Figuring out when to replace your car tires is tricky. Even if they look fine, they may be losing treading, which means they'll have less traction when you drive and can increase your risk of an accident.
But since getting a new set of tires can be pricey, you probably don't want to incur that cost until you absolutely have to.
"The least expensive tires generally cost $400 to $500 for a full set, but large or performance tires can run in the thousands," says Scotty Reiss, founder of automotive magazine A Girls Guide to Cars. This price should include installation as well.
Here's how often you need to shell out for a new set of tires.
When to change your tires varies, depending on your vehicle and how often you drive, says Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. But there is a ballpark time frame: "Between five and six years is a good point where you need to start looking at replacing tires," he says.
Low or worn down tread is a sign it's time to replace your tires. One way to tell if the tread is too low is to do something called "the penny test." Stick a penny, Lincoln's head first, into the tread. If you can still see his head after inserting the coin all the way, the tread is too low.
If the sidewalls, or the sides of the tire, are damaged, or the tires aren't performing well, that might also indicate that your tires might need to be replaced. Likewise if it takes longer to come to a full stop, Reiss says.
There are some ways to ensure your tires last as long as possible, such as keeping them inflated to the proper pressure. You can find that number on your driver's side door pillar, Montoya says.
Rotating your tires also extends their life, he says. "Tires are going to wear based on how you drive, and each one is going to wear in its own pattern, so rotating them makes sure that they are wearing evenly."
You should rotate your tires every 5,000 miles. The average person drives almost 13,500 miles per year, according to the Federal Highway Administration, so rotating them about twice a year should be adequate.
A good rule of thumb is to just get a tire rotation done when you bring your car to a mechanic to get the oil changed, Montoya says. It should cost roughly $100, he adds, but there are ways to save.
"Rotating tires should be free if you go to the shop that installed your tires," Reiss says. "If that isn't an option, rotating and balancing tires can cost from $25 to $100 depending on the shop and their rate for labor. But ask for a discount or for a free service. Many will do this in order to get your next tire purchase."
Other ways to elongate your tires' lifespans include bringing your car in for a wheel alignment, per the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. Being a careful driver can also help, by avoiding potholes and other tire stressors.
If you have a membership to Costco or Sam's Club, start your hunt for new tires there, Reiss says. If not, sites like Tire Rack and TireScanner are good resources for price comparing and shopping around.
Don't forget about dealerships. "Often dealerships will promote a 'buy three, get one free' offer on a new set of tires," she says.
And, Reiss adds, always be on the lookout for a sale at your local tire shop or a car dealership: "Sales tend to be seasonal. Spring, when people tend to their cars after winter driving, fall when drivers are looking at their winter car needs, and the end of the year are when most retailers have sales."
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