Five questions to ask when buying new car tyres

Moving Well | RACV | Posted on 06 November 2019

Your car’s tyres are a key safety feature. Here are five things to know when buying them.

Your tyres are the only things connecting your car – and you – to the road. In the words of veteran RACV motoring journalist Greg Hill, their condition can mean the difference between “a heart-fluttering near-miss and a heartbreaking disaster”.

Greg helped conduct RACV tests showing that on wet roads, even a late-model car with good brakes but badly worn tyres needs an extra 3.9 metres or more to stop from 60kmh, and an alarming 12.8 metres (almost three car lengths) from 80kmh, compared with the same car on near-new tyres.

“On worn tyres the test car never behaved the same way twice in a row,” says Greg. “It could slide sideways, one direction or the other. The next time it might just skate straight on, feeling like it was never going to stop. With worn tyres, you never know what will happen.”

If your tyres’ condition is less than ideal, here are the RACV Mobile Tyres and vehicles engineering teams’ tips for replacing them safely and sustainably. 

Close up of white Mercedes with black mag wheels

Five questions to ask when buying new car tyres

How do I know when to replace my tyres? 

All tyres have inbuilt tyre wear indicators to show when they’ve worn down too far. Look for small raised squares set in the bigger grooves of the tread. When the face of the tyre wears down to this point it’s time to change the tyre. Any bulges, deep cuts, exposed cords or other damage also make the tyre unroadworthy. 

How do I choose the right tyres? 

First you need to pin down what size tyres you need. Find the size on the wall of your tyre or on the placard inside the driver’s door jamb. Look for four numbers specifying width, profile, rim and load – they will look something like this: 205 55 R16 91V. 

Once you have this, you can compare features and prices. Some high-end manufacturers including Audi and Mercedes Benz have tyres specifically designed for a particular model and this will be your ideal choice. In other cars, a sound choice is to replace your tyres with the ones they were fitted with by the manufacturer. If they’re outside your price range, choose the highest-quality tyre you can afford. 

How much do I need to spend? 

Tyre prices vary widely between sizes and from budget to premium, and you get what you pay for. The more you spend, the more likely you are to come to a quicker stop, enjoy better grip and handling, a more comfortable ride, and less cabin noise. Try to buy the best-quality tyre you can afford. That said, a cheaper-brand new tyre is always better than an expensive bald tyre. 

What do I do with the old tyres? 

Australians throw out 56 million tyres a year, and only 10 per cent of them are recycled domestically. The rest go to landfill, are exported overseas or illegally dumped. To avoid this fate, make sure the mechanic, garage or tyre retailer you use will recycle your old tyres. Look for the Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) logo to ensure the business is accredited. If you have old tyres on your hands, Planet Ark’s website will direct you to a tyre recycler near you. 

How do I get the most out of my new tyres? 

Maintaining correct pressure will prolong the life of your tyres – incorrect pressure accelerates wear and can impair grip and stopping ability, and underinflated tyres increase fuel consumption. All car makers recommend tyre pressures for their cars, listed on a small placard usually found inside the driver’s door jamb or the fuel cap. Check the pressure once a week when the tyres are cold. While you’re at it, check tread depth and take a look at the tyres’ general condition. If in doubt about bulges, cuts or wear, check with your mechanic or a tyre specialist. Also, faulty wheel alignment can cause uneven and premature tyre wear, so if you notice this, get it checked too. And if you’re having new tyres fitted, it’s worth having the alignment checked while you’re at it.

Don't let a tyre puncture leave you feeling flat. RACV Mobile Tyres will come to you, seven days a week, saving you time, money and the hassle of having to change it yourself. For a limited time, get 15% off when you buy two or more new tyres*. Plus, RACV members also save 10%.

*Terms and conditions apply. Offer ends 20 December 2019. Visit racv.com.au/tyres for more information.