People tend to refer to me as a “tire junkie,” and for good reason. Tires are one of those degradable goods that all cars chew-up and spit out, regardless of how careful a driver is about tending to them. Proper driving habits help considerably, but keeping a close eye on tire wear is an often overlooked task, with most Americans spending entirely too much on tires in their lifetime.
Fortunately, there are some cheats that can help drivers get the most out of that road rubber, and being a very simple component in a car’s complex mechanical layout does make a tire an easy item to tend to. Focusing 10-15 minutes a month on one’s tires can make all the difference when it comes to the longevity of an item that typically run us anywhere between $350 and $1,000 a set.
Reading reviews is a very useful tool when it comes time to purchasing a new set of tires, as real-world consumer feedback will often shine light on issues manufacturers typically fail to mention. A set of tires may be listed as “all-season,” but that doesn’t always mean that they are particularly good in heavy rain or slushy snow. It is also advisable to stray from the tire make that comes on a car from the factory, as often times these tires are a bit pricey and there are a multitude of worthy alternatives out there that are sure to outperform the ones that came on the car.
If there is one thing you take away from this article it is that a set of tires is the only part of your car that keeps you in contact with the road. Forget brakes, suspension, and steering, it’s tires that are your first line of defense against road debris, your angle of attack in a tight corner, and the only thing keeping that car in control in icy weather. While they may seem like an utterly expensive and expendable upgrade, it is advisable to not cut corners when purchasing something that could save your life. However, you don’t always have to drop insane amounts of dough to get some quality tires, and once you do get them we have a few tips that can help make those rollers last all that much longer.
1. Pretend they’re parkas and swim suits
OK, we’re not suggesting that you wear a set of Pirellis to the beach, or wrap yourself up like the Michelin Man before hitting the ski slopes. What we’re saying is that buyers should purchase tires when they are out of season. Summer tires are typically cheapest toward the end of the year and during the coldest months when everyone is concerned with buying studded tires to brave the arctic tundra in front of them. In reverse fashion, winter tires are often put on sale during the hotter months, in order to clean out distribution centers so that they may have room for all the new models. Remember, if you live in an area that gets snow and have room in your basement or garage for an extra set of tires, you should start shopping around, you will be surprised by how inexpensive seasonal tires run.
2. Shop around — there are more options than you think
Speaking of shopping around, when was the last time you compared prices and reviews from seven different tire vendors in the hopes of snagging the best possible deal? Most people just go for whatever the local tire shop recommends or what the car comes with from the dealer, and in the process they get ripped-off. There are dozens of tire distributors out there, it is your job to peruse what each one has to offer in the hopes of saving some serious green. Some of our favorite sellers are Discount Tire Direct, Vulcan Tire, and Tire Rack, which has recently redesigned its website. These sellers typically feature fantastic prices on a dizzying array of rubber, offer free or inexpensive shipping, and have excellent customer service. Keep your eyes peeled for rebates too, because often tire makers will throw in a gift card to sweeten the deal, making buying tires even more affordable. Also, much like phones and computers, there are new models coming out constantly, so buy the cheaper “outdated model” because the majority of the time it will meet or exceed your expectations.
3. Over-inflation: It’s not just for economies anymore
We all know that driving with under-inflated tires causes poor fuel economy and premature tire wear, and that over-inflating a tire can be quite dangerous. So why is there usually such a huge difference between a car maker’s recommended tire pressure and the “max press” written on the side of a tire? In most commuter cars, these lower tire pressure numbers are recommended to keep the ride quiet, controlled, and comfortable. You can typically inflate a tire all the way up to the limit listed on its sidewall, you just are going to experience a rougher, noisier ride. Another side-effect of over-inflation is a slight bump in fuel economy due to a reduction in rolling resistance. Inflating a tire to 5-10 pounds beneath its threshold is a great way to save at the pump when embarking on a road trip, and upon return just let the air out until it reaches the level suggested by the manufacturer.
4. Not all tires are created equal
In areas that see a fair amount of winter weather, it is highly advisable to purchase a separate set of tires for summer and winter months. This will help guarantee sure-footing regardless of what Mother Nature has in store, and going from one set to another becomes that much easier if the tires are already mounted on a separate set of wheels. But there are a lot of performance factors at play here too, like tire longevity, load range, and warranty coverage. There also is a dizzying array of tread designs, compounds, and belt patterns, all designed to make the tire better than its competition. So familiarize yourself with what works best for your driving habits, and know that stickier tires offer great grip but wear out faster, and that fuel-efficient rubber usually involves a harder compound that isn’t always ideal for cornering.
5. Don’t trash it — patch it!
So you just bought a new set of tires and you love everything about them. But two weeks into your proud ownership and “POW!” you run over drill bit sitting in the road. It isn’t a complete blow-out, but there is a noticeable hole in that center sipe, and you are losing air slowly but surely. But instead of panicking and throwing another chunk of change down the drain, hop on the phone and find the nearest Walmart Tire Center. I must admit, Walmart fixes a tire for way less than anyone else out there. They will also inexpensively fix larger punctures, which requires pulling the tire off of the rim, patching it from the inside, and then remounting and rebalancing. If the tire is completely kaput, just get a whole new set of tires and put the undamaged trio up for sale on Craigslist to recoup some of the cost.
6. Avoid registration hesitation
This is an area of tire purchasing that people often overlook. Hell, we forget to register our blenders and humidifiers, and tires usually receive the same level of disregard. These expensive components almost always come with some kind of warranty, so protect them and your pocketbook by following all the necessary steps when it comes to product registration and purchase documentation! Many tire makers offer a free 30-day test drive where you can return them no questions asked within that time frame, and many tires come with bonuses like free two-year roadside assistance, one year of no-cost road hazard protection, and a free lifetime replacement for workmanship and material defects.
7. Visit your car chiropractor, and get an alignment
This final tip is more common sense than anything else. Potholes, sudden braking, and unexpected swerving to avoid road debris all put a car out of alignment over time. There is no getting around it, all cars are in a constant process of mis-aligning their suspension, and when it gets bad enough tires will get chewed up faster than hash browns at Waffle House. So spend the $100 every year and protect that investment, because at the end of the day it is the only thing keeping you from losing control.