Five ways to save money on car tires

Consumer Reports News: September 26, 2011 12:23 PM

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans stretching your family’s budget, chances are you’re keeping your car longer than in the past. The good news is that most modern cars are more reliable than ever, and will last as long as they’re properly maintained. The bad news is, that many motorists are putting off important maintenance and repair needs, which can lead to bigger problems for them later, and make the roads more dangerous.

Tires are easy to ignore and literally the only thing separating you and your family from the pavement. Proper tire maintenance will not only keep you and yours safer, it can save money in the long run.

Here are a few money-saving tips:

  • Keep up the pressure. Rolling resistance increases with underinflated tires, which can reduce fuel mileage by one mpg or more. Low pressure also makes tires wear out faster, and it can lead to tires overheating, risking a dangerous failure at speed. It takes only a couple minutes every month to check your tire pressure. And don’t forget to check the spare; you don’t want to wait until you get a flat to find out it needs air, too.
  • Rotate for long life. Front tires have to work harder than rear tires on front-wheel drive cars, the most common type on the road today. These tires have to deal with steering, driving and braking forces, and the weight of the engine. All that means the front tires often wear out faster. Have your tires rotated according to the schedule in your owner’s manual, and you’ll avoid spending hundreds of dollars sooner than you should for a new set. It will also ensure balanced wear at all four corners and consequently, balanced handling and braking.
  • Pass on the nitrogen. Many car dealers and tire retailers will tell you adding nitrogen to your tires in place of plain-old air will help maintain the proper pressure longer. That may be true but whether you use nitrogen or air, check your tire pressure routinely. Our tests showed that tires will lose pressure whether filled with nitrogen or air. If nitrogen filling is free, there is no harm in using it, but why pay for it? Bottom line: there is no substitute for doing proper pressure checks.
  • Snow removal. If you live in a snowy climate, you should use four winter tires for the best traction and safety. But their compounds often wear much faster than conventional tires, and dry handling isn’t as good on cleared roads. To maximize wear and usefulness of your snow tires, don’t put them on until snow is likely in your area, and take them off promptly in spring.
  • Shop around. When it is time to replace tires, replace all four for best traction, emergency handling, and all-around performance. And check around for the best price. Online retailers make it easy to compare prices, and some make it easier to find the right tires for your car just by keying in the make and model). See our ratings for the best tires that suit your needs.

Jim Travers

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