Struggling to understand all the complexities involved in the tire-buying process may be enough to discourage many shoppers on their quest to learn how to buy tires that are right for them. In fact, it's enough to make your head spin.
As a leading innovator in tire technology, Bridgestone knows the most critical elements of the tire-buying process. We'll break them all down for you here clearly and concisely to help you find your compatible tires so you can get the most out of your vehicle.
That way, the only things spinning are the new tires on the wheels of your car.
DETERMINE WHETHER YOU NEED NEW TIRES
There's no hard and fast rule governing how often to buy new tires; every driver and situation is slightly different. The best way to know whether or not it's time to buy new tires for your vehicle is to have them inspected by a trained professional.
That doesn't mean it's the only way to alert yourself to a pending tire replacement. Follow these steps, and you'll learn a lot about the current condition of your tires.
Examine the treads. The treads are the part of the tire that make contact with the road surface. The tire tread should be deep and evenly worn without any irregularities. All DOT-regulated tires feature built-in treadwear indicators called "wear bars" to help you see when the tread is getting low. These indicators can be found in various places throughout the tread and appear when the tread is worn to one-sixteenth of an inch.
Look at the sidewalls. Tire sidewalls can take a beating against curbs, roadside debris and normal wear and tear. Inspect the sidewall of each tire to ensure there is no visible damage. This may include bulges, bubbling and flaking. Weakness along the sidewall can lead directly to a blowout or other potentially dangerous situations.
Pro Tip: While you're looking at your tire sidewalls, note your tire size as well! The numbers will look something like this: P225/70R16 91S.
Enlist Abraham Lincoln's help. You'll do this thanks to the "penny test." Here's a full breakdown of the penny test. The penny test is important to help ensure your tires meet legal safety standards. To meet those safety standards, a tire's tread must be at least 2/32" deep. If the tires do not meet the 2/32" standard or are close to not meeting it, you should replace your tires. Tread depth below 2/32" can make your tires "illegal" in some states.
If your tires pass these inspections, you may not need to buy new tires just yet, particularly if you live in an area with a mild, dry climate. It's a good idea to reassess the tread every few thousand miles or once a month — more often if you're putting a lot of wear on your vehicle or driving for long distances. And, if you anticipate having to drive in severe weather — heavy downpours or snow, for instance — you may wish to not wait until your tires are completely worn out before replacing them.
FIND OUT WHICH TIRE TO BUY
If your efforts from step #1 indicate a need for new tires, you need to decide which tires will work the best for your particular needs and driving preferences.
Assess your driving habits. Do you typically stick to city and highway driving? There are tires for that. Engage in any off-road adventures? There are tires for that, too. Perhaps the most significant deciding factor, however, is the climate in which you live. Even if the weather is typically mild, you need a tire capable of handling the rare but all-too-real weather extremes we all face from time to time.
Consider your footprint. Whether at work or home, nearly everything we do impacts our environment. Driving is no different. That's why it's essential to understand that the tire choices you make now will make an impact even greater than driving comfort and safety. At Bridgestone, we seek to help ensure a healthy environment for current and future generations and design tires with this mission in mind. It's why we offer Bridgestone Ecopia™ tires, participate in sustainability initiatives and encourage gas-saving (and emissions-reducing) tire care and maintenance.
SELECT THE RIGHT TIRE FOR THE SEASON
Once you have a good idea of what's important to you and your vehicle's driving needs, you can match your driving style with your perfect tire type. The following are examples of popular tire types and the features that make them unique to a driver's needs.
All-season tires are built for the average driver navigating a variety of road and weather conditions. All-season tires handle well in warm weather but are not intended to provide a summer tire's extreme grip or sportiness. They are also capable of managing light winter conditions, but not extreme cold, snow and ice.
How to buy tires for all seasons:
- Look for tires that include multiple tread features (sipes and slots; high-silica compounds), each of which contributes to balanced performance for road conditions impacted by weather.
- The best all-season tires offer traction on wet, dry and snow-covered roads with a smooth ride and sure handling (but consider winter and snow tires for the winter season in your region; more on this below).
Summer tires are generally designed to provide enhanced high-speed stability, cornering and braking traction, and responsive handling on high performance vehicles. Low rolling resistance is not a priority for most summer tires, and they usually provide less tread life than their all-season counterparts. And, as their name implies, they are not intended for use in winter.
How to buy tires for summer driving:
- Look for tread patterns that promote confident cornering and responsive steering.
- Inquire about their construction. Are they composed of compounds capable of providing maximum contact and grip when braking and cornering?
- Demand summer tires that can handle wet roads. They should come with wide circumferential grooves to channel water out of the footprint area to assist with wet traction and resist hydroplaning.
Winter and snow tires are built to help withstand freezing temperatures, slush, snow and icy road conditions. They offer wide tread gaps to trek through the snow and offer optimal winter traction, which can be necessary for drivers who must travel on unpredictable roads. However, they should only be used in cold weather conditions as tread will wear away quicker in warm conditions.
How to buy tires for winter and snow:
- Look for block edges designed to bite into snow for maximum traction.
- Ask whether the tires have an optimized contact footprint that evenly distributes contact pressure and enhance control.
- Seek specially formulated tread rubber that stays pliable even in subzero temperatures — this is a must and a defining characteristic of winter tires.
Following your research on tire type, you can identify the tires that best complement your vehicle's features and make a more informed decision when comparing tires.
FINDING THE RIGHT TIRE SIZE
Now you need to learn what size tires are right for your car. You can find this information in a few different place:
- On a placard inside your car's door jamb or gas tank hatch
- In your owner's manual
- On the sidewall of your current tires
The numbers will look something like this: P225/70R16 91S.
MASTER THE TIRE-BUYING PROCESS
Your efforts to master the tire-buying are in full swing. Next, we'll look at how to buy new tires and other elements of the tire-buying process.
RESOLVE TO REPLACE ALL FOUR TIR axle only
For optimal performance and safety, consider replacing all four tires at the same time. Since your tires affect your vehicle's performance and handling, they must be as similar as possible.
If your tires don't match:
- General performance and handling may be compromised
- The possibility exists that one end of your vehicle won't be able to respond as quickly as the other, making it difficult to control
- On some All Wheel Drive vehicles, significant differences in tire diameter (as with two heavily worn tires vs. two new tires) may lead to excessive wear to drivetrain components.
Your tires keep your vehicle connected to the road, so having an even surface is vital. If you MUST only replace one or two tires:
- Select tires similar to those currently installed on your vehicle
- Only consider tires within the same category as your existing tires
- Install new tires on the rear axle only
NEW TIRES VS. USED TIRES
It might be possible to save a little money shopping for used tires, but it's a financial benefit that comes with what may be a disproportionate loss in safety.
- Since you don't know the history of the tires, it can be difficult to know whether or not they've been previously patched because of puncture or tears — issues that can make the tire more prone to leaks or blowouts.
- Used tires might also have uneven wear that can compromise their handling and safety and lead them to need to be replaced much sooner than new tires.
Additionally, CNN reports:
- Uneven tires can hamper the performance capability of your car's suspension system.
- A new set of tires makes maintenance easier (since all four tires are the same age, have the same mileage, are from the same manufacturer, etc.).
- New tires offer handling that is more predictable than used tires.
It is best to replace tires with new tires of the same category, brand, size and speed rating. It's also an excellent time to check your spare and make sure it's still up to the challenge of pinch-hitting if needed!
ASK YOUR TIRE DEALER THESE QUESTIONS
Once you know the general type and size of tire you want, it's also important to know what to ask the tire dealer to make sure you're choosing the best tire option for your vehicle.
- Is the tire shop offering any sales or specials?
- Is mounting of the new tires included?
- Are tire rotation and balancing provided with your new tires?
- Can they outline each manufacturer's warranty and replacement options to ensure your new investment is protected in the long run?
FINAL STEP: ENJOY YOUR RIDE
Following these buying tips, you should now have a car that sports four new tires and a smooth, confident ride. Enjoy it!