Living in a climate that has harsh winters, I recently went to a tire shop to buy a new set of winter tires for my car. I drive a 2006 front wheel drive Honda Civic - a vehicle that wasn't exactly built for serious winter conditions. After doing some research online to find the best possible price on tires, I went into the shop that had offered me the apparent 'best deal', neglecting to ask about make, style, or quality over the phone. When I got to the shop, I asked what type of winter tire was about to be installed on my car. The guy behind the counter laughed and replied, "Buddy, the kind that are round and black." I turned around and walked out of the store - actually, I almost ran.
Here's something you may know - tires are round, black, and made of rubber. Here's something you may not know - rubber comes in hundreds of compounds, styles, makes, and qualities, and selecting the right one's could literally be the difference between life and death.
Tires are the first point of contact between your car and the road and should be selected carefully either when buying a new car, buying used car, or buying a new or used set of tires. Most of the major manufacturers of tires - Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli, Bridgestone, and many others, are of a similar high quality. When you choose to buy tires from a reputable brand, you are most likely going to get a good quality tire, but selecting tires goes beyond just picking a major brand blindly.
Perhaps the most important determinant when you select the style of tire to put on your car is climate. Tires are fabricated out of rubbers that are designed and tested to perform optimally in certain conditions - wet or dry, hot or cold - or of course, the magic 'all season' tire (the quotations around 'all season' are not suggesting that all season tires aren't in fact decent in all seasons, but as you will read, buying specific sets of tires for specific seasons and conditions is optimal).
Think of it like this - in Toronto, Canada, temperatures in the winter have been known to drop to minus thirty degrees Celsius. Conversely, their summers have, at times, been known to eclipse plus thirty degrees Celsius. That is a whopping sixty degree variance in temperatures over the period of one year. Most rubber experts would tell you that it is impossible to have a rubber compound that performs optimally in that great of a disparity in temperatures. Furthermore, precipitation levels can change in the Toronto area. Some seasons are quite dry, where others are damp and wet. The point is that, in that situation, it would be wise to consider having two sets of tires - one for the winter, and one for the spring, summer, and fall seasons.
I'm not suggesting that you have a set of tires for every weather condition imaginable and that you should change them daily. What I am saying is that you may live in an area with a dynamic climate, and that at least having an all season or warm weather for warmer conditions, and a winter or cold weather tire for when temperatures drop. If you live in a place with a steady climate, warm or cold, you may be able to get away with one style of tire, which brings me to my next point - how to take care of your tires properly.
Taking care of your tires (which, in turn, take care of you) is not like advanced calculus. It really isn't that hard. All you need to know is that periodic checks of your tires are very important. On every single vehicle that is manufactured in North America, the required tire pressure - the measurement of the air pressure inside of your tires - is printed on the inside of the driver's side car door, often adjacent to the inside door handle. This way, you have no excuse to not know the required tire pressure for your specific vehicle! I would suggest checking at least once a month at your local gas station on the pressure of your tires. Sometimes, the air machines require you to put in a quarter or two to operate. As a tip, gas stations normally have a button behind the counter to turn the air machines on manually, and they usually let gas paying customers use the air machine for free - just kindly ask the clerk at the gas station.
Once the air pressure is right, the next thing to be aware of is rotating the tires. This helps to spread the wear and tear of the tires, so they last longer and are optimally safe. Turning your car puts a lot of pressure on the inside walls of the tire, meaning they tend to wear more on the inside of the tire than the outside. This is why you need to rotate your tires frequently - about once every three months. This is not only the safe thing to do, but it will extend the lifespan of your tires. In fact, frequent tire rotation may double the lifespan of your tires.
This brings the next part - the life of the tire. Experts agree that the very best tire that is looked after properly should last sixty thousand miles, or, one hundred thousand kilometres. Most people don't buy the best tires nor do they look after them properly, meaning we can estimate that an average driver should change his or her tires every thirty thousand miles, or fifty five thousand kilometres. Most drivers drive around fifteen thousand miles, or twenty five thousand kilometres per year. This means that the average driver should actually change his or her tires every two years.
So there you have it - select the right tire for your climate condition. Do yourself a favour and spend a bit extra - the big brands are reputable for a reason, and the warranty may be better than a cheaper tire. Rotate the tires often, and check the tire pressure monthly. Following these tips will optimize your safety and extend the life of your tires for as long (and as safe) as possible.