When the time comes to buy a new car, we all do a ridiculous amount of research. Much of that research is to ensure our new car is safe. We check out crash test ratings and the availability of safety features and compare one vehicle to the other in excruciating detail all to be sure we have the safest ride possible. Yet, the day that car’s tires wear out we often spend only a moment or two talking to a salesman before buying the cheapest tires possible. Here’s why that’s not such a good idea.
Take a look at a tire. It’s a big, round, rubber thing and you have four of them on your car. It seems like that’s a lot of rubber to keep you firmly in contact with the ground. Think again. It’s only a very small section of the rubber on each of those tires touching the ground at any one time. That section is called the contact patch and it’s about the size of your hand. Look at your hand. That’s not a lot of rubber keeping you in place after all.
Now, consider what happens when the roads aren’t perfect. It could be snow or ice or even a light rain. The weather makes it harder for that hand-sized contact patch to do its job. You could end up with four inexpensive tires that save you money at the tire store, but end up costing you money when they don’t do their jobs and leave you sliding off the road.
That doesn’t mean you have to buy the single most expensive tire you can find. There’s a range of tires between the cheapest and most expensive and somewhere in there is the right tire for your needs and your car.
The key is to spend some time researching tires just like you spent some time researching your car. Consider how long you plan to keep your car, the kind of weather you’ll encounter, and the way you like to drive. Look at tire reviews and see what the experts say and talk to the guy at the tire shop. If you don’t understand something, then ask questions until you’re comfortable with the answers.
Still don’t think quality tires matter? Take a look at this video comparing a pricey set of Continental Sport Contact 6 tires with a more budget-minded set of Rotalla RU01 S-Pace tires.
The detailed evaluation includes a wet track, dry track, and wet braking comparison with that last one being the most startling to watch. The summary toward the end brings it all together and explains why buying a good set of tires is worth the extra cost.