5 Questions Any Good Tire Dealer Should Ask
Tires are a big investment most people make only every few years. If you want to make the right decision, you’ve got two choices:
- Become a tire selection expert.
- Become a tire dealer selection expert.
Option 2 is a lot easier. Make sure the salesperson asks you these five questions:
1. “What do you use your vehicle for?”
The best tire for a commuter in an economy car may not be the same as what’s needed for the family car. The tire that’s best for comfort and least noise for your long-distance commute may be overkill for a third car that's used less often. If you’re hauling loads or a trailer with your truck, that suggests a different choice than what’s right on a truck used for lighter duty.
Road conditions are a part of this equation. If you regularly go off-road, you’re driving streets with lots of potholes, or you live in a place with winding roads and tight curves, the salesperson’s recommendations will differ.
2. “What are your driving habits?”
If your dealer asks this question, they’re a keeper.
Literally and figuratively, tires aren’t one-size-fits-all. For example, a new driver in the family can change the ideal tire. So can your tendency towards conservative versus faster driving.
3. “Will you be doing any driving in winter conditions?”
You need tires that suit the weather conditions where you drive and your dealer knows that. A good one will ask.
All season tires are the choice for drivers in sunnier places. If you’re driving on snow or ice every year, you’ll likely have winter tires for cold months and a different set for warmer weather. Your dealer’s recommendation on what’s going to last longest and perform best will also be different if you live in a place with extremes of heat and cold than someplace with more consistent weather.
4. “What’s your budget?”
All these factors — driving habits, safety, longevity, comfort, handling, noise — have to be balanced with your budget. A good dealer is happy to explain the differences between a quality, basic tire, a premium tire, and everything in between, because it narrows the choices to what's best for you. You should never get the feeling the store rep is pushing a tire just because it’s on sale or it’s the most expensive.
5. “Here’s how our warranty works …”
OK, it’s not really a question. But the best dealers will bring this up. If you want to get the best value for the money, it’s really important to think this through. Service warranties can include free services worth hundreds of dollars over the life a tire. They vary substantially by dealer. Some features and limitations to find out about:
- Road hazards: If you run over a pothole, nail, or debris that damages the tire beyond repair, is the value of the tire covered?
- Expiration: How long is the tire covered? Three years? Five years? The life of the tire?
- Workmanship: Are both the tire and the quality of installation/repairs covered?
- Free services: Are regular inspections for wear, tire rotations and rebalancing included? What’s the cost to fix flats?
- Locations: How many stores will honor the warranty? The service warranty that comes with tires you buy at a dealer is an agreement with the dealer, not the manufacturer. A service warranty goes beyond the standard workmanship and material warranty you get from the company that made your tires. It can cover labor and free maintenance services. But your service warranty is good only at the retailer that sold you the tires. (If you’re weighing buying online, consider that if you get a flat, or a tire is defective, you have to get it off your vehicle and return it yourself.)
Find the right dealer and you don’t have to become a tire expert
Real professionals will be happy to talk your ear off about technical features — tread bars, siping, harmonic noise — or just give you the basic benefits of a tire in layperson’s language, your preference. Make sure they’re asking the questions above as a starting point. The answers will make the best choice obvious.
A Helpful Q&A Guide to Buying Tires
A lot of people choose tires based on the mileage warranty and cost. However, these are only two of many important factors to consider.
There are lots of choices between tires even at the same mileage and price point. It’s important to understand key factors to have the right tire for your driving needs. Things to ask about are: tire size, performance rating, load rating, ply rating, expected mileage and tread design, so you can depend on your tires and feel safe while traveling.
Here are answers to questions people ask the most about how to pick out tires. This info won’t make you a tire expert but will give you the basics when you visit your tire dealer.
Q: Do I Want All-season or Snow Tires?
A: It depends on whether you drive in winter conditions regularly.
Tires are categorized as all-season, summer, traction, winter or highway (for light trucks). Buying a set of highway or all-season tires is a good choice if you live in a sunny, warm climate that gets occasional rain and you aren’t regularly traveling on snow and ice. They perform well in climates where temperatures don’t typically get below 45 degrees. All-season tires are built to handle hot pavement but don’t offer the traction needed for slick, winter roads. If your area gets snow or ice every year, or if you make regular trips over mountain passes in the winter months, you’ll likely need all-season tires for spring, summer and fall driving, and snow tires for more harsh conditions. Get the full lowdown on how they’re different and how to choose winter tires.
Q: Do I Want Performance Tires?
A: Performance tires are designed for better cornering and handling at higher speeds. If these are your priorities, talk to your tire dealer about your options.
Other specialty tires, such as traction tires for pickups and SUVs, are for off-roading, gravel and driving in mud.
Sometimes your demands are simple; you just need a quiet, smooth passenger car tire for freeway driving. All-season or all-terrain tires are made to handle year-round driving needs on and off the blacktop. A good tire dealer will ask you the right questions and know the best product for your needs and budget.
Q: Does Driving Winter Tires in Summer Damage Them?
A: Yes. With more people running studless winter tires, this is a growing issue. Winter tires are made with a special rubber compound that stays softer and more pliable in cold weather for better road grip. As seasonal tires, they aren’t designed to handle the heat. All-season tires are made with a different rubber compound suitable for hot pavement.
If you use winter tires in hot weather they are going to wear out much quicker. It’s important to factor in the long-term cost if you’re thinking about running your winter tires through the warm months. This could reduce their life by years.
Q: Is There Really a Difference Between Higher- and Lower-priced Tires?
Tire pricing is typically based on what the tire delivers for comfort, ride quality, noise level, tread durability and traction features. Some tires for specific uses. For instance, light truck mud tires may have a higher price point because they have more rubber on them, which increases the cost to produce them. Prices also reflect the value you can expect from your tire; tread life typically ranges from 30,000 to 80,000 miles. This mileage can vary depending on whether you are looking at passenger car, performance car, light truck or SUV tires.
Q: Who Makes the Best Tires?
A: There are plenty of well-made tires. The biggest differences often come down to the warranty. Most of what you get in a tire warranty is provided by the dealer, not the tire maker. If there’s a defect in the tire you buy, that’s covered by the manufacturer. However, many other warranty features are covered by the dealer that sold and installed your tires.
Tire service warranties vary greatly by dealer and can be worth hundreds of dollars over the life of a tire. A well-built tire is only as good as the warranty backing it, so consider everything that’s in the warranty. Here’s a list of what to look for:
- Length of coverage. The best warranties extend for the full life of the tire’s tread mileage guarantee, not a set number of years.
- Workmanship. Both the tire and the quality of installation/repairs should be covered.
- Free care. Whether flat repairs, regular inspections for wear, tire rotations and rebalancing are free.
- Road hazard coverage. If you hit debris or a pothole and the tire is damaged beyond repair, is the value of the tire covered?
- Convenience. How many locations honor the warranty.
Be careful about buying extended tire coverage, like tire certificates, which replace your tires for free if you ruin them. It’s very rare to damage multiple tires beyond repair over the life of the tires. Usually, damage to a tire can be repaired and often it’s a single tire that’s involved. By the time you add up the cost of covering your tires with certificates, you could pay for any tire that gets damaged.
There are other drawbacks as well. Tire replacement certificates often expire after three years. And some aren’t honored if the damage comes from running your tires at the improper inflation.
Q: Can I Change My Tire Size?
A: Swapping out your tires for bigger or smaller ones than what came new on your vehicle is a fun way to change your ride’s look. Understand that it may affect performance. Be aware that when you change to a taller tire, your speedometer will read slower than you’re going because your tire is spinning fewer revolutions per mile (RPM). You may get more road noise and differences in the way your vehicle handles.
In contrast, lowering the profile of your car or truck by using a smaller tire size will alter both handling and how much clearance you have. You may bottom out on hills that you used to clear just fine and it may stiffen the ride.
You can use a tire size calculator to see how different sized tires will affect your RPMs and tire speed, but such tools are only estimates.
Be sure to cover all the unknowns by talking with a tire professional before you change sidewall height or tread width. An expert will know how to translate the difference in RPM, tire speed, load index and speed rating into what it will mean for your vehicle and driving. They’ll also explain how the tires or wheels you have your eye on will or won’t fit with your vehicle’s suspension, gearing and bodywork.
Q: Is It Ok to Replace One Tire at a Time?
A: It’s best to consider replacing tires in pairs, but read your owner’s manual. Even small size and type differences between your four tires can have big consequences, especially if you own an all-wheel drive (AWD).
Replacing one tire with a different brand, model, size or tread depth can cause a noticeable pull in the steering wheel or other handling issues. There are tight tolerances for AWDs, so they’re at greater risk for such problems.
A big difference in tread depth between tires can damage expensive parts. It is always a good idea to review your owner’s manual to see if the vehicle manufacturer has a point of view on this.
Q: Will Buying Tires Online Save Me Money?
A: It might save you some money if you’re a tire expert and have a place that will mount the tires on your wheels. If not and you don’t, you run the risk of getting the wrong type of tires for your vehicle and driving. Then that Internet bargain can add up to a lot more hassle, time and money than expected.
Another issue is finding a tire dealer that will service your tires by mounting and balancing them on your wheels at a reasonable cost. This can get expensive if you’re changing out summer and winter tires twice a year. Here are some cost and warranty factors to consider when you’re thinking of buying online.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole is never fun. But those holes in the road can do more than spill your latte. Potholes can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a minor impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment. A pothole strike can damage your shocks or struts, or harm your suspension.
Give Your Vehicle a Quick Inspection
After hitting a pothole, check for any of the following signs of pothole damage.
- A bulge on the tire sidewall. This is an indicator that the tire was pinched between the edge of the pothole and the wheel causing the internal plies to be weakened or severed.
- Your steering wheel is no longer centered or the vehicle wants to pull to one side or the other. The impact may have been hard enough to affect the alignment or damage a steering or suspension component.
- You feel abnormal vibrations in the steering, seat or floor.
- You may hear a new noise when underway. Something may have been bent or displaced and could be rubbing on the tire/wheel assembly.
- A dashboard warning light appears.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Hitting a pothole can cause bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, and shock and strut issues depending on the severity of the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll puncture your tires or damage your vehicle, but if you have any concerns, get it inspected.
Below are some photos that show how potholes can damage wheels or rims.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask for an inspection that covers:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts
- Intact tire balancing weights
- Bent or cracked wheel rim
- Damage to shocks and struts
- Other broken suspension components
Tips to Minimize Pothole Damage
With summer and winter weather throughout the West impacting our roads, potholes are going to happen. Here’s what you can do to minimize the damage and possibly avoid these hazards.
- Always drive on tires that are properly inflated and in good condition. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the impact safely.
- Drive defensively. Slow down when you’re on an unfamiliar or rough road, and avoid distracted driving.
- Be alert to what’s ahead, and make sure you keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you can avoid issues.
- Recognize that though you might miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting.
- When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and hold your steering wheel tightly. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
Les Schwab Has Experience with Pothole Damage
Our pros have seen plenty of pothole damage and can offer recommendations, including tire repair and replacement, alignment work, and more. Stop by your local Les Schwab for a free inspection. If you need new tires, wheels or alignment, we’ll help get you and your family quickly and safely back on the road.
How Do I Check My Tire Pressure?
Low tire pressure can be an expensive proposition, costing you hundreds of dollars a year in lost fuel economy and prematurely worn tires. Add to that, decreased handling and an increased risk in tire failure, and it’s easy to understand why maintaining proper tire pressure is so important. Tires naturally lose 1 to 2 pounds of pressure a month. Cool temperatures cause even more pressure loss. So it’s important to check your vehicle’s tire pressure regularly.
We recommend you check your tire pressure at least once a month or twice a month in the winter.
Using an Air Pressure Gauge
Here’s how you go about it with an air pressure gauge, can be found at most any auto parts store.
First, look in the owner’s manual or on the inside placard of the driver’s side door for the standard cold tire inflation pressure. This number is the PSI, or Pounds Per Square Inch, you will inflate your tires to, as suggested by the car’s manufacturer.
Next, unscrew the cap from the valve stem on the tire.
Now, press the air pressure gauge onto the valve stem and record the reading given. If there’s a hissing sound, try re-seating the gauge for a tighter fit and more accurate reading. Note that if the reading on all four tires is the same as the manual’s specifications, you’re done. If any of the tires have inadequate pressure, add air until they’re properly filled. Make sure you put in the correct amount by rechecking the pressure in each tire after refilling.
Finally, replace the valve stem cap to protect the valve mechanism from dirt and moisture.
While you’re at it, check the pressure on your spare tire, as well. You never know when you might need it.
Follow along as we show you how in this video:
Or you can simply stop by your nearest Les Schwab Tire Center, where we not only check tire pressure for you but also adjust it, if necessary. Free of charge.
Have any questions about tire pressure? One of our experts will be happy to help.
Are Nitrogen-Filled Tires Worth the Cost?
The main benefit of nitrogen-filled tires is that the loss of tire pressure is slower, because the gas in the tire escapes more slowly than air does. With more stable tire pressure, the thinking goes, you’ll get better gas mileage and get full tire life since you’re always rolling on fully inflated tires.
Claims are also made that nitrogen in tires prevents tire “rot” by limiting the moisture that naturally occurs inside tires and heads off corrosion of the wheel that can be caused by contact with moisture.
These claims are overstated. The advantages of tires filled with nitrogen, instead of plain ol’ air, aren’t big enough to justify the price tag or the inconvenience. On new car tires, the cost can range from $70 to as much as $179. On existing tires, you’ll pay up to $30 per tire for service to drain air and refill with N2. Refills will run you $5 to $7 per tire, which you can expect to do less often than with air-filled tires. But you’ll still need topping off every two or three months.
The Science of Putting Nitrogen in Tires
Small amounts of air naturally leak out of tires over time, especially when tires are subject to large temperature swings. This is because the walls of tires are slightly porous. When a tire gets hot the air inside it expands. The added pressure pushes minute quantities of air out through the pores, so you occasionally have to get your air topped off even if your tire doesn’t have a hole.
Promoters of nitrogen tires point out they don’t lose tire pressure as fast as air-filled tires. Since nitrogen molecules are bigger than normal air molecules, it is harder for them to leak out. This means a tire filled with nitrogen will maintain air pressure longer. Therefore, they say, you’ll roll on tires that are always properly inflated, resulting in better fuel economy and longer tire life.
A normal tire filled with regular air loses an average 1 to 2 PSI (pounds per square inch) per month. It’s true that there is a slower loss from nitrogen-filled tires. But this improvement is slight — only about 1.3 PSI less over the course of an entire year, according to Consumer Reports. It’s not enough to make a true difference in gas mileage or tire wear for people driving passenger vehicles.
This is partly because air is already made up of 78 percent nitrogen and just under 21 percent oxygen, with the rest a mix of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases. When tires are filled from a nitrogen air pump this ups the percentage of N2 to between 93 and 95 percent. It’s never 100 percent.
Bottom line: Nitrogen will slow the amount of tire inflation loss to about one-third of what you’ll experience with air. This means instead of losing one to two PSI per month, you’ll lose ⅓ to ⅔ PSI per month. You’ll still need to check and top off your air roughly every other month to stay within the ideal inflation range. And you’ll spend far more than you’ll save on gas and tire tread life. You’re better off making simple tire maintenance part of your routine.
Go Ahead and Do It If:
- Your ride is a racecar. Nitrogen is used to fill tires for track cars, since it does offer the advantage of more consistent pressure.
- You’re buying a new car with new tires that are being filled for the first time, you live close to a nitrogen filling tank, you have disposable income to spare and you never check your air pressure.
Nitrogen-filled Tires FAQ
There are more cons than pros for changing to N2 tires. For example, nitrogen filling tanks aren’t easily accessible like air compressor tanks. You’ll have to plan for refills in places that may be few and far between. This can cost you time and money. Here’s all the info.
Q. How much will it cost to get nitrogen in my tires?
A. For fills of new tires, between $70 to about $175 at some outlets. Drains of air and refills with nitrogen on current tires, up to $30 per tire. Topping off can be between $5 and $7 per tire. If you want to keep your tires within 1 PSI of the ideal, you’ll likely be topping off at least four times a year, probably more. This could be between $80 and $112 a year, and possibly a whole lot more. Compare this to paying nothing at all for regular air at a tire store, or around a buck per fill at a service station.
Q. Are they safe?
A. They’re as safe as regular tires. Nitrogen isn’t flammable and won’t cause your tires to explode.
Q. Will I get better gas mileage?
A. You’ll always get better fuel economy on properly inflated tires, whether they’re filled with nitrogen or air. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2% for every 1 PSI drop in the average pressure of all tires. They’ll also wear faster and be more prone to failure. The most economical way to make sure you’re driving on well-inflated tires is to just check your tire pressure once a month or get it done by a technician (free at good tire stores).
Q. Will nitrogen prevent tire rot? Wheel rust?
A. Nitrogen is a “dry” gas compared to oxygen (which makes up about one-fifth of regular air). Nitrogen-filled tires don’t generate as much moisture inside when tires expand from heat friction then contract when they cool.
However, rubber rot from moisture inside the tires of passenger vehicles is very unusual. Unless your tires are on a vehicle that’s rarely driven, it’s far more likely your tire tread will wear out before the small amount of moisture inside an air-filled tire degrades the rubber.
And today’s alloy wheels are coated to prevent corrosion on steel parts — the belts, beads and sidewall buttressing — that may come into contact with water, so that’s not a typical problem.
Q. Can nitrogen tires be filled with air?
A. Yes. It’s unsafe to drive around on under-inflated tires, so don’t hold off thinking you need to wait to top off until you can get to a filling tank. It’s perfectly fine to add air and just get your next fill with nitrogen.
Q. Do they run cooler?
A. There’s no significant difference between air-filled and nitrogen-filled tires in terms of running temperature.
Q. Where can I fill my tires?
A. Use this nitrogen dealer locator, but be aware that some filling stations require you to have purchased tires with them, or have a membership.
Q. Will I have a better ride?
A. There’s no difference in handling or ride quality between tires filled with air or nitrogen, so long as they’re kept properly inflated.
Q. How can I tell if I have nitrogen in my tires?
A. The tire valve stem will have a green plastic cap or a cap topped with a green indicator.
Q. How do tires get filled with nitrogen for the first time?
A. The tire is purged of air and filled with nitrogen several times using a machine, which takes out most of the oxygen along with any water.
Tire Size Calculator: What Size Tires Should You Get?
If you’re considering swapping out your tires for a different size and want a sense of what might work for your vehicle, use our tire size calculator.
How to Figure Out Tire Size
Our tire size calculator converts metric measurements to inches so you can easily compare the diameter, width, sidewall, circumference and revolutions per mile. It will also tell you the difference in tire speed between your comparison tires.
As a general rule, you want replacement tires that are within 3 percent of the diameter (height) measurement of your existing tires’ diameter — assuming your current tires are what your owner’s manual recommends.
A Note on Accuracy
Our tire size calculator is for general comparison purposes only. We don’t recommend that you base sizing or purchase decisions on the calculator alone. A tire’s true physical size can vary from the dimensions provided by the tire manufacturer, and this tool does not take into account other important application factors like load index and speed rating. These calculations (and those provided by all online tire dimension calculators) don’t account for these variations. The way to be sure your tires are the right fit is to ask your local Les Schwab pro.
Find Your Store
Tire Tread and the Useful Penny Test
Anyone who drives a car knows what tire tread is. But do you know how to tell whether it’s wearing thin?
Worn out tires affect your car’s performance and your safety. Luckily, there’s a simple way to check your tires with just your pocket change.
Measuring Tread Depth With the Penny Test
A new car tire typically has a tread depth of 10⁄32 or 11⁄32 inches while a light truck will have between 11⁄32 and 19⁄32 inches. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends that you replace your tires once they’ve worn down to 2⁄32 inches. Many states require tires to be replaced when the tread reaches that depth.
How do you know when your tires are officially worn out? You can use a tread depth gauge or take your car in for a professional evaluation. But the easiest way is to do a penny test.
- Take a penny and place it with Lincoln’s head upside down between two ribs on your tire.
- If part of the head is covered, your tires are still in good shape.
- If you can see his entire head, your tread is worn to 2⁄32 inch or less and it’s time for new tires.
- Check various points on the tire — around the circumference and between different ribs — to look for uneven tire wear.
Many car and truck tires come with indicator bars at 2⁄32 inch. If these are even with your tread ribs, you’ll know your tires need to be replaced.
Now you can measure your tread, but you may not know about all its components or what different tread patterns are for. The more you know about types of tread, the easier it will be for you to choose the best tires for your vehicle. Here are some facts to beef up your tire knowledge.
What Is Tire Tread?
There are four (sometimes five) main components to tire tread:
- Ribs: The long, raised bands that go all the way around a tire.
- Blocks or lugs: The raised segments between ribs.
- Grooves: The space between ribs.
- Voids: The space between tread blocks.
- Sipes (sometimes): Thin slits cut across the tread blocks and ribs.
Ribs and tread blocks make contact with the pavement, while grooves and voids channel water when roads are wet and allow the blocks to flex as tires grip the road.
Siping is designed to improve tire performance during wet and winter driving conditions.
Different tire manufacturers combine these features to create signature designs and offer good performance for a range of driving conditions.
Types of Tire Tread Patterns
Though each tire manufacturer makes unique variations on tire tread, the patterns generally fall into three categories. Each pattern provides different handling and performance.
- Symmetric designs, as the name suggests, have the same pattern across the whole tire. This is the most common tread pattern for passenger cars.
- Directional tread patterns include lateral voids pointing in only one direction, making a V design, and are used on performance cars (those designed for speed). These tires channel water in one direction for reliable handling in wet conditions and provide zippy handling on dry roads.
- Asymmetric designs combine the above two patterns to offer good grip on dry roads as well as traction in wet and winter conditions. The inner side of the tire often features lateral voids like those found in directional tires, while the outer side uses larger tread blocks.
Summer tires and winter tires both generally have a symmetric design, with winter tires sporting deeper tread depth and sipes. Asymmetric patterns are often a good choice for all-season tires.
Safety Risks of Worn Tires
Though tires are considered bald at 2⁄32 inch, they lose some of their performance capabilities before that.
As tire tread wears, it becomes less able to channel water and the risk of hydroplaning increases, especially at higher speeds. If you know your tires are partly worn, be sure to give yourself extra stopping distance in wet conditions.
Grip loss on snowy or icy roads is a concern. As the rubber wears, sipes disappear and tread blocks don't provide as much grip. Again, allow yourself more stopping distance and consider replacing your tires to stay safe during winter months.
Tires with partly worn tread are more likely to get punctures and lose air pressure, too. And punctures can cause tire failure, which is a particular problem at high speeds because you can lose control of your vehicle.
Drive on Safely
A penny test will tell you when your tires are bald, but if you’re headed into winter or a rainy season, a tread depth gauge is the surest way to test. Or stop by your local tire shop to have a professional evaluate your tires.