Whether your car is 30 years old or 3 years old, it’s going to need new tires at some point. But how should you choose your new tires? There are many considerations to make, from ride quality and quietness to performance and handling to rain, snow, and mud capability. Fortunately, we’re here to help you sort through the irrelevant factors to target exactly the right tire for you.
Most people don’t think about tires much. They don’t need replacing all that often, and, aside from pickups and dunks, they don’t generally add (or detract) much of anything to the look of the car. But tires are one of the most important pieces of equipment on your vehicle—after all, they’re the only parts of your car that are touching the ground. The type, quality, and size of the tire matter a great deal to how your car drives—more than any other single factor.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your tires? It boils down to three things: tread depth, damage, and age.
Even if your tires are just 6 months old, if you’ve put tens of thousands of miles on them, and the tread depth is low, it’s time to replace them. How do you know if your tread depth is low? You can look around the tire for horizontal lines of rubber (called “wear bars”) in the bottom of the tire’s grooves. If the wear bars are even with the tread surface, it’s time for new tires. You can also buy a tire tread gauge and measure them directly—generally, it’s time to replace your tires when they get to 2/32” depth.
Tire damage is also a simple matter: is there visual damage to the sidewall (including the inside sidewall)? Has the tire been punctured and/or repaired? If one or more of your tires has been damaged, it might be time to pony up for a new set.
Finally, age: even if your tires have plenty of tread depth and show no signs of damage, they will eventually become dry and brittle. Typically tires that are too old and need to be replaced will become brownish and/or show small cracks in the sidewall or tread.
automotive freelance journalist