Earlier this year, Forbes ran an article on a company in Dubai that had created a set of diamond- and 24-carat gold-encrusted tires that cost $600,000, earning them a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the “World’s Most Expensive Set of Tires.” While these ridiculously bedazzled set of rubbers surely found their way onto something equally ludicrous — like a heavily armored Dartz SUV with a whale foreskin wrapped interior — all we could do was sit back and shake our heads in disbelief.
For the rest of us, slumming it on a set of Michelins or Bridgestones is our only recourse when it comes time to slap some fresh compounds on our station wagons and crossovers, and for the most part we get around just fine. Hell, even tire manufacturers that were once labeled as inferior alternatives have gotten quite good, a topic that we will touch on a little later on, as evolution proves that cheap and bad are not always synonymous.
Note the “not always” portion of that last statement, because there are still plenty of subpar compounds out there. A quick search on Tire Rack’s website proves that drivers still find plenty to complain about, as even big name manufacturers get put through the ringer. Everything from noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), to sloppy handling characteristics and traction issues are brought up, reinforcing our recommendation that you should always thoroughly research what rubber you ride on prior to committing.
Bad reviews and ridiculously expensive rubber aside, there are still a lot of low-tier tires out there to watch out for, even when millions of Americans feel that cutting corners will save them money in the long run. Sure, plenty of people are on tight budgets, but when it comes down to tires, which are the only portion of a car that comes in contact with the asphalt (should be, at least), skimping on quality is a downright dangerous idea. When it comes to stopping, swerving, and starting up a snowy incline, you are limited by what’s wrapped around your rims, and an inferior product could mean the difference between being safe at home and winding up stranded somewhere.
Back in 2014, Consumer Reports did a report on bargain tires, and for the first time, included a few Chinese brands in their tests, with Geostar, Sunny, and Pegasus rounding out the trio of contenders. Out of the three, the latter ended up being thrown out due to it being an “unauthorized” product, which means it was essentially a knock-off version of a knock-off, and performed horrendously in all conditions.
If that fact doesn’t concern you, then maybe this will: The Michelin tires tested in the study lasted almost three times longer than their cheap Chinese competition. This means you would have to buy two additional sets of knock-off tires in order to match the longevity of the top rated Michelin LTX M/S2, which proved to be amazing in everything from high-temp braking to acceleration on ice.
There’s also the issue of additional shipping fees if the tires are ordered online, the cost of having them mounted and balanced, and all of the extra charges associated with valve stems and disposal fees. Once broken down, the long term cost of running cheap tires is actually a lot more than doing it right the first time by purchasing well-made compounds from reputable brands.
But a lot of drivers don’t seem to care very much, even when buying “off brand” tires means they may not be able to find replacements down the line. Like many fly-by-night operations, tire manufacturers will occasionally pop up, offering drivers a product for a great price, only to be nowhere to be found when the belts prematurely fail, thus leaving you stranded on the side of the road without a warranty.
According to Consumer Reports, since tires remain a global commodity, a lot of brand name rubber is manufactured in China, with the big difference being that those tires are “designed and manufactured to quality standards dictated by the original manufacturers.” Off brands, on the other hand, are not held to such standards, and Consumer Reports admits that after completing a series of all-weather tests, every single cheap Chinese tire finished at the very bottom.
Another problem commonly found in bottom-tier tires is that they tend to produce excessive amounts of road noise, can wear unevenly, and will ride a bit rough. Name-brand compounds are priced a certain way because all of those hours spent designing, engineering, and testing are not cheap, and the quality of materials used remains superior.
Fortunately, there are still a handful of well built, extremely affordable options out there from companies like Hankook, Kumho, Falken, and Sumitomo, all four of which have made leaps and bounds in increasing their quality standards over the years. There’s a reason why distributors like Tire Rack go out of their way to include testing notes from their skid pad, and drivers are allowed to weigh in on their website with reviews and long term longevity results. This way shoppers who haven’t heard of these companies can check out what drivers are saying about a particular design, as all four companies make a wide range of rubber in order to provide the masses with a wide selection of options.
If you really want to get the most for your money, and plan to steer clear of sub standard rubber, we suggest reading our tire cheat sheet, as it covers seven of the best ways to save cash, all while preserving tread life at the same time. So do your research, find out what other people have to say about a specific model or tread pattern, and make sure you are covered with a warranty. Remember, your car is only as good as the tires it rolls on, and when it comes to something that could potentially save someone’s life it’s best not to skimp on quality or reliability.