How To Shop For Wheels And Tires In 2019

What To Look For When Shopping For Tires & Wheels

Shopping for wheels and tires can be a lengthy and intricate process. Different tires are made for different purposes, use different materials, and are compatible with certain vehicles while not others. When going through the tire-buying process, you'll need to be able to keep all of these factors and more in mind. Otherwise, you could up investing in a set of four with less mileage than you were hoping for.

At its simplest, shopping for tires is about balancing function with looks. You want to be able to get the tires that look, feel, and work best with your vehicle and needs. Going all in on looks or on functionality will likely leave you feeling less than satisfied when you're out on the road.

Even though we only replace them every few years, the tires on your vehicle are one of the most important parts of your car. They determine how your car feels, how it looks, how long certain components last, how much mileage you get - the list goes on and on.

When To Buy New Tires?

Before you're ready to buy new tires, you need to know if you actually need them. Sure, there are some people who are just looking to upgrade and aren't too worried about whether or not they actually "need" new tires. And there are plenty of times when anyone can look at your truck and tell you that you need some new rubber. When it's less obvious, though, oftentimes even the most experienced drivers aren't quite sure when they should be replacing their tires.

The most basic test for determining if your tires need to be replaced is what's called The Lincoln Test. All you need to do to conduct this test is a penny. The way it works is you take a penny with old Abe Lincoln's head on it and place it into the grooves of your tires, with Lincoln's head upside down - so that his hair is going into the tread of your tire. If the tread is overlapping any portion of Lincoln's head, then your tires should be ok for a little longer. If, however, the tread falls below the top of Lincoln's hair, then it's time to replace your tires.

While this test is generally reliable and a simple way to decide if it's time to hit the shop, it shouldn't be considered the be-all-end-all of deciding if it's time to buy new tires. Damaged or leaky tires will need to be replaced sooner, even if the tread is mostly intact. And if you're in a snowy or rainy area, you'll need more tread than the Lincoln Test accounts for, since more tread is needed to safely drive under these conditions. So use this test as a general guide, but keep in mind that it isn't carved in stone.

Things You Need To Know Beforehand

Once you've figured out if you're truly ready to shop for tires, there are a few things you'll need to know to ensure that it's a smooth process. As stated, not all tires are going to work for all vehicles or needs. So you need to account for these things beforehand so that when you get ready to go into the shop or start browsing online, you have a good idea of what you're looking for.

Fortunately, most of this information is relatively easy to figure out. You can determine most of these factors simply by looking at the information printed on your tires, as well as the stickers on the inside of your driver's side door and your truck's manual.

What you'll find out by compiling this information before you walk into a tire and wheel shop is what it is that you're looking for and what you're actually able to get. Once you know each of these things, you'll have an extremely accurate idea of what to look for once you start looking. This way, a clever salesman or flashy online ad can't sell you a set of tires that you don't want or need as easily.

The Size

The most practical factor that determines what kind of wheels and tires you can buy is the size. Every vehicle will be capable of supporting a limited range of sizes, and different tires will only fit onto certain wheels. The first step is to figure out what sizes of wheel/tire your vehicle is capable of supporting, which you can usually figure out with a quick internet search.

Next, you'll need to figure out what kind of wheels you want - assuming you're looking to change them out. The wheels on your vehicle have a huge impact on how your truck is going to look and feel. Not only that, but they also determine what kind of tires you're going to be able to buy.

If you're replacing the tires and wheels at the same time, then you can easily get a matching pair. But if you're only replacing the wheels or the tires, then the size of the one being replaced is going to be decided by the size of the one that you aren't replacing. So figure out the measurements that your truck can handle, the measurements within that range that you want, and how those measurements affect the tires/wheels you're able to pick.

The Finish

When it comes to wheels, the finish is a major factor in the look of your ride. Nowadays there are all kinds of finishes out there, so finding the one that best suits your truck will largely come down to personal preference and budget.

First, there's the classy chrome finish, which is hard to go wrong with. One of the nice things about chrome is that you don't really have to worry about rusting. Powder coated finishes are also a great option, especially if you prefer something more on the understated side. Powder coats are less flashy but provide you with a substantial amount of protection against the elements.

If you're looking for a color, like black wheels, then you're going to need a paint coating on your wheels. Paint coatings are finished with a clear topcoat that protects it from rusting or scratching fairly well.

The Style

While mostly aesthetic, the style of your wheels is important as well, especially if you're looking to upgrade primarily for looks. Things like the number of spokes a wheel has, the size of the rim lip, how many lug nuts there are, and so on, will all determine if you're going for something sleek and smooth, or something beefy and tough.

The style of rims you get is going to have an impact on the way your truck handles as well. If you want something that improves your acceleration and cornering, then a wider diameter wheel will give you what you're looking for. On the other hand, if you want a sporty looking rim that still handles smoothly, then you'll want smaller wheels that give you more room for tire sidewalls.

Your Needs

More important than the look of your tires and wheels is your own personal needs. Sporty tires might be fun when cruising around downtown, but they're going to be less than ideal if you plan on taking your truck through some mud.

If you don't know what kind of tires you need, or you don't have any reason to care, then going with all-season tires never hurts. These are tires that are going to handle any kind of terrain and weather fairly well, as well as get you through your standard down the road drive with no issues.

If you live in an area that gets snow, then regardless of what kind of tires you want, you're going to be best off just buying snow tires. These kinds of tires will handle fine during the summer, and in the winter, they can be a literal lifesaver. If terrain, weather, and practicality all fall below having a fun ride, then you're going to be looking at performance tires, which are all about speed, cornering, and grip.

Your budget

Like any substantial investment, your budget extremely important. While it may be the last item on our list of things to know beforehand, it is the thing you should start composing first. If you don't know where to begin, just look into the average price of standard, all-season tires for your vehicle, and use that as your baseline price.

Most tires are going to cost relatively the same, and are fairly straightforward. Just like when shopping for a battery, the more durability and performance you want, the more you're going to have to pay. Wheels, on the other hand, can be a little more involved.

The bigger the wheel's diameter, the more it's going to cost. This means that if you're looking to get wheels with a sporty feel to them, you're going to have to shell out a little more dough than normal. Chrome is usually more expensive than other wheel finishes, so keep that in mind if you're looking to secure that mirror-like finish for your truck.

Choosing Between Materials

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when shopping for wheels, but the material of your rims does play a part in your final decision. Primarily, unless you're driving a race car, you're going to be choosing from one of two materials: aluminum alloy and steel.

Aluminum alloy is the most common material used for wheels, and it's what most stock wheels are made out of. It's light, durable, reasonably resistant to rust and damage, and is just all around pretty reliable. It's also more affordable, so if you don't need steel wheels, you can safely go with aluminum alloy wheels for your upgrade.

While you can get steel wheels on any vehicle, they're better suited for specific use cases. The major difference between steel and aluminum wheels is the weight, in that steel wheels are significantly heavier. If you've ever driven a vehicle with steel rims, you'll likely have noticed that the car feels a little more like a tank, the center of gravity is lower, and so on. This helps the tread on your tires dig into the ground a little more, which is helpful if you're in an area that's prone to rain and snow. It can also be helpful if you find yourself off-roading on a regular basis. Otherwise, aluminum is going to be your friend.

Low Profile vs High Profile

Finally, when it comes to purchasing tires, you're going to need to pay attention to the profile. This will affect how your car handles the most after you've finished upgrading your wheels. The profile of your tires is how much or how little sidewall there is. A lower profile wheel has less space between the rim and the edge of your tire, while higher profile wheels have more.

The more sidewall your tires have, the less feedback you're going to feel from the road. Higher profile tires offer a much smoother, less jarring ride. They also take longer to wear out, so you're getting more bang for your buck in the long run.

On the other side of things, lower profile tires bring you closer to the road. This means that you're going to feel those bumps, ridges, and turns much more than normal. It also means, though, that you're going to have more control while driving and have an easier time when it comes to things like cornering and grip. Just keep in mind that these kinds of tires are going to wear out faster, so unless you're really passionate about low profile tires, it might not be worth the extra expense.

The profile of your tires is determined by the size of your wheels, too. The bigger your wheels, the smaller the amount of sidewall that you'll be able to fit around them. So make sure that the wheels you get align with the type of profile you want your tires to have.


Whether you're planning on going into your local tire shop or browsing the web for a new set of wheels, the more you know going into it, the happier you're going to be with the set you end up with. Keep in mind that the more fun your tires are, the less durable and reliable they're going to be. Like anything in life, it's going to be a bit of give and take, and knowing where you want to compromise and where you're sure you want to stick to your guns will help your wheel upgrade go as smoothly as possible.