Your tires are the only parts on your car that actually make contact with the road, so they’re super important. How do you know when to buy new tires?

You should buy new tires for your car whenever the tread is too low (below 3/32” - 4/32”) or they’re at least six years old. To check the tread depth, use the penny test and see if Lincoln’s head is covered by tread. To see how old they are, check the date code on the sidewall of the tire.

Maintaining your car is one of the most important things that you can do to ensure you have reliable transportation and to prevent expensive problems down the road. And one of the things that we know you don’t want to think about is new tires. But it’s important to replace them when they get too worn down. In this article, you’ll learn about when you should replace your tires, what kind you should buy, how long they last, and more.

The most important thing to us is the safety of our readers when they’re out there on the roads. And making sure that your tires are up to the task and aren’t too worn down is vital to safe driving. So we carefully went through all the information you see below and vetted it for accuracy. With our own expertise combined with the opinion of others in the automotive industry, we’re confident that we’re providing you the most accurate information that we can.

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When Should You Replace Your Tires?

The tires on your car or truck are without a doubt some of the most important parts of your car. They are the only thing that actually makes contact with the road at any time, so they largely dictate how your car drives, how comfortable it rides, and even how quickly it can stop. So keeping relatively fresh tires on your car is essential for reliability and safety.

But how do you know when to have your tires replaced with a new set?

There are two main components to tires that you should keep in mind — their condition and their age. The most common condition issues that tires all eventually have is that they just get worn down over time. If the tread depth on your tires drops below 3/32” or 4/32”, then it’s time to buy new ones. Other condition issues to look out for include uneven wear, belts showing, flat spots, excessive choppiness, and more.

When it comes to age, tires are not designed to last forever. Although they’re made of rubber and realistically do last nearly forever, they aren’t designed to be driven on forever. Instead, most manufacturers recommend replacing your tires every six years or so regardless of what condition they’re in or how much tread they seem to have left.

How Do You Check The Tread Depth On Your Tires?

Checking your tire’s tread depth and general tread condition is something you should get in the habit of doing consistently. We recommend checking air pressure at least once a month regardless, so this is the perfect time to also check the tread. There are two main ways to check your tires’ tread depth: the manufacturer’s wear bars and the Penny Test.

Most tires have all sorts of fancy edges, shapes, and features in their tread pattern. And one of these features that most manufacturers include in their tires is called wear bars. These small, horizontal ridges go across the main grooves on the tire. They’re typically only about 3/32” to 4/32” tall and are simply there as a visual indication of wear. If the wear bars are showing, it’s time to replace your tires.

To check your tread depth using the Penny Test, all you need is a penny. Simply turn the penny upside down and stick it down into the groove of your tire. If Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread (or at least touching it), then your tires are in good shape. If the tread doesn’t touch Lincoln’s head, then your tires are worn out. For truck tires, you can use a quarter and do the same thing with Washington’s head.

How Do You Check How Old Your Tires Are?

Finding out how old your tires are is actually super easy and can be done in seconds. On the sidewall of your tires, you’ll find a string of numbers stamped into it following the letters DOT. This code has a lot of information about the tires, including where they were manufactured, what size they are, and when the tire was made.

The last four digits of the overall longer code or known as the “date code”. This string of four numbers indicates the week and the year that the tires were manufactured. The first two digits are the week, and the last two are the year. For example, a string of “4319” would mean the tires were manufactured in the 43rd week of 2019.  If you don’t see this string of numbers, then the inside of the tire will have them — the date code is typically only stamped on one side.

What Kind Of Tires Should I Buy?

In most cases and for most vehicles, we recommend going with a high-quality all-season tire. These tires are designed to be driven on all year and can provide reliable traction in all weather conditions, including even rain and light snow. All-season tires offer more versatility than any other type of tire, and more often than not, the tires that an automotive shop recommends will be all-season tires.

Although all-season tires are the most common kind, other types of tires might be more applicable to your own situation and your own car depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. The most common kinds of tires that you can buy for your car or truck include:

  • All-season tires
  • Touring tires
  • Highway tires
  • Summer tires
  • Ultra-high performance tires
  • Mud tires
  • All-terrain tires
  • Winter tires

Some of these tire types, such as mud tires and all-terrain tires, are typically only offered on trucks. But one of these common types of tires can be added to just about any car or truck and drastically improve that vehicle’s performance. At least for a few months out of the year. Let’s take a deeper look.

Do I Need Winter Tires?

While modern all-season tires are significantly better than they used to be in bad weather conditions (such as snow or ice), they just aren’t designed to really provide traction in these conditions. So many people are faced with the question of if they need to buy winter tires or if their regular all-season tires will be okay.

The biggest factor in determining this is, of course, what type of weather you typically have in the winter. If you live somewhere with warmer temperatures that gets little to no snow even in the dead of winter, then of course not; buying winter tires for one snowfall a year would be a waste! But if you live and drive somewhere that regularly has cold temperatures and multiple snowfalls every year, it might be worth it.

In general, you would typically have winter tires installed when temperatures consistently drop below 45°F and leave them on until they are consistently higher than that after winter ends. If you live somewhere with multiple months in that temperature range, we strongly urge you to buy winter tires to ensure you have reliable traction year-round, in all conditions!

Does AWD Make Winter Tires Obsolete?

A common misconception is that snow tires are completely unnecessary for vehicles that have all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). Since vehicles with AWD do certainly get better traction than those with front-wheel or rear-wheel drive, people think that they don’t need snow tires in that case.

But the fact is that a set of winter tires on even a rear-wheel drive car will enable that driver to drive on snow and ice far better than an AWD vehicle on all-season tires. Winter tires are the single biggest upgrade you can make for winter driving, so we urge you to consider investing in a set if you live somewhere that might require them!

How Long Do Tires Last?

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule as to how long tires will last. This is entirely dependent on two things — the tire itself and how they are maintained. If you’ve ever bought tires before, the person selling them to you likely said something like “these tires are 75,000-mile tires” or something similar to that.

This number of miles is what’s known as the tread life warranty. This number of miles is how long the tire manufacturer (not the automotive shop) guarantees the tires will last for as long as they’re maintained properly. If the tires don’t last as long as the manufacturer guarantees them, you’ll typically be able to get either money back or a prorated rate to replace them.

How To Get The Most Life Out Of Your Tires?

But in order to get the mileage out of your tires that the manufacturers say they’re supposed to last, you have to actually maintain them. You might be thinking how can you maintain tires, they’re just circles of rubber that you drive on. What can you possibly do? Actually, tires are one of the parts on your car that need the most maintenance since they are the only thing that actually makes contact with the road.

To get the most life out of your tires, you should consistently do a few things to ensure that they last as long as they can. The most important tire maintenance tips include:

  • Have them rotated and balanced every 5,000 miles
  • Check air pressure at least once a month
  • Get your vehicle alignment checked (and adjusted) every six months
  • Check for uneven wear whenever you’re checking air pressure
  • Try to keep them out of the sun if possible (helps prevent dry rot)

If you do these five things consistently throughout the life of your tires, you’ll get the most miles possible. In many cases, when tires are well-maintained they actually exceed the manufacturer’s tread life warranty by a decent margin!

About THE AUTHOR

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

Read More About Charles Redding