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When Should I Buy New Tires?


Simple fact: Tires wear out. Those four unsung heroes safely carry you over rough roads and through torrential rainstorms, and you need to replace them over time. Careful maintenance, including making certain they’re properly inflated and rotated at regular intervals, will ensure you get the maximum number of miles possible.

If you’ve priced tires lately, you know that a set of high-quality new tires can cost you at least $1,000, and that may not include new valve stems, mounting, and dynamic balancing. If you have alloy wheels or oversized tires, that price can step up accordingly. But it’s important to ensure you have them installed properly since they perform such an important role in your driving safety.

But just when is the proper time to replace your tires? That’s a great question. The answer is more involved than the simple Penny Test where you insert a  Lincoln penny head-first into the tread. If Lincoln’s head is covered, then you have at least 2/32 of an inch of tread remaining and are good to go. If you can see Lincoln’s nose, new tires are in your near future, and if only the top of our 16th president’s head is sticking out above the tread, it’s time get a lot more pennies together to replace your tires immediately.

What kind of tires should I buy?

Following the advice from your owner’s manual, exchange your tires with like-sized replacements, unless you’re choosing a differently sized tire and wheel combination for some other purpose. Off-road enthusiasts may want a different tire/wheel combination for more aggressive off-road environments, and performance fans may want a wider tire and wheel setup to increase the tire contact patch. When making such a change, following a credentialed expert’s advice to avoid tire/fender contact or other driving issues are vital. Not being able to have the full steering range is a recipe for disaster.

Note that where you live will also make a big difference in your choice of tires. Locations with mild climates or a short inclement weather season might get away with a summer tire. Those locations with longer severe snow or rain seasons would be better served with a winter or at least an all-season tire.

What is tire rotation?

If you drive a front-wheel-drive vehicle, for example, your front tires will be doing most of the work, whether it’s driving the vehicle, making turns, braking, carrying the engine load and so on. If left in their original positions, they will wear out at around 18,000 to 22,000 miles.

Tire rotation is moving the tires around to various corners of the vehicle to make sure they wear evenly. According to various tire manufacturers, rotation should occur every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, or as needed.

Depending on your vehicle, you should follow certain rotation patterns:

  • Front-Wheel-Drive: Move the front tires to the rear and rear tires to the front, remembering to cross the left rear to the right front and the right rear to the left front.
  • Rear-Wheel-Drive: Move the rear tires to the front, and cross the front tires to the rear.
  • All-Wheel-Drive: Exchange the right front tire with the left rear, and the left front tire with the right rear tire.
  • Uni-Directional: Exchange specialized tires in which the tread only rolls in one direction from the left rear to the left front, and the right rear to the right front.

There are exceptions, of course, especially in the case of staggered tire sets when the rear tires are larger than the front tires. In that case, follow instructions as detailed in your owner’s manual. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) may not recognize that you rotated the tires. In this case, reset the system by following instructions in your owner’s manual that will help ensure you’re caring for your tires and keeping them inflated properly at all times.

With the change in the retail landscape, auto dealerships are now offering tire pricing that’s competitive with specialized tire retail outlets. Your price shopping experience may not hold this to be true but always take into consideration the cost of dismounting and disposing of your old tires ($5-$10), mounting up the new tires ($5-$30 per tire) and balancing each tire ($20-$100). You should consider these costs when pricing your total new tire purchase.

What does it cost to have my tires rotated?

Typically, tire rotation can cost anywhere from $20 to $120, depending on the work involved. And like most things in life, nearly everything is negotiable. For instance, some auto manufacturers offer free vehicle maintenance for the first three years. That should include the cost of rotation. Others offer prepaid oil changes, where tire rotation is part of the service. For those buyers who have neither, $20 or so would actually be a small price to pay (considering the current average cost of at least $100 per replacement tire) in an effort to extend your tire’s mileage and lifespan.

A word about air

Under-inflated tires not only reduces fuel mileage, but also wears out your tires faster than necessary. Inspect them as often as you fill your fuel tank. If you noted that the outer edges of the tire tread wearing faster than the center, it’s probably due to chronic low tire pressure. Likewise, if the center of the tire is more worn than the outer tread, you have too much air in the tire. Other patterns will signal different problems that are usually suspension- or alignment-related, but that’s a discussion for another time.

By following these simple practices, you can get the most from your tires. We rely on our vehicles for so many different things these days, and the one key thing they depend on from us is proper maintenance. Take care of your tires, and you’ll be ready to go anywhere, safely and without incident.

Cam Benty
Cam Benty served as editor-in-chief for a number of automotive and sports-related publications early in his career, including Motor Trend Specials, Hot Rod and SPORT Magazine. After 20 years of experience creating monthly publications, he changed it up a bit, building custom publishing inserts and full-length specialty magazines for major car companies,including Ford, General Motors and Honda. A... Read More about Cam Benty

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