Why Put Good Tires on a Cheap Car

When I talk cheap cars, I do not mean busted-down and barely hits forty on the interstate. I refer to vehicles that are reliable, function well, but were made with fewer expensive components/are getting up there in years, and, therefore, become cheap in trade-in or selling value. A visit to my insurance company assured me how cheap my little ride was. They confided that I should take a look at Kelly Blue Book (click here to check value on your own car) to see if I felt justified paying for full coverage on my car when, if it were totaled, the pay-out from insurance would be a little over a year’s worth of insurance premium. I was convinced to save money on my insurance costs.

That is one reason why people, or at least myself, choose to hold onto their less-(financially) valued modes of transportation, because insurance costs are also less. Other reasons can include simple sentimental value, not enough of a budget to purchase an upgrade vehicle, or maybe a person just doesn’t want to deal with the high technology attached to a new vehicle. Also, some of those older vehicles are getting great gas mileage, sometimes exceeding the boastful advertisements for their newer counterparts. I swear I had more reasons in a mental list last night but they have fled me. Please comment if you have other reasons for keeping your Cutie Pie.

I insist on the functions well aspect of your vehicle, because a fully operational brake system as well as some form of anti-lock brakes or traction control plays a key role in tire reaction. It pays to maintain your vehicle; increase your chances for your cheap car to remain reliable. I refer to oil changes and inspections with a mechanic you trust.

However, when it comes down to what’s keeping you on the road, it comes down to those four pieces of rubber that are the only things connecting your vehicle to the ground (unless you have a dragging muffler which goes back to a different sort of cheap which implies less than a functioning vehicle). The ground changes a lot more often than your tires do; road surfaces get icy, slick-wet, gravel-based, hot and dry, and littered with pot holes. Brakes control the speed of the vehicle only when your tires can grab the road, and that depends on what comes between tire and road and how your tires handle it.

Great traction makes a world of difference and you will not find that on tires with 2/32″ tread left, but there is no need for numbers if you have a penny in your pocket. How to measure tread depth with a coin is just a click away: click here. If the tread rises up to match the top of Lincoln’s head (upside down), then you have about 2/32″ left and that is where the law steps in; according to a lot of states, your tires are legally worn out. For my own sake, I would have said–for wet and snowy conditions–these tires were worn out at about twice that depth. They just do not have the tread to dig into water or slush but could still be used for the driest months in the summer if you’re looking to squeeze the most out of your purchase.

You can arm yourself for that tire purchase by knowing what factors to consider. It will help your tire retailer narrow your search. I normally would inform my customers which tires for their vehicle are made of a harder rubber. Harder rubber means they will last longer but equates to more road noise heard while you’re behind the wheel. Soft rubber will not last as long but is the best option for traction which is why the softest is normally found on winter tires and you are advised to change them out at the end of the season to get the most seasons out of them. I like to also categorize based on aggressive tread design. Aggressive tread also equates to higher road noise but greater traction when off-roading or you want your tires shoveling through deep snow. Performance tires fall under a different pattern of tread, answering to requests for high-speed drivers. “They handled better, cornered better, stopped better, steered better, were safer during a panic stop for control and worked well with the new anti-lock brake technology that was emerging.” (Click here for the full article which addresses the high costs for these tires.)

Before hitting the tire stores, get a head start with an internet tire search. Anything takes getting used to; if you want to digest the lingo a little better, get yourself familiar with options and prices by a visit to any of the larger tire chain store’s websites. The options normally can be listed (after selecting your vehicle’s year, make, and model) by price, customer reviews, or brand. Start by working in your price range. Afterward, only by comparison can you get an idea of what you want for your vehicle; read the tire manufacturer’s description for the tire; read any customer reviews; broaden your search by going outside the tire chain’s website and search the internet for that tire in particular.

A good tire means, first, not a worn-out tire, and they can be worn-out from age as much as miles. Dry-rot is a form of tire erosion that has less to do with how much driving you’ve put on your car and more the effects of environment/weather. A good tire, to me, means good traction, newer tread, and an outstanding change in your vehicle’s ability to stop, accelerate, and steer versus a tire with 2/32″ tread. Later, I might post again with greater focus on actual numbers (tire sizes, speed ratings, rubber composition stats) but here I want to state my personal interest in you investing in tires. They have the final say on the roads. Make sure they speak forcefully, stay grabby, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping your cheap, but cherished, car on the road.


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