4 Steps to the Right Tires

Nancy Dunham

It’s really much more fun to think about jazzing up your car’s audio or detailing your car – literally making it shine – than to think about tires.

They’re just there, right? But when you’re rolling down the road in a car that likely weighs more than one ton, hitting bumps, swerving around road debris, and stopping when the guy ahead of your slams on the brakes, remember that those tires are all that’s between you and the road.

It’s easy to feel confused in a tire store though – all kinds of tires, various prices, different codes. What’s important and what isn’t? Approved Auto Repair Specialists Ed Kriston and Jeffery Boone, of AAA Mid-Atlantic, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., offered these tips to choose the tires that are right for you and your budget:

  • Ask to see the manufacture date of the tire. Tires have all types of codes stamped on them. The sales person should easily be able to show you the stamp that indicates when the tire was made. Don’t be fooled if you’re told the tires are "new." Some "new" tires sit on the shelf for 2-3 years before they’re sold. A tire’s life expectancy is only about five years, according to the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (RMA). Even after three or four years, some tires have dry rot, cracks and other flaws. That can mean a year after you buy that "new" tire you’ll need to replace it.
  • Define what conditions the tires can handle. Many people believe that "all season" tires can handle just what the name implies – heat, rain, snow, ice and anything else. The RMA and the Rubber Association of Canada agreed on certain tire standards. One of them allows drivers to identify which tires provide proper snow traction. The best way to identify those tires is to look for a snowflake on the tire’s sidewall. If you can’t find it, ask the salesperson to show it to you. Again, don’t be fooled into thinking tires without a snowflake will provide traction on snow. Verify any claims before you buy.
  • Read your car’s owners’ manual. That is the best way to ensure that the tires you buy are the correct size and type for your car. It’s important not to skimp here. Many people that buy retreads try to make tires that are close in size – but not the actual correct size – work for their cars. That can be expensive and dangerous. Buy the incorrect size or type of tires and you may – at the least – lower fuel efficiency. Yet you might also cause major damage to your car’s suspension or even frame. It can also put your safety at risk.
  • Don’t wait to replace your tires. Many people wait to buy new tires until the tread is completely gone. Often people plan to use tires through the winter thinking they’ll replace them in the spring. That can be especially dangerous because worn tires often little traction on wet streets. Don’t risk your life or those of your passengers; replace tires as soon as needed.