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Buying a new set of car tyres is a grudge purchase for most of us. We’d rather buy something cool and fun, like a holiday or a huge TV set. But tyres? They fall into the same category as an insurance policy or a new fridge; you only buy them when you absolutely must.
The catch is that car tyres come in a huge range of sizes and applications and, unlike a fridge which only has to fit in the space in your kitchen, a car tyre can’t afford to be the wrong one.
The most important thing when buying new tyres for your car is to buy ones that are suitable for your car.
Carmakers go to great lengths during the new model development phase to select the best tyres to fit to their cars.
Working with the big brand name tyre companies, car-makers aim to develop tyres with the optimum blend of road noise, ride comfort, handling, braking, efficiency and wear rate.
It was once the case that when it came to replacing the tyres, the original tyres specified were generally best.
That still holds if your car is a current model, but if it’s a bit older, then the march of technology means that could easily be a better tyre that still fits the car, but offers better performance, wear, safety or even value for money.
To find out about the tyres the carmaker recommends fitting to your car refer to the owner's manual.
There you will find the recommended tyre defined by its size, speed rating and load rating. They are the things you need to know when shopping for new tyres.
Generally the carmaker won't nominate a particular brand of tyre, that's left to you to decide, but you could use the brand that was fitted when the car was new as a guide.
How to choose tyres should begin with the basics; what size and types are right for your car.
To find out about the tyres the car-maker recommends fitting to your car, the first step is to refer to the owner's manual.
There you will find the recommended tyre defined by its size, speed rating and load rating. These are the non-negotiable things you need to know when shopping for new tyres.
You wouldn’t really want to buy a tyre with a lower speed rating that the ones originally fitted to your vehicle, and if you tow heavy loads, you might want to investigate a different type of tyre to suit.
You may also find that there’s a slightly wider tyre available that will still fit on your car’s wheels, and that may give you a little more grip.
Generally, the carmaker won't nominate a particular brand of tyre, that's left to you to decide, but you could use the brand that was fitted when the car was new as a guide.
“What tyres should I buy?”, is not a simple question these days
Walk into any tyre retailer's store and you'll be greeted by a myriad of tyre choices, of size, performance, and price.
We know the size and performance of the tyres we need from consulting the owner's manual, leaving us to decide on the price we're prepared to pay.
We're generally given the choice between a number of brands of tyre, some well-known, some lesser known, and some completely unknown, and a range of prices.
Tyres remain one commodity where the old you-get-what-you-pay-for adage largely applies.
On balance, a more expensive tyre will be a better thing, and when it comes to safety, that’s got to mean something.
The recognised brands usually carry a premium price; those that are lesser known are usually much cheaper, leaving the shopper with a dilemma on which to buy.
With tyres from one of the leading brands you can safely assume you're getting the best of all of that. You can't be so sure when you buy tyres from a brand that has little history, is new to the tyre game, and doesn't have a consumer support network.
Don’t get hung up on a particular brand or model of tyre simply because it was the best a few years ago.
Tyre companies are constantly leap-frogging each other in performance terms, so what might have been the gun tyre a while back, might now be second or third-best.
Weeding out the brands you don’t want is a good starting point when it comes to deciding how to choose car tyres.
It was once easy to identify a second-rate tyre from ones made by a recognised tyre company. All you had to do was look at the sidewall and see where the cheaper tyre was made.
You usually found that it was made in one of the Asian countries, which would ring alarm bells due to their once-substandard manufacturing practices.
Doing that today is not an accurate guide, as most of the big name tyre companies have factories in Asia, or are involved in joint ventures with Asian companies. The tyres they produce in these factories are of the same quality and performance as tyres produced in their other factories around the world.
Specifically, don’t be put off by tyres that are made in China these days.
The fact is, the vast majority of tyres sold here now are, indeed, made in China (since tyre manufacturing ceased in Australia) so shop according to brand reputation rather than any preconceptions about Chinese quality.
It's the brand itself that should now be ringing alarm bells. If it's an unknown brand with little or no history steer clear of them.
That said, even established brands like Toyo aren’t available everywhere, while newcomers such as Winrun and Maxtrek are decent choices for budget tyres, even though you may never have heard of them.
Online shopping can be fraught with dangers in this department.
Some brands and models of tyre sold in some markets might be a completely different product compared with the tyres sold here under exactly the same brand and model.
Compounds (the actual rubber the tyre is made from) may vary from market to market depending on regional variations in road conditions and consumer tastes.
The solution is to shop locally and visit a tyre retailer. And then listen to what they tell you.
These people specialise in tyres and usually have a broad tyre selection and that’s a good thing, because a tyre shop is often the first place people will look when it comes time to purchase.
A good starting point (and it will be the first question a switched-on tyre retailer asks you) when it comes to how to choose tyres is “are you happy with the tyres currently on your car?”.
If the answer is yes, then you’re a long way down the road to making a good choice.
A good tyre shop will also be able to give you an idea of the relative performance and expected lifespan of a particular tyre compared with the alternatives.
Shopping at a bricks-and-mortar tyre outlet also means you can have the new tyres balanced and a wheel-alignment carried out all at the same time in the one place.
There's an understandable temptation to save a few bucks when we're faced with spending a small fortune on new tyres, but before you do think of the risks you're taking.
Our tyres perform a number of vital functions on our cars, they are arguably the most important piece of safety equipment we have.
They allow us to accelerate, steer and brake safely, and they allow us to do it on all road surfaces in all weather conditions.
Buying tyres from an unknown brand is potentially compromising some, or all of those functions.
Settling for second best is potentially putting at risk our safety and the safety of our loved ones.
Again, be guided by the experts who sell tyres for a living.
The major tyre companies are all represented in this country, they all have offices you can contact if things go wrong with their products.
But rarely do the lesser-known tyre companies have any representation here. They're more likely to be handled here by importers or small operators who can't offer the same level of product support the major companies can.
Before you decide to buy the cheap alternative do your research on the company making the tyres, the one importing and selling them here, and quiz them on the back-up you could expect to get down the track.
Tyre retailers know which brands give them the most warranty grief and are likely to steer you away from those in the first place.