Tires are among the most important replacement parts that we purchase for our vehicles. We expect them to last for years — or at least as long as their advertised life. But tires occasionally wear out prematurely. Road debris causes flats. A spare tire is the short-term solution, of course. But then the tire has to be repaired or replaced, and it's good to know if there's a warranty in place to defray the costs.
Road hazards, tire defects and mechanical wear are some of the things that can cause a flat or premature wear. Most tires come with warranties that can protect consumers from having to pay full price on a new tire.
Most tiremakers have determined that the usable life of a tire is either six years from the date of purchase or when there's just 2/32nds of an inch of tread left. While there's no federal law regulating tire wear, Ron Margadonna, senior technical marketing manager for Michelin tires, says that the 2/32nds measurement has been adopted by most states.
This measurement is difficult to visualize without a reference point, but there are at least two indicators that a tire is nearing the end of its life. Tires sold in North America are required to have tread-wear indicators, which are found in the tire tread's grooves. The wear indicators look like small bars of tread that run perpendicular to the groove. If the wear of the tire has reached these indicators, it's time for a new tire.
Another measure is the penny method. Put a penny in the groove of the tire, upside down and with Lincoln's head facing you. The distance from the top of Lincoln's head to the edge of the coin is about 2/32nds of an inch. So if the top of Lincoln's head is showing, you'll need to replace the tire. A similar method involves using Washington's head on a quarter to measure 4/32nds of an inch, but this is a safety indicator, not a way to support a claim that a tire has worn out prematurely.
Every tire manufacturer offers tread-life warranties. Nearly every tire has a mileage estimate (the exceptions being some high-performance tires, track/competition tires and most winter tires). The tread-life estimate is based on the type of tire and the number of miles that can be expected under normal driving conditions, Margadonna says. For example, high-performance tires found on a sports car are softer and have a lower mileage estimate than the harder tires typically found on economy cars.
If a tire has worn out evenly across the tread well before its estimated mileage limit, it may qualify for replacement under the tread-life warranty. You must show proof of purchase and proof that the tires were rotated properly at the recommended intervals. In this situation, the manufacturer prorates the cost of the new tire based on the percentage of remaining tread on the old tire and the price of the replacement tire.
Margadonna says this prorating method is similar to how companies reimburse owners under car battery warranties. He uses the example of a tire with an 80,000-mile warranty and a person who was only able to get 70,000 miles of life out of it. "You haven't reached the mileage threshold that we think you should have reached, so we owe you 10,000 miles," he says.
Even so, Tirerack.com notes that consumers have to go on driving with potentially compromised tire performance or safety before they can make a warranty claim: Manufacturers won't consider replacement until the tires are worn down to the 2/32nds tread-wear indicators.
Some notable exceptions to tread-life warranties are winter tires and split-size fitments. Michelin is one of the only manufacturers to have a tread-life warranty on winter tires. Owners must remove the tires during the off-season to ensure proper usage and keep the warranty in good standing. "We want them to be on in the fall, around October 1, and off in the spring, around April 1," says Margadonna. "If not, we reserve the right to void that warranty claim."
Some sports cars have different-size tires that cannot be rotated using the traditional method. In split-size fitments like this, rear tires get half the mileage warranty of the front tires. That's because the rear tires wear out almost twice as fast as the fronts, Margadonna says.
Road Hazard Warranties
Tire stores typically offer these warranties, which come into play if you get a flat tire. If the tire can be repaired, the repair is covered for the duration of the warranty. If the tire can't be repaired, the company will prorate the remaining mileage toward the purchase of a new tire. Some companies even throw in free tire rotations for the duration of the warranty.
Road hazard warranty prices vary, based on the tire and the vendor, but on average, they range from $10-$20 per tire. Edmunds editors have mixed feelings about them. Some have put them to use, while others feel that they are a waste of money.
The warranties are a major source of profit for tire shops, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have value to drivers. These warranties are essentially insurance policies. If you're considering whether to buy a road hazard warranty, think about how many times you've had a nail or a puncture in your tire in the last few years. Was the amount you spent on repair or replacement enough to justify the warranty? Do you drive in an area where there is a lot of debris on the road? Or are you just the kind of person who feels better when you buy the extended warranty on a product? If your answer to any of those questions is a yes, these warranties might be worth your money.
Workmanship and Materials Warranty
The workmanship and materials warranty protects the consumer from any defects in the manufacturing or materials used in the tire. Most manufacturers offer this coverage for the life of the tire.
"Workmanship and materials means that we stand behind the product, should you run into some issue," says Margadonna. Some of the problems that would be covered include severe cracking in the sidewall or the loss of a block of tread. "If there was something wrong with the tire that we were at fault for, as a manufacturer, we stand behind our product," says Margadonna.
If a workmanship or manufacturing failure comes up within the first 2/32nds of an inch of tread, most manufacturers will replace the tire free of charge. Anything after that will usually be prorated.
Manufacturer Special Warranty
A manufacturer's special warranty typically takes the form of a 30-day promotional trial. This is the best time to determine whether the tires you just bought are right for you. Consumers are eligible for a full refund or credit toward the purchase of another tire if they are not satisfied with their tires for any reason. Bridgestone, General Tire, Michelin and Yokohama are just a few of the manufacturers that offer these trial programs.
In March 2011, Michelin launched its "Michelin Promise Plan," which Margadonna says is unique in the industry. This warranty program has three components: a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, a limited mileage warranty and flat-tire changing assistance.
The flat-tire changing assistance makes the program stand out from its competitors. If a customer experiences a flat tire and does not know how to change it, or just does not want to do it himself, he can call a toll-free number and roadside assistance will install the spare free of charge. If the customer has no spare, Michelin will arrange for a tow to the nearest Michelin-approved repair center for up to 150 miles.
The uniformity warranty is one that a driver might never encounter. This warranty covers excessive vibration or ride disturbance caused by a tire. For most companies, the buyer has to notify the company within the first 2/32nds of an inch of tire tread.
A problem like that would be "instantaneous" and very obvious to a driver, Margadonna says. "So we tend not to cover ride issues well into the life of the tire."
In most circumstances, a uniformity problem would be covered under the 30-day manufacturer's special warranty, but the uniformity clause is there to protect the consumer against problems that happen past that.
What Voids Your Warranty?
Just as you can void your car's warranty, you can void your tire's warranty, too. The big one to watch out for is improper maintenance. If the tire manufacturer does not see proof that the tires were inflated, rotated and aligned properly, chances are your warranty claim will be denied. Other warranty killers include vandalism, racing, off-roading and damage from snow chains.
Inflate, Rotate, Evaluate
With any warranty, the manufacturer expects you to do your part to maintain the product to its standards. The Bridgestone tire manual, for example, tells consumers to do these three things to ensure long tire life:
- Keep your tires inflated to the recommended tire pressure to ensure even wear.
- Rotate the tires based on the manufacturer's recommendation or every 5,000 miles, keeping a record of the service.
- Inspect your tires periodically, looking for any bumps or inconsistent wear patterns.
Don't Cut Corners on Safety
These warranties may seem like too much to keep track of, but if you take a few basic precautions, you'll not only reduce the chances of a tire wearing out prematurely, but also be fully prepared for a claim. Hang onto your purchase receipt and keep a record of all tire rotations and alignments. Keep in mind that it is better to miss out on a warranty claim than to run the tire to the end of its tread life and compromise your safety.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.