Of all things automotive, tires can often be one of the priciest things most consumers buy for their rides — especially when sticker shock hits for those low-profile tires on large wheels that most automakers seem to love to love these days. Fortunately for the overwhelming majority of tire sizes and types, there’s a large choice with plenty of competition keeping prices reasonable — depending on your definition of “reasonable”, of course.
The biggest complaint about tires is their lifespan — or lack thereof — followed by noise and a harsh ride. With all the choices out there, it’s difficult for even the most dedicated enthusiast to know everything needed to get the right product at the right price. It all boils down to finding a reliable and knowledgeable tire retailer, and knowing what to ask for.
Know your driving style
There’s a match out there for just about any type of driver, from pothole-avoiding, speed-limit-obeying motorists to hard-punching, corner-squealing Mario Andretti wannabes. Knowing exactly what type you are and fessing up is key for a tire pro to provide you with the proper choices.
Know what you use your vehicle for
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of trucks in driveways that never get used at all for cargo-hauling and towing, and which see nothing rougher to roll on than the concrete expanse of a multi-lane highway. And alternatively, there are a lot of minivans that carry almost more gear farther than a busy 18-wheeler. Knowing what you haul — and just as importantly, what you don’t — goes a long way to getting the right rubber.
Know where you drive, and how often
Loading up your SUV or pickup truck with uber-aggressive off-road treads for a once-a-year foray down a cottage backroad will provide some necessary performance that one time, but you’ll also be saddled with added noise and discomfort for the rest of the year. Like your vehicle, your tires should fit the majority of your driving terrain, not the exception.
Know what you want in terms of road noise and ride comfort
Aggressive treads can turn you off your vehicle quicker than an unexpected transmission failure. It would be great if tire makers provided digital recordings at various speeds to let you sample the song before purchasing, but in the absence of this shopping aid, an experienced tire consultant can provide almost the same benefit. Tire manufacturers were supposed to have noise comparison rating labels by now — along with tread-life and fuel mileage effects — but we’re still waiting.
Some retailers have this info from their suppliers, while a multitude of consumer advice publications, such as Consumer Reports, will also supply these ratings. And of course, when in doubt and when possible, read online reviews from customers.
Know what type of tire you want
Many truck and SUV owners opt for a heavier tire when the originals wear out. This can mean moving up to an LT-rated tire; the stiffer sidewalls can handle more weight, but can also result in a rougher ride — and remember, just because a tire can support more weight doesn’t mean the axles can. LT tires also usually bring harder rubber compounds for longer life, but these harder skins don’t always deliver the same smooth-surface traction.