Tires get you where you want to go and play an essential role in getting you there safely. After all, they’re the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road. So when the rubber can no longer meet the road properly, it’s time to buy new ones.
This helpful handbook explains when you need to replace your tires, how to choose them and what you can do to make them last as long as possible.
Why tires are so important?
Your vehicle has thousands of parts. But few are as hardworking as your tires. Their job is far more than rolling you from point A to point B. They play a large role in your vehicle’s performance, handling, comfort and, most important, safety.
Driving with tires that are too worn down, old or damaged can have serious consequences. Around 11,000 tire-related accidents happen each year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Every time you drive, your tires:
Support the vehicle.
Tires must withstand the entire load of your vehicle, plus everything you put in it. Tires weakened by age may not be up to the task and can fail while you’re driving.
Make your vehicle stop.
Tires “grip” the road when you hit the brakes. Even if your brakes work perfectly, worn tires increase your stopping distance on both dry and wet roads. Think about what that means to the kid dashing in front of your car.
Make your vehicle go.
You know the term “spinning your wheels?” If your tires can’t get the road traction they need, that’s what can happen when you hit the accelerator. Not good if you’re trying to get out of another vehicle’s way.
Help you turn left, right or stay straight. Your tires let you change or maintain a direction. They also ensure you turn smoothly without losing control.
Keep your ride comfortable. Properly sized and inflated tires are like giant shock absorbers. They’re the buffer between you and every bump, crack and pothole.
Optimize other safety components. Traction control, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking and other safety-related advances won’t work as well if your tires can’t perform.
Influence your fuel economy. Tires play a large part in how efficiently your vehicle uses fuel. Worn-out tires create unnecessary resistance on the road, decreasing gas mileage.
Driving with tires that are too worn down, old or damaged can have serious consequences.
When the tread depth becomes too low, or if it has worn unevenly, a tire becomes unsafe and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
How to tell if you need new tires.
Often tire shopping begins because of a tire’s tread. Tread is the part of the tire that actually touches the ground and allows the tire to safely maintain contact with it. There are many types of tread, but all of them wear down eventually. When the tread depth becomes too low, or if it has worn unevenly, a tire becomes unsafe and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
Often people don’t realize their tire tread is too low until the auto repair shop they visited for a different reason tells them. The shops use gauges or digital measurement tools to accurately measure the tread depth of each tire.
The NHTSA says tires are no longer safe and should be replaced when the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch.
But low tread depth isn’t the only reason you may need to replace tires. The condition and age of a tire matter too. The rubber that your tires are made from deteriorates over time, becoming brittle and losing elasticity. That makes them more likely to blow out or go flat. How a tire is (or isn’t) serviced, how it has been stored and environmental conditions can also affect the life of a tire.
Many auto manufacturers recommend that all tires older than 6 years be replaced, regardless of tread depth. Many tire warranties also expire at the 6-year mark. However, some tire manufacturers have shown their tires can last up to 10 years, so long as they’re checked annually and maintained properly. Many auto repair shops will not service a tire more than 10 years old.
Two ways to find out if you have low tire tread:
Use the “penny test.”
Place a penny, with Lincoln’s head down, into the tread. If the top of his head shows, your tread is too low.
Check your treadwear indicators.
Tires have raised sections positioned between the tire’s tread called “treadwear indicators.” If the tread is level with the indicators your tread is too low.
How old are your tires?
Not sure how old your tires are? The Department of Transportation (DOT) Tire Identification Number (TIN) on your tire will tell you. The last four digits represent the week and year the tire was manufactured. For example, a TIN of 0215 means the tire was made in the second week of 2015. Can’t read the DOT TIN? Ask your auto repair shop for help.
More signs you need new tires
In addition to low tread depth and unevenly worn tread, there are other visual signs that can tell you a tire may need to be replaced, including:
Cracks, splits or cuts in the tire’s sidewalls
Bulging in any part of the tire or sidewall
Tread separating from the tire
Damage to the tire valves
Large gashes or punctures in the tire
Foreign substances lodged in the tire
When in doubt, take your car into the shop for a tire inspection.
Types of tires.
Tires may all look alike, but there are several different types. The size, shape, spacing and depth of tread varies for each, depending on which conditions the tires are meant to meet.
Common types of tires include:
All-season tires. Sometimes called “highway” tires. Good in dry and wet conditions. Meant for the “typical” road.
Snow tires. Sometimes called “winter” tires. Meant to be used in cold-weather or snowy and icy conditions.
Summer tires. Used in dry and wet conditions in warmer climates.
Touring tires. Provide the highest level of smoothness and comfort.
High-performance tires. For higher speeds and increased agility and handling.
Spare tires. Meant to be a temporary replacement for a damaged tire.
Choosing the right tires for your vehicle.
It can be challenging to understand which tire type you need. There’s no “right” tire — only the tire that’s right for your vehicle and your lifestyle. Overall, a tire should:
Keep you safe
Maximize your vehicle’s performance
Provide a comfortable ride
Be fuel efficient
Three main factors that play into your choice of new tires are:
1. Vehicle Manufacturer Requirements
It’s essential to know what the manufacturer recommends for:
Tire size. While you don’t have to buy the same tires that came with your vehicle when you bought it, you do want to buy tires in a size recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer. Putting on tires that are too small or too big can be extremely dangerous.
Load index. Your tires must be able to carry a certain amount of weight. This is called the load index. Never buy a tire with a load index lower than what your vehicle manufacturer recommends; higher is okay.
Tire speed rating. This rating tells you the maximum speed a vehicle can go on a tire safely while carrying its recommended load.
2. Personal and Environmental Influences
Choosing tires that will perform best for you depends on:
Your driving habits
How much you drive
The types of surfaces you drive on most regularly
The climate in which you live (some parts of the country you need two sets of tires: snow and summer
3. Tire Ratings
Tires are tested, evaluated and ranked by many different organizations for various attributes, including:
The NHTSA created the Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards so you can easily compare tires based on treadwear, traction performance and temperature resistance. You can search by brand and more than 2,400 tire lines.
A warranty may cover your tread, road hazards that affect your tires, workmanship and materials.
If you’re overwhelmed by the number of choices, talk with your preferred auto repair shop or a tire dealer that the shop recommends. They can narrow down options that will work for your vehicle and your personal preferences. If you want to do your own research, approach it the way you would any other significant purchase: read customer reviews, visit informational websites and pay attention to ratings from reputable sources.
A Note on Warranties
Almost all tires for vehicles come with a warranty. They vary widely in what they cover and for up to how many miles. One tire’s warranty may provide coverage up to 30,000 miles, while another covers double or triple the miles. In general, higher-quality tires offer higher-mileage warranties.
A warranty may cover your tread, road hazards that affect your tires, workmanship and materials. Some manufacturers may also offer a 30-day “manufacturer special warranty,” which allows you to test out your new tires.
Typically, a warranty gives you a prorated credit if a tire needs to be replaced prematurely. However, it’s important to note that a certain level of tire maintenance is often required for a warranty to be honored. You’ll need to have the receipts to prove you met those requirements.
How much do new tires cost?
The cost of new tires ranges widely. It will depend on a tire’s quality, size, type and brand, as well as any rebates or coupons available. If you have a small car, you may be able to buy a set of 4 standard, all-season tires for $400. If you own a truck, tires may be $400 apiece. In some cases, a single high-end specialty tire can cost upwards of $1,000. But on average, a 4-door sedan owner should expect to pay around $800.
Yes, ideally you should replace all 4 tires at the same time. If tires have different tread, your car will drive differently than it should. Replacing only 1 tire is never recommended.
Are Used Tires Safe?
Used tires may be less expensive, but buying them is a “risky alternative,” according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association. When you buy a used tire, you don’t know how it was previously taken care of or stored. You also won’t be able to tell if there’s any damage to the inner liner.
In addition to the tires themselves, there are some additional costs to consider:
This is the actual installation of your tires using specific equipment.
New tires need to be balanced with a balancing machine when they’re installed so that they roll smoothly and evenly.
If your old tires show certain patterns of wear, your auto repair shop may recommend a wheel alignment before new tires are installed. An alignment fine-tunes a series of suspension angles and components so your tires wear evenly.
You may need to purchase a spare tire if you don’t have one or if the one you have needs to be replaced. Don’t pass on this purchase; you’ll regret it when you’re standing by the side of the road.
This is sometimes called a “tire recycling fee,” and it’s state-mandated. The fee, which varies in each state, supports tire disposal programs and recycling efforts.
Valve stems can deteriorate over time and leak air. They are sold separately from the tires.
Many cars manufactured after 2008 alert their owners to low tire pressure through a TPMS. A TPMS needs to be reset when new tires are put on, and, in some cases, the system’s 4 sensors may be due for replacement.
Auto shops and tire dealers often offer installation packages that wrap in many of these costs. In addition, they may provide some of them for free, such as tire rotation, for the warrantied life of your tire. While tires can be an unwelcome expense, not replacing them when they’re unsafe can put you, your passengers and other drivers at risk. An affordable and flexible car repair loan that allows you to get new tires now and pay later can be a smart solution.
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How to make your tires last longer.
Many things affect how long new tires last, including the types of roads you drive, the climate you live in, the quality and design of the tire, and how you drive. But the number 1 way to get the most from your money is proper maintenance.
Two words: Proper inflation. One of the fastest ways to shorten the life of your tires is to drive on them when they’re underinflated or overinflated. Yet, only 19 percent of consumers properly check and inflate their tires.
If your tires don’t have enough air, your tread will wear faster, your car becomes harder to handle and the extra tire resistance on the road decreases your gas mileage. In addition, the tires will have a harder time carrying the weight of the car, making them more likely to fail.
Keeping tires properly inflated can save you up to $0.11 a gallon, according to the NHTSA.
If your tires have too much air, they become rigid and less flexible. That makes it hard for them to get traction on the road and causes dangerous uneven wear. They’re also are more likely to get damaged by debris.
Tire air is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. Look for the recommended PSI range for your vehicle in the owner’s guide or on the door jamb of the driver’s seat. Note: The PSI on your tire is the maximum amount, not the recommended amount.
If you have a TPMS, it is designed to alert you when your tire pressure goes below 25 percent of the manufacturer’s PSI recommendation. Or, you can buy an inexpensive tire pressure gauge to check each tire’s pressure once a month. You can also take your vehicle to your auto repair shop for a free check.
Tire Rotation and Tire Balancing
Tire rotation means moving your tires to new positions, such as back to front or left to right, so that they can wear evenly. Your vehicle owner’s manual provides information on how often your tires should be rotated and the correct rotation patterns. Often the recommendation is every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Some repair shops provide free tire rotation if you purchased your tires there.
Tire balancing involves making sure the weight of your tires is distributed appropriately so that they can rotate and wear evenly. Technicians use a balancing machine and small weights to make corrections. Like a tire rotation, you may want to consider having your tires balanced every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
Even if you choose to have a wheel alignment when you get new tires, you’ll eventually need to do it again to ensure your tires wear properly and last longer. What you drive, how you drive and the kinds of roads you drive play into how often you need a wheel alignment.
Some auto repair shops recommend having your wheel alignment checked annually. Others suggest having a check done every other oil change, or every 6,000 to 10,000 miles. Auto manufacturers also have recommendations for their specific vehicles. However, if you’ve hit a large pothole or been in an accident, have the alignment checked by your repair shop immediately.
Registering your new tires.
After you buy new tires, register them with the tire manufacturer. This allows them to notify you if the tires get recalled for any reason.
A recall can be issued by the manufacturer or by the NHTSA. The tire manufacturer is required to replace or repair the recalled tires at no cost to you. Just bring the tires back to the dealer that sold them to you. You can also contact the tire manufacturer directly, if you’re not sure what steps to take.
Your retailer can register you when you buy tires, or provide a registration form to mail in. You can also visit the tire manufacturer’s website and register online. You’ll need to provide your contact information as well as the DOT TIN. This number can be found in your tire paperwork or on the sidewall of your tire.
You can check if your tires have been recalled on the NHTSA Tire Recalls page.
Quick Tip: The U.S. Tire Manufacturers’ tire registration portal provides direct links to many manufacturers’ tire registration pages.
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