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The ultimate guide to buying tires



As your car’s only connection to the road ahead, tires play an important – but often overlooked – role in keeping you and your passengers safe. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about nine percent of crashes are tire-related, meaning a tire failure or poorly maintained tires were a contributing factor.

If your tires are thin, here’s what you need to know before buying a new set.

When do I have to buy tires?

Wondering if it’s time to invest in a new set of tires? Here are some factors you should consider.

  • Tread: On a tire, the tread pattern is the grooved part that comes into contact with the road surface. The tread̵
    7;s job is to provide traction while helping to evacuate water away from the tire’s footprint. To perform this task, the grooves in the tread must be at least 2/32” (minimum, and you risk
    aquaplaning). A quick way to check your pattern depth is with the penny test. Just place a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace your tires.
  • Damage: Getting a flat tire doesn’t always mean you need to buy a replacement tire. A small nail hole in the tread, for example, can be repaired by a qualified tire technician. Hit a hole, but you might not be so lucky. Routinely give your tires a quick visual inspection. Any damage to the sidewall of the tire (such as cracks, cuts or bulges) means you need to buy a new tire soon.
  • Age: Since tires are made of rubber, age is also an important factor to consider. That’s because rubber breaks down over time, making tires more prone to failure. For this reason, most manufacturers recommend replacing tires after 6 to 10 years, regardless of wear.

What type of tires should I buy?

When shopping for tires, you will find many options to choose from. They include:

  • All seasons: Most new vehicles come from the factory with some type of all-season tire. Just as the name suggests, an all-season tire is designed to offer balanced performance in all weather conditions – from hot summer pavements to rain and snow. This all-weather performance allows drivers to use the same tire year-round, making it an excellent option for regions that experience mild winters. But keep in mind that all-season tires will never perform as well as a season-specific tire.
  • Summer: Also called high-performance tires, summer tires provide responsive handling on wet and dry surfaces. For that reason, they are often fitted on sports cars and other types of high-performance vehicles. If your car has summer tires, it is best to keep them in the garage when the temperature drops. This is because the rubber compounds used in this type of tire provide reduced grip in cold weather.
  • Winter: If you live in an area that experiences snow and ice in the winter, it’s hard to beat a set snow tires. These all-season tires have a more aggressive tread pattern designed to grip ice and snow. They also use a softer rubber compound in the tread, which means the tires remain compliant at lower temperatures.
  • All Terrain: Off-road tires can be found on trucks, Jeeps, and other types of off-road focused SUVs. They have large, aggressive tread blocks that offer maximum grip when driving through dirt, mud and rocks. But this excellent off-road performance often comes with a trade-off: A loud droning sound when you hit the pavement.
  • Fuel efficient: Some decks are designed to help you squeeze a few extra miles per gallon out of your car. This is done by using rubber compounds and tread patterns that reduce rolling resistance.
  • Run-flat: If you drive a newer luxury car, there’s a good chance your vehicle came with run-flat tires. These types of tires have a stiffer sidewall design, allowing you to continue driving if a tire has suffered a puncture. Keep in mind that when your car has run-flat tires, it also means that there is no spare tire in the trunk. For that reason, you should not replace run-flats with traditional tires.

If your car is not equipped with a spare tire, it is a good idea to have a plan already in place event you get a puncture.

What tire size should I buy?

When purchasing replacement tires, you should always purchase the exact size specified by the vehicle manufacturer. You can find this information in your owner’s manual or by giving the tire dealer the year, make and model of your vehicle.

How much should I spend on tires?

There are many variables when it comes to tire pricing – including tire size, tire type, tire brand and tire model. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the tire, the higher the price tag (a 20-inch tire will cost significantly more than the same model in a 16-inch size). How much you should spend depends on your vehicle and your budget. But Consumer Reports offers this tip: The cheapest tire is not always the best value. This is because premium tires often cover more miles before wearing out.

How long will my new tires last?

Considering all the variables listed above, it’s worth mentioning that the life expectancy of your tires can vary greatly depending on exactly which tire you buy. A good indicator of how long you can expect a tire to last is the tire manufacturer’s lifetime warranty. This number can vary anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 miles depending on the tire, and it serves as a rough estimate of how many miles you can get out of a new set of rubber. As an added bonus, if your tires wear out before you reach the warranty distance, you may qualify for a discount on a replacement set (see the manufacturer’s warranty language for details).

Do I need to change all four tires at the same time?

If your tires are worn, it’s generally a smart idea to replace all four at the same time. However, depending on your vehicle and the tread depth of your other tires, you may only be able to replace one or two tires at a time.

According to Consumer Reports, four-wheel drive vehicles can be particularly sensitive to differences in tread depth – so check with your owner’s manual or speak to your dealer before changing a single tyre. For two-wheel drive vehicles, it is recommended that you only replace a single tire if the others are less than 30% worn. If they are closer to 40 or 50% wear, they recommend replacing at least two tires (installing the new tires on the rear axle gives the most traction).

How do I maintain my tires?

To get the most out of your tires, follow these tire care tips:

  • Check your air pressure. To get the most performance and wear out of your tires, make sure they are inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. You’ll find this number on a sticker on the driver’s door frame or in your owner’s manual (don’t use the number printed on the sidewall of the tire itself). Experts recommend checking your tire pressure at least once a month before driving when the tires are cold. You should also check them regularly you live in an area that experiences winter or really cold temperatures.
  • Avoid aggressive driving. Driving behaviors such as hard braking, rapid acceleration and aggressive cornering will all reduce the tread on your tires. Practicing safe driving habits not only extends the life of your tires but also can also earn you rewards with ERIE’s YourTurn® safe driving program.
  • Spin your tires. Having your tires rotated regularly will help them wear evenly in all four corners of the vehicle. Experts recommend getting a tire rotation every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.

Should I buy road hazard cover?

When you buy a new set of tires the installer will usually offer some form of road risk cover – often a fixed price is charged for each tyre. This is a type of insurance that covers the repair or replacement of a tire if you happen to get a puncture within the coverage period.

Whether you want to add this coverage or not is entirely up to you. But many drivers find it worth the upfront cost to know you won’t be hit with a surprise bill in the event of a flat.

Keep in mind that most tire warranties do not include any type of roadside assistance. But if you’re an Erie Insurance customer, your agent can add Road traffic emergency service coverage to your car policy for about $5 per vehicle per year1 when you have comprehensive or collision coverage.

Don’t let an apartment get you down

At ERIE, our promise is simple: to be there when you need us. With our Road traffic emergency service, we can help with lockouts, flat tires, mechanical breakdowns, dead batteries or even an empty gas tank. It’s optional insurance coverage that’s easy to add to your auto insurance and doesn’t cost much. You can also purchase the coverage with ERIE’s Roadside & Rentals package, which includes Coverage for rental car costs.2

Contact us today and find out how we can help you get back on the road.

1Vehicles eligible for coverage include cars, light trucks and motorcycles. The service also includes horses, livestock and other trailers pulled by vehicles that ERIE insures. See individual policies for specific coverage details. Certain conditions and restrictions may apply. See our disclaimer for further information. In North Carolina, coverage is purchased with limits ($25, $50 and $100).

2In all states except Virginia and North Carolina, transportation costs are included with comprehensive coverage but must be purchased separately for a collision loss. Rental vehicle coverage is based on the type of vehicle being rented, rather than a specific dollar amount, and is subject to a limit per day if you choose a vehicle in a higher class than you purchased. In Virginia and North Carolina, transportation expense coverage is included with comprehensive coverage and collision coverage and is subject to a daily limit. The six classes of rental car options are not available in Virginia or North Carolina. Transportation costs are included in Virginia with comprehensive coverage and are optional with collision. In North Carolina, transportation costs are covered only with vehicle theft claims. The limit is $15 per day and up to $450 per loss.


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