Consumer Wise: Tire Buying Tips

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2018, 5:32 AM EST

Paying attention to the wear and tear on your tires is important for a safe ride.  As the tread on your tire decreases, so does your traction on the road.

“I’ve had bald tires before. Not fun at all. I’ve had a tire blow out before. Not fun at all. Very scary,” said Amanda Stanina, a customer at Toyota of Tampa Bay, who was getting a flat fixed on her RAV4.

Your tires make a big difference in the handling of your vehicle, especially when you’re driving in the often-torrential Florida rain.

“The most important thing that people don’t think about is breaking distance,” said Morgan Auto Group Service Manager Nick Drummond. “As that tire wears, that distance it takes to stop will actually increase, up to double, as the tires wear down to the minimum amount of tread on them.”

Time for new tires

Tires are considered unsafe when the tread is down to 2/32 of an inch, but it’s a good idea to replace them before they get that low.

“That’s not a lot of rubber between you and the road,” Drummond said.  “We start to recommend replacement at about 3/32 or 4/32 of an inch. By the time you get to 2/32 your tire is worn out, so 3/32 leaves you a fraction of an inch to tread on at that point.”

The place where you take your vehicle for service like oil changes should keep an eye on your tires for you, and will generally let you know when you’re getting close to needing new tires.

You can also check them yourself with a simple test using a penny. Just take the penny and put Lincoln’s head facing down into the tread in the center of your tire.  If the top of Lincoln’s head is covered, your tread is deep enough, but if you can see the top of his head, it’s time for new tires.

If you can see the top of Lincoln's head on the penny, it's time for new tires.  (Angie Moreschi, staff)

Danger of Dry Rot

Another consideration in the Florida heat is dry rot. Drummond says most vehicle owners don’t realize, even if they don’t drive a lot of miles, tires can still experience dry rot after about five years.

“Rubber is an organic substance that breaks down, especially in heat and humidity,” he explained. “You can see small cracks in the tread and on the sidewall, and that can cause a tire separation or also a blow-out in extreme circumstances.”

Tips for choosing tires

When it comes to buying new tires, there are lots of options. What you pick depends on what’s most important to you.

“What’s top rated for safety? And price.” Stanina said those are the two most important things to her.

Another customer, Robert Ahern, echoed similar concerns.

“Durability of the tire and price,” Ahern said.

The type of tire you should get depends, first, on the make and model of your vehicle. Look in your owner’s manual for what the manufacturer recommends.

Then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends you can check out ratings on several factors, including:

  • Treadwear
  • Traction
  • Performance
  • Temperature resistance

Run Flat Tires

More expensive run-flat tires are another consideration. They can provide peace of mind, if you get a flat. The more rigid sidewalls on run-flat tires make it possible to continue driving on a flat for about 50 miles at a speed of up to 50 miles per hour.

There is a trade-off, however.

“They’re a very rough ride, ‘cause they don’t have much give,” said Ahern, who is familiar with run-flats.

Drummond says manufacturers are starting to equip more new vehicles with run-flats.

“European cars, like BMWs, MINIs, Volkswagens, and Mercedes come with run-flat tires on them from the factory, which typically means the car does not have a spare tire.” he said.

If your vehicle comes with run-flat tires, it is important to buy replacement run-flat tires, as well, because your vehicle doesn’t have a spare.

“In an emergency you’re not going to have a way to get to safety if you don’t have run-flat tires on the car,” Drummond said.

How long tires last

Replacement tires generally should last about 60,000 to 90,000 miles. However, take note: Drummond says the tires on a new car often tend not to last that long.

“When you purchase a new vehicle, depending on what you buy, the tire on that car will typically get you between 25,000 and 45,000 miles. You can plan on that for most vehicles,” he said.

There are things you can do to help prolong the life of your tires:

  • Properly balance tires
  • Make sure they are in alignment
  • Rotate them every 5,000 - 8,000 miles
  • Check your tire pressure monthly

Cost of tires

How much you spend on new tires has a lot to do with the type of vehicle you drive. Expect to pay anywhere from about $400 to $800 for good, dependable tires on a midsize sedan like a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. For higher end vehicles like a BMW, you can expect to pay more, around $1,200.

If you get a warranty on your tires, be sure to keep track of it. For example, if you buy tires with a 60,000 mile warranty but find you have to be replace them at just 50,000 miles, the manufacturer should prorate the cost to give you a discount. Be sure to ask for it.