Tire buying guide — How to buy tires
You know you need to buy tires, but do you know how to buy tires. Here’s a tire buying guide to help you understand how tires are rated and how they differ from one another. I’ll bring you up to speed on what questions to ask yourself before you start shopping, what questions to ask the salesperson, and how to make the decision on which tires to buy. However, if you don’t want to become a tire guru and just want the easiest tire buying experience, my advice is to go to a tire store instead of a car dealer, wholesale club, or a repair shop.
Why? Because tire stores sell tires—lots of them. They carry the largest selection of brands and models, and that’s what they do all day. The other places carry a much smaller inventory and may sell you what they stock versus what you need
Tire buying guide —answer these questions before shopping for tires
• How long do you plan to keep the car, truck or SUV? If you’ll be buying a new car soon, you don’t need the most expensive tires with the longest tread life.
• How much highway driving do you do and how much do you value quiet tires? Tires that are the most aggressive in snow and ice are generally also the loudest on the highway. If you’re willing to sacrifice noise then you may want to go for the best traction.
• Do you live in a cold climate with snow and ice? If so, you’ll want a tire with better traction ratings.
• Do you like the ride comfort of the tires you now have on your vehicle? If so, consider buying them again. If not, tell the salesperson what you don’t like about the current tires.
• Do you carry heavy loads in your vehicle? If so, you’ll want a tire that’s strong enough to handle your everyday loads.
• How much are you willing to spend to get a better tire? You can find cheap tires everywhere, but they’ll cost you more over the long term. Are you willing to spend more now to get more value out of your purchase?
• Are you willing to do some online research before walking into the tire store? If so, you can read independent test results and reviews from other tire buyers at tirerack.com.
Information you need before you buy tires
Start by opening the driver’s door. Inside the door frame you’ll find a car maker’s label listing the tire size that came on the vehicle, along with the type of tire, and load and speed rating. If you want the same performance you got when it was new, buy the same size, type, load, and speed rated tires.
Then check out what you have on your vehicle now. Here’s what to look for on the sidewall: brand, model, size, type, load and speed rating, as well as treadwear, traction, and temperature.
Here’s what the size, type, load and speed rating and ratings mean
What are UTQG tire ratings?
What does a tire’s treadwear rating mean?
It’s the projected life of the tread on a tire compared to a control tire that’s been run under test conditions on a controlled test track for a period of time. The remaining tread on the test tire is measured and the tread life is extrapolated to arrive at an expected tread life. That expected tread life is pegged at 100. So a tire with a treadwear rating of 200 should last twice as long (in theory). But it’s not quite that simple because the treadwear rating can’t be used to compare tires from different manufacturers.
For example, a Michelin tire rated at 400 should last four times longer than a different Michelin tire rated at 100. But a Michelin tire rated at 400 may not last four times longer than a Goodyear tire rated at 100. To use the treadwear ratings properly, compare the projected life of a tire to other tire models made by the same manufacturer.
What does a tire’s traction rating mean?
The tire’s traction rating is an indication of the tire’s ability to stop on wet pavement. The traction ratings start at AA and go down from there to A, B, and C. Keep in mind that the traction rating only applies to how that tires stop on wet pavement when moving in a straight line. It doesn’t rate the tire’s traction when cornering or turning.
What does a tire’s temperature rating mean?
The temperature rating represents the tire’s ability to resist heat buildup and its ability to dissipate heat when tested under laboratory conditions. Once again the ratings are given from A to C. So an A-rated tire will run the coolest, and the C-rated tire will run hotter. That doesn’t mean the C-rated tire is unsafe.
Now that you know what the terms mean, you still probably want to know which tire to buy?
Well, common sense would tell you that you’d want a tire with the highest treadwear rating (say 800), an AA traction, and an A temperature rating. Good try, but there are a few more caveats.
1. To get a higher tread life, tire manufacturers used to use a harder rubber. But a harder rubber doesn’t provide as much traction in snow and ice. To improve traction while keeping the longer life, tire manufacturers now use newer rubber compounds that contain silica. Adding silica to rubber turns the tread into something more like sandpaper. To hold the silica in place, tire makers have to use more expensive binding agents. In other words, high treadwear tires that provide exceptional traction are also the most expensive. To learn more about modern tire compounds, see this post.
2. Another way to get better traction is to use more aggressive tread designs with larger gaps between tread blocks. The larger voids pack in more snow, and snow-on-snow provides more traction than rubber-on-snow. The downside to aggressive tread design is noise. The large rubber blocks and voids hit the road like clapping hands. The noise usually isn’t an issue in winter, but it can be annoying in summer at highway speeds. If you don’t like the idea of a steady hum at highway speeds, you might want to avoid the most aggressive tread designs.
3. A tire with more sipes will have better performance on wet and icy roads and reduce hydroplaning. The sipes literally squeegee the water out from the center of the tire and push it out towards the shoulders of the tire where centrifugal force flings it off. The latest innovation in tire siping is the sawtooth sipe seen here.
4. An all-season tread design are a compromise between a summer tire and a winter “snow” tire. They provide good traction in snow and ice, but not nearly as good as an actual winter tire. Plus, they provide good traction and low noise on dry pavement, but not they’re not nearly as quiet as a summer tire. Nothing beats a winter tire for traction in snow and ice.
5. A treadlife warranty is pretty much worthless. In order to actually collect on the tread life warranty, you’ll have to prove that you’ve kept the tires inflated to the car maker’s recommended pressure, rotated the tires according to the tire maker’s schedule, replaced shocks and struts on time, and kept the vehicle in alignment. Even if you can prove that, the treadwear warranties are all pro-rated, which means if you’ve used up 80% of the tread, you’ll only get 20% off the FULL LIST price of a replacement tire—not the sale price….just the list price. A tread-life warranty is an indication of the tire maker’s confidence in the tire, but you can’t take the warranty to the bank.
So here’s how to decide which tire to buy
Buy a name brand tire—private label tires are built to compete on price. The tire makers use older tread patterns to get extra life out of their molds. Plus, they use cheaper rubber compounds. The worst part about private label tires is that you can’t get a warranty replacement if you’re out of town and can’t find a dealer that sells that brand.
Buy the best tire you can afford. The best tires generally cost about 20% more than the cheaper tires, but they can last twice as long. So they’re really the best buy over the life of the tire.
Where to buy tires
I’m not a big fan of buying tires from the car dealer. I’ve written a post on the best places to buy tires. Find it here
©, 2016 Rick Muscoplat