When we think of maintaining our cars, we generally envision open hoods, dirty rags, and an assortment of wrenches. However, we often forget one of the most important components of our four-wheeled friends -- the tires. Whether you're looking for safety, handling, off-road capability, or simply something economical, the tires are the first thing you should think about when maintaining your vehicle. They will be one of the greatest deciding factors in how safe, fun, and fuel-efficient your vehicle is.
While tires may seem like an accessory, they are vitally important -- and not just any tire will do. Below are reasons why choosing the right tire is important for your vehicle.
The Importance of Knowing
Most of us simply want our car to work like it's intended to. We don't have the time to keep track of all the details, and would rather trust a mechanic to handle it for us. But when it comes to tires, you might want to reconsider that. Many tire replacement centers may not have your vehicle's original wheels in stock, and would be more than happy to throw on a poor imitation rather than risk losing a sale by asking you to wait for them to order something in. It's in your best interest to know a few things about the tires your car needs before stepping into the shop office.
Keeping Track of Sizes
First, you should know the size of the tire needed for your vehicle. This is a series of numbers and a few letters found in your vehicle owner's manual, and will be visible on the side of all tires. The entire size code (with exception of the single letter at the end) must always match the tires that are put on your car. The final letter is an indication of speed rating, which runs from A-Z -- A being a tire with very low maximum speed threshold (how fast you can drive before the tire falls apart in the middle of the road), and Z being a tire ready for some drag races that is generally at the more expensive end of the spectrum. Look for tires with a speed rating that's right for your driving style as well as your needs. It's important to note that the speed rating on your tires doesn't affect the speed limit at which you should drive -- drivers should obey laws at all times.
All Tires Are Not Equal
There are different categories of tires meant for different purposes and weather. Do you live somewhere that has a lot of rain? Do you see snow during Winter? Do you spend a lot of time on unpaved backroads, or carving across dry highways? There's a tire out there that matches your lifestyle. Simply opting for the cheapest option is often going to become the more expensive choice later on. An economy tire driven extensively at high speeds will wear faster, which will affect gas-mileage and require replacement sooner. It will not last well on dirt roads, and will slip more easily in the rain. Crashing your car is definitely not worth the extra cash you might not even be saving on tires. Be sure to order or ask for tires that are made for your specific vehicle as well as your driving environment and lifestyle.
Keeping Your Tires Happy
Even the best-quality tires wear out, but you can prolong their life quite a bit if you take some basic measures to care for them.
Make sure your tire pressure is correct on all four tires. If it is too low, the center of the tire collapses and the sides will show premature wear. If your tires are overinflated, the center will bulge, showing premature wear down the middle of the tire. Either scenario is detrimental to gas mileage and traction on the road.
A very good practice is to buy a pressure gauge and stop at an air pump once a month. These are found at most gas stations, and are cheap (if not free) to operate. Keeping your tire pressure where it should be will not only save you on gas and keep your tires alive longer; it can also give an early warning that one of your tires is slowly losing air if it has much less pressure than the rest.
Best Ways to Buy
While some people may develop a relationship of trust with a mechanic that consistently can take good care of their tire needs, many of us end up relying on someone we barely know to take care of something we know little about. There are a number of very comprehensive websites that stock a huge variety of tires, and do an excellent job of informing their customers about all of a tire's functionality. There are often other customer reviews as well, which can point out when a tire overshoots its competition in a specific category, or when it falls a bit short. Here are some online tire reviews for your perusal.
These sites also tend to offer better prices than a brick-and-mortar tire dealer. The drawback is that the mechanics who mount the tires for you will often charge a small additional fee for mounting tires you haven't bought from them, but you will almost always come out saving more than if you do buy from them.
A good set of tires should never be overlooked, and they aren't hard to maintain either. With a little bit of knowledge about your car's tires, you can save money, save time, and possibly avert disaster. After all, no matter what car you drive, the tires are the only thing connecting it to the road.