How to Choose the Best Tires for Your Car, SUV or Minivan

by Contributor

Most people know very little about their tires. Many people think one tire is like another and purchase the least expensive tire available. There's certainly nothing wrong with purchasing the least expensive tire available, but you'll get more satisfaction from your driving experience by choosing tires appropriate for your car and your driving habits. This article shows you how to act like a tire sales professional and select the best tires for you and your vehicle.

Every new vehicle is fitted with a tire placard like this sample. Older vehicles also have tire placards with the necessary information.

The first step in choosing tires for your car or SUV is to understand the manufacturer's requirements for your vehicle. These requirements are found on the tire placard and the owner's manual for your vehicle. Of course, you may not have the owner's manual if you purchased your vehicle as a second owner. But every vehicle manufactured for the last few decades has a placard on the vehicle that is simple enough to find. It is usually in the driver's door, but may also be found in the passenger door, gas tank lid, center console compartment, glove compartment or trunk. Locating this placard takes only a few moments. This placard documents the manufacturer's minimum requirements for your vehicle's tires, including tire size, front and rear cold tire pressures, seating capacity, load index and speed rating. For this article's purposes, we will assume that you have not altered your vehicle from the manufacturer specifications, such as purchasing custom wheels that are larger than the original equipment.

There are as many different tread patterns and sizes for different driving habits and needs.

Armed with the information from your tire placard or your owner's manual, you're now much better prepared to purchase tires. But before you begin to make phone calls, you can simplify the ordeal by asking yourself the same questions the tire sales professional will ask, i.e. What is the year, make and model of your vehicle? What is the original manufacturer tire size and specifications (this is on the tire placard discussed in Step 1)? Do you want 40,000 mile tires, 60,000 mile tires, or 80,000 mile tires? Do you get off road at all? Do you want a highway tire or all-terrain tire? Do you have a brand preference? Do you have a brand that you don't like? Which tires do you have now? How well have you liked them? Do you want something with raised white lettering or white walls? Do you tend to drive fast and corner hard, and therefore require more of a performance tire? Or do you have average driving habits? When do you need the tires? How much are you prepared to spend? What if you can only afford 2 tires now and 2 tires later? Most tires made today are all-season tires, also called mud and snow (M & S rated).

TPMS sensors like this are a safety feature on all vehicles manufactured after September 2007.

You should also consider whether your vehicle is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). While this doesn't necessarily affect what kind of tire you purchase, it can limit your ability to plus size your wheels and tires if you choose to do so. All passenger and light truck vehicles manufactured after September 2007 are required to have TPMS by the federal government. It is also helpful to let the salesperson know on the phone that your vehicle has TPMS, as there will most always be additional charges for each dismount/mount, as well as a relearn procedure, for most TPMS-equipped vehicles. This will likely run about $40-$60 for vehicles with this TPMS feature. Be aware that it is a federal offense to knowingly and purposefully disable this safety feature.

When you call, you'll want to choose friendly, knowledgeable sales people.

Now you're ready to call your local tire retailers. When making your calls, have a pen and paper handy to make notes of the tires offered to you, as well as pricing. You can research all the tires offered on the Internet (as you're doing here) to help you make your decision, if you like. Listen to the salespeople you speak with. Are they friendly, knowledgeable, and concerned about your needs? Or are they interested in only selling you what they want to sell you? Do they start at the top of the price ladder and work their way down until they have satisfied you, or target your needs immediately? Do they offer additional information, such as what they can do if you can only afford 2 tires? Do their tires come with additional amenities, such as free rotations (not including TPMS surcharges), road hazard protection, etc? Do they repair tires? What are their tire repair limitations? How long will it take for them to install your tires? How long does it take for a typical flat repair? How much is a typical flat repair? Do they seem to be completely honest and candid with you? Do you trust them? Are they able to give you a final cost (installed, after sales tax, out the door) based on the information you've given them? Choose the tire retailer that is the best balance of price, knowledge and integrity.

If the salesman doesn't walk out to your car or ask any questions about it, choose another store.

The last step is to purchase your tires. The tire retailer you've chosen can help you decide whether you need all 4 tires, or just 2 tires. If you don't think you need 4 tires, and they are not able to explain why you need 4 tires, choose another retailer. Reputable retailers will be able to show and explain which tires need replaced on your vehicle, and will recommend that your new tires be installed on the rear (and perhaps your rear tires rotated to the front) if you only need 2 tires. All tire manufacturers and organizations recommend installing new tires on the rear if only 2 new tires are purchased. This is for safety purposes. It doesn't matter whether the vehicle is front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive. New tires should always be installed on the rear.


  • check If the tire retailer you choose is knowledgeable, he or she may recommend a 2-wheel alignment after looking at the wear on your tires (also called a front-end alignment).
  • check A properly aligned vehicle, along with proper rotation and balance practices, will protect against premature wear and more frequent tire purchases.
  • check Choose a retailer who may also provide free rotations with your purchase, saving you money over the life of the tires.
  • check Choose a retailer who also repairs tires. That's always good if you need it.
  • check Be sure to keep your new tires properly inflated and rotated and balanced for safety and longer life.

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About the Author

This article was written by the It Still Runs team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Runs, contact us.

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