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How to Avoid Hidden Car Tire Costs

Jeffrey Trull

Are you someone who looks for basic car tires that offer decent tread life at a low price? You might be surprised to find that the cheap options are off the table for a growing number of cars. With many newer cars outfitted with performance tires, you might be stuck paying more for tires that don’t last as long

Shopping for a deal on a new car is no longer just about the purchase price and gas mileage. Before you’re shocked to find that standard tires won’t cut it with your car, check your wheels along with the other important features. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains what to look for before you’re forced to pay more for high-end tires.

Click here to watch ‘Buying a Car? Beware of the Tires’ on MoneyTalksNews.com

Here’s what you need to know about high-performance tires for your car.

Check tire needs before buying a car

When buying a car, it’s easy to overlook the tires. They’re usually already installed, and you may be more focused on other details, like gas mileage.

Tires are not all equal, with the “speed rating” (sometimes called “performance rating”) being one of the main differences. While each letter rating corresponds to a top speed the tires can handle, experts point out that increased speed rating often indicates a better-performing tire too.

Consumer Reports groups all-season tires into three main categories:

  • Standard: Also referred to as “passenger tires,” this range includes the “S” and “T” speed ratings. They feature the longest tread wear, with some models providing up to 100,000 miles of driving. They’re no-frills, which makes them ideal for drivers who just want a year-round tire that provides a comfortable ride and not much more.
  • Performance: These are a step up from the standard category, and are found on many new cars. With speed ratings of “H” and “V,” these tires handle up to 130 and 149 mph, respectively, while providing improved handling and grip. You’ll likely be limited to 60,000 miles of driving in this category.
  • Ultra-performance : This tier is what you’ll find on performance cars. With speed ratings of “Z,” “W,” and “Y,” they’ll provide the best handling. Expect the quickest tread wear of all three categories, as these tires are capped around 40,000 miles.

To determine the type of tire, take a look at the lettering on the sidewall. You’ll see a lot of letters and numbers, but what you’re searching for is the speed rating of the tire. Look for a letter following the two- or three-digit load rating, as shown in this graphic.

To find what comes standard on the make and model of a car, TireRack.com allows you to find the original tires that came on that car. After selecting the make and model, select “View Original Equipment Tires,” and results will pop up and show the factory-issued tires with the corresponding speed rating.

Is downgrading from high-performance an option?

If your current car or one you’re considering comes equipped with high-performance tires, whether you can swap them out for standard tires is a tricky question.

Consumer Reports does not recommend buying a lower speed-rated tire than what’s specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Tire dealers may feel the same way and even refuse to install standard tires on a car that calls for performance models. It’s possible that cheaper tires aren’t even made to the specifications required by the auto manufacturer, leaving you with only the expensive options.

For high-performance sports cars and luxury vehicles, like BMW or Mercedes-Benz, you’re likely locked into high-performance tires. These cars are built for higher-caliber tires, so downgrading likely isn’t recommended or even an option to maintain vehicle performance.

If you drive a family sedan that came equipped with performance tires, you might be able to downgrade to standard tires without sacrificing much performance and handling. Before doing so, consult your owner’s manual and the tire information placard on your car to see what’s recommended by the manufacturer. For additional advice, check with a trusted tire dealer before you buy. Even if you can’t find a standard tire that works, you may be able to choose a cheaper performance tire that’s a good middle ground between low price and performance.

Compare cost and mileage together

How much more will you pay for high-performance tires? That depends on the car. But you can compare the cost of different tires based on price and tread mileage.

High-performance tires are available at lower prices than standard options in some cases, but remember that high-performance tires will typically need to be replaced sooner. To account for this, examine both the price and the expected tread mileage of each tire.

For an example, let’s look at options for the 2013 Hyundai Elantra. On TireRack.com, you can buy a set of four Bridgestone Insignia SE200 passenger tires for $408 and get a 65,000 tread-life warranty. Or you can buy four Hankook Ventus V4 ES H105 ultra-high performance tires for $348 – which are only under warranty for 50,000 miles.

Breaking these prices down, the Bridgestone passenger tires cost only $6.28 per 1,000 warranty miles, while the ultra-high performance Hankook tires cost $6.96 per 1,000 miles, making the passenger tires the cheaper option.

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