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Owning a car is akin to a modern workhorse and accessory. It grants us the freedom to travel and cover distances; it provides the means of getting certain chores and jobs done.
Cars can go beyond the practical aspect and delve well into the leisure and fun we find. Owning a car is not entirely effortless — nay, far from it, as it tends to be. Each car and manufacturer will have its set specifications and recommendations for maintenance.
One such simple maintenance that comes every so often is replacing your tires. Not only ensuring traction between that gnarly rickety asphalt and yourself within a multi-ton cocoon but having the right tires also keeps your car in its overall best shape.
However, buying tires tends to be a hassle for many people. Some people do not like having to go through the process of going to a tire store and interacting with the sales, markups, or upsells that they may encounter while there. Others don’t like not knowing what to look for or which tire is actually best for them.
Even others cannot make it to a local store or don’t have a local store available to them easily, which makes remote purchasing a more economical decision.
Thankfully, we live in a time and age where buying tires online has come a long way and has become easier to navigate than before. Buying online is not without faults, but rest assured, this guide will help instill a sense of understanding, and — most importantly — confidence in your purchase.
The guide that follows will cover the following aspects of tire buying:
- Assessing your current tire life and condition
- Determining needs and desired to handle for different weather
- Gathering a tire or tire manufacturer’s reputation
- Easy to navigate sites
- Common questions regarding tires
Learning to Assess Your Current Tire’s Condition
Many people simply do not know when it is time to replace a tire. Some opt to replace their tires far too often, leading to tires that haven’t been spent to their optimal tread longevity.
Still, some others decide to replace their tires once they either have virtually smooth racing-slicks tread, or they blow out altogether. In any case, one does not want to find themselves not using their tire’s life effectively.
The remedy and solution come in the form of knowing how to assess whether or not your tires need replacing yet. There are a few key indicators for determining whether it truly is time to get shopping for new tires. The first and most obvious one to get out of the way is direct tire damage.
Lodged objects, blowouts, and tears are all obvious signs that a tire is no longer any good. With certain nails or punctures, however, many tire shops will actually patch the tire for free or for cheap.
Checking the Tires
Checking the tire tread oneself can be fairly easy. All it takes is the classic penny trick. What’s that, you might be wondering? Simply place a penny into the tread, with Lincoln’s head upside down and perpendicular to the tire surface inside it.
If Lincoln’s hair and head are covered, congrats: you can save some time and money. If Lincoln’s hair cut is looking fresh out of the barber, it looks like your tires are pretty shaved, too. That means it’s time to replace.
Noise is another indicator that tires are needing replacing. Certain tires will create road hums or buzzes when their tread is worn down.
Revealing a pattern that generates hums and buzzes, tire tread indicators are designed to be a noisy reminder to get them replaced as soon as possible. Similarly, any feelings of new vibrations in the car while driving could very well be the tires giving an indication that they are worn out.
Uneven wear on the tires is also a good sign that your car needs new tires, and likely an alignment. Regardless, the car will need to see the tire shop for an alignment, but the tire’s uneven wear warrants new tires that will receive healthy, even wear.
When tires are worn out on one side, the structural integrity isn’t absolutely destroyed, but it is weakened by having isolated sides receiving all the wear when they were not designed to. In effect, weakened tires that need replacing.
What Tires Does Your Car Need?
There are a few considerations to keep in mind when looking for new tires. Determining your driving comfort and preferences, as well as what season and weather you plan to be in the most, are essential. For instance, where do you find yourself most?
There are tires perfect for the snow, and there are tires perfect for those hot summer days. Are you looking for a tire that will keep you safe in most weather? Do you prefer ground clearance over quietness in a car? Knowing the answers to these questions makes it a lot easier to determine your individual needs.
When approaching a website, it is important to know the tire size you are going to be replacing. The tire measurements can be found on the sidewall of the tires.
The identification for the tires will be located by a number, followed by a slash to another number. The rest of the letters and numbers are a series of codes to precisely carry out the preferred driving tire for each individual and automobile.
The first letter refers to the type of car the tire typically belongs to. “P” is significant of a passenger car, “T” for truck, “LT” for light truck, and so on. The second number is the width of the tire or its track. These are typically in millimeters.
These widths can give or take a bit but is best left to a professional’s discretion to decide. The second number is the aspect ratio. Think of it as how thick your sidewall is. Much like width, aspect ratios can vary a bit or so, but again, is best left to professional suggestions, as factory recommendations tend to be optimal.
The letter that follows is typically an “R,” and refers to the construction design of the tire. Here, it is most simple to just stick to making sure the replacements have the same letter as your current tires. The next number is the wheel diameter in inches.
Finally, the load index and speed ratings should not be different but will depend on what you need. For example, if you are going to be towing or carrying a lot of heavy materials in a truck, a higher load rating could perhaps be useful. For sportier cars, you’ll want a higher speed rating.
Seasonal and Environmental Considerations
There are also differences between buying different seasonal and different tires for different environments. Take, for instance, the environment you’ll be driving in.
Mud tires are clunky, knobby tires, and they’re ideal for helping tires grip and almost paddle their way out of the mud. Mud tires are poorer handling on road due to the extreme tread design, however. All-terrain tires are reliable all around, but have less intense grip than mud tires, though they still have really efficient grooves for any light mud or snow and dirt or rocks that might come one’s way.
Seasons matter, too. Summer tires are perfect for areas that see higher heat. Winter tires are the best performing tire for traction in snow and ice but are typically best for the winter season exclusively.
All season tires are not quite as aggressive as all-terrain tires but will perform fairly well and decently in some less than ideal conditions. Though tires may be all season, a snow tire is always best for cold snow and ice. Determining your needs and specifications is possibly the most important step in finding tires online, as it is the large determiner in the tires one will receive.
How to Know the Tires Are Decent
There are many tire companies out there, all vying for your business. There are large and well-known companies, and there are not so well known companies.
Big-name companies are not guaranteed to be the best, and small name companies aren’t always necessarily cheap. One of the biggest advantages of shopping for tires online, though, is the overwhelming amount of information regarding reviews.
Reading reviews on a tire lets you know what others before you have already experienced. For instance, did someone spend a lot of money, only to find that the tires were noisy or created for a bumpy ride?
Did someone find that the new up and coming tire brand actually held up well in the rain and is a total bargain? Sometimes, there isn’t a hidden aspect, and the tires are just as described, to a tee.
Reading reviews is one easy way to add reassurance after determining your needs, and tire sizing, and type.
This step also adds a sense of someone’s real experience, and how that may translate over to your potential experience with the investment.
How to Navigate Tire-buying Without Getting Exhausted (or Tired!)
The easiest navigable sites are going to be tire websites that have been organizing and categorizing tires for years. With so many options out there, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. With that in mind, we’ve broken down down some of the more popular online tire vendors for you.
The first website for ease of use is TireRack.com, as they have truly been optimizing the tire-buying world over the last few years, making it quick and simple to buy tires efficiently and informed.
The website features tools that allow you to take the process of this list, all in organized clicks allowing you to input your desires and budget. There are also deals and warranties the company is known for, which is a pleasant bonus.
TireBuyer.com is another user-friendly site from the website itself, to its speedy process for shipping and affordability. Tire Buyer can ship tires to your door for free, or they can ship it to any one of over 10,000 tire installers in the nation, all while still being free of charge.
The website is not as thorough as Tire Rack, but it comes close in service, and in ease of use. Should there be any problems with the tires, Tire Buyer will refund your money following a return of around 7.50 to 15 dollars per tire.
Refunds are liberal, and there are 45-day satisfaction guarantees with some minor exceptions. So long as tires haven’t been roughened up off-road, or experienced dramatic or uneven wear, a return is warranted and followed by a refund. Few tire stores or companies can offer such a satisfaction guarantee.
So while the website itself is easy to use, the best ease of use is the confidence instilled while buying the tires online.
Discount Tire Co.
Finally, there is the classic and well-known DiscountTire.com (or, in some regions, AmericasTire.com). The tires can be purchased online and installed at their locations. Their narrowing tool is close to, if not completely on par, with Tire Rack’s tire-searching tool. Everything from miles driven yearly, to comfort, to weather conditions are factored in while finding a tire to fit your unique needs.
The added benefit of Discount Tire Co. is in their reputation, as well as their experience history selling tires, and also professionally installing them.
Our Opinion on Tire Buyer (Hint: It’s Our Favorite!)
Tire Buyer is truly one of the best websites to buy tires online. From the get-go, their website is easy to navigate and sort through, just from the front page alone. On the front page, there is a searching tool that has four tabs classifying the large overall categories: tires, replacement wheels, trailer tires, and lawnmower tires.
For automobile tires, you can enter your vehicle’s information by year, make, and model to determine factory specification tires. As a side note, the variety of years to choose from are vast and impressive, including rare makes and years as far back as 1949.
From there, it prompts you to all the tire brands that offer tires in the size you are looking for. The prices are displayed to the right with both individual and full-set prices. Adding to the cart is speedy and one click away for all the listings.
Each tire also displays with easy-to-understand icons what type of conditions the tire is rated for. Snowflakes, mountains, sun illustrations, and more are easily hovered over, telling you what the ratings are, and even if the tire comes with a warranty.
If not searching by make and model, from the tabs on the front page, one can instead click on two other options. If you already know your tire size, you can search for tires in your desired tire size specifically. Lastly, if there are brands you have liked, you can search for tires by brand names specifically as well.
Pros of Tire Buyer
There are almost no cons to the website, as it is incredibly easy to navigate. Furthermore, it provides all essential information — and then some! — regarding tires and how to choose the tire best fit for your needs. There is an education tab at the top of the front page that informs any tire neophyte about basically everything there is to know about choosing a tire.
Cons of Tire Buyer
The education tab could be better highlighted, but it is absolutely a minute issue. The website is virtually flawless and absolutely the highest recommended.
What about Tire Rack?
Tire Rack has a decent website mostly suited to factory specification tires. The website is very simple, and not necessarily in any particularly negative or positive way.
The website is a little more difficult to navigate, as there are lots of visuals, but not many clear icons or search bars that help you find what you’re looking for. The top of the page requires a hover-over to then find the search tools, which is not as helpful as having it directly front-and-center of the front page.
Unfortunately, Tire Rack also tended to have fewer options for makes and models as compared to Tire Buyer, but the website still offers free shipping and is a good resource for those looking for non-specialty tires like sport tires and all-terrain tires.
Pros of Tire Rack
The pros to the website include free shipping and a search tool that for the most part helps find the right factory specification tires and their replacements. There are search tools for make, size, and wheel diameter, which is helpful for those with a good idea of what they are looking for.
Cons of Tire Rack
Cons to the site tend to stack a little bit higher for Tire Rack, as the page is not difficult to navigate, but it is not easy, either. There is more looking around the site one has to do to find the basic tools and answers they are looking for, which makes it slightly less convenient.
A Breakdown of Discount Tire Co.
Discount Tire Direct is a good site for finding tires online that ship to your local Discount Tire (or America’s Tire) installer. It’s not as convenient as having it shipped to any shop like Tire Buyer or Tire Rack, but still by all means convenient if you have a local Discount Tire Co.
The site’s front page has the searching tools front and center, as a parts website should. Year, model, and make are at the forefront for searching, but one can click on the tabs for shopping by size or by brand, also.
The years and makes go as far back as 1953, so finding tires for your niche make will not likely be difficult. There are just a little bit less options for specific vehicle trims, which Tire Buyer has over Discount Tire, but it is not a huge difference.
Before tire results appear on the screen, there is a helpful option that allows you to proceed to results, or to narrow results based on if you drive occasionally, frequently, or very often. This is a nice feature as it saves some time, and is overall convenient.
The tire results are listed, with prices on the right side, and full set prices in a bolder font. There are some easy to understand icons that one can hover over for a brief information page, much like Tire Buyer.
There are fewer icons, however, which is not much of a downside, but rather a room for improvement. The website has a good selection of tires and tends to highlight more bargain deals from less well-known makers.
Pros of Discount Tire Co.
Pros for the website include their easy to navigate the front page and a clear distinction tab for tips and advice for those new to purchasing and diagnosing tires in general. It is easy to sort through search tools, and the results page is clear with information and prices for the tires. The website also features many bargain brands that aren’t as well known, but often have warranties or are backed by Discount Tire.
Cons of Discount Tire Co.
Cons include not having as in-depth informational icons for the results page, and a little bit less selection than Tire Buyer. There is also the notion that Discount Tire Direct tires are shipped to their physical stores, but that is convenient for those who already plan to visit or have one nearby.
Overall the site is not difficult, and the cons are only really room for improvement as opposed to a fault.
Answer: It is most commonly recommended to keep all tires the same model for all-wheel positions of your car. If there are exceptions due to financial or availability reasons, inevitable mixing is permissible. The tires should share tread patterns on the axles, at least, which means replacing two at a time.
Answer: Typically, shopping for tires online will yield higher opportunities to save money as opposed to visiting many stores and getting quotes.
Many stores will also match prices found online, which is an added convenience. Even in the sense of “time is money,” shopping online for tires is just quicker and more convenient, ultimately being the most efficient and effortless option.
Answer: Typically the months of April and October are the best months to catch deals and offers for tires. The reason for this is because companies want to encourage buyers to buy ahead of time.
In October, winter tires are typically on sale, as savvy buyers can have their winter tires ready ahead of time. For April enjoyers, tire sales are ideal for those planning road trips and travel for the summer months.
Knowing what you need is one surefire way to avoid unnecessary spending or avoiding surprise fees and costs. Determine what you want from a tire and when you will be using it most, and then find the most comfortable direct replacement for it.
Tire Buyer is our favorite place to buy tires online. If shopping online seems much simpler than it should be, that’s good, because now you know how to buy tires online with confidence!