How to Buy Tires: The Complete Tire Shoppers Guide

How to Shop for Tires

Shopping for tires is like shopping for a pair of shoes. You need something that fits right, that is going to perform well in whatever situation you are going to use them, and you want them to look good too! There are many different brand names out there, as well as many different places to buy them from. You can even shop for them online from the comfort of your own home. Shopping for tires isn’t hard, but it does require a little knowledge on your part to make sure that you get what you want.

Functions of Tires

Your vehicles tires are one of the most important parts of your car because they are the only part that actually comes into contact with the road. Because of this it is important to understand the basic functions of a tire and how to properly maintain them. The basic functions of a tire are:

  1. To contain pressurized air – this is what actually acts as a barrier between the road and your vehicles wheels.
  2. To provide a comfortable ride by absorbing impact from the road.
  3. To transfer acceleration and braking forces to the road.

What Size Tires Does My Vehicle Need?

Before you can begin to shop around for the best deal on some new tires, there’s a few things you are going to need to know. The first thing is what kind of vehicle you have: year, make and model. Next is finding out what size tires your vehicle needs. To do this, you can go look on the sidewall of one of the tires that is currently on your vehicle now. The tire size will start with a “P” or “LT” and then a series of seven numbers. For example: P205/65R15. If you have a newer car and the tires on the car now were the original tires that came with it, they should be the correct size. If you are not sure if the tires on your vehicle now are the correct size, there are a few ways to find out: you can find this information either in your vehicles owners manual or on a tire information sticker inside the drivers door jam. If you don’t have an owners manual or can’t find the tire information sticker, you can: 1) Call your local tire store and have them look it up for you or 2) Look it up online through most major brand tire websites. Most of them have a tire size finder that you can use by typing in your vehicles year, make and model.

Understanding Tire Sizes

Your vehicles tire size may seem like a weird combination of letters and numbers that doesn’t really make any sense, but let’s break it down to better understand what each part means. Using the example of a tire size P235/75R15:

  • “P” or “LT”? – “P” stands for passenger car and “LT” stands for light truck. Most vehicles, even SUV’s or small trucks still come with “P” designated tires. Usually, vehicles over 3/4 ton require the “LT” tires because these are heavy duty tires built with higher pressure ratings for heavy vehicles.
  • “235” – The first three numbers of the tire size is the width of the tread measured in millimeters.
  • “75” – The second two numbers of the tire size represent the aspect ratio, or tread to sidewall height ratio. Here, the tire sidewall is 75% of the tread width.
  • “R” represents radial tire construction. Most new tires will have this designation.
  • “15” – The last two numbers represent the tire rim size in inches. This tire size will only fit 15″ wheels.

You may also see a few more numbers and letters following your tire size. For example: P215/60R16 97H. These numbers represent your tires load rating and speed rating which you should make sure you look at when replacing your tires. If your vehicle gets installed with tires that do not have the recommended load and speed ratings for your vehicle, you can not expect to get good performance from your tires.

UTQG Ratings

UTQG stands for uniform tire quality grading. These ratings were established by the national highway traffic safety administration and can help you in comparing tires. The UTQG rating will conist of a number and two or three letters. For example: 350AA.

  • Treadwear – The first number is the treadwear rating. This is one of the best ways to compare tire mileage. The higher the number, the longer tread life the tires will have.
  • Traction – The first letter is the traction rating. Tires traction ratings can be either C, B, A or AA with AA being the best.
  • Temperature – The second letter is the temperature rating. “A” being the best B or C being next best.

When shopping for tires, use these grades as your basis for comparing tires. The most beneficial of these being the treadwear rating. You can compare and shop tires based on their mileage and comparing tire prices to mileage ratings. For example: a tire with a treadwear rating of 500 will last twice as long as one rated 250. If comparing two similar priced tires and one has a much higher treadwear rating, then you can expect to get higher mileage from the one with the higher treadwear rating at a similar price.

Where Should I Buy Tires?


Make sure when you are getting prices on tires that the salesperson is giving you the TOTAL price including: mounting, balancing, new valve stems, road hazard warranty, and tax! Some tire service centers are notorious for telling you one price and then at checkout, you will be shocked after they have added all of the “hidden charges”. Avoid this by asking for the complete total up front!

Your Local Tire Shop

Buying tires from your local tire store can be convenient, but before you rush out the door, do a little research first. The best way to shop for tires from local tire shops is over the phone. Call around and check prices on your size tires and compare their brands. Get mileage ratings, performance ratings, and warranty information. Make a list of what brands they have, their mileage ratings and prices. Call around to a few local shops and compare what they all have. Another important point of comparison is their maintenance policy. Do they offer free tire rotation, balancing, and tire repairs? Does that come automatically with the tires or is it extra?

Buying Tires Online

Online tire buying is a great new venue for tire shoppers. There are a few sites out there and they usually have pretty good deals. Sometimes these websites are even cheaper than the local tire shops. You can even have tires shipped directly to a local shop where you can have them installed! However, there are a few disadvantages to buying tires online. First is that sometimes you pay separately for tire mounting and balancing. This means that you buy the tires, have them shipped and then still have to pay someone else to install them on your vehicle. Another is that all warranties will be difficult to handle. If something were to go wrong with one of your tires and it needed replacement, you would have to have it shipped off to get it warrantied which could take weeks. Whereas with buying your tires through the local tire shop would have it replaced and back on your vehicle the same day.

Should I Buy Whitewall Tires?

Whitewall Tires

While most whitewall tires are out of production, you can find a few companies out there who still manufacture them. If none of your local tire stores sell them in your size, you can try buying them online through Coker Tire.

Whether or not you should put them on your vehicle is entirely up to you. Whitewall tires look great on older vehicles, especially antique cars that originally came with them installed from the factory. However, it can look totally wrong on newer vehicles so take time to decide whether you think they would look acceptable on your car.

Does My Car Need High Performance Tires?

Speed Ratings for High Performance Tires Remember to get tires with the correct speed ratings for your vehicle. For many sports cars, you will most likely need tires with at least an H speed rating or higher. For exotic sports cars, you may even need W or Y rated tires – (186 mph/ 300 km/h)!

If You Wanna Play, You Gotta Pay!

Most sports cars require special tires with specific speed capabilities. These are called high performance or ultra high performance (UHP) tires. These tires have a softer rubber compound which can flex and bend more than a standard passenger car tire can which helps with steering and braking at high speeds. If your vehicles manufacturer requires that you need high performance tires, you should absolutely buy them. Failure to keep your vehicle installed with high performance tires could cause you to lose control of your vehicle at high speeds. The big downside to having to buy UHP tires is that they are usually quite pricey, and because of the soft rubber compound, they normally do not get high mileage. Depending on their speed rating, most normally get between 10,000 to 40,000 miles before needing replacement so don’t expect to get out cheap on these tires.

Making a Decision

So now that you know what tires are out there and compared prices, its time to decide which ones to get. Remember, though, that the most important factor in deciding which tires to get is to decide what works best for you. Do you not plan on keeping your car much longer? You may just go with the cheapest thing out there and not worry about mileage and warranties. Or you may think you are keeping your car for the foreseeable future and decide you want a long lasting, smooth riding set of tires. The choice is yours and it is entirely up to you how to go from here, so don’t let any smooth talking salesperson tell you what they think you should get. Remember, you being the customer, are always right!