Choosing the right tire for your vehicle is an important decision, since tires play a big role in safety and overall performance. There are many factors to consider, and thinking about them all can seem overwhelming. To simplify the process, we've written a tire buying guide for you to follow when it's time for new tires. The more you know, the easier it will be to make your final decision.
Factors to Consider
The main factors to consider when purchasing new tires include: tire size and type, budget, and driving habits and conditions. You want the best tire for your money when it comes to braking, handling, and resistance to hydroplaning. Some additional factors to consider are tread wear, ride comfort, fuel efficiency, noise and rolling resistance. You also want to consider how long you plan to keep your vehicle, as well as manufacturer warranties and rebates.
The first piece of information you need when shopping for tires is your tire size. You can get this information from your tire sidewall, or owner's manual. Tire size is displayed in a sequence of letters and numbers, which will look similar to: P205/55R16. (See Reading Your Sidewall for more details.) You can also use our tire selector to find tires to fit your specific vehicle.
There are three size dimensions of a tire: Tire Width, Aspect Ratio, and Diameter.
- Tire Width -This is the part of the tire that makes contact with the road. A wider tire will give your vehicle better grip on dry pavement, but negatively affect gas mileage. Narrow tires are good for traction in winter, but can be unsafe if too narrow.
- Aspect Ratio - This is the height of the sidewall in relation to the tire's width. Short, stiff sidewalls are great for handling, but offer less ride comfort. Large sidewalls offer a more quiet and comfortable ride.
- Diameter - This is the diameter of the wheel itself, when measured from one side to the other. Fourteen inch wheels will require 14-inch tires. If you prefer a larger tire you'll need to purchase a larger wheel.
Manufactures have created many different types of tires with various features and functionality. Some general categories that tires fall under are:
- All-Season - These tires are designed to perform well in all major driving conditions: rain, snow, ice and dry. All-season tires are the most common type of tire and are considered a "one size fits all" tire. However, this tire doesn't perform well in extreme winter conditions.
- Winter – These tires provide superior traction and control when driving on snowy or icy roads. They're also designed to stay soft and pliable at low temperatures, which make for a safer, more comfortable ride over icy and irregular surfaces.
- Performance - These tires are designed specifically for speed, superior handling and maximum dry-road grip. However, performance tires typically cost more and have a shorter life.
- Touring – These tires are designed for a smooth, quiet and comfortable ride. They generally have a higher speed rating and shorter stopping distance. They handle well on dry or wet pavement, but aren't designed for winter driving.
When choosing the right tire, you have to consider the weather and terrain where you live, as well as your performance expectations. If you live in the Midwest you need to consider safety for driving in harsh winter weather. If you drive a sports car, you'll probably want a performance tire for driving in dry, sunny conditions.
Other considerations are a tire's load and speed rating. This is the alphanumeric data on the sidewall listed after the tire size, such as 92H or 85V, otherwise known as the service description.
- Load Rating – This number represents the maximum amount of weight each tire can safely carry when properly inflated (each number corresponds to a specific weight). Tires with a higher load index are constructed with stronger reinforcements to withstand greater pressure. Consult your owner's manual to determine the load of your specific vehicle. You'll need to take into consideration the weight of the passengers and cargo, as well as any towing you may do. You should never select a tire that only meets the minimum weight capability.
- Speed Rating – This letter represents the speed rating of the tire, which is the maximum speed a tire can safely handle when properly inflated. The speed rating is not of major concern in the U.S., since speed limits are below the lowest speed rated tires.
Once you've determined your tire size and preference on tire type, you'll want to consider the overall value of the tire you're considering. Here are a few things to help you determine value:
- Life Expectancy - An easy way to determine tire value is to look at the estimated life of the tire, which is given in total miles. Most tires have a treadlife or mileage warranty, which will range anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 miles. Typically, the higher the mileage warranty, the more valuable and expensive the tire. So you should consider how long you plan to keep your vehicle. If you plan to keep it for more than a year, you may want to invest in a tire with a longer life span.
- Cost Per Mile – One method to help determine tire value is to calculate cost per mile driven. To do this, take the purchase price of the tire you're considering and divide that by the tire's mileage warranty. For example, say you're interested in two different tires, one that costs $100 per tire and one that costs $60 per tire. The $100 tire has a mileage warranty of 60,000 miles. The $60 tire has a mileage warranty of 30,000 miles. When you divide cost by miles ($60/30,000=.002) you can determine the value of the tire per mile driven. In this example, the $100 tire costs .16 cents per mile and the $60 tire costs .2 cents per mile. While the $60 tire is less expensive up front, it has a higher cost per mile driven.
- Tire Ratings– The U.S. government established the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) as a tool to help consumers compare tires based on treadwear, traction and temperature resistance. This information can be found on the tire sidewall, or on its label.
- Treadwear – tires are graded on rate in which they wear under controlled conditions. A tire with a 400 grade will wear twice as long as one with a 200 grade. You should only compare tread wear grades within a manufacturer's product line, and not between different tire brands.
- Traction – tires are graded on their ability to stop on a straight, wet surface. It doesn't account for traction through turns. Traction grades include AA, A, B and C. Grade AA is the highest grade available, and C is the minimum required grade, according to federal safety standards.
- Temperature – tires are graded on their resistance to the generation of heat. Temperature grades include A, B and C. Grade A is rated best, meaning it's the most resistant to heat and, therefore, has a longer life expectancy.
When shopping for tires, many people will look for tire sales or "deals" in the hopes to save money. However, there are a few things the buyer should be aware of. Many times, tire "sales" are simply sales gimmicks! Be wary of these common sales gimmicks:
- "Buy 3 tires, Get 1 free"
- Discounted prices for "a limited time only"
- "Free installation" with tire purchase
These "deals" may sound appealing but may not actually be a good deal at all. Most of the time, the "buy 3 tires, get 1 free" deal means that the first 3 tires are sold at greatly inflated prices to make up for the cost of the "free" tire. Other tire sales generally have certain restrictions, limitations, or some type of "catch." For example, the "discounted" tire may only apply to brands you've never heard of, or may require the purchase of road hazard or an alignment. The "free installation" deal typically means that the cost of installation is simply added into the cost of the tire, and isn't actually free.
The best way to shop for tires is to call around to compare prices. Always ask if you're being quoted the tire price with tax and installation.
Tire dealers who offer everyday low prices, like Levin Tire, typically offer the best prices overall. At Levin Tire, tires are always sold at employee prices, which means the price is low every day on all tires. You don't have to wait for a "sale" or wonder if you're being quoted a fair price. No hassle, no sales gimmicks!
You can also see our blog post on finding a good deal on tires.
- Always compare tire prices. Ask if the quote includes tax and installation. Be wary of offers that sound too good to be true.
- Choose a tire dealer that offers free tire rotations, free balancing, and free flat repair for the life of the tires you purchase.
- If you're looking to buy only two tires, have them installed on the rear of your vehicle. Also, consider purchasing 4 new tires instead. This will give your vehicle increased stability and handling.
- If you really want to save money or can't afford new tires, consider purchasing used tires. They don't last as long, but you can still find good quality, gently used tires for a reasonable price.
- Once you've purchased new tires, be sure to have them regularly maintenanced. Always keep your tires properly inflated and have them rotated every 6,000 miles. See Tire Inflation and Tire Rotation for more details.
Need more information? Contact one of Levin Tire & Service Center's tire experts. We'll be happy to answer any questions.