The Ultimate Guide to Buying Tires

As your car’s only connection to the road ahead, tires play an important – but often overlooked – part 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 wearing thin, here’s what you need to know before buying a new set.

When Do I Need to Buy Tires?

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

  • Treadwear: On a tire, the tread pattern is the grooved portion that comes in contact with the road surface. The job of the tread is to provide traction while helping to evacuate water away from the tire’s footprint. To accomplish this task, the grooves in your tread need to be a minimum of 2/32” (any less, and you’ll risk hydroplaning). A quick way to check your tread depth is with the penny test. Just place a penny in the tread groove 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 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 pothole, however, and you may not be so lucky. Routinely give your tires a quick visual inspection. Any damage to the tire sidewall (like cracks, cuts or bulges) means you’ll 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 treadwear.

What Type of Tires Should I Buy?

When tire shopping, you’ll find plenty of options to choose from. They include:

  • All-season: Most new vehicles come equipped from the factory with some type of all-season tire. Just like the name implies, an all-season tire is designed to offer balanced performance in all weather conditions – from hot summer pavement to rain and snow. This all-weather performance allows drivers to use the same tire year-round, making it a great option for regions that experience mild winters. But keep in mind that all-season tires will never perform quite as well as a season-specific tire.
  • Summer: Also called high-performance tires, summer tires provide responsive handling on wet and dry pavement. For that reason, they’re often equipped on sports cars and other types of high-performance vehicles. If your car has summer tires, it’s best to keep it in the garage when temperatures drop. That’s because the rubber compounds used in this type of tire will offer reduced traction 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 of snow tires. These season-specific tires feature a more aggressive tread pattern designed to grip ice and snow. They also use a softer rubber compound in the tread, which allows the tires to stay pliable at lower temperatures.
  • All-terrain: All-terrain tires can be found on trucks, Jeeps and other types of off-road focused SUVs. They feature large, aggressive tread blocks that offer maximum traction when driving through dirt, mud and rocks. But this excellent off-road performance often comes with a tradeoff: A loud droning sound when driving on the pavement.
  • Fuel-efficient: Some tires 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 equipped with run-flat tires. These types of tires incorporate a stiffer sidewall design, allowing you to continue driving if a tire has been punctured. Keep in mind that when your car has run-flat tires, it also means there is not a spare tire in your trunk. For that reason, you should not replace run-flats with traditional tires.

If your car doesn’t come equipped with a spare tire, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place already in the event you get a flat tire.

What Size Tire Should I Buy?

When buying 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 providing the tire dealer with the year, make and model of your vehicle.

How Much Should I Spend on Tires?

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

How Long Should My New Tires Last?

Given all the variables listed above, it’s worth mentioning that the life expectancy of your tires can range widely depending on the exact tire you buy. A good indicator of how long you can expect a tire to last is the tire manufacturer’s tread life warranty. This number can range 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 hit the warranty mileage, you may qualify for a discount on a replacement set (see the manufacturer’s warranty language for details).

Do I Need to Replace 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. But depending on your vehicle and the tread depth of your other tires, you may be able to replace only one or two tires at a time.

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

How Do I Maintain My Tires?

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

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

Should I Buy Road Hazard Coverage?

When you buy a new set of tires, the installer will typically offer some form of road hazard coverage – often charged at a flat rate for each tire. This is a type of insurance that will cover the repair or replacement of a tire if you happen to get a flat within the coverage period.

Whether or not to add this coverage is entirely up to you. But many drivers do find it’s 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 Emergency Roadside Service coverage to your auto policy for about $5 per vehicle per year1 when you have comprehensive or collision coverage.  

Don’t Let a Flat Get You Down

At ERIE, our promise is simple: to be there when you need us. With our Emergency Roadside Service, we can help with lockouts, flat tires, mechanical breakdowns, dead batteries or even an empty gas tank. It’s an optional coverage that’s easy to add to your auto insurance policy and doesn’t cost a lot. You can also purchase the coverage with ERIE’s Roadside & Rentals bundle, which includes Rental Car Expense coverage.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 covers horse, livestock and other trailers that are pulled by vehicles that ERIE insures. See individual policies for specific coverage details. Certain terms and limitations may apply. Refer to our disclaimer for additional information. In North Carolina, coverage is purchased by limits ($25, $50 and $100).

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