You probably know somebody whose passion in life is to customize his or her vehicle. First, you’ll see a paint job with flames on a black background. A couple of weeks later, you’ll see that vehicle dashing down your residential street at 55 miles per hour to show off its new engine. In a month or two after that, you’ll hear and feel a ferocious bass line that can only mean that person spent a few hundred dollars improving his or her sound system. However, you know that one of the most vital investments you can make in your vehicle is in the tires that give your vehicle the traction to accelerate smoothly, to stop quickly, and to turn surely. You know that if your tires endanger you by spinning on wet roads, sliding on dry ones, or completely shredding on bumpy ones, then your wicked paint job, high-powered engine, and potent sound system won’t matter much at all. What you want to know is how to buy a reliable set of tires that prevents that sort of thing.
A Step-by-Step Plan for a Great Tire Purchase
Adopting a step-by-step plan will make this process much easier. If you follow these steps, it will markedly increase your chance of getting the right set of tires to keep you safely on the road.
The first two steps have to do with inspecting your vehicle, starting by making sure you actually need new tires. The major indicators for tires in need of replacement are abnormally shallow tread, cracks, and changes in tire color. The next step is less intuitive: you want to have a trusted mechanic look at the condition of the rest of your vehicle as well, particularly in the area of alignment or suspension. While tires do wear in the course of normal use, a misaligned car can cause tires to wear unevenly, thus shortening their lifespans significantly. The biggest telltale sign is uneven tire wear, which can either show up as some tires being more worn than others, or as each particular tire being more worn on the outside edge than the inside edge, or vice versa. Also, worn or damaged wheels can also jeopardize your new tires. If you notice that your wheels themselves are visibly subpar, it’s recommended that you replace those as well, making sure that the size remains the same.
The next two steps are related to making sure you get tires of the right size and type, and your main source for this information is the owner’s manual. If you can’t find it, you should check out the information placard that is attached to your vehicle. Unless it’s been painted over, it will always be on the door edge, the door post, the glove box’s door, or the inside of the trunk lid. Failing all of this, you may have to buy a new owner’s manual from your vehicle’s dealership. The other information you’ll need in order to buy the right type of tire is hidden in an odd little number called the tire code, which will be found on the tire’s sidewall. An example of a tire code is “P215/65R 15 95H M+S”. The easiest way to decipher this number is to write it down, show it to a knowledgeable employee of a reputable tire center, and take notes.
With the homework out of the way, the next couple of steps have to do with the tire purchase itself. If possible, buy all four of your tires in one shot. Most vehicle’s suspensions are designed to work with matching sets of tires, so buying a full set will let your tires serve you for longer. Also, it makes suspension issues easier to spot quickly, and therefore easier to resolve quickly as well. While picking up your new tires, you can also have your old ones inspected. The best tire from your old set will make a good spare.
You would think that now that you have a fresh set of tires, you’re good to go, but there are a couple more things to consider. First, your new tires have a coating from the manufacturing process that, rather counterintuitively, slightly reduces their grip on the road. It takes about 500 miles to break them in and get them to that optimal new-tire level of performance, so allow for a bit of extra stopping distance. The other thing you need to do is protect your investment through proper maintenance. Check your tires for the recommended air pressure every month, and have them rotated every three months to keep them healthy for as long as possible. This will keep you and your vehicle safe for years to come.
Questions and Answers
While the article above presents a good plan for purchasing the best set of tires possible, you may still have some questions to ask. Here are some common ones that may have popped into your head as well.
Q: Only two of my tires are bad. Why should I replace all four?
A: Having a complete set of tires reduces the chance of uneven well and ensures that your vehicle’s suspension works optimally, ever helping you to spot minor problems before they become major.
Q: How do I check the tread depth to see if my tires need replacement?
A: A simple way is to slide a penny into one of the tire's grooves with Lincoln’s head down, like he's performing a dive. If his whole head is visible, your tires need to be replaced.
Q: What does it mean to “rotate” tires?
A: Rotating tires is switching up their locations. An example of a tire rotation is switching the front tires with the back tires, or switching the passenger side tires with those on the driver’s side. This prevents uneven wear that can destroy one of your tires early and waste the rest.