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.
How to Avoid or Repair a Flat Tire on Your RV or Trailer
Family adventures in your RV or with your trailer in tow can come to a screeching halt with just one flat tire. Now what? If you’re planning ahead and wondering what you’ll need to change a flat tire on your RV or trailer, we’ve put together some tips and a list of the items you’ll need in addition to the tire-changing tools you’ll need for your own vehicle.
We talked to some of our tire experts at Les Schwab Tire Center Headquarters who spend most of their summer weekends exploring their favorite places across Oregon in their RVs or with their trailers in tow. In fact, we even checked out some of the toolkits they carry in their RVs and trailers to see what they take along. Here’s what we found and what they recommend.
Start With the Spare
Your RV or trailer spare tire is one of the most important items you can carry when you travel. Without it, you may be waiting for roadside assistance or unhooking your rig and driving back into town to fix the trailer tire.
Before you head out, bring your spare RV or Trailer tire into the Les Schwab Tire Center near you. We’ll check it for cracks, separating tread, and other issues that could leave you stranded.
Les Schwab Tip: Be sure your spare is easily accessible. If it’s not mounted to the back of the RV or trailer, put it somewhere that is easy to access.
Visually Inspect Your RV and Trailer Tires at Every Stop
It’s tough to tell if your RV or trailer tire is on the verge of tire failure or a flat. Every time you stop for gas, bathroom breaks, or meals, check all the tires for wear, escaping air, and cracks. If you notice anything unusual, get to the nearest Les Schwab before it becomes a problem.
Les Schwab Tip: If your tire goes flat anywhere near one of our locations, we may be able to come to you during regular business hours. Give us a call.
Check the Tire Pressure
A lot of RV and trailer tire failures happen because of low tire pressure. With a simple gauge, an electric pump, or a trip to Les Schwab, you can help keep your tire pressure at an optimum level. Check out Using a Tire Pressure Gauge for more helpful advice.
Pack Extra Tools
Do you have all the right tools to change ALL of the tires on your RV or trailer? This list should help you get back on the road quickly if you ever need to change a flat tire.
- Leather Gloves to protect your hands. Our tire experts have changed thousands of flat tires and they list heavy gloves as a must-have. Any gloves are better than nothing, but they affirm that leather gloves are more durable when handling heavy, hot metal.
- Bottle Jack is a compact lifting device that comes in a variety of sizes and lifting capacities. Bring a piece of plywood with your bottle jack will help stabilize it and prevent it from sinking into the ground if the shoulder is soggy, the asphalt is hot, or if it’s otherwise unstable. You’ll be glad you have it if you find yourself with a blowout in a muddy patch of road.
- Long Handle Lug Wrench comes in a variety of sizes and is essential for loosening the lug nuts. You’ll also need sockets that fit the lugs on EVERY wheel. Remember to check the spare, too. Those lugs can often be a different size.
- Torque Wrench will help you tighten the lugs properly without damaging the wheel studs.<
- Socket Set and Cordless Impact Wrench and/or Gun to make some of the work easier. You’ll still need the lug wrench to loosen each lug and the torque wrench to tighten them properly.
- Bolt Cutter. Those who’ve been traveling by RV or hauling trailers for a while have changed a flat or two over the years. One thing they’ve learned to always carry is a bolt cutter to remove the steel cords from a tire that has failed and wrapped itself around the axle. Long handles can help reach where you need it.
- Reflectors or Flares don’t need to be expensive or heavy duty to help alert traffic and keep you safe. In addition to turning on your hazard lights, place one reflector close behind your RV or trailer and another 10-15 feet farther away. (Not Shown)
- Mat or Towel to protect your knees from the inevitable, unforgiving pavement and rocks. You’ll appreciate the protective layer to keep your clothes a little drier and cleaner when the road is hot and dirty in the summer or cold and icy in the winter. (not shown)
Other Tips for Getting Your RV or Trailer Ready for the Road
Before you head out, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips to get your RV or trailer ready for the road. As you’re planning your road trip, use this handy interactive essential road trip checklist to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared as possible.
Les Schwab Knows RV and Trailer Tires
Incorrect tightening of a replaced tire can cause damage, so swing by a Les Schwab and we’ll check it out for free. Your local Les Schwab carries the right tires, wheels, and accessories for your RV or trailer, plus we’re here to inspect your tires, including your spare, and offer helpful advice for your next outing. Stop by or schedule an appointment today.
Tire Speed Rating and Why It Matters
The tire speed rating is the maximum speed tires can safely carry a load (the original weight of your vehicle plus whatever’s in it) for a sustained amount of time in ideal conditions. The rating is molded on the tire sidewall, signified by a letter or two, usually after the load index number. Together, the load index and speed rating form the service description.
Each letter in the speed rating represents a maximum speed based on a standard chart.
The main things to know:
- Generally, the higher in the alphabet a tire is rated, the better it will manage heat and faster speeds. There’s an exception for the H rating; read on for why.
- Your actual speed capacity may be less than a tire’s rating. The rating indicates a new tire’s performance in tightly controlled lab settings, not the open road. Tire condition, inflation level, extra cargo, road surfaces and weather are everyday limits that play into a tire’s maximum safe speed.
- If you have tires with different speed ratings, the limit of the lowest rated tire is the fastest you can drive and stay within your tires’ capability.
- The most common ratings are S and T (sedans, minivans, light trucks); H (some passenger cars, sports cars, coupes, some light trucks); N, P, Q and R (light trucks); and V, W and Y (high-performance cars). Most winter tires have Q, S or T speed ratings.
Tire Speed Rating Chart
Here are the symbols and translation into mph:
SPEED SYMBOL SPEED (mph) SPEED SYMBOL SPEED (mph) SPEED SYMBOL SPEED (mph) A1 3 E 43 S 112 A2 6 F 50 T 118 A3 9 G 56 U 124 A4 12 J 62 H 130 A5 16 K 68 V 149 A6 19 L 75 ZR* W 168 A7 22 M 81 Y 186 A8 25 N 87 (Y) Above 186 B 31 P 93 *For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph, a ZR may appear in the size designation... above 186 mph, a ZR must appear in the size designation, including a Y speed symbol in brackets. C 37 Q 99 D 40 R 106
*For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph, a ZR may appear in the size designation... above 186 mph, a ZR must appear in the size designation, including a Y speed symbol in brackets.
Note: Yes, the H rating is out of place and that’s not a typo. When tire speed ratings were first developed in Europe in the 1960s, there were only three ratings: S, H and V. As tire technology developed and new speed classes were introduced, the ratings table expanded to include the full alphabet. But the letter H kept its original speed rating of 130 mph, so it sits later in the chart.
Z-rated tires will sometimes have the letters ZR embedded with the tire size information instead of in the service description.
How are Speed Ratings Determined?
Tire manufacturers determine a tire’s capacity for heat and speed using a testing machine. Usually testing is done to meet ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) standards, so the scale is based on kilometers per hour (km/h). A more rigorous test is sometimes done to meet SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standards.
- For the ECE test, the tire is properly inflated and mounted on a wheel attached to a testing machine in a room that’s heated to 77 degrees F.
- The tire is pressed against a metal drum with enough pressure to simulate a realistic load.
- Starting at a speed 40 km/h lower than the proposed rating level, the tire is spun for 10-minute increments at higher and higher speeds, until it reaches the target speed.
- The tire spins for 10 minutes at the target speed.
- It’s then removed from the machine and inspected for any failures, like separation of tread components. If it’s intact, it passes the speed rating.
- Sometimes an SUS (step-up speed) test will be added after the tire performs at the target speed rating. Speed is increased until the tire fails.
- If the tire is being tested at the SAE standard, it’s required to run for an hour at target speed in a room heated to 100 degrees.
How Much Does It Matter for Your Driving & Tread Life?
Tires with higher speed ratings offer handling benefits that thrill some drivers, but there are tradeoffs. Since they’re usually made with softer rubber compounds and stiffer construction they offer better cornering, stopping power and steering response. But expect a little less ride comfort, lower performance in cold conditions and shorter tread life. Consumer Reports found that some H- and V-rated tires didn’t last as long as those rated for lower speeds, wearing out closer to 50,000 miles than 60,000 miles.
What Rating Do You Need?
Even in states where rural speed limits are 75 mph, most drivers will stay well below the speed limitations of H-rated tires. Commuters and family car drivers will likely be quite satisfied with S or T tires.
If you’re a spirited driver with a high-performance car, you may be happier with V, W or Y tires. Light truck drivers will be looking for symbols N, P, Q, R, S, T or H.
If you’re replacing tires and think you may want a lower- or higher-speed-rated tire, it’s best not to mix and match. When mounting differently rated tires, techs prefer to put the lower-speed-rated ones on the front to prevent oversteering. This can conflict with the best practice of putting the tires with the most tread on the rear, which is important for wet traction.
Get tires with the same speed rating. If you don’t, remember that the maximum mph is limited to the tire with the lowest speed rating.
Tire speed rating is not like a speed limit posted on highway signs. It’s based on lab simulations and doesn’t account for real-life factors that determine true tire capability: Are the tires fully inflated? Is your vehicle properly aligned? How hot is the road? Have you ever had a flat repaired? What’s the age and state of the tread?
Don’t use the rating as a guideline for the top speed you can drive. If you’re carrying a heavy load, have a tire that’s been patched after a puncture, or low on air, your tire’s speed capacity will be much reduced. For safe driving, keep your speed at the posted speed limit — or below, when road conditions or the weather aren’t ideal.
Important Notice: The information provided above is derived from sources deemed reasonably reliable. The operation of your vehicle, or the replacement of your vehicle’s equipment, may be different than for a typical vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual for specific warnings, notices, and other advice relative to the subjects addressed.
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.
Shop for Summer Tires
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.
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.
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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.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a smallish impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment.
The potential problems can go beyond your wheel-tire assembly. A pothole strike can result in broken shocks or struts, dents or cracks in the body, or harm to other suspension or engine parts.
It’s important to get your vehicle checked after a harsh encounter with a pothole — or any debris — on the road. Some damage will be obvious, like a flat tire, while some may not be visible. Get your car in for a look-see right away, especially if you notice these indicators:
- A tire looks low. This could be a slow leak from a bent rim.
- You see a bulge on the tire sidewall, a sign the tightly packed cords of steel belts and nylon in the tread have separated.
- Your car pulls to the left or right when you’re driving straight. Your wheels are probably out of alignment.
- You feel a vibration in the steering, seat or floor, a symptom of imbalanced tires.
- You hear a new noise when underway. Something may be rubbing on your suspension.
- A dashboard warning light comes on.
Here’s some background on Road Enemy No. 1: the common types of damage, what repairs may cost and whether your auto insurance will pay for them, and how to avoid these expensive hazards.
Yes, There Are LOTS of Potholes
It’s not your imagination. American drivers are putting up with a lot of potholes, and the price tag is steep.
A 2016 AAA study found potholes cost U.S. drivers an estimated $3 billion in repairs annually. Over the last five years, an estimated 16 million drivers have sustained such damage to their tires, wheels or suspension.
Why such high numbers? The nation’s blacktop is aging. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance so much-needed repairs are backlogged. Extreme cold, heat, rain and excess water under roadways also mean more cracks in the road, which is how potholes are born.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Unless the hole is relatively large or you’re going really fast, the pothole strike probably won’t puncture your tire, or damage part of your suspension or engine. But bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, body damage, and shocks and struts issues are common.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask him/her to check for:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment.
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts.
- Intact tire balancing weights.
- Bent or cracked wheel rim.
- Damage to the engine or exhaust system.
- Damage to shocks and struts.
- Other broken suspension components.
What Will the Repairs Cost Me?
Auto repair costs due to potholes can range anywhere from $50 to $500. American drivers report paying $300, on average, to fix pothole-related vehicle damage, according to AAA.
If a tire is damaged, check your tire warranty. If it’s a good one, repairs or replacement from road impacts may be free.
If your tire isn’t covered by a good warranty and it’s damaged beyond repair, a new tire will cost you on average $128 ($155 for light truck tires) in 2017 prices. Bent wheels can often be fixed but replacing a single rim may cost you between $75 and $500, depending on how fancy it is and whether welding, repainting or refinishing is needed.
Does Auto Insurance Cover Damage from Potholes?
If you don’t have a strong tire warranty or if the impact caused damage to other parts of the vehicle, check your insurance policy. If you have collision coverage, auto insurance may cover the cost of repairs, but there’s usually a high deductible to meet. Because such an incident is considered a collision by your insurer, reporting it may jack up your insurance rate. It may turn out that just paying for repairs will be cheaper than filing a claim.
First, get a repair estimate. Then, talk to your insurance agent about whether it’s smarter to self-pay or file a claim. It depends on your driving record and your insurer.
Check Your Car Dealer Service Warranty
Before shelling out the dough for repairs, also read your vehicle’s service warranty. Some car dealers offer tire/wheel protection plans as options on long-term warranties, in some states and on some vehicles. Such plans may cover damage to tires and wheels caused by potholes, nails, glass and other road hazards, dent repair, windshield fixes, labor and even towing charges.
Tips for Avoiding Hazards
There’s an app for this. Really.
Waze provides driving directions along with real-time alerts on road hazards (including potholes), slowdowns, construction zones and accidents.
In the future, connected car and self-driving car technology will probably assign the work of avoiding potholes to your onboard computer. Technology to detect potholes in real time and share out the info to help motorists avoid them and help authorities prioritize repairs is well along.
In the meantime, here are the best ways to prevent pothole damage and stay safe.
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 so you can see what’s coming.
Be cautious about leaving your lane. Swerving to avoid a pothole is one thing on a country lane, but it’s another at highway speed. Use good judgment and always be conscious of traffic around you. Recognize that though you miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting. It may be safer to just brace yourself and drive straight through the hole.
When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and straighten your steering wheel. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
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.
Use our Store Locator to find the Les Schwab nearest you.
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.
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.
- Lower the vehicle the rest of the way. You’re ready to drive slowly to the closest tire shop to get your regular tire repaired or replaced.
Spares are meant to be driven on short distances and not at high speed. The speed rating of your spare tire may be lower than your normal tires’. Have a tire technician check the condition of your spare at the shop so it’s ready next time you need it.
How to: Make Your Tires Last Longer
Do you like plunking down your hard-earned money on a new set of tires? Unless you’re a true enthusiast, probably not. If you want to extend the life of your tires, improve your car’s ride, and have a safer drive, follow these four quick tips.
1. Check Your Tire Air Pressure Monthly
Take the easiest step to extend tire life: Maintain the correct air pressure. The wrong air pressure can cause sluggish handling, increase stopping distance, increase wear and tear and heighten the risk of a blowout. Tire pressure changes:
- Every month. Tires can lose about a pound per square inch (PSI) of pressure monthly.
- In winter, when colder temperatures can lower air pressure.
- In summer, when warm weather increases tire air pressure.
This isn’t just about money, either. Proper tire pressure is important for safety. A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Crash Causation Survey found tire issues in one out of 11 crashes. (Source: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811617.pdf [PDF]) Correct air pressure improves fuel efficiency. Underinflated tires mean you’re getting fewer miles to the gallon and paying more for gas than you need to. You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. (See more gas mileage tips at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml.) The right tire pressure is an easy "win." Go check!
2. Get Your Tires Rotated Every 5,000 Miles
In most cars, only one or two wheels “drive” the car at a time. That can cause uneven tire wear. For example, on front-wheel drive vehicles, front tires wear faster. On rear-wheel drive vehicles, it’s the back tires. Even all-wheel drive vehicles can see uneven wear, as most shift the drive from one wheel to another. A technician rotates your tires by moving them to different wheel positions on the vehicle. That gives tires on drive wheels a rest and evens out wear. Rotation makes tires last longer. Do it every 5,000 miles.
3. Have Wheels Balanced
Tire rotation is a great time to get your wheels balanced, as well. Every tire and wheel has a heavy spot in it. None is perfect, even when brand new. The difference is tiny, measured in one-quarter to one-half ounces. But that small difference can cause vibration and uneven tire wear. Your mechanic can balance each wheel using a specialized machine and small weights. As the tire wears, he may need to move or change that weight. It’s a fast, easy process that costs a lot less than a new tire! Make sure you get your tires’ balance checked and adjusted during rotation.
4. Check Your Alignment Twice a Year
Misalignment may make your tires toed-in (“pigeon-toed”) or toed-out (“duck-footed”).
If your car actively pulls or drifts right or left, or the steering wheel vibrates or shakes, your car may have an alignment problem. But your car or truck could be driving fine and still be out of alignment. When you bump up against a parking lot barrier, hit a pothole, or hit the curb, something has to give, and it’s often your alignment. The smallest misalignment can reduce fuel efficiency, and increase tread wear. Your mechanic can adjust your car’s alignment. Take your car in for a check every six months. Or whenever you think something is wrong. A little maintenance can help save a lot of money. Follow these easy, inexpensive tire maintenance tips and you can increase tire life. You’ll also improve gas mileage, extend the life of your car, and make your drive a safer one. You can start right now: Check your tire pressure. See? That wasn’t hard, and you just saved yourself some money.
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.
How to Store Seasonal Tires and Wheels
If you’re using seasonal tires for summer and winter driving, tire storage can raise some questions about how to keep them out of your way, in good condition, and ready for your next seasonal changeover. Here are some tips to help your next seasonal changeover go smoothly.
When to Make the Change
When you live in the west, you’re bound to experience some extreme winter driving conditions. Owning a separate set of studded or studless winter tires mounted on a set of wheels is a great way to save yourself a lot of time and money. Plus, it’ll make your journeys into the snow and mountains a lot safer.
But, don’t be tempted to use your winter tires all year long. We share 4 Reasons Not to Drive Your Winter Tires Through Summer. The bottom line is that the softer rubber compound used in winter tires is great for traction in the snow and ice, but not for withstanding summer temperatures. You can put them on when average temperatures fall below 45 degrees. And, you can swap them out when average temperatures reach 45 degrees. With or
A winter storm is on the way and it’s time to change from your regular tires to a set of four winter tires. When those tires are mounted on wheels (also known as rims), the changeover will go a lot faster. Plus, it’s often a lot easier on both sets of your tires. Adding your winter tires to their own set of wheels can often pay for itself in just a few seasons. Here’s why:
- Taking tires on and off a set of wheels could potentially damage your tires over time.
- Rocks, deicer, salt, and other debris found on winter roads can damage the finish of your quality, summer-driving wheels. Having a separate set of winter wheels keeps your other set looking like new.
- There is a fee to remove and replace tires on wheels. When tires are already mounted on their own wheels, it’s treated like a tire rotation, which is a free service when you have tires from Les Schwab.
Cleaner is Better
Grime, tar, rocks, and other debris can really build up on your tires and wheels. Every time you have your tires changed out for the season, take them home and clean them off before storing. Scrub them with soap and water, then allow them to dry completely. Storing wet wheels can encourage rust and cause pits in the metal. Even a little moisture can cause problems.
- Clean your tires and wheels before storing them.
- Dry completely to avoid pitting and rust.
- Storing Tires Upright or Sideways
When you visit us at the local Les Schwab tire shop near you, you’ll notice that we store most of our tires upright. This method takes up less room and can often be better for the tires over a long period. However, aside from buying or building your own tire racks or stands for your garage, most people just stack them sideways. Either works and, over a handful of months, neither will likely cause any damage to your tires.
- Don’t stack tires more than four high to avoid injury if they fall.
- If your tires are mounted to wheels, be sure your tires are properly inflated before stacking.
Keep Tires Covered
Once your tires are clean and ready to be stored, put them back into the yellow Les Schwab bags after changing them out. If you don’t have Les Schwab bags, large garbage bags will also work. Depending on where you store them, do what you can to keep dust, leaves, and other materials off the tires. Other tips include:
- Keep tires out of the sun because ultraviolet light can degrade tire rubber.
- Keep tires out of the elements and under a cover (roofline, awning, shed, garage) to minimize wear and to maintain the life of your tires.
- Try to regulate the temperature where your tires are stored as much as possible.
The Right Tires for Any Weather
Your local Les Schwab is ready to help with your seasonal changeovers. Be sure to schedule your appointment to avoid the winter and springtime rush. Or just stop by. We’ll get you in and out, and help keep you safe whatever the driving conditions.