It’s often said that the tires are your car’s most important safety feature. After all, they are the only part of the car that is in continuous contact with the ground. This means that even drivers on a budget should prioritize safety first when buying tires. The good news is that shopping for a deal does not mean that you have to skimp on safety. Check out our tips below, and you’ll be ready to shop for your next set of tires.
- Finding the Right Cheap All Season Tires Under $100
- How to Read a Tire Code
- Wrapping Up
Finding the Right Cheap All Season Tires Under $100
When buying a tire, especially online, it’s important to make sure that whatever rubber you buy will be compatible with your vehicle and needs. The guide below will help you identify which tires have the features you need as well as what you’ll need to look out for when purchasing online.
How to Read a Tire Code
Every tire sold in the US has a prominent label on the sidewall (the part of the tire facing outward) that tells you everything you need to know to find the right rubber. For most of the tires on our list, meant for passenger vehicles, that designation will start with a ‘P’ for passenger, but some consumer vehicles will have a code that begins with ‘LT’ for Light Truck. Commercial vehicles need tires with other designations.
Tire Size Codes
Every tire installed must be the right size for your vehicle. A properly sized tire will make sure that the car’s load is equally distributed over the transmission and other driveline parts, that your speedometer will be accurate, and that your tires won’t rub on the wheel well or suspension components.
There are two places you can find the proper tire size: the car manual and the placard on the driver-side door jamb. In either case, this section will be labeled ‘Tire and loading information.’ Regulations also state that tire size has to be displayed on the tire itself.
To simplify sizing, a standard code is used. This code is nine digits total: a letter (typically P), three digits, followed by a slash, two digits, the letter R, and two more numbers. The code will look something like this: P215/55R17. If possible, you should match all of these numbers and letters exactly to make sure you’re purchasing the right tire size. You can read a little bit more about what those numbers and letters signify here.
Along with the standard code that allows consumers to determine the size of their tire, all US-sold rubber comes with a 10 to 13 digit code mostly used by the manufacturer. This code is not necessarily helpful in the purchase of a tire, but it’s nice for ownership purposes to know what it means.
The trick to locating this code is finding the letters’ DOT that precedes its 13 digits. DOT stands for ‘Department of Transportation,’ the government department that traces and tracks all tires available for purchase on the American market. The code is broken down into four parts:
- Plant Code: The first 2-3 digits identify the factory that a tire comes from. Every manufacturer’s plant has a unique code that can identify the exact origin of a tire. Regulators predominantly use this part of the code. If a particular tire has repeated failures, the plant can be identified, and the problem can be addressed. You won’t need to pay much attention to this part of the code.
- Tire Size: The next two digits represent tire size. But this code isn’t used by consumers; it’s mostly used for manufacturers if they need to perform a recall. You can use the wheel diameter and tire width from the consumer tire code for your sizing purposes.
- Manufacturer Identity Number: Each manufacturer uses a different 3-4 digit code to identify the specific model of the tire.
- Date Code: The last four digits are the only numbers that a driver needs to focus on, as they tell you the age of the tire. The first two numbers identify the week of manufacture (01 is the first week of January, 52 is the last week of December). The second two numbers are the year of manufacture (20 would mean the tire was manufactured in 2020). For example, if the last four digits of the code read 1219, the tire was made during the 12th week of 2019.
Drivers are sometimes hesitant to buy inexpensive rubber. Still, regulations mandate that every set of tires meets extremely rigorous scrutiny from governmental regulators. Every tire available for purchase today, no matter how cheap, meets a minimum requirement for weight, width, and tread. For new tires, the only thing that might cause a problem is purchasing a tire that doesn’t match the weight of your car—tires can become dangerous when overloaded. Otherwise, any new tire you can buy is certified by the government to be safe.
As well as the DOT code, newer tires will have this code. It will give you an idea of the traction, treadwear, and temperature resistance of your tire. These codes are collectively referred to as the UTQG rating, which stands for Uniform Traction Quality Grade rating.
Treadwear is measured comparatively. A tire graded at 200 should last twice as long as one graded at 100. Traction is rated from AA to C, and temperature resistance is rated from A to C.
In short, the higher the code, the better quality your all season tires will be.
What if I’m Switching My Wheels and Tires at the Same Time?
If you’re switching out your wheels and purchasing new rubber, you should try to match the total diameter of the tire and wheel combo with the stock size. To help with that, you can use a tire size calculator like this one. As always, though, follow the recommendations of your car manufacturer.
When Should I Replace a Tire?
There are a couple of cues that mean you’re due for a new set of tires. The most common conventional wisdom is the quarter test, in which you find a 25 cent coin and stick it, head side down, into the tread of the tire. If the tread covers the top of George Washington’s head, you still have enough rubber, but if you can see his forehead, it is probably time for a new set. The official measurement is 2/32 of an inch, but even if you’re getting close, it’s probably time to order a new set. In the past, tire companies have recommended doing this test with a penny, but recent tests show that using a one-cent coin to measure tire wear could lead to over-worn tires and poor wet-weather performance.
Depth is important, but the age of the rubber should be taken into account as well. On a really old set of tires, you might be able to see rubber decaying and cracking visually. On most tires, though, you’ll need to check the DOT code to know the age. Look at the last two digits of the code; those are the last two digits of the year that the tire was manufactured. Regardless of mileage, tires should be replaced after ten years. You’ll see some tires on cars long after that date, but it’s important for safety to replace the tire when the rubber is old—aged rubber is not safe to drive on, and it is much more susceptible to a blowout.
Tire rotation is essential to maximize the safety and life expectancy of a particular tire. This maintenance step is meant to even out the tire’s wear patterns, as each tire deteriorates at a different rate based on which wheel it’s installed on. Front tires wear out much more rapidly than rear tires, but there are also differences in wear time on each side of the vehicle.
Your tires should be rotated as often as the vehicle manufacturer recommends, or every 5,000-10,000 miles if a duration is not specified. A good general rule is to rotate your tires every other time you get your oil changed. It’s particularly important to pay attention to rotating tires when you have recently purchased a set, as fresher rubber is more susceptible to irregularities. If you don’t rotate on a regular schedule, you can void your tire warranty, so consider that as well.
Many oil-change stations offer the service as an add-on or included as part of your periodic maintenance schedule. This typically costs around $20 – $50. It’s well worth it and can increase the life expectancy of your tires by over 10,000 miles.
Most major tire companies offer warranties, but getting your money back in case of a product failure is an entirely different story. You have to take care of your tires and abide by fairly strict terms and conditions to get a full refund. The most important thing to do is to obey the company’s maintenance schedule. Each company publishes a mileage range for every tire rotation, and if you’re late on a rotation, your warranty will be voided.
Even if you don’t plan on seeking a refund, you can still use a tire warranty to give a rough estimate of expected mileage. Although you may have to meet strict requirements to cash in your warranty, you should expect a tire with a 75,000-mile guarantee to last much longer than a tire with a 40,000-mile guarantee. These warranties can be a shortcut to estimating mileage.
Directional vs. Non-Directional Tires
There are two ways a tire tread can be designed: directionally or non-directionally.
A directional tread can only be mounted on a wheel in one direction. It’s designed to function exclusively facing that direction and will perform poorly when facing the wrong way. Non-directional tires have asymmetrical designs that allow them to function the same no matter how they are mounted. This increases the number of tire rotations you can perform on a given set.
Directional tires have better grip, braking, and performance than non-directional counterparts, but they can only be swapped from front to back. Non-directional tires can be rotated to any part of the vehicle, but they perform slightly worse on average. If you’re looking for performance, buy a directional tire, but if you’re looking to maximize tire life expectancy, you should choose a non-directional option.
Manufacturers can do a couple of different things when designing rubber to adjust performance. The first consideration is rubber hardness. Softer rubbers perform better and offer better traction in adverse weather but wear out quickly. Hard rubber will last longer, but it doesn’t have the same traction as soft tires, even if it has a more aggressive tread. Harder tires are also typically less comfortable and contribute to more cabin noise while driving.
Tire companies also use additives to rubber to adjust its properties. The primary material used (besides rubber) is carbon black, which helps a tire keep its structure and protects it from UV radiation. Silica is sometimes used to decrease rolling resistance, but it is usually only used in more expensive tires.
Can I Use All Season Tires During Winter?
The answer, in short, is yes. An all-season tire will take you around town just fine on a well plowed, salted road. Where you run into trouble is fresh snow and icy conditions.
If you do live in a climate with snow, consider buying an all-season tire with a more aggressive tread. There are degrees of all-season tires, and they all perform differently in wintery conditions. A pro tip: look for tires with softer rubber to perform better in snow. But at the end of the day, if you live in an area with frequent snow, consider the pros of owning an extra set of tires.
All season tires are by far the most common type of tire on the market, and in recent years, the range of product offerings in this category has greatly expanded. Now that so many different types of all-season tires are available, it’s easy to find something that suits your driving needs.
Before shopping, think about what you’re looking for. Do you prioritize safety? Highway driving? Speed? Fuel efficiency? A list of the qualities you’re looking for can help narrow down your choices. With most options now available on the internet for purchase, there’s never been a better time to look for a new set of rubber.