9 Things to Know When You Buy Tires

When you go to buy tires, it helps to know a few things. Some of us know all about cars and their proper care that not only can save money but makes the whole experience of owning a car or truck safer, more pleasant, and actually fun! Not so much for me. Now I’m not a cultural anthropologist, but for some strange reason I believe that proper car knowledge is something that comes along when you’re growing up. Mom or Dad is usually the one that teaches those lessons and if you don’t learn about that stuff when you’re a kid, you may wind up a lot like me. I was basically clueless.  When it came to cars, I pretty much just ”went along for the ride” and never really showed any interest in them until I was 16 and eligible for my driver’s license.

We don't have to buy tires that frequently, especially if we upgrade our cars, but there are a few things that are good to know before you go shopping.

How Do You Learn About Cars?

I remember my first driving lesson with my Dad and me in a big parking lot in NE Philadelphia where I grew up. Dad let me sit in the driver’s seat and promptly handed me the key and said, “Okay Gary, start the engine”. I turned to Dad and I said somewhat confused, “How do I do that?” He answered with, “Just put the key in and turn it like you have seen me do a million times”. Right there was the beginning of the problem. I had never paid one bit of attention to Dad and his starting the car routine and believe it or not I didn’t even know how to put the key in and turn it. I was pretty much sitting in the back seat listening to the music on the radio whenever we were in the car. Needless to say, the driving lesson that day went downhill from there.

What Do You Know About Your Tires?

In this world, you can’t survive very well without a car unless you live in a big city and have access to great public transportation. That means you have to attempt to learn something about cars along the way. Nowadays, I’d say that my knowledge of autos is much better. I can start the car almost 100% of the time today without asking for help, 😉 but there is so much more to it than that.

Of course you need to fill your tires with air from time to time. And hopefully you know something about maintaining your tires, such as rotating and aligning them (every 6,000 to 8,000 miles or as recommended by your manufacturer). But even then, tires don’t last forever.

One area that most of us need help with is buying tires for the car. Springtime means it’s time to evaluate our tires after a long winter’s wear and tear.  Tires can and should last anywhere from 3-6 years depending on the type, quality, and the driving habits of the car owner. If you can, time your purchase to April or October when tires are most likely to be on sale.

Most of us these days seem to replace our cars faster than the tires wear out, leasing cars and buying new ones all the time. Isn’t it kind of remarkable how many new or newer cars you see on the road today compared to years gone by? This seems to be true, even though the cost of a new car keeps on going up and up. People just like a new car for all the right and many of the wrong reasons too. So you may not even be concerned about buying new tires.  But you should be.

9 Things to Know When You Buy Tires

  1. First of all, tires are pretty dammed expensive. In fact, if you haven’t thought about the replacement cost and go shopping for them, you may get sticker shock. Usually, unless you have been really good about maintaining your car, buying new tires means buying 2 or 4 at a time. Don’t mix types of tires and brands on your car if you want to get the best results and comfort from your tires.  If you haven’t budgeted properly for them, you will be looking at hundreds of dollars kicking your budget in the rear with this purchase.
  2. Tires translate to ride comfort, noise levels, handling, wear and tear and cost of running the car. Each component and feature of the tire will change the amount you spend on tires. Your driving habits are another big consideration. Is it a winter climate or do you live in a warm area? Do you drive 5,000 or 25,000 miles per year? Is your vehicle a light weight or a heavy truck? All of these factors figure in to what kind of tires you will need to buy.
  3. If you are the original owner of the car or truck, and even if you don’t know a thing about tires, you can be fairly certain that replacing your tires with the same model and type that the car came with is the best possible choice. Why? The manufacturers have thoroughly tested and researched your car to find the best type of tire for comfort, handling and wear and tear for your model. Although you won’t find a real bargain on them, they are the best “fit” for your car. Whether you drive a sedan or a sports car, a pick-up or an SUV, the type of tire you choose needs to be right for your vehicle and that research is best when it comes from the manufacturer. If the original equipment is no longer available, you should ask and try to find out what has replaced it for your type of car of truck.
  4. For every car made, there are 2 different “standard” equipment tires provided. One is for the “basic version” and the other for the “upgraded” ones. There is a difference in cost although the tires may be quite similar. If you are looking to save some money, replace the upgraded tires with the “basic version”. You can research them online from the manufacturer and find out about that option before you go shopping.
  5. New tires are safer than used tires. There are piles of used tires at every tire dealer and they will be cheaper, of course. Sometimes, you can find an almost new or even a new “used tire”. Spare tires that aren’t used when leases are returned are sometimes sold as used. Check the tread on any tire like that: use a penny and turn it upside down in several of the tread grooves. You shouldn’t ever see the top of Lincolns head if the tire is good to go. Safety is my number one prerogative when it comes to tires and even if I pay more, I feel that it’s worth it. You should invest in your safety.
  6. Make sure you know the model number and size of the tire you are shopping for. It is found on the tire sidewall and will give you the size and all the specs you will need to shop properly. Don’t be confused by the different types of names on the tires. There are several different kinds but all seasons are the ones that most people need and use. Other types of tires are for different kinds of vehicles and usage. If you are doing what the average person does, all season tires are most likely for you.
  7. Tires wear out, that’s a fact. If you expect tires to last more than the recommended numbers that are placed on the tires when purchased, remember that number only applies if you drive according to “averages”. More use, heavier loads, and poor maintenance like improper air pressure will mean you will be replacing tires more often.
  8. Some people like to change the tire size on their cars for cosmetic effects. Bigger, wider tires can mess up your speedometer readings. These tires will turn less frequently than smaller tires and may distort your speed reading so that you may be traveling faster than you think. The calibrations for your speedometer are based on the factory tires, not any deviation from that.
  9. Check you other car maintenance when you get new tires. It’s a good time to balance them (which is different than alignment). If you have a trusted mechanic and your car is up on the lift, they should look at things like your brakes and pads while you are there. If you trust them, you may get some really good advice about your car’s needs and safety.

There are an awful lot of tire dealers these days from club warehouses to car dealers and specialty stores. All can be good and if you know your stuff you can even shop online and save some money too.

Doing research online, reading customer reviews and things like consumer reports will be a huge help before you buy. In any event, shopping for new tires is serious business.

Are you in the market for new tires this spring? What do you know about your tires and how did you learn it? Are you teaching your children this skill that affects their safety and their wallet too?


  1. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    I really hope we aren’t in the market for new tires this spring, LOL. I will say that learning to read a pressure gauge and an air compressor is an essential skill for any driver. It’s one of the very few maintenance skills my dad taught me (along with checking the oil level.) Since Jon is a car guy, hopefully Little Bit can learn a lot more about cars between now and the time we turn her loose on the road in 10 years.

    1. I have to laugh, Emily, I think you have outmastered me on the maintenance standards. True story: when I was coming home from college (using my Dad’s car), I had them check the oil at the gas station before I left on my trip. 200 miles later, my car threw a rod due to “no oil”. The attendant had told me that my oil was really clean and showed me the dip stick. Needless to say, the oil level was so low that there was none on it. Dad talked about that for the next 40 years.

  2. I was so lucky that my dad was a mechanic for basically my whole life 🙂 My husband (boyfriend at the time) was so hung up on buying his Acura. I asked him about the V-rated tires and if he knew how much more expensive they’d be to replace. It didn’t matter then, but boy does he complain about it now! 😉

    Also, something that irks me to no end. My commute is really short. That’s good for a lot of things, but because I do such short distance driving (all the turns!), I get a lot more wear on my tires than my husband whose commute is only a few minutes longer but on the highway.

    This is really important and helpful information, Gary!

    1. Four tires might be a possibility? That really depends on how much use and whether or not they were rotated at some point. As a 19-year-old, you can’t really be blamed for listening to a so-called expert. But you did learn to at least consult before you make such a big purchase. Dad may have done it differently, but you probably haven’t repeated that since you were 19, and that’s good. Thanks, Mel.

  3. Jax

    This is really timely for me! Apparently it is time for my front tires to be replaced. I have only had my license for 4 years (and the used car for the same time) so I am so out of my comfort zone dealing with it. Thanks for giving me some background and a starting point for my research!

    1. It’s not unusual to let some of the “routine maintenance” items slip on by. Like on a snow day, when I use my windshield wipers and they have no effect on my windshield, I realize I probably should have checked those out before winter. I just put that on my list for next winter. Thanks, Jamie.

  4. SO expensive! We are a one car household and basically replace the full set every year. We also seem to be magnets for nails in our tyres – have found probably 4-5 nails in various tyres over the past few years.

  5. We had to get a full set of new tires last year. There’s only so much patching you can do! Still, we’re pretty unfamiliar with car maintenance so thanks for all of these tips. Ditto Moneycorgi – I’m bookmarking this one for later!

  6. Daniel Palmer

    Great list! Like you, I was never taught much about cars as a kid (although I was taught to change a flat and a few other basics), so I had to learn it all when I got my first car.
    Definitely agree with all your points except one- the stock tires that come on your cars are not necessarily the best for your car. Sometimes they are just the cheapest that the manufacturer can put on the car. They know that most people don’t look at the tires when buying a brand new car, so it’s one place they can save money, especially on budget vehicles.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Daniel. I do agree with you that a lot of people won’t look at the tires on their new car very carefully. But the research I’ve done indicates that the tires are tested to make sure they are the right fit for the vehicle and the best choice. However, it makes sense to price out the options and see what is the best quality and safety for what you can afford.

      1. Daniel Palmer

        You’re right- the manufacturer does figure out the best fit. If you’ve got a good tire guy or mechanic, they should be able to tell you what tires will fit just as well, but will last a lot longer.

        I should probably mention that I live on a gravel road, so I probably fall in the exception category, but on my last car (new), my stock tires were almost bald after 30k miles. I replaced those with ones that should last 70k and have already put more than 30k on. These better ones only cost $20 more per tire than the stock version.

  7. It’s good to know that your tires affect the amount of noise levels when you are driving. I think it’s important to find tires that helps you drive more comfortably and doesn’t cause you worry because of the amount of noise it may be making. Ultimately, your tires play a big role in helping you not only feel safe when driving, but also in helping you drive in a more cost effective way by making the most of the fuel your vehicle uses.

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