Not to alarm any of you reading this, but you’re literally trusting your life to four patches of rubber every time you enter a car. Each of these points of contact is only about the same size as the palm of your hand; just imagine how hard they have to work to keep a 1-ton vehicle traveling at 60 MPH from going ballistic. Given this scary piece of information, it can seem kind of risky to save on tires.
Now, you and your passengers’ safety is non-negotiable, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Unless you have an effectively infinite supply of money, you need to be careful to allocate enough of it to all essential expenses: feeding your kids a healthy diet, for instance, as well as putting something away for a rainy day that’s sure to come around at some point. There is some good news, though: once you know how to save money on tires, you don’t need to risk harm every time the road is wet. This is one area where a small amount of effort can go a long way.
Table of Contents
- 1 Making Tires Last Longer
- 2 Check Your Tire Pressure, Frequently
- 3 Consider Using Nitrogen
- 4 Rotation, Balance, and Alignment
- 5 Punctures: Repair or Replace?
- 6 Go Easy on the Controls
- 7 How to Save Money on Tires When Buying
- 8 Save Money on Tires by Paying More
- 9 Warranties in the Tire Industry
- 10 What Is the Best Time of Year to Buy Tires?
- 11 Buying Online Is Often Best
- 12 What About Second Hand or Retread Tires?
- 13 When It’s Time, It’s Time
Making Tires Last Longer
One way to save on tires is simply to not replace them. Inevitably, though, they’re going to wear out (this is, in fact, a surprisingly extensive source of pollution). For most people, the bigger issue about saving money on tires will be their finances. Given that a complete set can cost a thousand dollars or more, keeping them in good shape for 40,000 miles instead of 30,000 represents a major saving, and isn’t nearly as difficult as you may think.
Check Your Tire Pressure, Frequently
Despite the best efforts of fathers and driving instructors everywhere, many people still don’t keep their tires properly inflated. You don’t need to be a mechanic to do this, it takes two minutes every week, and the tool you need can cost under $10. Why is this so important, though?
It’s not just about how to save money on tires. Use the PSI number specified in your car’s owner’s manual or on a sticker near the driver’s door. This may be different for the front and rear tires and can vary depending on the weight of the load, and should be measured while the tires are cold rather than after driving for a while. There’s a widespread belief that over-inflating your tires by about 10 PSI results in lower gas consumption. This is true, but the difference is typically less than one percent. Meanwhile, your ride will be much less comfortable, your car will be more likely to enter a skid, and your tires will wear out significantly faster.
Under-inflating them, contrary to what you’d expect, results in pretty much the same things: worse handling, a longer braking distance, and having the tread on the tire surface abrade at a faster rate. Either exceeding the recommended tire pressure or letting it dip below also makes a catastrophic blowout more likely. The one real difference is that you’ll pay more for gasoline with underinflated tires. This matters little compared to the safety risks and the money you can save on tires, though, and maintaining the correct pressure really isn’t a difficult chore.
Consider Using Nitrogen
Normal compressed air, which happens to be three-quarters nitrogen anyway, is often free at your local gas station. You’ll probably have to pay to inflate your tires with pure nitrogen, but it does have one major advantage: your tires will deflate noticeably more slowly.
The oxygen and water vapor in ordinary air also cause your tires to deteriorate on a chemical level, while nitrogen tends to be more stable at elevated temperatures. This is why it’s used to fill aircraft and racing car tires.
The difference is actually negligible for most drivers, though, especially if you follow the advice above and check your pressure regularly. Inflating your tires using nitrogen may give you a little extra peace of mind, but the cost can add up to a lot of money over the long run – this is not how to save money on tires. If you work at a place that keeps a lot of nitrogen on hand, though, you may as well try this out.
Rotation, Balance, and Alignment
If you use your car only as a tool for getting from A to B, you may think that tire rotation is a no-brainer: that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do. What it actually refers to is switching your tires between left and right and/or front to rear.
Tires don’t wear out evenly, you see. Proper inflation can prevent a lot of problems, but you also have to take your car into the shop every year – twice yearly, if you drive a lot or on rough roads – to get the tires balanced, aligned, and rotated. This is also the best thing you can do when your steering wheel or chassis starts to vibrate at high speeds, you notice your car pulling to one side, or you see that your tires are getting balder on some patches than others.
This is difficult to do at home, but a dealership or tire place with the proper equipment can get it done in a jiffy. Expect to pay at least $100 unless this service is covered by a maintenance plan or warranty, or included in the price when you first purchase the tires. This may seem a little steep but is virtually guaranteed to save money on tires in the long run.
Punctures: Repair or Replace?
“If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself” is a popular saying but also really terrible advice when it comes to brain surgery, watching professional football, and (sometimes) saving money on tires. There are plenty of cheap DIY tire repair kits for sale, but using these isn’t a good idea if you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember that a flat can be infuriating and a slow leak annoying, but a blowout a few miles later can be lethal.
A puncture often causes weakness aside from the actual hole and may even damage the sidewall, which is impossible to repair safely. This means that the damaged tire has to be removed from the rim so it can be inspected from the inside – a non-trivial job if all you have to work with is a pair of tire irons.
You can indeed use a plug, patch, or aerosol sealant in an emergency. This is only a temporary solution, though – you may as well just put on the spare. Getting a professional tire repair, on the other hand, often costs as little as ten bucks and can be expected to last for about as long as the tire itself.
Go Easy on the Controls
One final tip on how to save money on tires is simply this: you are not Chase Elliott, your suburb is not a NASCAR track, and your car’s suspension, brakes, and tires were almost certainly not designed for racing. To put it another way: don’t drive like a maniac if you want to save on tires.
Take corners at a speed your mother will approve of, plan ahead so you don’t have to tap the brakes or accelerator too often, and generally try to drive in a way that wouldn’t cause a coffee in the cupholder to spill. Your passengers as well as your tires will appreciate the smoother ride. A lot of this approach also translates well to defensive driving, which is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe on the road and can slice a large chunk off your car insurance premiums.
How to Save Money on Tires When Buying
Like ink cartridges, dog food, and politicians, tires are consumables. No matter how well you take care of them, you’ll need new ones eventually. For a product that’s apparently quite simple, this is a pretty complicated decision.
What is the best time of year to buy tires? Are the fancier brands a way for dealers to make a few extra bucks, or for you to save some? How do tire warranties work and what terms and conditions can you expect? We’ll try to answer questions like these as briefly yet comprehensively as possible.
Save Money on Tires by Paying More
Tires, like nearly everything in your car except your children, are carefully engineered. This doesn’t normally mean creating the best possible product, but trying to balance cost with performance and durability.
One example of how this ends up working is the Department of Transportation’s UTQG treadwear rating standard. Cars fitted with the kind of tire to be tested are driven for a total of 7,200 miles, after which their wear and tear are scientifically evaluated. A tire with a rating of 100 can be expected to last for as long as a “standard” test tire. One with a rating of 400 will typically last four times as long, saving you plenty of money in per-mile terms.
The system is not perfect but works pretty well as a general guideline to see if you’re getting your money’s worth. Traction on wet roads and temperature tolerance are specified in a similar way, and all of them are normally printed on each tire’s sidewall. Let’s take a look at a couple of popular models:
Confusing, isn’t it? The truth is that UTQG ratings aren’t the first thing you’ll look at when trying to save on tires, though knowing them comes in handy later on. The tires listed above won’t all fit on the same car or work well in all of the same driving conditions. As one example, very grippy tires, like you’d want to have on when attending your local racetrack’s open day, wear out very quickly compared to those designed for general touring. If you live in a rural area in a Northern state, you’ll also want to look only at tires rated for cold weather or perhaps a dedicated set for the winter months.
Possibly your best option is to visit the Consumer Reports website and enter your car’s make, model, and year. You’ll be shown every option available to you, evaluated on the basis of a number of criteria. You will have to sign up for a membership costing $10 a month, but considering the price of tires, this seems like a bargain price for good, objective advice.
Warranties in the Tire Industry
The reason both companies and consumers love warranties is that they don’t really expect to have to pay or redeem them. Instead, it’s a way for manufacturers to show that they’re willing to stand behind their products and solve any problems that arise…within reason.
The first kind of warranty commonly found in the tire industry is for workmanship and materials only. Often running for five years, this requires you to prove that a failure was the result of the manufacturing process. If a mechanic at a tire workshop tells you that it is, you’ll probably get a refund.
A mileage warranty is much more versatile. Applicable over several years or tens of thousands of miles, it serves as a guarantee that the tread won’t wear down too soon. You’ll generally be refunded a dollar amount equivalent to the remaining portion of the warranty, but only if the wear pattern doesn’t indicate a lack of maintenance, including documented, regular tire rotation.
Finally, there’s something called a limited road hazard warranty. Covering a shorter period like a year, this protects you against unusual damage from causes like road debris and potholes. Offered by both manufacturers and retailers and usually for free or a low fee, this is an indication that they have confidence in their products being tougher than most.
Even if a warranty covers the total cost of a new tire, you may still be on the hook for disposal of the old one, towing fees, sales tax, and so forth. Damage due to accidents or abnormal use won’t be reimbursed either. In summary, don’t rely on a warranty to get your car a new pair of shoes – instead, see it as an indication of how much confidence you should have in a brand. All major tire manufacturers offer roughly similar terms.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Buy Tires?
Timing really is everything sometimes, including when your goal is to save on tires. Finding a bargain on a set that still meets your needs is hard work. Waiting until the two tire sale seasons that come around every year is much easier and can result in savings similar to those you’d expect to find on Black Friday. When do tires go on sale?
The first of these giant sales happens around April, when the thought of summer vacations and road trips are on many people’s minds. The other is in October, with Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner, not to mention colder and sometimes rainier weather that calls for a good set of tires. Knowing this makes it much easier to plan your tire purchase in advance, including by saving up a little money in advance. Many outlets offer financing, but you can save on tires by paying cash and skipping the interest.
Buying Online Is Often Best
Doing your shopping via the internet isn’t always necessarily cheaper, of course, even in a sale season. It is, however, a lot faster and more convenient, allowing you to look for the best price without having to get off the sofa. Just remember to factor in the delivery charges!
Tires aren’t perishable and never go out of style, enabling many companies to buy them in bulk and send them to wherever they’re needed. The only real disadvantages to buying tires online are the lack of face-to-face customer service (which prevents you from haggling, which is always worth trying) and having to install them yourself. This isn’t impossibly difficult, but you can always ask a shop (including Walmart, Costco, or Sam’s Club) to do it for you – or use the internet to search for coupons and rebates offered by physical stores and manufacturers.
What About Second Hand or Retread Tires?
Used goods have a pretty bad reputation, sometimes deservedly. It’s a good idea to think carefully about why someone might be offering you pre-owned tires. Did they upgrade to better rubber? If so, the tires they’re selling are probably on their last legs, and can at best be thought of as a stopgap until you can afford something more permanent. Or perhaps they sold a car, but minus the tires? Not likely. The simplest explanation is that there’s something wrong with them, and with no warranty, you’ll be out of luck. You may even find that they’re from a batch that has been recalled due to safety issues.
Retreads, or used tires that have been checked and reconditioned, are a totally different matter. In the United States at least, standards for this process are very high, even though there exists little Federal legislation on this subject. It’s also environmentally friendly, with around 90% of the original tire material getting recycled. They’re legal in all states (except on passenger buses), way cheaper than buying new, and often carry warranties similar to factory-fresh tires.
When It’s Time, It’s Time
The very worst idea when talking about how to save money on tires is to delay buying a new set when it’s time to do so. Regardless of whether you can find a good price, the best time to buy tires is when the old set’s treads are less than the width of a matchstick deep – almost twice that (4/32 inch) if you live in an area prone to rain or snow. You can also check the treadwear indicators, which are small ridges running crosswise in the grooves. When these become level with the treads, you need new tires.
You may have noticed that many racing cars use tires with a totally slick surface. This is not something you should attempt, or allow your family members to try. On a mechanical level, those high-performance cars are only distant relatives to what you drive – some components, for instance, are replaced after every race. The tracks they drive on are practically manicured with tweezers, and they often take two or more pitstops during a race for fresh sets of rubber. If it starts raining, they switch to tires with treads immediately.
The moral of the story is that waiting for the best time of year to buy tires in order to save a couple of bucks can cost you hugely. Many police officers will happily give you a ticket for excessive tire wear to protect other road users. If you get into an accident, insurers will often tell you to take a hike, and you may even be liable for additional penalties.
Aquaplaning is what happens when your tires’ tread can’t push enough water out from beneath them and your car kind-of starts to float. This has happened to me only once and at a very low rate of speed, but was still no fun at all. Don’t let it happen to you: if you can’t afford to replace worn tires, take the bus until you can.
Do you have any opinions on the tips in this article, or perhaps a few recommendations of your own? Please take a moment to leave a comment below; we may not respond, but we do read every one.