Q: We are about to take our first summer road trip in three years, but before we go, we need a new set of tires. Do we have to buy the same tires that came with the vehicle?
A: You raise an interesting question for which there is no simple answer. The reason: Tire design involves compromises. Tires that deliver a great ride may give up some handling capabilities, and tires that allow you to corner and stop well may not offer long tread life.
As a result, for each make and model that they offer, automakers test tires for cornering grip, stopping distances, steering feel and noise levels (among other factors), always keeping in mind the expectations of a typical buyer for that vehicle. The testing is often extensive since tires have a major effect on the way a car rides and handles. Cost is also a factor.
If you like the way your current tires have performed, buying the same tire as a replacement before you take to the road this summer can make sense, assuming that they are still available. If, instead, you choose another tire, you can find tire ratings from a variety of sources, such as Consumer Reports, to help guide you.
Just make sure that the tire you choose equals or exceeds the ratings (Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards, or UTQGS) for traction and temperature of the tires that came with the car. These scores, along with the tire’s speed and tread life ratings, are listed on the tire sidewall. Also, stick with the same tire size the manufacturer used, and check to make sure that each new tire is the proper size.
Finally, be sure that the type of tire you are buying matches your needs. Most people purchase all-season tires, but there are also tires specifically designed for summer or winter driving. In addition, there are all-terrain tires for four-wheel-drive vehicles that will be driven off-road.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Q: We have an old car. Is it possible to take it on a long trip this summer?
A: Yes, it is possible if your car is mechanically sound. There are cars that deliver dependable transportation with a quarter-million miles or more on the odometer, and there are long-distance tours for antique cars that are more than 25, or even 50-plus, years of age. Just be sure that your older car is ready. Pay particular attention to the battery and the cooling system. Short trips in cooler weather can hide cooling system problems.
Regardless of your vehicle’s age, it’s wise to have it checked by a qualified mechanic before you take to the road. If your old car is deemed untrustworthy for a longer drive, you can always rent a newer vehicle for your trip.