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Replacing your car’s tires is almost certainly an unwanted expense, but it’s a necessary part of auto maintenance and repair that keeps your vehicle safe to drive. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to overspend. By learning a little more about how tires work, you can better assess your needs — and that gives you a better chance of being able to buy cheap car tires that function just as well as premium ones. Here’s what you need to know:

Deciphering the Code

Before you start comparing prices on car tires, you need to make sure you’re looking at tires that are compatible with your car. Each tire you come across must, by law, be marked with a code that tells you a lot of important information about it, and you can compare that information to your owner’s manual to find compatible tires. For example, a code like P195/60R16 63H M+S would mean the following:

  • P: Passenger tire. You might also see light truck tires; many SUVs can use either light truck or passenger tires.
  • 195: The width of the tire, measured in millimeters.
  • 60: The ratio between the sidewall and the width.
  • R: Radial-style construction. Unless you’re looking for classic car tires, almost all tires will be radial.
  • 16: The rim’s diameter, measured in inches.
  • 63: The load rating.
  • H: The speed rating.
  • M+S: All-weather tires.

What to Research

Once you’ve found a tire that’s compatible with your car and in your price range, you’ll want to do a little more research, either by looking at online reviews or by talking to a tire expert (ideally both). Keep in mind that many companies will allow you to compare car tires online and then get them installed at a local auto repair shop at a pre-negotiated price. As you do your research, try to get a sense for the durability of the tire, the handling and the traction — especially in adverse driving conditions. You’ll also want to do some research on the safety history of the tire manufacturer.

Major Warning Signs

Before you pay for any tires, you should do a visual inspection of them. You may even find that the best way to get cheap car tires is to buy used car tires, in which case you need to examine them even more carefully. No tire should be sold with a tread depth of less than 2/32 of an inch, and 4/32 of an inch is probably better if you drive in rain or snow. That wear should be uniform, not uneven. And, of course, you should see no visible damages or patches.

Got any tips on how to get cheap car tires without sacrificing safety or performance? Join the discussion in the comments.

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