Shopping for tires has never been easier. However, there are a few things to do before you head out and a couple to do when you are at the shop.
Whether you have been watching the wear bars closely and planning new tires for months, or just found out from your mechanic that one has a roofing nail in the tread block, you will someday find yourself in need of new tires. Because this topic is so vast, we cannot possibly tell you what tire you should buy for your specific car (though Car Talk will help you with exactly that). We will tell you that Tire Rack online can provide you with an abundance of choices and a mountain of owner reviews to pore over. How do we shop for tires? We usually start by asking our trusted tire installer which two tire models owners report the best luck with for our exact year make and model vehicle. We then research those two and make sure that the internet data backs up the choices. However, that is just the start. Here are some tips you may find helpful when it’s time to replace your tires.
Shopping Tires – Price Match Guarantees & Last Year’s Models
Tires are among the most expensive items you will ever replace on your vehicle. In an analysis we recently did of two vehicles with 100,000 miles, a Honda Accord sedan and a Toyota Highlander crossover, tires were the single highest maintenance cost for both. So you need to shop wisely. And the internet is your friend here. Almost every large chain of tire retailers now offers a “price match guarantee.” They will honor their competitors’ prices. Of course, you still need to pay taxes if you live a place that taxes tires, as well as mounting, balancing, and a fee to dispose of your old tires. Still, sales can offer you some very attractive prices that you can then take advantage of.
Another common way to save money on tires is to buy a discontinued tire model from a respected brand. We recently purchased a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. The retailer told us that the WS-80 was still available and that the WS90 had recently replaced it. The WS80 had great reviews, so we opted to save a couple of hundred dollars and get the prior model. Just be sure the tires you are buying are new, and not into their shelf life by more than a year. Here’s how you can check that to keep your shop honest.
Shopping Tires – Road Hazard Warranty
Almost every new tire comes with a road hazard warranty at no cost to you. Both your retailer and also the manufacturer are very likely to offer you a short-term warranty against road hazard damage, not just a defect. For example, Hogan Tire, a retailer in the Boston Metro area, offers a 90-day free road hazard warranty. They will fix or replace your tire in the event of damage. Every shop will also offer to sell you a longer road hazard warranty. Whether to buy one is your choice, but we will offer some warnings. First, most of the warranties are pro-rated warranties, meaning the warranty only refunds you the value of the tire life remaining. To us, that seems about value-less. What good is a costly extended warranty on a $200 tire that still requires you to pay $100 if it gets damaged? Also, on some AWD vehicles, you cannot replace just a single tire once the other three are meaningfully worn. Consider the money you don’t spend on a tire warranty the money you will use to replace a tire if your luck runs out after the free warranty.
Shopping Tires – Keep Your Tire Lock
If your vehicle is one of the many with a wheel lock installed, be certain you know where that lock is kept inside your vehicle. These locks are intended to slow down an amateur thief trying to steal your wheels and tires. They do nothing to stop an expert. The lock looks like a socket (because it is) and it is often in the trunk with your spare if you have one. Your tire shop may use it to work on your vehicle. During our last trip to the tire store, we asked the cashier where it was after the work was done. It turned out it was on top of the shop technician’s toolbox. That is not going to be a nice surprise some Labor Day weekend when you need it to change a tire on vacation. Make sure you see your wheel lock tool yourself after your tires are replaced.
Shopping Tires – Tire Pressure
It may seem like a given that the shop you trust to provide your tires will set the pressure to the proper PSI, but they may not. The reason is that all gases expand and contract in direct proportion to temperature. The correct tire pressure is found on the driver’s side door jam. It will suggest the “cold inflation” pressure for each end of the car (the front and rear are not always set to the same pressure.) If you get your tires on a warm New England winter day and the air in them is the toasty 70 F of the shop, and then you park that car in the driveway and the outside temp the following morning is 20 F, your tires are going to be about five pounds lower than the recommended setpoint. Tires deflate about 1 psi for every 10 degrees F in temperature drop. They also gain about a PSI for every ten in temperature rise. Think ahead. Ask your shop to add a few PSI more than the door jam sticker so your tires are properly inflated once you drive out into the real world if you shop in winter. Sadly, some shops can’t get the inflation right. After our last tire purchase, three tires had 32 PSI inside and one tire 27 PSI. The manager had no good excuse as to why. Check your tire pressure yourself. Here’s how.
Shopping Tires – Don’t Pay For Nitrogen
Most of the claims made by those who want to sell you “nitrogen” for your tires are bogus and have no basis in science or real-world results. If your tire shop wants to inflate your car’s tires with “nitrogen” at no added cost, let them. If they want to charge you, skip it. Your car and the tires you are buying were designed to work perfectly with compressed air.