How To Shop For Tires

May 16, 2011

You have 45,000 miles on your tires, and when you accelerate on a grade, you can hear them spin. It's time to go shopping for tires--but where do you start?

Know what you're riding on today. Let’s assume that you want to maintain the quality and match the tires to your car manufacturer’s recommendations. You can start with your present tires by writing down the tire size, load index and speed rating imprinted on the sidewall of your tires. Look for the size which usually starts with P or LT designating passenger car or light truck, followed by the tire size which will read something like 235/65R16. After that look for a number/letter combination like 89S, which are the load index (89) and the speed rating (S).

Double-check before you buy. As a double check confirm that this tire size is listed on the driver’s door pillar or in your owner’s manual. This eliminates the possibility that the tire size has been changed during the life of the car. You can also confirm with the tire store that the size you are requesting is the correct size and speed rating for your year, make and model.

Look for a rating. When it comes to the quality of the tires you are purchasing, you're at the mercy of the tire manufacturers. Efforts to devise a rating system have relied on the input of the tire companies, so the Uniform Tire Quality Grade Standards have not been well-received by consumers. Each tire is usually rated by the manufacturer in terms of expected tread life in miles, so a salesman may say, “This tire is rated as a 75,000-mile tire.” This doesn’t mean that in the real world you will get that kind of service from the tire but at least it can serve as means to compare tires between brands.

Make sure you're pricing the right tire. Like a car, each tire has a model and even a sub model. So when you are reading your sidewall look for the manufacturer’s name and the tire model. An example would be a Goodyear Wrangler RTS- Wrangler being the model and RTS being the sub model. This would be different from a Wrangler HT and have a different price as well.

Ask about alternatives. Once you establish what is currently on your car or truck and that those tires are correct for your vehicle, you can shop other brands for similar quality tires. You can ask for tires similar in quality to your present tires and confirm that they are similar by asking the mileage rating. In addition, you can resolve anything you dislike about your current tires by adding that concern to the search. For instance, if you think your tires generate a lot of road racket, ask how the new tires you are considering are rated for noise.

Beware of the pitfalls of tire shopping. Tires are always being discontinued. These tires can be purchased at a discount, which is okay until one of the tires has to be replaced. In that case, you may be forced to purchase two in order to match both tires on the same axle.

Also realize that the tire companies make tires specifically for mass merchandisers like Sears Auto Centers. These tires will be different in tread design and other features from those purchased directly from a distributor of that make of tire.

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