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This is where the rubber meets the road

It’s interesting what a new set of tires will do for your car and what mechanical ailments can seemingly be “fixed” by their installation.

A vehicle I was driving was in need of new tires, although they weren’t completely shot. As well, strange sounds were coming from the front of the car, especially while slowing down, a sort of growling noise accompanied by a wobble in the steering wheel.

There were all kinds of opinions on what the issue could be. One mechanically astute colleague suggested wheel bearings, certainly an unusual problem on any car let alone on one that was only a few years old.

A mechanic acquaintance thought it might be the brakes, although doubted the diagnosis based on the fact the noise persisted even when the brakes weren’t applied. His advice? Bring the vehicle to the shop for a look-see … at $90 per hour.

In the meantime, I had four new tires installed. To my amazement, every symptom and every noise was gone. The car drove like brand new: no more growling, throbbing or wobbling. Was it a miracle? Hardly.

Several things were learned here, not the least of which is that tire characteristics usually change as they wear (sometimes they become noisy and weird); and not all tires are created equal. Just because they’re round and the right size to fit your vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all the same, made the same or necessarily right for you.

No doubt when you bought your new vehicle you paid little attention to the price of replacement tires. And then the day came, probably sooner than you thought, and you got the shock of your life. How much for four tires? $800? $1,200? $1,500?

Suddenly you’re searching for cheaper replacement tires that aren’t what the factory put on the car, tires that you’re not used to. You find some discount tires that are the right size and save you a few dollars. All seems good: you’re safe and legal.

Your experience from this point forward will depend on how you drive, the roads in your area, the vehicle and what you’ve come to expect your tires to do.

This is not to say that there aren’t good tires out there that can save you money, but since you don’t know how they’ll perform until they’re actually on the car, you have to be very, very, very careful and fussy.

Web sites such as tirerack.com are great since they invite buyer feedback about their tire purchases. You can scroll through the reviews and see what people who already bought the same tires you’re considering have to say. Obviously, price isn’t the only concern here.

The key seems to be time, as in don’t wait until the last minute to begin searching for replacements. The more time you have, the more likely you can search around to get exactly what you need at the right price.

Even if you do wind up putting on another set of what came from the factory, usually one of the most expensive choices (and usually for a good reason), at least you’ll have peace of mind knowing you made the right decision … if you did your homework.

I checked out the Brand X tires that were replaced on the vehicle I was driving and found some reviews that backed up my noise problems, not to mention shortcomings in treadlife. In the end, were these discount tires really a deal? Hardly, but research is needed to prevent the same thing from happening again and with plenty of resources at your fingertips there’s no reason to be disappointed with a purchase.

After some digging, I stepped up and selected a set of name-brand tires that were about 30 percent more money than the Brand X tires that were on the vehicle. I’ll let you know how it goes with this pick, but since the car drives like new I’ll have to say that so far, so good.

My experience also shows that singular items on a vehicle don’t always act in a singular way. The old tires made the car feel as though all sorts of other things were beginning to wear out, when in fact the tires were the weak link. Indeed many of a vehicle’s systems are intertwined, meaning that it’s a lot easier to diagnose problems when everything is in good shape and well maintained.

Tire selection is dizzying these days as many new brands have entered the market. While tempting considering the dollars that can be saved, you must not assume that all are created equal. The fact is that there’s more to a tire than being round and the right size and that we have the resources to find out what those differences are before they wind up on your vehicle.

Among her numerous accomplishments as a TV personality, Courtney Hansen is the author of her own book and a writer with Wheelbase Media. You can message her using our web page contact link at theoctanelounge.com. Wheelbase Media is a worldwide provider of automotive news and feature stories.

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