Buying a new set of tires isn't cheap. If you own a reasonably reliable vehicle, then tires may be one of the most expensive things you purchase for it. There's a good reason for the high price of tires, however. These critical components provide the only link between your car and the road, and they impact nearly every aspect of your vehicle's performance.
Still, most people want to get as much from their tires as they can. As a result, knowing when to buy new ones can be tricky. You might be okay with purchasing a new set when your tread is nearly gone, but what happens when you have one flat or damaged tire? In these cases, it can be much more challenging to decide if you should purchase an entirely new set of shoes for your car.
The Golden Rule: Avoid Replacing Individual Tires
If you've got a single flat tire, repairing it is usually the most cost-effective solution. Unfortunately, repair may not be an option if your tires have severe punctures or structural damage. When it's time to say goodbye to a single tire, you'll usually want to replace both tires on that axle instead of replacing the damaged one by itself.
Although your tires might seem like pretty simple components, they deal with a complex array of forces as your vehicle travels down the road. When you replace an individual tire, you create a traction imbalance between your car's left and right sides. This imbalance can impact handling, cause your tires to wear more quickly, and may even adversely affect your traction control systems.
If you absolutely cannot afford to replace your tires in pairs, your tire dealer may discuss tire shaving as an alternative. When you save a tire, you remove some tread to match the other tire on the same axle. This technique means you're wasting some money on a pre-worn tire, but it might be the best option in a pinch.
Should You Replace All Four Tires?
For front or rear-wheel drive vehicles, you can usually just replace both tires on the affected axle. All-wheel drive vehicles throw a wrench into this plan, however. You can quickly damage an all-wheel drive system with mismatched tires, leading to a far more expensive problem than a new set of tires. If you're replacing one tire on an AWD vehicle, you'll usually need to replace them all.
It's also worth considering the overall condition of your other tires. If your undamaged tires have only a small amount of tread remaining, then shaving a single replacement is rarely cost-effective. Likewise, it doesn't make sense to replace just one axle if the tires on the other axle only have a few months worth of life left. In this case, replacing all four tires is a more practical option that may save you on installation costs.
For more information about replacing tires, contact a tire dealer near you.