Three Things To Consider When it's Time for New Tires

Tire being inflated
Image courtesy of Toyota

Buying new tires is boring for many people, but not for Car Talk’s web lackeys. We are all very open about our tire obsession. While you can certainly drive your Acme Thruster to the nearest tire shop, Walmart, Costco, or your dealer and simply ask for tires that are black and round, you can also do a couple of other things that will help you ensure a happy outcome. Tires are the most expensive parts of a car to maintain and replace. Why not get the most for your money?

If you don’t drive an Acme, but one of the top-sellers in America, good news! Car Talk has created a list of the best tires in multiple categories for your very ride. Start here to access our list of the best tires by vehicle model.

We’ve created a list of three things that you should do after you’ve found the best tires for your vehicle and driving habits. These three things can help you when buying tires to make sure they wear properly, don’t vibrate, and basically don’t bother you again for a long time. We even have a bonus suggestion if you make it past suggestion three.

Buying New Tires - Yes, Get The Car Aligned

If your car is old enough to need new tires, the chances are that it may also need a four-wheel alignment. This is a process whereby your tire shop or mechanic will check that the tires are all pointed in the proper direction. When you hit potholes and other normal road imperfections, your suspension can be shifted just a smidge. That little bit of misalignment can add up to improperly worn tires over the coming months. Why not give your new tires the best chance at a long and happy life?

An alignment should cost you between $100 and $150. Most “Tire and Auto” centers can perform the needed work. All dealerships can, and many mechanics can also perform alignments. It requires some special tools and a little training, so not all places that will sell you a tire can do an alignment.

Most shops will provide you with a printout showing the specifications and proper settings of the car’s individual wheels, where your car's alignment was when it came in, and where it was when the job was completed. It’s not always necessary to look this over, but it helps if you want to see how far out of alignment the car was when you came in.

One tip; If you maintain your car well, your mechanic may have aligned your car during a recent service visit. Look back on your service receipts to be sure you don’t double up on this work. If your car was aligned in the last 5,000 or so miles and doesn’t pull to one side, you are all set.

Buying New Tires - About Road Hazard Warranties

Everyone who sells you something these days wants to offer you an extra warranty. Almost all of them are nothing more than a way for the seller to add to their revenue. However, tire warranties can help you. Maybe.

Some tire brands include a road hazard warranty when you buy the tire. If so, don’t buy the road hazard warranty. Some tire retailers include a road hazard warranty when they supply you with tires and mount and balance them at no added charge. If so, keep the paperwork.

If you have had trouble with your low profile tires failing in the past, or if you pass by “Jebediah’s House of Fasteners” on your commute every day, get a road hazard warranty. Otherwise, we suggest skipping it. Here’s why.

Almost every road hazard warranty is both conditional and pro-rated. That means the tire shop is not going to give you a new tire if your puncture can be repaired. If the tire is partly worn, let’s say half way, the warranty will likely provide you with an amount equal to half of what you paid for the tire. Less tax. And you may still need to pay for mounting and balancing. The contract will say whether or not it covers the tire labor.

If you have an all-wheel drive car, have driven half of the tire's life or more and get a flat, you may need four tires, not one. The road hazard insurance is not going to pay for all four.

Road hazard warranties are great if you drive out of the tire retailer’s lot and immediately destroy a tire. Failing that, they have limited usability. And a road hazard warranty for all of your new tires can cost as much as a tire. See where we are going with the math?

If we have one piece of advice for tire shoppers it is to ask if any of the tires the retailer is suggesting come with a “free” included road hazard warranty. Brands that Consumer Reports identified as offering an included road hazard warranty on at least one of the brand’s tire models include Falken, Bridgestone, Continental, Hankook, Kumho, Nexen, and Vredestein.

Image courtesy of Hunter media support

Buying New Tires - Not All Balancing Is Equal One of the most important aspects of mounting a new tire is to balance the tire properly. Back before the internet, many shops used a simple gravity balancer to locate the spot on which a lead weight would then be hammered into place. It worked. Sort of. Sometimes.

Today, balancing is much more high tech. Nearly all modern tire balancing machines can use a laser to pinpoint the exact spot inside the rim onto which a weight or weights should be glued. Hunter’s Road Force machine applies a load of more than 1,000 pounds to the tire as it spins simulating the tire rolling down the road. A machine like the Road Force can not only balance a tire, but detect slight manufacturing imperfections that can be negated by remounting the rim and tire in a certain way. For these reasons, Car Talk suggests that you use a modern shop, or speak to your local tire retailer about how they perform balancing.

In the event you feel vibration at highway speeds after the new tires are mounted, return to your retailer for a re-balance and inspection. A Boston-area retailer told Car Talk this month that it sometimes takes as many as six new tires to find four good ones from certain brands of all-terrain tires. If you return shortly after the work is done, the retailer can make it right for you.

Mark for 60 psi
Image by John Goreham

Bonus Section! Have That Compact Spare Inflated - It’s Not a DIY Job

When you install new tires, have the shop inflate your spare tire for you. It may seem like an easy, do-it-yourself job, but compact spare tires require 60 psi. Some also have batteries, subwoofers, or amplifiers on top. Your little spare tire needs full pressure to operate properly. Take care of it so it can take care of you, when you need it.

Enjoying Your New Tires - Your Responsibilities

After you have purchased your new tires, take care of them. Check the pressure with each new season or before any long road trips. Rotate your tires according to your car’s owner manual. Some brands recommend rotating tires more than once per year. Tesla, for example, recommends that tires for its most popular vehicle, the Model Y crossover, be done at least every 6,250 miles.


What’s the best way to purchase tires?

Buying tires is easy. You can get tires from the big-box chains like Costco and Walmart, or your dealer can provide you with tires, a local tire retail chain, or you can buy online and have a local shop mount them for you.

How much will four new tires cost?

For a mainstream vehicle like a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda Accord, basic name-brand tires will cost about $175 to $225 each. The mounting and balancing will cost an additional $100 to $200. Budget $1,000. If you own a specialty vehicle like an off-road truck or SUV, or you own a sports car, the price could be as much as double.

Can I buy a tire and put it on myself?

No. Mounting tires requires multiple pieces of special equipment. You need a shop to help you mount and balance the tires safely and correctly.

Can I rotate my own tires?

Yes, rotating tires is possible if you have a jack that works with your vehicle and the tool needed to remove and replace the lug nuts. However, tire rotation is hard work when done with the car on the ground. Most shops will rotate tires for a nominal fee.

How do I know which tires will work best with my car?

Car Talk has a long list of vehicles for which we have researched the best tires. In addition, Tire Rack and SimpleTire have limitless information on which tires made the most owners the happiest on their websites. Your local tire retailer can also help you, of course.

Should I buy the tire road hazard warranty?

We suggest not buying the road hazard warranty unless you have had trouble with tire damage in the past. Note that many brands offer road hazard warranties with some of their models.

How long do tires last?

Most general purpose tires for common vehicles will last up to 60,000 miles or more, and can be used for up to ten years. However, damage, improper alignment, failure to rotate the tires, and other factors can reduce a tire’s lifespan.

If one of my tires needs to be replaced, do I have to replace all four?

Usually not. If you have a two-wheel-drive vehicle, replacing two may make sense if the tires are past half-worn. Some all-wheel drive vehicles require four new tires, rather than just one, when the tires have been worn past a certain point. Your owner’s manual is your best guide.

How long can I drive on my compact spare tire?

If you have a compact spare tire, the general lifespan is about 50 miles and there are speed limitations (typically 50 mph). Compact spares are designed to get you home if you are close or to the tire shop. Be sure your spare tire is properly inflated. Compact spare tires usually require 60 psi of pressure, about double what normal tires require.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.
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