Tires are one of those things that we don’t really worry about until something goes wrong. However, good quality tires can impact your ability to brake effectively.

The handling of your vehicle can also be impacted by the quality of your tires. Because braking and handling are critical to your safety, tire quality is definitely a concern.

cheap vs expensive tires infographic

The Fundamental Difference

Expensive tires have a deeper tread and a stronger sidewall construction than cheaper tires. Is this always a concern? Actually, no.

If you do mostly highway driving, don’t have to deal with torrential rain or deep snow, and don’t drive on rough, rocky or gravel roads, you may be able to function just fine on cheap tires as long as you check the pressure regularly and replace them when the tread gets low.

How to Check Your Tread

Tires are made of a biodegradable product and suffer wear and tear. To make sure your tires have enough tread to safely get you down the road, hold a penny so Lincoln’s head is upside down and place it inside the tire tread.

If you can see all of Abe’s head, you need new tires. Thin tires, even the good ones, will not clear water. You may be at risk of hydroplaning on wet roads.

If you live in a place that gets a great deal of sun, carefully check the sidewalls for cracks or fading. A faded tire is a rotting tire; it will not tolerate a great deal of pressure, friction or heat before it fails.

If the sidewall goes as you’re turning sharply, you could be at serious risk of a wreck. You may not need a heavy tread, but a sun cover may be useful if the vehicle sits unprotected.

tire and penny tread test

Your Location & Driving Needs

For those who live in cold country, changing from summer to winter tires may be necessary. Winter tires have deeper treads and offer more grip in snow. Winter tires can also clear away standing water and slush more effectively.

Summer tires or those with lower tread levels leave more rubber on the road as they turn; your surface contact is higher. If you live in dry country or a region that is exposed to monsoon-intensity rains, be aware that this can leave roads quite slick.

No matter how good your tires are, aggressive driving on wet roads, such as tailgating, hard braking, and jackrabbit starts can leave you with an out-of-control car.

summer vs winter tires

Noise

Cheap tires are thinner and may result in more noise inside the vehicle, which can be bothersome. Curiously, tires with a very heavy tread can actually create the most noise.

If you need to buy winter tires to get through heavy snow or deep slush and you choose to leave them on the car all year long, be prepared for some chatter.

Your Driving Style

Are you good at parallel parking? Do you often jump the curb? If you have cheap tires on your car and tend to park using the “nudge” method, be aware that you can seriously damage those thinner and more poorly supported sidewalls with such a bump.

Once the sidewall is damaged, the tire will lose the ability to hold air. You can even tear the sidewall with a hard enough strike.

Storing Off-Season Tires

If you choose to change out tires between the seasons, make sure you have a climate-controlled spot to store them.

Clean the tires with a soft brush to remove dirt and dust before letting the air out. Lay the tires flat, on their sides, in a room that will stay between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

To swap tires between the seasons, you will need a spare set of rims. To keep costs down, it may make more sense to use cheap tires in the summer and expensive tires in the winter.

stack of tires

Safety First

When deciding between cheap and expensive tires, the key may be to pay attention to the most dangerous driving season in your region.

If you have to deal with snow and ice each year, a four-wheel drive vehicle and expensive winter tires are a good investment.

If you live in a more temperate region but love to get off-road and into wild country, good tires will serve you and make your adventures more fun.

For a vehicle that you drive mostly in town on dry pavement, cheap tires can be fine. Do be sure to check the treads and try not to park using the “bump it to find it” method.

water poured on a single tire

How Many New Tires Should I Buy?

Whether your tires are expensive or cheap, it really is not safe to only buy one at a time. When possible, invest in at least two.

If you’re in a front-wheel drive car and a tire either wears out or suffers permanent damage, put the two new tires on the front for the best handling and grab.

Rotate the next two best tires to the back of the vehicle and keep an eye on them; if you notice that they are losing air or have low tread, replace them as soon as you can afford it.

Protect Your Tires for the Long Term

Keep your tires properly inflated. If you get stuck in loose gravel or sand on an off-roading adventure, it may make sense to lower the pressure, but inflate it before you drive too far or too fast on those tires. You can break the bead where the tire meets the rim and destroy them.

If you notice that the car is pulling as you drive, one tire may be under-inflated. Let it cool and check the pressure. Get your tires rotated as instructed in your manual and make sure you check the tread on your tires before the next rain and snow season.

Properly maintained tires can take you a long way, as can sane and safe driving practices. If you live in regions that require you to drive in snow and ice, make the investment in the best tires you can afford.

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