Summer Tires vs All-Season Tires: Which Are Best for You?
Are summer tires better in rain?
Yep, it may surprise you to know that summer tires outperform all-season tires on wet pavement.
Read on to learn about the upsides and downsides of summer tires, including handling, temperature range limits and how they manage heat.
What Are Summer Tires?
Summer tires are also known as performance tires. They’re called that for a reason.
Performance tires are designed to provide excellent dry and wet traction along with precise handling. They’re meant to be used during warm months, or all year in regions that don’t get a true winter.
Why Summer Tires Perform Better in Heat and Rain
Summer tires are optimized for excellent road grip whether it’s baking hot, slightly damp or raining heavily on the road. They’re made from a tread compound (the mix of rubber and fillers that make up the tread) containing sticky additives for road grip in wet conditions. But this tread blend also provides enough stiffness so tires hold up and retain their shape when the heat is on. This keeps rolling resistance to a minimum on hot pavement.
Tread patterns typically feature shallower, straighter grooves than what you’ll see on all-seasons, and solid, continuous ribs, so more rubber is always in contact with the road. The result: more stability during cornering, braking and acceleration.
Since performance tires often have asymmetrical or unidirectional tread patterns, tire rotation options may be limited. You may only be able to rotate front tires to opposite sides versus criss-crossing to even out tread wear, for example.
While it may come as news to many that summer tires outperform all-season tires when it comes to both wet and dry traction, here’s something that won’t surprise: Performance tires don’t offer any winter traction. They get rigid at cold temps and aren’t a safe choice in any snow or ice conditions.
All-season Tires Trade Off Some Traction for Longer Wear
All-season tires are engineered to give vehicles enough winter traction to get through light snow conditions, making it possible for a driver to run one set of tires year-round in places that don’t get a lot of snowfall or ice.
They’re made with a compound that stays flexible even at temperatures a bit above freezing, to maintain road grip. Their tread patterns have deeper grooves and feature more voids and variations which help with traction for occasional travel in snow. The designs are usually symmetrical, so there are more rotation options to even out tread wear and extend tire mileage.
They are like a hybrid between summer and winter tires, made to handle a broad variety of weather and road conditions moderately well, while getting good tread life. They don’t substitute for genuine winter tires, which are necessary for stable driving on serious snow, sleet and ice.
If you’re choosing between performance and all-season tires, here’s a quick comparison.
Should You Buy Summer Tires?
If you live where it never snows and temperatures are typically 44°F or warmer during your normal drive times, summer tires are a good choice. Performance tires are especially well-suited to urban areas with warm climates that get some rain, because they are better at preventing hydroplaning at highway speeds than all-season tires.
If you live in an area where the weather is not so predictable, where you may encounter freezing rain or light snow conditions in fall or spring, it’s better to go with all-season tires.
And if winter in your area means temperatures that dip below freezing along with precipitation, or you regularly travel to high elevations, get a set of winter tires and swap them out in November and March.
Driving in rain regularly? Find out how to avoid hydroplaning.
Using Load Index & Load Range to Pick the Right Tires
When shopping for tires online, you’ll notice the terms load index, load range, and speed rating included within the technical specifications. (You can find these numbers and letters on your existing tires, located after the size of the tire.) Understanding the meaning of load index and load range can help you find the right tire for your vehicle and your needs. As always, the experts at Les Schwab can answer all of your questions about what tires are right for you, but in this quick article, we’ll cover some of the basics of these indicators.
The load index number stated on the sidewall indicates a tire’s carrying capacity. In this example, there are two numbers. The higher number (load index) is for single rear-wheel applications. The lower number is for dual-wheel applications. This indicates its load-carrying capacity when inflated to its maximum pressure. Remember, air pressure is what carries the load in a tire. You can find each tire’s carrying capacity with the chart below.
65 639 94 1477 123 3417 66 661 95 1521 124 3527 67 677 96 1565 125 3638 68 694 97 1609 126 3748 69 716 98 1653 127 3858 70 739 99 1709 128 3968 71 761 100 1764 129 4079 72 783 101 1819 130 4189 73 805 102 1874 131 4299 74 827 103 1929 132 4409 75 853 104 1984 133 4541 76 882 105 2039 134 4674 77 908 106 2094 135 4806 78 937 107 2149 136 4938 79 963 108 2205 137 5071 80 992 109 2271 138 5203 81 1019 110 2337 139 5357 82 1047 111 2403 140 5512 83 1074 112 2469 141 5677 84 1102 113 2535 142 5842 85 1135 114 2601 143 6008 86 1168 115 2679 144 6173 87 1201 116 2756 145 6393 88 1235 117 2833 146 6614 89 1279 118 2910 147 6779 90 1323 119 2998 148 6944 91 1356 120 3086 149 7165 92 1389 121 3197 150 7385 93 1433 122 3307 LOAD INDEX LOAD (lbs) 65 639 66 661 67 677 68 694 69 716 70 739 71 761 72 783 73 805 74 827 75 853 76 882 77 908 78 937 79 963 80 992 81 1019 82 1047 83 1074 84 1102 85 1135 86 1168 87 1201 88 1235 89 1279 90 1323 91 1356 92 1389 93 1433 94 1477 95 1521 96 1565 97 1609 98 1653 99 1709 100 1764 101 1819 102 1874 103 1929 104 1984 105 2039 106 2094 107 2149 108 2205 109 2271 110 2337 111 2403 112 2469 113 2535 114 2601 115 2679 116 2756 117 2833 118 2910 119 2998 120 3086 121 3197 122 3307 123 3417 124 3527 125 3638 126 3748 127 3858 128 3968 129 4079 130 4189 131 4299 132 4409 133 4541 134 4674 135 4806 136 4938 137 5071 138 5203 139 5357 140 5512 141 5677 142 5842 143 6008 144 6173 145 6393 146 6614 147 6779 148 6944 149 7165 150 7385
Load Range (Ply Rating)
On some tires, you’ll see a load range indicator on the sidewall, as shown here. The load range indicator and the ply rating are the same thing. This letter represents the load carrying strength, which is dictated by the tire construction. Load ranges are arranged in alphabetical order starting with the letter “A”. The ply ratings (load range) combined with the tire size tell you the tire load capacity.
The load range on replacement tires must meet or exceed the recommendation on your vehicle’s door placard or owner’s manual. It can be higher than recommended but never lower.
LOAD RANGE PLY RATING A 2 B 4 C 6 D 8 E 10 F 12
Les Schwab Tip: Some cars, including electric vehicles, may require tires with a higher load range due to weight with and without passengers.
We’re Your Tire Experts
If this seems confusing. Don’t worry. The pros at Les Schwab will show you all of your options, including the size, load range, and load index you need for work, weekends, or your daily commute.
When Your Flat Tire May Need to Be Replaced
It’s easy to learn how to change a flat tire and install your spare. What’s not as easy is knowing when your flat tire can’t be repaired or patched, and when it will need to be replaced with a new tire. Here are 8 indicators you may need a new tire.
- The tire has a sudden loss of air and you drive on it flat. This can cause internal damage, which can’t be fixed.
- The sidewall has a puncture, a cut exposing the cord, or a visible bubble or bulge.
- The shoulder has damage (more than cosmetic), such as a small puncture.
- You spot a bulge on the tread or sidewall (following an impact, etc.).
- There’s a gash deep enough to expose the nylon or steel belts (which are part of the internal structural components of the tire).
- The size of the gash or hole in the tread is greater than one-quarter inch.
- The tire has been repaired before and the new damage is close to the previous repair.
- If for any reason the repair exceeds the tire manufacturer’s recommendations.
Underinflated Tires May Damage the Sidewall From Excessive Heat
Tires with low air pressure may be hard to detect while driving. An underinflated tire generates a lot of heat quickly, which may cause the sidewall to break down in seconds. Therefore, an underinflated tire can be damaged beyond repair within a short distance. Simply driving on a severely underinflated tire from the fast lane to the shoulder can cause irreversible damage.
Slow Leaks in the Contact Patch Can Be Repaired
If you have a slow leak from a puncture in the main part of the tread, chances are good the tire can be repaired. Done right, your repaired tire should be safe to drive on for its full tire life. Additionally, the repair may be free (depending on your warranty).
Les Schwab Tip: We do more than just patch tires. Our experts use a multi-step process to ensure your tire is properly repaired.
Basics of Flat Repair
First, the tire technician will identify the location of the leak and make sure there are no others by submerging the tire and wheel in water. Then they’ll take the tire off the wheel (called dismounting), and inspect the inside and outside for structural problems and previous repairs.
If the tire is repairable, they’ll start by buffing the affected area being careful to avoid any damage to the liner. Then they’ll use vulcanizing compound and a one- or two-piece plug patch combination to fill the hole and seal the liner. This method ensures an airtight seal and that the cord material is protected.
Do Emergency Tire Repair Kits Work?
If your vehicle doesn’t have a spare, or you need to get out of an emergency situation, you may be relying on a sealant kit or other quick-fix option when you get a flat. This isn’t a substitute for proper repair.
At Les Schwab, we’ve been cleaning, sealing, and repairing flat tires for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of do-it-yourself options over the decades, but emergency plug kits are not among the best options. The use of a plug kit to fill a hole from the outside of your tire can cause additional, internal damage that may be difficult or impossible to repair. Additionally, some aerosol sprays can damage the TPMS sensor in your wheel, which can be expensive.
Bring Your Flat Tires to Les Schwab
If you’re driving on a set of Les Schwab tires, we’ll fix your flat for free. If the tire cannot be repaired, we’ll show you all of your options and get you back on the road safely.
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What Is Rolling Resistance?
Rolling resistance is the combination of forces that work against the forward motion of your vehicle. The weight of the vehicle, gravity and inertia, the amount of friction between the tires and the road surface, and air drag all play a part. When you coast in your car or on a bike, rolling resistance is what slows you down. The more rolling resistance, the more power it takes to propel a vehicle. Between 3 and 11 percent of the gas used in passenger vehicles goes to overcoming this force, so reducing it means saving on gas.
Since tires contribute to between 15 and 25 percent of a vehicle’s overall rolling resistance — depending on how fast you’re going, vehicle type and road surface — they are a significant factor in gas economy.
What Are Low-Rolling-Resistance Tires?
Think of coasting with your foot off the gas. If you have a cargo carrier on the roof, your vehicle will slow down quicker (air drag and extra weight). If you’re going downhill, you pick up speed (gravity). If your tires are low on air or the ground is soft, you’ll stop sooner (more friction with the road). Eventually, you come to a halt due to rolling resistance.
Here is what happens as a tire goes through each revolution. As a tire rolls under a vehicle’s weight, it flattens a bit at the contact patch (where it touches the road) then recovers its roundness as it circles. This consumes energy and creates heat. Fuel (either gasoline, diesel or EV battery power) is used to compensate for this lost energy.
Low-rolling-resistance tires strike a balance between safety features that helps control and stop the car, and design elements that provide better gas mileage. These tires:
- Weigh less and have thinner sidewalls.
- Are made with rubber compounds that reduce heat and friction.
- Have tread designs with shallower tread depth.
These types of tires are one way auto and tire manufacturers are trying to improve fuel efficiency.
How Much Does Tire Choice Affect Fuel Economy?
A 2005 Transportation Research Board study looked at the differences in fuel consumption and tire life if passenger car owners opted for low-rolling-resistance tires. The results? A 10 percent reduction of average rolling resistance was feasible, would not result in significant safety issues and would increase the fuel economy of American passenger vehicles by 1 to 2 percent. This would mean saving about 1 billion to 2 billion gallons of fuel per year, the equivalent of taking 2 million to 4 million cars and light trucks off the road.
They also found that tires offering the best wet traction were often higher in rolling resistance. Every tire type offers a tradeoff in road grip, handling, noise, wear resistance, appearance, price and gas mileage. Tires with worn tread may have less rolling resistance due to shallow, smoother tread but might be unsafe to drive on, for example.
The desire to reduce rolling resistance has to be balanced with considerations like air pressure, road conditions, climate, driving style and the vehicle type.
What To Do for More Fuel-Efficient Tires
According to the EPA, there are ways to get better fuel economy no matter what type of tire you have mounted. By keeping your tires properly inflated, you can improve gas mileage by about 3 percent. Also, get your tires rotated regularly so the tread wears evenly. Remember that worn tread will have lower rolling resistance, so you may notice a slight decrease in fuel economy when you replace tires.
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.
Replacing Just Two Tires? Install Them on the Back.
All tires wear differently depending on how, where, what you drive. If two of your tires wear out faster, it may only be necessary to replace those two instead of replacing all four. If you do, it’s important to have the two new tires installed on the back and the partially worn tires moved to the front – even on front-wheel-drive vehicles. Here’s why.
Les Schwab Tip: When possible, we recommend replacing all four tires at once for a better grip on the road. This is especially true for all-wheel-drive vehicles where differences in tread depth can cause vehicle damage. See our article Should You Replace All Four Tires on Your AWD Vehicle for more information.
Wet and Icy/Snow-Covered Roads Happen
Wherever you live in the west, rain and snow create potential hazards when your tire tread is worn. Installing two new tires on the front or back can have a significant impact on how your vehicle reacts when traction is compromised. This could also be an issue on roads that have less traction, including dirt and gravel.
A Word on Hydroplaning
The first 10 minutes of a light rain are some of the most dangerous moments for hydroplaning. This happens when the tread on your tires cannot channel the water away fast enough and loses contact with the road. There are other factors, such as speed, vehicle weight, and tire pressure. But overall, it comes down to tread depth and the amount of water encountered. Check out our article on how to drive in the rain and avoid losing control for more information.
Rotate Your Tires Every 5,000 Miles
Proper tire rotation can extend the life of your tires. Stop by your local Les Schwab to have your tires rotated every 5,000 miles or six months. If any of your tires need to be replaced, our specialists will show you the options and get you safely back on the road. Schedule your tire rotation today.
We’re Your Tire Experts
If you have questions about installing just two new tires on your vehicle, or simply need a pre-trip safety check before your next big family adventure, stop by your local Les Schwab. We’ve been helping people get to and from locations all over the west since 1952. We can do the same for you.
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4 Reasons Not to Drive Winter Tires Through Summer
If you’re thinking of driving on your winter tires year-round, there’s a strong case against it. You’ll wear out your tires much faster. You’ll compromise traction and handling in all four seasons. And changing out your tires twice a year doesn’t have to cost you anything, including your valuable time. Here’s what you should know.
1. Winter Tires Wear Out Faster in the Heat
Winter tires are made with a more flexible rubber compound that helps deliver the best road grip in snowy and icy conditions. Most all-season tires are made with a harder rubber blend that can withstand hot weather.
Heat is really hard on winter tires, which are meant to be used when temperatures are 45°F or below. Winter tires run on hot pavement will wear out much faster than their expected tread life. Because they are made with a softer compound, they will also tend to wear unevenly when driven in the wrong conditions.
2. It Will Cost You, Not Save You Money
Since winter tires typically cost more than all-season tires, using them all year means you’re wearing out a more expensive set much faster than its expected mileage life. It’s smarter to buy two sets of tires made for your driving conditions and swap them when the weather changes.
You’ll also pay more for gas when you use winter tires in summer. On hot blacktop, they roll with far more friction than tires built for warm weather.
This higher rolling resistance means worse fuel economy — and more out of your pocket at the pump. It doesn’t do any favors for Mother Nature either since you’ll be contributing higher carbon emissions from using more gas.
As with any investment, you save money when you get the most value from your tires. One way to get the longest life out of tires is to use them for what they’re made for.
3. Traction and Handling Issues
Take it from Click and Clack of Car Talk:
You have to change to summer or all-season tires during warmer weather…Your handling is compromised in warm weather. Imagine if you need to make an emergency maneuver, and your tires are kind of soft and squishy. You’re not going to get the kind of crisp handling that you need in order to avoid that oncoming sausage delivery truck. So, if you live in a place where you need winter tires for part of the year, you really have to replace them in the spring with something better suited to the warm weather.
Stopping distance is also a big issue since winter tires require a bit longer for braking on wet or dry pavement.
Plus, when cold weather comes around again, you’re going to be relying on worn tires. Tires designed for winter will get uneven shoulder wear and faster tread wear if used in the summer months.
Winter tires with worn tread blocks don’t provide as much grip on icy, snowy surfaces. Without deep grooves and intact traction features, your tires won’t channel snow, slush and water as well. When it comes to traction, lack of tread depth is a bigger safety risk in winter.
4. Swapping Tires Can Be Easy and Free
Swapping out winter tires for all-season or performance tires twice a year is only a big effort if you do it yourself. The best tire shops do it for free as long as your tires are on wheels. If not, you can generally pay a small fee to have it done with little waiting.
The Bottom Line on Driving Winter Tires All Year
Your overall cost per mile will be lowest when you drive on tires that are proper for the season and your driving conditions. You’ll get the most mileage out of them along with the control and traction you’ve paid for. And you’ll be more secure on the road.
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.
Do I Need Snow Tires if I Have AWD?
You can probably safely drive your AWD (all-wheel-drive) with all-season tires in light or moderate snow. But it’s a common misperception that AWDs will drive like tanks in slick conditions.
It’s recommended that you have either winter tires or snow chains on your AWD if you’re driving in a blizzard or icy conditions. Traveling with summer or worn all-season tires on any vehicle in winter is a safety risk. Even a 4WD (four-wheel-drive) will slip and slide on snowy roads if its tires don’t have enough tread.
What AWD Does Really Well in Snow
AWD is great at getting your car moving from a dead stop and accelerating smoothly in a straight line when the pavement is slippery. It’s able to do this because it sends more power to whichever wheels are getting the most traction and less power to the spinning wheels.
But if you don’t have enough traction in the first place, the AWD system can’t compensate. If none of the four tires has enough grip, you’re in trouble.
This is why an AWD equipped with all-season tires might not deliver safe braking and sharp cornering in significant snow or on ice. In fact, some independent testing shows that a front-wheel-drive (FWD) mounted with winter tires will have shorter stopping distance and better cornering than an AWD with all-season tires.
How Winter Tires Provide Better Traction
To be clear, what some people call snow tires are, in fact, winter tires built for better road grip in ALL winter conditions — rain, ice, snow and slush.
Winter tires are made with specialized rubber that stays softer during cold temperatures. They’re designed with tread features like bigger grooves, biting edges, sipes, optional studs and variations in the block shapes for improved gripping even in subzero temperatures.
All-season and summer tires are made with a different rubber compound so they will maintain their shape even on hot pavement. They don’t have as many jagged surfaces and have fewer or shallower channels for ejecting water or snow.
Are Winter Tires Worth it for AWD Vehicles?
AWD is helpful when you’re starting to move or accelerating on slick roads, but not so much when you’re cornering or stopping. It’s not a substitute for having winter tires.
If you’re only visiting snowy areas once or twice a year, you may be fine driving an AWD with all-season tires in good condition. Just be sure to carry tire chains.
If it’s frigid where you live or you’re traveling in more than light snow every month, then buying a set of winter tires for your AWD will deliver the road grip you need for most winter weather conditions. Of course, you may also need a set of good chains for the worst weather.
SHOP WINTER TIRES
Do You Even Need a Spare Tire?
The fact that spare tires are no longer standard equipment on many newer-model cars can come as a nasty surprise when you get a flat tire. While most new light trucks and larger SUVs still come with a spare, here’s important news:
About 35 percent of vehicles now come from the factory without a spare tire.
Getting a flat tire is a major hassle and it can be costly. Here’s what to know about spares, including why more autos are coming without them, how to decide if you really need one and the upsides and downsides of inflator kits.
Which New Car & SUV Models Don’t Include a Spare?
On May 23, 2015, my 7-year-old granddaughter, my friend and I were stranded for four hours on I-84 west of Baker City, Oregon, with a blown-out tire and no spare. My brand new car did not come with a spare! I called my insurance emergency assistance four times. I waited for my insurance company to call and get a tow truck for about three hours. A local towing company wanted to charge me $530.00 to tow my car about 20 miles to Les Schwab in Baker City. I mentioned to the insurance agent that I wanted my car towed to Les Schwab so I could get a new tire. The insurance agent called Les Schwab and I spoke with Jake at the counter. Les Schwab came out with a new tire, changed it and we were back driving in about 30 minutes. I went back to the store and bought a spare. Thank you Les Schwab, you saved our day. Too bad the other businesses I dealt with on Saturday did not have your ethics for putting customers first. Thanks again for being there for us. You will be the first I call next time I need a tire changed, and I will recommend to my insurance company they need to put you on their call list.
– Penny M., Baker City, OR
The time to find out if your new or used car is going to come equipped with a spare is before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t rely on the sales staff to volunteer the news. It can be difficult to tell which models come with a spare and which don’t, since some trim levels will, but not all. Be sure by asking the sales rep directly. (And if you’ve recently bought a newer model car, be sure to check whether it has a spare, so you’re prepared with an alternative in case of a flat.)
Why Aren’t Some New Cars Coming With Spare Tires?
A bunch of factors are in play.
- Efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Removing the spare can reduce a vehicle’s weight by about 30 to 50 pounds, once you include the jack and wrench. It can also improve aerodynamics by reducing air drag from spare tire compartments that poke below the undercarriages of vehicles. These two factors can improve miles per gallon performance and help carmakers meet strict EPA standards for their full fleets, an attractive option for both car companies and energy-conscious drivers.
- Need for more space in smaller vehicles. A spare can take up significant room in compacts, sports cars and small sedans. There can be a trade-off between comfort and the space in small cars.
- Lack of storage space, especially in hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles. Batteries and emissions equipment for such vehicles sometimes now take up space where the spare used to go.
- Reduced manufacturing costs. Yep, a carmaker can save several hundred dollars by foregoing the spare in new cars.
What Are Alternatives to a Spare Tire? Are They Any Good?
Some new cars are coming from the factory equipped with tires or inflator kits that claim to make the spare tire unnecessary. There are upsides and downsides to all.
Run-flat tires are designed to allow driving for a limited distance after losing air from a typical puncture. They are built with either a reinforced sidewall or an internal support ring to carry the vehicle’s weight if the tire tread gets pierced. (The sidewall is the curbside face of the tire.)
Run-flats are made to travel from 10 to 50 miles under 50 mph when deflated, so you can get somewhere for service. Run-flats may also offer better control than standard tires when there’s a tire failure involving complete loss of air.
Downsides: Driving on a run-flat for even the shortest of distances will ruin the tire. It will have to be replaced. Plus, if you’re somewhere remote and get a flat, you may not be within range of the next tire repair shop.
Self-sealing tires have a lining coated with special sealant inside the tire. When an object on the road pierces the tread, the sealant material "surrounds" the hole. Then when a nail or other debris is removed, the sealant fills the full area.
Downsides: The self-sealing tire won't work if a puncture is more than about a quarter of an inch in diameter. They also don’t work for sidewall holes, so if an object goes through the tread to the sidewall you’re going to have a dead flat and won’t be going anywhere.
Inflator kits are a growing — but less-than-ideal — substitute to the spare tire. New autos with standard tires sometimes come with an aerosol seal kit. Such products offer a very temporary fix for minor tread punctures so you can get to a nearby tire store or service station for repairs.
Some are as simple as $10 canned products that plug small puncture holes by spraying sealant into the flat via the air-inflation valve and inflating the tire just a bit. Other tire-sealant kits include a small air cartridge and a replaceable container of sealant at a cost between $20 to $80.
Downsides: Tire sealant kits only work on small holes in the tread, and they don’t work at all for slits or holes in the sidewall.
Sealants also leave grime inside the tire that can affect your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), the safety equipment that alerts you if you’ve lost air in a tire. Any time you use a sealant you’ll need to have the TPMS sensors in your tires cleaned. And sealants can easily damage these sensors. You’re looking at a cost of $45 to $100 per tire if they need to be replaced.
When Is It OK to Go Without a Spare Tire? And Not?
If you’re buying a new car, here are five tips for deciding whether to get a model with no spare, based on where you live, what type of driving you’re doing, cost, safety and convenience.
- The freeway shoulder can be a dangerous place to change a tire. If you live in an urban area with 24-hour towing, and you’re doing mostly daytime driving, you may be good with no spare. Just be sure you have AAA towing service ($69 a year for the basic package), roadside assistance coverage included in your auto insurance policy, or one of the new, on-demand services. Without it, a standard tow (around 5 miles) will cost you an average $109, according to Angie’s List.
- Decide up front if you’re willing to go spare-less for the life of your vehicle. If you find yourself regretting your decision later, you’ll pay more for an aftermarket tire, jack and lug wrench (typically $150 to $300) than you do when the kit comes as original equipment on a new car. Plus, there may not be a space to safely carry them in your vehicle if you bought a spare-less auto model.
- If you take a lot of road trips, routinely drive in places with long distances between service stations, or travel a lot on rougher roads, you need a spare tire. Getting a flat in rural areas means you could be a hundred miles or more to the nearest repair shop. If it’s after business hours, you could be looking at being marooned for hours, paying for a hotel for a night (or more if it’s a weekend), leaving a vehicle loaded with gear or belongings on the side of the road, and paying a hefty towing fee over a long stretch of highway.
I lease my 2013 Hyundai. I came out after work to a flat tire. I opened my trunk and imagine my surprise when there was no spare tire. I called Les Schwab and they said they had a guy in the neighborhood and he would be right there. He came and put air in my tire and followed me to the nearest store. It was after closing, but they kept the bays open for me. They removed the screw from my tire and sent me on my way with no charge. Who does that? I am a fan and tell everyone I know!
– Peggy P., Sacramento, CA
- Get a spare tire if you travel with small kids, especially if you're taking occasional road trips. Getting stranded with a flat and no spare can mean several hours of waiting for a tow, even in an urban area. This is sure to be stressful for parents and possibly unsafe for tots, especially if it’s a really hot or frigid day.
- If you have medical needs that need daily attention, better have a spare.
Flat tires can be a major, costly hassle — or simply a slight inconvenience. Especially in the West, where distances between tire service can be long and lonely, a spare tire is the most cost-effective insurance that you won’t get stuck by the side of the road.
Guide to Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Notice to our customers: Important changes affecting vehicles equipped with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems have been put into place.Learn More
What Is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System?
TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. It is a feature on many late model vehicles that monitors tire pressure and warns the driver, with a light on the dash, if one or more of the tires’ pressure falls 25% below the original equipment manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.
See the questions below to learn more about TPMS, and how to check if your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
Why does TPMS exist?
As a result of tire-related safety concerns, Congress passed the TREAD Act in 2000. The TREAD Act requires vehicle manufacturers to install TPMS in new vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less.
What vehicles have it?
Passenger cars, SUVs, and light trucks. TPMS has been progressively introduced in new vehicles since 2005. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.
How do I check to see if my vehicle has it?
When you start your vehicle, look at the dash for the TPMS warning lamp. If you see the warning lamp light up momentarily, your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
What does it mean when the warning lamp is on?
The warning lamp should light up briefly when the vehicle is started. But if the light stays on, that means tire pressure is low in one or more of the tires, or the system is not able to read the sensors. In this case, you should have your tire air pressure checked. We provide this service for free at all of our Les Schwab locations.
What kind of maintenance is required on my TPMS?
Replacement or relocation of a TPMS sensor, or sometimes even just inflating a tire may cause the TPMS to get out of whack. Generally, recalibration is easy to perform: we provide this service to customers free at all Les Schwab Tire Centers.
Does this mean I don’t need to check my tire pressure?
Regardless of TPMS, we recommend tire pressure checks every 30 days. Properly maintained tire pressure decreases tire wear and improves vehicle safety, handling, braking and fuel mileage. Come in anytime for a free air check.
Find Your Store
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.
How Do I Know If My Tires Need to Be Balanced?
Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel-tire set. It makes sure that weight is evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the unit. The common symptoms of out-of-balance tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or the seat that gets worse at faster speeds.
When all areas of the wheel-tire unit are as equal in weight as possible, the tire will roll smoothly. This helps it wear evenly, for longest life. Balancing also contributes to ride comfort: Imbalanced tires will wobble or hop up and down, which causes vibration. If a front tire isn’t properly balanced you’ll likely feel vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear the tremor will be noticeable in the seat or floor.
Imbalanced tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. It’s done by attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel.
How Do Wheels Get Out of Balance?
Everyday wear on tires will contribute to imbalance. Normal manufacturing imperfections are also a cause: Tires and wheels don’t have precisely equal weight distribution. They’ll be slightly heavier in some spots.
Just half an ounce in weight difference is enough to cause a vibration when you’re driving.
How Tires Are Rebalanced
Rebalancing is done in a tire shop by putting the wheel-tire unit on a tire balancing machine that takes measurements to pinpoint lighter or heavier areas and making adjustments to account for these weight differences. The best time to get it done is when tires are being rotated, both for convenience and because you might have a tire out of balance on the rear of the vehicle and won’t feel it until it is moved to the front.
Here’s how it’s done:
- A tire mounted on a wheel is attached to a tire balancing machine.
- The wheel is spun while vibration measurements are taken. This tells the tech if the weight is spread evenly, how much weight to add and where on the wheel to attach it.
- If an imbalance is found, the technician may be able to rebalance and adjust the weights (adding more). But sometimes it requires the tech to also move the tire on the wheel and then rebalance. This is because a heavy spot on the wheel and on the tire can sometimes line up together, causing a greater imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Balancing Versus Alignment
Though both should be part of regular auto maintenance, balancing isn’t the same as getting an alignment. Alignment is about correcting the angles of the tires so they’re properly positioned in relationship to each other and to the road. It gets the wheels all traveling in the same direction and makes sure the tires make contact with the ground as they should.
When to Get Tire Balancing Done:
- You feel vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or your seat.
- You get them rotated, generally every 5,000 miles.
- At the very least every two years, once yearly if you drive rough roads.
- You get a flat and repair a tire.
- You buy any new tire(s).
- A weight that used to be on the rim falls off.
- You notice uneven tire wear.
Vibration when underway could be caused by an imbalanced tire and wheel assembly or something else — a bent wheel, a damaged tire (which won’t be fixed by balancing), worn suspension parts or other aging components. If you feel a vibration, don’t wait to get it diagnosed. You’ll head off other problems — and enjoy a smoother ride — when your tires are well balanced.
Schedule an Appointment
How Do I Know When I Need New Tires?
The primary functions of tread are to divert water from beneath the tire, to improve traction and to avoid hydroplaning on wet roads. As tire tread wears down, it becomes less reliable. Find out when you need new tires in this video, or read about it below.
Tires become completely unsafe when they’re worn down to 1⁄16 of an inch. Many people prefer to replace their tires even sooner, especially when driving in adverse weather conditions.
Check Your Tread Wear Bars
All tires sold in the United States today have what are called tread wear bars. These are small raised bars of rubber in the grooves of your tire. Look at the tread pattern and you’ll see these bars running between the tread blocks. As your tires wear, these bars will become flush with the tire’s tread. When this happens, it’s time to replace the tires.
Do a Penny Test
An easy way to check the tread on your tires is to do the penny test. Take a penny and place Lincoln’s head in one of the grooves of the tire tread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tire.
If the penny goes in enough that the tire tread is at least as deep as Lincoln’s forehead, your tires are generally considered safe and do not need replacing. Make sure when you’re administering the penny test that you check all four of your tires.
While you’re at it, check a few spots on each tire to look for any irregular tread wear. This could indicate a wheel misalignment, need for tire rotation or both. Talk to one of our tire experts if you think your tires are wearing unevenly.
How to Change a Tire
Changing a flat tire isn’t rocket science, but there are some important things to know to make sure you get that spare on properly in order to make it safely to the tire shop. Follow along as we show you, step by step, how to do it in this Les Schwab Quick Tips video. We cover:
- What to do before you get tools out.
- How to find the proper jacking point on your vehicle.
- How much to loosen lug nuts before lifting the car.
- How to make sure the spare goes on correctly.
- The proper order for tightening lug nuts.
How to Change a Tire
- Safety first. Keep clear of passing traffic, make sure your car is in park, set your parking brake and turn on your hazard lights. If there’s any doubt about whether you can stay out of harm’s way, it’s better to call roadside assistance.
- Check your owner’s manual. It should have tire-changing instructions, including the location of the jacking point.
- Get your spare and tools out. They are usually stored in a compartment inside the trunk. There should also be instructions on how to use the jack.
- Be sure the jack is positioned properly. Make sure it’s pointed the right way and placed in the proper jacking point on the vehicle.
- Loosen lug nuts about a one-quarter turn before jacking.
- Jack the vehicle up enough so the tire is not touching the ground.
- Remove the lug nuts, setting them somewhere where they won’t roll away.
- Pull the flat tire off, placing it underneath your vehicle behind the jack or, if it’s too wide to fit there, in another spot under the auto if possible. This is important in case the vehicle falls off the jack.
- Put the spare on, making sure the valve stem is facing you.
- Screw the lugs nuts back on by hand, finger tight.
- Lower the jack down until the tire contacts the road and is bearing some weight, but not all the way.
- Tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern, not a circle pattern, so the wheel gets seated snugly. This assures the wheel isn’t askew, and doesn’t then pop into the proper place while you’re going down the road, loosening some of the bolts and causing wobbling or worse — like the nuts breaking and the wheel coming off.