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Purchasing a new set of tires is one of those tasks people put off until it’s absolutely necessary. Some drivers might not even give their tires a second thought until something stressful happens, such as a flat tire or accident. Or, the tires become worn or underinflated simply due to everyday driving habits. But driving on worn-out tires puts you in a dangerous situation on the road, especially during the fall and winter months when roads can become more treacherous — one reason why having the proper car insurance is so important.
The good news is, you can limit the chances of a tire mishap by planning ahead to purchase new tires for your vehicle once they start to show wear and tear. Understanding what you need and what to expect when buying new tires will help you drive more safely and avoid high-pressure sales tactics that put you on the spot when making a tire purchase.
When to repair vs. replace your tires
One common question surrounding the purchase of tires is if they can be repaired instead. If your tire has a slow leak or puncture, it is usually possible to have it repaired versus purchasing a whole new tire. Some tire issues can be fixed simply by removing an object or patching the tire. This route is considerably less expensive than the cost of a brand new tire. Although the price varies based on the exact repair needed and other factors, it could be as little as $25 to repair a damaged tire. Compared to the cost of a new tire, which is likely to be at least $100 plus labor for a decent tire, repairing could be a better option for minor damage if you’re on a tight budget.
Another common question is how to know when it’s time to replace tires due to normal wear and tear. On average, tires should be replaced at least every six years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it could be sooner based on your driving habits. One method for measuring wear and tear is referred to as the “penny test.” Simply hold a penny with the head of Lincoln upside down and then place the penny in the tread grooves. If you can’t see the top of Lincoln’s head when you place the penny in the tread, then the tires are worn, and you might want to consider replacing them.
How to talk tires with salespeople
If you’ve had a flat tire or blowout, you might have to make a purchasing decision at the spur of the moment and under stress. One way to become more comfortable during these conversations at a tire shop is to familiarize yourself with basic tire terminology. Understanding tires will help you feel informed about what you are purchasing and help you avoid pressure from salespeople because you’ll have a better grasp of what you actually need.
Not all tire stores and companies are the same; they range from local, family-owned operations to large, corporate-owned chain stores. Each tire store carries select brands of tires, so it’s possible certain tires may not be available from one location to another. Tire dealers typically carry a range of price points and types of tires, such as passenger or light truck and SUV options. You could also purchase seasonal tires or all-terrain options too. There should be options for budget-friendly tires, and then you will have a variety of price points from there.
When researching tires or dealing with tire salespeople, understanding these terms could be helpful.
Common tire terms
|Tire size||The tire size is imprinted on your tire, or the tire dealer can confirm it for you. It is a series of numbers and letters identifying the width, tire type, aspect ratio, diameter, load index, speed rating and construction type.|
|Rotating and balancing||Rotating your tires means moving them from their current position to another. Balancing your tires ensures your car’s weight is evenly distributed among the tires and can help mitigate wear and tear.|
|Alignment||Alignment is when you have the tire’s suspension, the system connecting the tires to the vehicle, adjusted.|
|Run-flat tires||If your tire has been punctured, run-flat tires allow you to continue driving long enough to get to a tire repair shop.|
|TPMS sensors||TPMS, short for tire pressure monitoring system, is a warning system to show you which tires on your car are under-inflated and need air.|
|All-terrain||All-terrain tires are designed for on and off-road driving, plus various driving conditions like dry, rainy or light snow.|
|All-season||All-season tires are suitable for wet and dry conditions and a range of hot and cold temperatures.|
|Studless||Tires without studs, which are sometimes placed in the tire tread to grip snow and ice.|
|Tread-wear||A measurement of how much the tires are worn down.|
|Speed rating||The maximum speed at which a tire can safely carry a load.|
Road hazard policies and other extras to watch out for
When you are purchasing tires, extras can drive your costs up quickly. A salesperson will likely ask you if you want to purchase an additional warranty or coverage for tires. Some tire manufacturers include warranties with the purchase of their tire for things like workmanship, limited road hazards or a specific mileage limit.
The tire dealer may also offer other options for an additional fee, including coverage for wear and tear, potholes, flat tires or lifetime plugs and patches. You may even be offered an option for ‘free’ or discounted replacements under certain conditions, but keep in mind that is a perk you will likely need to pay for upfront when purchasing the tires. These additional coverage options and protections will almost always add to the bottom line cost for your new tires. If you decide to buy these additional coverage options for your tires, be sure to read the fine print before making the purchase. It is also helpful to understand what the manufacturer provides before purchasing additional coverage options from the dealer.
In addition to coverage options for the tires, the tire dealer may also present other extra options for you to purchase along with the tires. Common extras include filling the tires with nitrogen (this may appeal to you for racing) or a TPMS system. Sometimes extras are included in the cost of the tire, but other times you’ll have to pay more for these options.
Lastly, when choosing a tire, it may be tempting to focus solely on the price. Cheap tires are often poorly constructed and not as durable, which means you will be replacing them sooner than later. Also, most high-quality brands have less expensive sub-brands, which often have the same features but are at a less expensive price point. The key is to focus on quality and getting a tire to match your current driving lifestyle.
How to change a tire
One thing you might consider doing to avoid extra trips to the tire dealership is keeping a full-size spare tire in your car for emergencies and changing it yourself. If you don’t know how to change a tire, you might want to learn before you find yourself stuck on the side of the road. Tutorials are available online or you might be able to find a basic car maintenance class in your community. When changing a tire yourself, keep these five considerations in mind.
- Pay attention to your surroundings, including oncoming traffic, the side of the road and lighting.
- Turn on your hazard lights and apply the parking brake to keep yourself and others safe.
- Even if you already know how to change a tire, read and follow the instructions from your car’s manual to make sure you are properly installing the new tire.
- Ensure you have a properly-sized jack and spare tire (or donut) in your vehicle.
- If you cannot change the tire yourself, call a tow truck or roadside assistance service immediately.
Even if you are experienced with changing tires and have a full-size spare, you might want to consider taking your car to your mechanic for proper balancing and alignment once you put the new tire on.
What to keep in your car in case of an emergency
Being stuck on the side of the road is challenging no matter the conditions outside. It’s a good idea to keep a few extra items in your car in case you find your vehicle inoperable for any reason, including:
- First Aid kit with basic supplies such as bandages, gloves, splints and gauze pads.
- Fix-a-flat, which is a sealant used to plug a leak in a tire.
- A few tools that can help you with common car issues include a jack, jumper cables, socket and screwdriver set, duct tape and a knife. These tools can be helpful even if you can’t fix the problem yourself if someone else comes to help you.
- A towel or blanket, not only to provide warmth but also to provide a sling or cushion if needed.
- Road flares to signal distress to other drivers on the road.
- Cell phone and wireless charging bank to call for help even if your car’s electric system isn’t working.
- Bottled water and snacks in case you are stuck waiting for help for a while.
You should also make sure that your car is in good condition, including ensuring that all your lights work properly in case you are stuck on the side of the road in the dark.
Purchasing new tires under difficult conditions is never an ideal time. However, by researching ahead of time you may feel more comfortable when you do have to make decisions about your tires. By maintaining proper tire conditions, you may not only extend the life of your tires, but you keep yourself and your family safer on the road.