We often only think about our tyres when they're worn out and need replacing. It's then, when we go shopping, that we're faced with a bewildering range of tyre options from which we have to choose.
They all look the same, they all fit our cars, but some are considerably cheaper than others. How do we choose the right option?
Buy the correct tyres
The most important thing when buying new tyres for your car is to buy ones that are suitable for your car.
Carmakers go to great lengths during the new model development phase to select the best tyres to fit to their cars.
Working with the big brand name tyre companies carmakers seek tyres with the optimum blend of road noise, ride comfort, handling, braking, efficiency and wear rate.
When it comes to replacing the tyres, the original tyres specified are generally best.
What are the correct tyres for my car?
To find out about the tyres the carmaker recommends fitting to your car refer to the owner's manual.
There you will find the recommended tyre defined by its size, speed rating and load rating. They are the things you need to know when shopping for new tyres.
Generally the carmaker won't nominate a particular brand of tyre, that's left to you to decide, but you could use the brand that was fitted when the car was new as a guide.
Trust the brands you know
Walk into any tyre retailer's store and you'll be greeted by a myriad of tyre choices, of size, performance, and price.
We know the size and performance of the tyres we need from consulting the owner's manual, leaving us to decide on the price we're prepared to pay.
We're generally given the choice between a number of brands of tyre, some well known, some lesser known, and some completely unknown, and a range of prices.
The recognised brands usually carry a premium price; those that are lesser known are usually much cheaper, leaving the shopper with a dilemma on which to buy.
Without being able to view the construction of a tyre or analyse its compound it's not possible to conclude anything about its performance, comfort, safety, or possible life.
For that you have to rely on the integrity of the tyre maker, their experience, their investment in technology, and their back up should things go pear-shaped.
With tyres from one of the leading brands you can safely assume you're getting the best of all of that. You can't be so sure when you buy tyres from a brand that has little history, is new to the tyre game, and doesn't have a consumer support network.
How do I identify a second-rate tyre?
It was once easy to identify a second-rate tyre from ones made by a recognised tyre company. All you had to do was look at the sidewall and see where the cheaper tyre was made.
You usually found that it was made in one of the Asian countries, which would ring alarm bells due to their once-substandard manufacturing practices.
Doing that today is not an accurate guide, as most of the big name tyre companies have factories in Asia, or are involved in joint ventures with Asian companies. The tyres they produce in these factories are of the same quality and performance as tyres produced in their other factories around the world.
It's the brand itself that should now be ringing alarm bells. If it's an unknown brand with little or no history steer clear of them.
The risks of buying cheap
There's an understandable temptation to save a few bucks when we're faced with spending a small fortune on new tyres, but before you do think of the risks you're taking.
Our tyres perform a number of vital functions on our cars, they are arguably the most important piece of safety equipment we have.
They allow us to accelerate, steer and brake safely, and they allow us to do it on all road surfaces in all weather conditions.
Buying tyres from an unknown brand is potentially compromising some, or all of those functions.
Settling for second best is potentially putting at risk our safety and the safety of our loved ones.
What back-up do you have?
The major tyre companies are all represented in this country, they all have offices you can contact if things go wrong with their products.
But rarely do the lesser-known tyre companies have any representation here. They're more likely to be handled here by importers or small operators who can't offer the same level of product support the major companies can.
Before you decide to buy the cheap alternative do your research on the company making the tyres, the one importing and selling them here, and quiz them on the back-up you could expect to get down the track.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.