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How to Choose the Right Tire

Before we start talking about which tires you need, you should determine whether it’s time to go ahead and get tires…

The minimum depth where tire tread is still effective is 2/32”. Anything lower than that and your tires will no longer resist hydroplaning in wet weather, dry traction is reduced and traction in snow is practically nonexistent. Tires now include “wear bars” at the base of the tread, running at a right angle to the tread; when the wear bars show through, the tires are at the end of their service life. The old-timer’s gauge is the “penny test,” where you put a penny, Lincoln’s head down, into the tread. If the top of the tread no longer touches Lincoln’s head, then it’s time (some now recommend the same test with a nickel or quarter).

Of course, when your tires hit the end of their service life, it’s also worth thinking about whether they just wore out from miles, or wore prematurely due to out-of-spec front end alignment, infrequent tire rotations or worn mechanical parts.

When considering which tires to buy, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What kind of vehicle will they go on, and what kind of use will the vehicle see?
  • What are the worst driving conditions you expect to encounter?
  • How old is the vehicle, do you expect to hang onto it for awhile, and how much do you want to spend?

A minivan, sedan, sports coupe, pickup truck or SUV are all going to need different kinds of tires, obviously. From there, you can break it down  a little more – will you be putting a lot of interstate miles on the vehicle? Grand touring tires might be a good choice, for a smooth ride, low rolling resistance and low noise. If it’s a pickup or SUV, how often do you think you’re going to take it off-road? All-terrain tires are a good choice, for a split of decent road manners with some off-road capability…or maybe mud terrain tires if you’re gonna go all-out.

If you live in a snowy climate, you’re probably going to be okay with all-season tires…unless you see a LOT of snow, in which case you’ll want winter tires. Remember, though, that winter tires do not perform well in temperatures above freezing, and will wear prematurely when driven at temps above 40 degrees or so.

This is, of course, a really cursory look at what factors to consider when buying a new set of tires…but it at least should help point you in the right direction!