People often ask me about cheap tires, and I tell them straight out I don’t like them, and here’s why.
When I’m driving on the freeway with my family or even alone, I’m controlling a mechanical monster which weighs over a ton and which has the capability of killing not only me but my family and several other people in an instant if I lose control, I want the most control I can have.
…the only control I have over the beast are four little patches of rubber the size of a man’s shoe…
When you realize that the only control I have over that beast are four little patches of rubber the size of a man’s shoe touching the ground, I insist that I have the best patches that I can afford and that usually eliminates cheap tires.
Note that I said usually. There are some ways of getting tires at a low cost, and also ways to get more use out of the money you spend. In this article I’m going to concentrate on the low cost tires and give you some thoughts on them that may help you the next time you’re shopping.
Where to find really cheap tires
Perhaps the biggest source of low prices tires are the big retailers who buy container loads of popular sizes directly from factories in China or other places.
Here’s what you may be buying. If the tire is an unusual, or unknown brand, you’re buying a product from a company that has nothing to lose if they get a spate of complaints for poor quality, or short life. Next, you may be getting a tire made with a rubber compound which is cheaper and less durable than that found in a high quality product.
…cheaper version might not contain UV inhibitors or they might not resist heating whendriving at high speeds…
Just because the rubber in one tire “looks” the same as another, that doesn’t mean it is the same. The cheaper version might not contain UV inhibitors that slow down tire deterioration from sunlight, or they might not resist heating which results from driving at high speeds, or the tires could not be as effective in cold weather, and so on and so on…
Let me tell you something I noticed in Chile when I visited a mass retailer looking for something I needed at home. I wandered into the automotive section and saw a tire that looked like a Goodyear tire which I once sold, but yet it was ugly … it seemed roughly made and almost “unfinished” when compared to a name-brand tire.
What this turned out to be was an “obsolete” tire design which the factory had stopped making years ago and replaced with a new design that had better handling and lower noise designed into it. Rather than throw out the tire molds (which are expensive to make), they offered them to buyers who would put their own name on them. When they were put into production they didn’t have the same rubber compounds as the best tires, they were not inspected one-by-one, and they were not cleaned up and delivered with the same care as top-line tires. This allowed them to be made — and sold — more cheaply.
If I were buying tires for a light-duty utility trailer which I used very rarely, to carry light loads and at low speeds, I might consider a tire of this type for this situation. I would not want this for my car!
The suitability of any given tire at whatever price will often be determined by what you want to use it for, under what conditions, your driving habits, weather, etc. If you want to be prepared for every-and-anything you have to be prepared to pay the price and that may mean buying a premium grade tire.
Flea marts, classified ads, garage sales, other liquidations.
These might offer a chance to find some cheap tires if you know a little about what you’re buying and how to read wear patterns and tire condition. Even so, you want to be cautious in buying a tire from an unknown source.
Shortly after I started in the tire business, I was trained to be an inspector to process tires which were returned to determine if they had suffered from some defect in manufacturing or had inferior materials used in them. In the laboratory we were shown some tires that appeared to be brand new but had been returned to determine if they were defective. One of the strange things about these tires was that they looked the same from both sides whereas most new tires have a sidewall different on one side from the other. The other thing we discovered is that these tires had no serial number.
Our instructor explained to us that these tires were actually made up of two tires which had been cut in half through the center of the tread, and then carefully stuck back together to make them appear like new tires. The defect in these tires was that the steel bands and cords which are hidden inside the tire were also cut and these tires split apart very soon after they were installed — often with disastrous consequences.
These tires had been made out of factory reject new tires which had been sold for scrap rubber, but ended up being “remade”. Since that time that factory destroys any tires that are rejected from their quality control, but it is possible that other factories might still be permitting reject tires to leave in a way that would permit this kind of skullduggery.
If you’re in a pinch for cheap tires, you might be able to find what you need by going to an auto wrecker and seeing what they have to offer. As you know, a car which has been totally wrecked in an accident may still have some usable parts, and that includes wheels and tires. Especially if you inspect the tires carefully you might end up even with brand new tires (example, the spare) for a good price.
You can sometimes get a good deal on orphan tires that a dealer might have when a new tire design is introduced and they are left with only one or three items. Since people generally replace either two or four tires at the same time, a dealer might be willing you give you a discount just to get this old stock out of his warehouse.
Economy grade tires
Most tire dealers will offer you their top grade tires first and try to get you to buy those. If your budget is limited, keep asking if they have anything cheaper until they run out things to offer. The cheapest tire from a major brand is still a quality tire and will be backed by the prestige of the company but will probably not last you as long in service as the premium grades which have a higher treadwear rating.
In general terms if you find a reputable tire at half the price of a top-line tire, you would find that its treadwear rating would be about half meaning that you should expect to get, say, 20,000 miles from the tire instead of 40,000. I’ve tried some of these and have had no reason to complain, but they definitely did wear faster. If you calculate your cost-per-mile you often find that it is higher than a more expensive choice.
Well, as you’ve seen, there are possibilities to find cheap tires, most of which I don’t particularly endorse, but which might suit your situation.
After you’ve bought your tires, whether they are top-line or the cheapest you can find, you can enhance the value you have by taking good care of those tires.
- Check the tire pressure regularly,
- inspect them at least monthly for unusual wear,
- Rotate and balance them as required
and you and your tires will live much more happily together.
You might also wish to read our article on Tire Rental.