Tires are unlike anything else that you ever purchase. Why? The buying process is odd, its sort of a cross between buying a rug in Morocco and an alien probe. Tires are expensive, dirty, smelly and they all kind of look the same. The things that make one tire better than another are buried deep within its construction and we have to take the salesperson’s word whether or not it will suit our needs. On top of all of that, if we make the wrong decision it will effect the safety, performance and ride comfort of our car for several years.
I have observed, over the course of my career, many different ways that people try to evaluate the quality of the tire that they considered buying. The fingers between the tread technique (to try and gauge the amount of tread the tire has), using arcane mathematical formulas to calculate the miles of service the tire will give, (usually multiply the government required tread rating times some number, have seen salespeople try and use this to sell tires as well, pure bull) or sticking their fingernail into the tread, (I guess to see how “soft” the tread is). All of these “techniques” are useless, but it does show that people are looking for some type of difference so they can make an informed choice about what they buy. As an “insider” to the retail tire industry, I’m going to tell you how to buy you next set of tires.
Before you leave home:
1. Know your size: Most of us know that tires come in various sizes, but we need to know exactly what our size is. This helps us make sure that we purchase what we need. Without getting into it here (My next article will cover tire sidewall information) every letter and number is important to your size. Don’t let anyone tell you different. The best place to find this information is in your owner’s manual or on the driver’s doorjamb. Don’t just look at your current tires (especially if you didn’t buy the car new) they may have been changed at some point and do not have what is supposed to be on the car. (the exception to this is if you have purposely made a change. Like custom wheels etc)
2. Know your speed rating: The speed rating is a letter designation (ie S,T,H,V,Z) that specifies the top speed where the tire’s braking and handling performance will be ideal. A lot of consumers and “professionals” in the auto industry believe that speed rating is not important because, they falsely reason, that if a person doesn’t drive at high speeds then they do not need a high speed rated tire. Keep in mind your car is engineered to brake and handle in a particular way and replacing a tire with a lesser speed rating will make it where the car will not stop as quick or handle as good. This applies if you have a Corvette or a Camry, it doesn’t matter. NEVER GO TO A LESSER SPEED RATING!
3. Know your load index: The load index tells how much weight the tire is able to carry. Keep this as close to the original as possible. Usually its OK to go higher, but never OK to go lower! Not that big of a deal in this day and age. Most tires have the right load carrying capacity if you follow tip number 1.
4. Know the answers to these questions:
a. What do you like about your current tires? (If your answer is everything, find out what you have and buy the exact same thing from your friendly local tire dealer!)
b. How many miles do you drive in a year? (If you drive 25,000 miles a year don’t buy a 45,000 mile tire an 80,000 isn’t that much more money)
c. Do you drive out of your local area? (Some tire brands are exclusive to regional retailers. If you have a warranty issue, and you are not dealing with a national brand, you won’t be able get it taken care of if you are out of your brand’s area.)
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you when you go to your tire retailer because they should ask you these basic questions and probably more.(Many won’t ask these questions, but you will know what you need to look for, even if they don’t want to find out what your needs are)
After these 4 steps go to your friendly local tire dealer and get prices on 3 different tires; (some sizes or types won’t be available in 3 different brands or quality) good, better and best. If you are comfortable with the dealer, the quality, the warranty and price; buy your new tires. If you are still unsure about any one of those, go to another dealer and get another 3 quotes or go home and research the manufacturer’s website (sometimes salesmen make up their own warranties because they won’t look them up)
Also, never shop for tires on the phone! Ever! A tire professional needs to see your car and your current tires to provide the best fitment of product. If you’re car isn’t there your dealer can’t help you find the right thing. Another thing the goal of many retailers is to get you in the door of the store, so they will quote a low price on the wrong tire over the phone.
Using these tips will help you make an informed buying decision. They should help in most cases, but in no way are they the only things you should consider when searching for your perfect set of new tires.
Jeff L Woodruff is the President of Hudson Tire Center Inc. in Hudson, FL.
Jeff has been in the tire business for 22 years and has a unique and sometimes irreverent way of looking at vehicle maintenance and the tire and auto care industry. For more tips and rants, go to http://www.hudsontire.com or “LIKE” us on Facebook