issues can include minor inconveniences such as reduced gas mileage and skidding to serious problems like a blowout. Waiting until the last minute to replace your tires may cost you far more than replacing them early.
With all the different types of tires, most drivers can’t say why one option is better than another. Meanwhile, your local tire shop employee may suggest you purchase the most expensive tire available, even if it does not fit your needs or there are cheaper options. Below, we give you a completely unbiased perspective on everything you need to know about buying new tires.
When Is It Time to Replace Your Tires?
Before deciding to replace your tires, be sure they need replacing. There are some obvious signs to look for, such as visible damage, punctures, or uneven tread wear. Feeling vibrations while driving is also a clear indication that your tires have reached the end of their useful life.
If your tire tread depth is too low, you may want to change your tires. If you don’t have a gauge to check this pressure, a Canadian nickel will do the trick. Insert the coin into the tread of your tire with Queen Elizabeth’s crown facing down. If you see the top of the crown, your treads are under 1/16” and need to be replaced.
How to Buy Tires
There are several places to purchase tires. Some are better than others, depending on your specific needs. However, rest assured that you’ll find what you need at any of these retailers.
For budget-conscious consumers, warehouse clubs or local tire shops are the way to go. Member-only stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco usually have the best deals on tires but will have a limited selection on hand and may not offer installation. Your local tire shop may be a bit more expensive but will have a wide range of options. They’ll also be happy to discuss all your choices and set up an installation, if necessary. In addition, more and more car dealerships have started selling tires. They offer many of the same services as warehouse clubs and tire shops, but you can expect the price to be a bit higher.
You can also buy tires online. You can find virtually any tires you need, but they will come at an increased cost, as you will pay shipping costs. Additionally, if you don’t order the right tires, you’ll have to pay extra for return shipping and wait to receive the right set.
Understand Tire Basics
Understanding tire basics is crucial to a smart buying decision. The side of any tire contains a code that has information about its characteristics: width, radial construction, rim diameter, and so on. Below are some of the most important things you can find out about your tires.
The first letter of the tire code indicates the type of vehicle it is for, so if you’re purchasing tires for your daily vehicle, make sure the code begins with a P (for passenger cars). Other tire types include LT (Light Truck) for vehicles with enhanced load carrying capabilities, ST (Special Trailer) for carrying large vertical loads, and T (Temporary) for spare tires.
Speed and Load Rating
Speed and load ratings indicate a tire’s top speed and maximum weight. Both are found at the end of the tire code; the load rating appears first. This is a very important part of the code, as choosing the wrong tires can lead to catastrophic failure. The load index is a two- or three-digit number, with higher numbers indicating a greater load capability.
The speed rating is represented by letters; the later a letter appears in the alphabet, the higher the speed rating. The most common symbols are T (190 km/h) and H (209.2 km/h), which are suitable for most consumers. However, car owners should consult their owner’s manual and consider their driving habits before making a final decision.
Some tires also indicate the season the tire is designed for; this comes right after the speed rating and is one or two letters. One common symbol is M+S, which stands for mud and snow; in other words, an all-season tire. Summer tires lack a symbol following the speed rating, while winter tires have M+S and mountain and snowflake icons. You may have to look at a few examples before you feel confident differentiating between tires’ season types.
Consider Your Priorities
Like purchasing a car, considering your priorities while buying tires will help you narrow your choices and make a final decision. Different tires come with vastly different specifications. A few of the most pronounced ones are detailed below.
Handling and Ride Comfort
High-performance tires are usually made with harder rubber that allows them to respond well to even minor steering changes. The difference is especially noticeable at high speeds, where most non-performance tires would require you to reduce speed to complete tight turns and hug curves. However, your ride will be much rougher. High-performance tires and those with high tread wear ratings may not be the best option if you regularly carry friends and family in your vehicle, especially children. You’ll want to pick a tire with a much more comfortable ride, even if it sacrifices handling.
Tread design has an enormous impact on how well your vehicle handles in mud and snow. While you’ll be a lot safer taking on weather-impacted roads using tires with aggressive tread design, they will be incredibly loud at highway speeds. Road noise can be an annoyance for many, so shopping for a touring-style tire is the best solution. They offer a much quieter ride and are meant for travelling long distances at highway speeds.
All tires come with traction ratings that indicate how well they generate traction on wet pavement. From best to worst, the ratings are AA, A, B, and C. Generally, Canadians should stay away from C-rated tires, which are only for driving on completely dry roads every day. For drivers who regularly experience rain, snow, or ice, AA tires are best, but A tires can save some money. We do not recommend going any lower than that if you ever encounter inclement weather, even occasionally.
It’s good to know how long your new tire treads will last. Each manufacturer uses its own testing procedure and formula to determine tread wear, so it’s best to compare tread wear ratings of different tire models from the same manufacturer; never compare ratings across manufacturers. If you’re on a budget, you can rest easy with a 100-rated tire. However, don’t expect it to last very long. Tires rated 500 or greater will give you the longest tread life.
Know Your Tire Tech
The terms “tire” and “technology” may not seem to go well together. However, tires and tire technology have come a long way. It’s not a coincidence that many tires today can operate with little air and are nearly impenetrable under all road conditions. While conventional tires are capable of this to a lesser extent, many manufacturers have begun developing and selling different types of tires to handle the harshest driving conditions
One of today’s most common tires is the run-flat tire. Two versions of the run-flat tire have become popular. The first uses stiff sidewalls designed to support the weight of a vehicle if pressure is lost. These tires can usually be driven with little to no air pressure for 80 km at up to 90 km/hr. You’ll generally find them on sports cars and a few passenger cars and minivans.
In the late 1990s, Michelin introduced the PAX system, a run-flat tire with newer and innovative technology. While a PAX system tire can be repaired by tire technicians if penetrated, it will not be able to support your vehicle’s weight in the event of pressure loss. This is because the sidewall of these tires is much less stiff, leading to a much better ride than its predecessors. These tires work best on SUVs, minivans, and passenger cars.
Tire Size and Construction
The size of your tire is obviously very important to the way your vehicle drives. Tires come in all sizes, depending on type of vehicle and the conditions they are designed to overcome. The best way to determine your vehicle’s ideal tire size is looking in your owner’s manual.
Internal tire construction has become fairly standard in the last several years, but there are still three types of tires on the road. A tire’s sidewall contains important information about how it was made. Tires with an R label are for radial construction; the most common tires used today, they contain steel and nylon cords in a radial pattern under the tread. Bias-ply tires are indicated by the—symbol or D. This design is among the oldest, with cords placed diagonally under the tread. Lastly, B tires are slightly upgraded from bias-ply tires and provide a smoother ride thanks to a belt-like layer below the tread.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Ultimately, we recommend consulting your owner’s manual to see what your vehicle requires. Deviating from this tire size can decalibrate your speedometer, impact the timing of your vehicle’s automatic transmission, and affect your fuel mileage. If you want to use larger or smaller tires on your car, it is wise to speak with a local tire technician about the benefits and drawbacks of such a decision. Reading online reviews of specific tires you’re interested in will also offer testimonials from other car owners, giving you an idea of what to expect if you choose those tires.
If you need clarity on the specification, size, and construction differences between car tires, simply refer to this guide for assistance!