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Reasons Not to Buy Discount Tires and How to Extend Tire Life

This article is based on my personal experience working in the Honda automotive industry for 25 years. Automotive technicians are challenged every day with problems concerning tires. They are a huge expense for just about any customer, and because of the cost, many car owners will take the discount tire route. It's not always the best thing to do.

What Tires Do for You

Let's take a close look at a tire's job. Auto manufacturers generally install tires that can deliver a comfortable ride based upon the vehicle's weight capacity, speed capacity, and maneuverability (how the vehicle handles corners). If any of these specs are different on the newly installed tires, you may compromise ride quality.

If you're looking to save a few bucks, don't just buy discount tires. Research your options.

One suggestion is to look at the speed rating on the tire and, if possible, to buy a tire with a lower speed rating. This will save you about $20 per tire, which adds up when buying more than one. Here is a chart of typical speed ratings:

Decoding Tire Speed Ratings

Speed RatingOptimal Speed RangeTypical Uses


75 mph 120 km/h

Off-road and light truck


81 mph 130 km/h


87 mph 140km/h

Temporary spare


93 mph 150 km/h


99 mph 160 km/h

Studless and studded winter


106 mph 170 km/h

H.D. light truck


112 mph 180 km/h

Family sedans and vans


118 mph 190 km/h

Family sedans and vans


124 mph 200 km/h


130 mph 210 km/h

Sport sedans and coupes


149 mph 240 km/h

Sport sedans, coupes, and sports cars

Beginning in 1991, the speed rating is shown on the tire's sidewall after the tire size. It looks something like this:

  • 225/50R16 87S

The first two digits (87) represent the tire's load index and are followed by a single letter (S), identifying the tire's speed rating. If you have a tire on your vehicle that is rated V (top speed of 149 mph) and you drive like your grandparents, it wouldn't compromise your ride quality at all to buy tires with a lower speed rating. It may even produce a more comfortable ride because the sidewalls of the tires will be softer and more flexible.

Discount Tires Affect Ride Quality

A common complaint from customers after replacing factory tires with discount ones is that the car rides differently—usually meaning it's more uncomfortable when hitting bumps or cracks in the road. This can also mean that the car seems to wander on the highway. The ride quality has been compromised. When replacing tires, you'll get anywhere between 30k and 50k miles out of them. That's a lot of suffering to save a couple of dollars.

Spending a few extra bucks for some decent tires is worth it. You're less likely to have pulling problems, balance issues, and wandering concerns. Honestly, this is where the rubber meets the road, and it's probably the most overlooked service for your car. The first question customers ask when presented with the fact that their car needs tires is, "How much will this cost?" It's a good question, but certainly not the only one you should ask.

The Best Position for New Tires

Extending Tire Life

When you install new tires on your vehicle, it's good to ask the shop if you can look at them before they toss them out. By just looking at the wear on the old tires, you will be able to determine if you need a four-wheel alignment to protect your investment. Here's how to tell:

  • If your tires seem worn flat across the span of the tread pattern and you don't notice any uneven tire wear or edge wear, your alignment is probably within spec.
  • If you notice any chop or wave in the tread pattern, it may be time for an alignment. Edge wear is common on front tires because there is more weight in the front of the vehicle and the front tires do all the turning which puts pressure on the tire edges.
  • If you happen to notice any steel belts showing anywhere on the tire, get an alignment. You have a problem and it needs to be corrected right away. It could be worn or damaged suspension parts or just an alignment that is extremely out of spec. If left like this, your vehicle will eat the new tires in a very short amount of time.

After driving on your new tires, it's important to protect your investment even further. Keep the tire pressure at the spec listed on the sidewall and be sure to rotate as necessary. On average, this means every 5,000–7,500 miles, or at oil change intervals.

If a tire begins to vibrate, don't put off bringing it into the shop. Tire vibrations can cause cupping or uneven tread patterns. If this happens, you can never correct the problem and your investment turns to junk. Below is a picture of some tire wear patterns.

Tire Wear Patterns

Tire Wear Patterns

Did you know you can use a penny to test tire treads?

Did you know you can use a penny to test tire treads?

When to Change Tires

All tires have wear bars. These are little rubber bars between each tread. When your tire is ready to be replaced, these little bars will be level with the tread. (See picture above.)

Another simple trick is to take a penny and turn it so that Lincoln's head is toward the tire. Simply slide the penny in the tread pattern. If Lincoln's head is completely showing, the tread on your tire is at or under 2/32 and it's time to replace the tire. See picture above.

If You Want Discount Tires, Do Your Research!

The bottom line on tires is if you like the quality of ride when you bought your car, put the same tires—or something very comparable—back on the car. Discount tires are for the birds. If you have a tire on your vehicle that has a very high speed rating and you feel you can live without it, be safe and pick a speed rating that is right for you, it could save you hundreds of dollars without compromising ride quality (in fact, it might improve it!).

At the end of the day, be sure to maintain your tire pressures and rotate your tires as necessary.

Note: Some tires are exactly the same and just the speed rating is different. For example, Michelin MXV4 has a V-rated tire and an H-rated tire, but visually you can't tell the difference. They're both great tires.

The best tip of the day: Find yourself an honest technician and build a relationship with him/her. You would be surprised how much better your car drives when you build a relationship with your tech. Coffee and donuts might just get you a discount on labor or even better, free labor when you need a little extra done.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Eddie Carrara