How to Buy New Tires

Every year, nearly 11,000 accidents happen in the United States because  of old or bad tires. Even worse, most Americans don’t know how to tell if their tire tread is too low. The reality is that most people are driving unsafe vehicles every day and may not even realize it.

Part of taking care of your car involves maintaining proper fluid levels, keeping it clean, and taking your vehicle in for yearly inspections. However, people often overlook their tires, which are the most important piece of the puzzle for both auto safety and performance.

When you know how to recognize tire wear, you can gauge when it’s time to buy new tires. Understanding how to check your tires for safety and how to buy tires is essential for any responsible car owner. Let’s dive into what you need to know about purchasing new tires for your car. 

What You Need to Know Before Buying New Tires

When buying new tires, there are a few things you need to look for to make the best purchase for you. Take the time to consider some of the benefits you want from your new tires, as well as the level of performance you expect.

This information can help you choose a tire based on your preferences — along with the minimum requirements for your vehicle. 

Check the Minimum Requirements for Your Car

Have you ever noticed the series of letters and numbers on your tires? They don’t appear to make much sense at first glance, but they actually provide a lot of useful information.

You can get everything you need to purchase new tires from this series of numbers and alphabets on your old tires.  as well as the UTQG system, which describes the treadwear, traction, and temperature.

Important Tire Characteristics

Diagram of tire specifications

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Tire type refers to the kind of vehicle the tires can equip and tire size.

  • P = passenger-vehicle tires
  • LT = light truck tires
  • ST = special trailer tires
  • T = temporary tires

Tread width is the width of the tire in millimeters across the treads. The larger the number, the wider the tire. The wider the tire, the more grip and control while turning.

Aspect ratio is the division of the height by the width. The lower the number, the better the steering and maneuvering. The higher the number, the stronger the tire and the heavier loads it can carry.

The tire construction is either radial “R,” bias-belt “B,” or bias-ply “D.” Radial is the most common type — these tires have interior cord piles arranged at 90-degree angles to the direction of travel. Bias-belt tires have multiple layers of plies for reinforced construction. Bias-ply tires have straps layered in a criss-cross pattern. 

Diameter is the number of inches of the ideal-sized wheel. If you use a wheel that is too small, then the tire will not fit correctly. If you use a wheel that is too large, you risk stretching the tire and causing damage. The tire and wheel must fit well together.

The load rating is how well the tire carries large, heavy loads. The maximum load index is 150, and a tire with this rating can move 7,385 pounds.

The speed rating refers to how well the tire transfers heat. The faster and longer you drive in one sitting, the hotter the tires become. A tire needs to release heat. Otherwise, it will burst while driving. When buying new tires, you’ll want ones with the correct speed rating for your vehicle to prevent a burst tire.

Tire Speed Ratings

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All road vehicles like cars and trucks must have speed ratings of at least S for safety reasons. More commonly, you will find cars with ratings of T and H.

When buying new tires, check these details on your existing tires. You want to find out the minimum requirements for your car. Then, shop for tires that have the same or better ratings to get the level of performance you want. 

You can also choose tires with different characteristics if you want to have a different driving experience. For example, if you want to switch from a factory tire to a low and wide tire with increased steering and handling, you will want to buy tires with a lower aspect ratio and higher tread width. 

In addition to these seven factors, you also want to look at treadwear, traction, and temperature ratings. 

Tire Treadwear, Traction, and Temperature 

You should also be aware of the UTQG system. This system tells you the tires’ treadwear, traction, and temperature ratings as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and defined by the tire manufacturer. 

Picture of Uniform Tire Quality Grade System

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Treadwear expresses how long the tire should last. Keep in mind, while the NHTSA mandates the ratings, it’s the tire manufacturers that test the tires and decide on the actual number assigned. And, the manufacturers don’t have consistent standards.

As such, you should only compare the treadwear to other tires within a manufacturer’s lineup. Also, consider how driving conditions and driving habits will affect the tire’s life outside of this rating.

Traction is how well the tire grips the road, especially in wet conditions. The worst to best ratings are C, B, A, and AA.

Temperature is the tire’s ability to release or dissipate heat while in use. The minimum grade is C, and the maximum grade is A. C grade means the tire is still safe because it meets the NHTSA’s requirements.

While your local tire store is there to advise you on all the options, it helps if you know the driving experience you are looking for with your new tires. Understanding each of the numbers and letters can help you and your tire dealer discuss how to improve the tires for your vehicle.

How to Choose Tires Based on Weather Conditions and Type of Vehicle

Not all tires are the same. You need to consider the typical weather conditions in your area and whether or not you need to change your tires twice a year (summer tires and winter tires). Whether you drive a car or an off-road vehicle also matters.

There are five main tire types you can consider purchasing for your car, truck, or SUV.

  1. All-Season — These tires are for cars and are made to last in all weather conditions. All-season tires provide the best of all worlds with exceptional comfort, stability, treadwear, and handling.
  2. Passenger — These tires are best for cars and provide the smoothest ride. With their long-lasting tread, these tires are great for all seasons, too.
  3. Performance — These tires are for cars and provide enhanced grip and traction in dry and wet conditions. With their larger diameter and lateral grooves, you are sure to be safe on the road.
  4. All-Terrain — These tires are for trucks and SUVs and provide improved traction for all weather conditions on and off the road. They are an excellent option because they are comfortable for streets while also being aggressive for off-road conditions.
  5. Sport Truck — These tires are for trucks and SUVs and are sometimes called performance truck tires. These tires provide excellent comfort, handling, and traction in all weather conditions.

There are several other types available when you are buying tires, but these five types are the most common.

Summer and Winter Tires

If you live in an area that experiences heavy snow or ice, you may want to look into special tires designed for those conditions. Winter tires are made to provide better traction when the roads are snowy, slushy, or icy.

They also have a higher rubber content than other types of tires, which makes them more flexible. While this extra flexibility enables them to perform well in the winter, they’re not meant to be used as year-round tires. Driving them in the summer can wear them down quickly.

Summer tires is another term for performance tires. Because these tires are meant to handle wet or dry conditions, you can use them all year round in mild climates or swap them for your winter tires in early spring. 

Driving Style

Everyone drives differently, so the tire buying process is different for every individual. Ultimately, you choose your tire based on what you prefer.

If you favor smoother drives that require less handling, touring and passenger tires should meet your needs. However, if you desire increased handling for highway traffic, performance tires should meet your needs.

To figure out the best tire for you, consider your driving habits. If you drive for hours every day, whether in traffic or the open road, you need new tires with a long life (treadwear) and excellent temperature release. 

Buying tires for your vehicle that will handle long hours and heat will keep you on the road and out of the shop. The right tires can also improve gas mileage when properly equipped. 

If you do not drive very much and are limited to stop-and-go city traffic, you need new tires that support braking capability and quiet driving. While going through a city, you never truly know when you will need to stop suddenly. With the right tire tread, you are ready for anything that may jump out into the street.

Likewise, there is a lot of noise and debris in cities. Buying quiet tires can minimize the noise and improve your driving experience.

Signs Your Tires Are Ready for a Change

Knowing when to change your tires is just as crucial as actually changing them. However, it can be challenging to know when it’s time for new tires. And unfortunately, most people don’t know how to check their tires until it’s too late.

Here are the signs to look for to determine if you’re driving around with worn tires that need to be replaced.

Sign #1: The Tread Is Too Low

There is a simple trick that goes a long way in preserving the health of your tire and vehicle. Your tire is no longer safe and is considered illegal in some states if the tread is below 2/32”.

The easiest way to measure your tread is to use a penny. Take the penny and position it to where Lincoln’s head is entering the tread.

Picture of a penny being used to determine thread life

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If you can see Lincoln’s head, your tread is too low. This means it’s time to change your tires immediately. If you keep driving with them, you risk hydroplaning and losing control while on the road.

If you cannot see Lincoln’s head, your tires have some more life ahead of them. However, it is essential to note that you are losing significant traction as the tread gets closer to Lincoln’s head.

While 2/32” is the legal limit for tires, your tires may need to be changed well before they reach that limit. Speak with your local tire shop or mechanic about the health of your tires to find out if you need to change them immediately.

In between conversations with your mechanic and tire changes, you should test every tire in multiple locations to determine whether the tread is still safe. Some parts of a tire will wear out sooner than others, so use the penny test in several areas when checking the tread.

You do not have to conduct a tire check every day or every week. One to two times a month should be plenty. As you notice the tread getting lower and lower, you may want to make more frequent checks.

Sign #2: Your Tires Are Dry

Tires are 60% synthetic rubber and 40% natural rubber. This combination gives the tire the necessary toughness and flexibility for driving on the road.

Even though rubber lasts a while in the elements, it does wear out eventually. Cold and hot weather can damage your tire more than you realize. Due to their construction, tires can begin to crack before the tread wears out. Cracking typically occurs when a car is stored for long periods of time.

Picture of tire sidewall cracking due to weather

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Dry rot occurs in harsh weather conditions that cause the rubber to dry out more quickly. It can also show up if there is a lack of use. Dry rot may not look like much of an issue initially, but there is no way to honestly know the damage done until you bring the car into the shop.

If you continue driving the vehicle with rotted tires, you risk popping the tire while driving.

Sign #3: You Tire Seems to Be Steadily Deflating

Tires hold the wheel; they don’t just sit on the wheel. They have a unique inner tube for the air to prevent the tire from going flat. If you’re concerned that your tires might be going flat, check the following:

  1. Look for the tire valve cap. Sometimes a valve cap will fall off while driving. Over time, air will release and cause a flat tire. All you need to do is replace the valve cap.
  2. Look for nails or anything that might have punctured the tire. Whether it be on the treads or on the tire’s sidewall, a punctured tire will eventually go flat. If you find a nail in the tire, you might be able to fix it yourself. However, you should bring the car to a tire shop because the damage might be worse than you think.
  3. Look to see if the wheel or rim is bent. The tire cannot probably hug the wheel if this happens, so air releases faster than expected.

Picture of a flat tire

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Staying on top of tire maintenance is essential to preserving the life of your vehicle and staying safe while driving. Make sure you check your tires every few weeks with an air pressure gauge and look for cracks or bulges.


Proper vehicle maintenance begins and ends with tires. By regularly checking your tire pressure and treadwear, you ensure a safe and comfortable ride at all times.

When buying tires, you should know what to look for and how to read your tire’s parameters. Not only can this help you save money, but it can also help you understand how to improve your riding experience.

At Guardian Auto Transport, we know how much work you put into your car to keep it in excellent condition. That’s why we assure you that you can trust us to deliver your vehicle safely, no matter where you need it to go.