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

Eddie spent 35 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE Certified Master Technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.

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

L

75 mph 120 km/h

Off-road and light truck

M

81 mph 130 km/h

N

87 mph 140km/h

Temporary spare

P

93 mph 150 km/h

Q

99 mph 160 km/h

Studless and studded winter

R

106 mph 170 km/h

H.D. light truck

S

112 mph 180 km/h

Family sedans and vans

T

118 mph 190 km/h

Family sedans and vans

U

124 mph 200 km/h

H

130 mph 210 km/h

Sport sedans and coupes

V

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 149mph) 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.

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 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 at left.

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 is a V-rated and an H-rated, but visually you can't tell the difference. They're both a great tire.

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

Comments

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on November 13, 2017:

Great Mary :) Glad I could help!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 08, 2017:

Just the tips we need as we plan to get our Cottage beater new tires next summer.

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on September 15, 2014:

Hi Matt,

Coopers are pretty good tires, not the best, but surly not the worst. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Matt, I really appreciate it :)

mattdigiulio from Los Angeles on September 12, 2014:

Great overview. I just bought a couple of new Coopers for my Camry -- they were the budget ones, but your Hub will have me investing to get more in the future. Thanks Ed. - Matt

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on August 01, 2012:

Hi Peter,

Yes, you will need to do your homework buying the next set of tires, just go to tirerrack.com and read the customer reviews on the tires you're looking to buy, customer reviews are the best reviews. Take care Peter, and if you have any questions, you know where to find me :)

Peter Geekie from Sittingbourne on July 31, 2012:

Dear Eddie

Thanks another important article. I agree with you, few seem to equate cheap with short life and poor grip. One of my cars, a land-rover turned in 76000 miles on its first set of Michelins and we are up to 136000 on the second set and not even a puncture (now that's tempting fate). When my wife's MGF wore out its first set of Goodyear we changed them for Continental and the handling became so bad it was dangerous. Changing back immediately restored everything to normal. My current project a big old V8 Rover originally was fitted with Avon turbo steels (it was an ex police car) but I can't buy these now. I think a little (expensive) experimentation will be called for here.

Kind regards Peter

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on July 26, 2012:

Hi Lezaysit,

Then, I have done my job well :) thanks for the comment, if you ever need some automotive advice, you know where to find me :)

lezsaysit from New York, NY on July 26, 2012:

Good read and very informative hub. I admit that I would probably lean on someone else to help me. After reading your hub, I don't have to.

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on February 03, 2012:

Max, your absolutely right, a lot of dealerships will put a set of cheap tires on a used car just to make a sale. If you know nothing about tires, you'll never catch them trying to pull a fast one.

Hey Max, I wanted to thank you for being my 100th follower :)

Max Dalton from Greater St. Louis, Missouri on February 03, 2012:

The factory tires that were on my car only lasted for about 10,000 miles. It's not just a cheap replacement people have to worry about; people need to be concerned that the dealer put cheap tires on the car.

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on February 03, 2012:

Hello Natures47friend, Yeah , retreads are OK for a cheap replacement, but the ride quality just isn't there, but if you're putting on a truck, who cares, right? lol. Thanks for the comment and the vote

natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on February 02, 2012:

Interesting hub..I am one of those who go for the cheaper...and have never considered speed ratings. I used to always get retreads so consequently may have a record for the number of tires I have changed. I was always getting wheel alignment for the Supercats on my Nissan Wingroad....oh well...sold that now. Voted up.

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on January 25, 2011:

Thanks polymathlv, I'll write more hubs about Hondas in the future :) If you want to know about something about Honda's, just ask, and maybe I can write a hub about it.

polymathlv from USA on January 24, 2011:

Eddie, this is a GREAT hub! I own a Honda Accord and it's so refreshing to read an article from a mechanic I can trust. I would love to read more from you!

Eddie Carrara (author) from New Hampshire on January 08, 2011:

I hear you on that, those car that are lowered with the big tires ride like crap, plus they're all over the road. I agree, tire rack is one of the best place to do your research when buying tires. Thanks for your feedback hardlymoving.

hardlymoving from Memphis, TN on January 08, 2011:

Good article. I would also like to add that tire rot would warrant replacement as well. To play it safe, replace them every six years. My mother-in-laws Accord, which she barely drives, required replacement after 9 years of use even though the treads were fine. Her tires just went out-of-round. This also happened to me but with 60k miles and 6 years. I thought the tires needed balancing but the tires went out-of-round and quickly began wearing unevenly. There's a 4 digit date of manufacture that is stamped on every tire where the 1st 2 digits indicate the week of manufacture and the last 2 digits the year. With respect to buying new tires, I buy mine from tirerack.com. They have a wide selection with customer reviews and feedback, have participating installation centers where you live and their prices can't be beat. I would also like to add that tires are like secondary shock absorbers. If you up grade your car with low profile tires with bigger custom wheels, the handling will improve but the ride quality will be rough.