Is it cheaper to buy all 4 tires?

When it’s time to replace your tires, you may be tempted to just replace two to save money. But is buying four new tires actually cheaper in the long run? Here’s what you need to know.

Here’s a quick answer: Replacing all four tires at once is usually cheaper long-term than buying two at a time. With four new tires, you get better performance, safety, and tread life. Despite higher upfront cost, four new tires save money over time by avoiding uneven wear and premature replacements. Still, assess your budget, existing tread, and driving habits before deciding.

Should you replace all four tires at once?

There are pros and cons to replacing all four tires at the same time versus just replacing two.

Pros of replacing all four tires:

  • Better performance – With four new tires, your vehicle will handle and brake better, especially in wet conditions. New tires provide maximum grip and stability.
  • Even wear – All four tires will wear evenly, giving you maximum tire life. With two new and two old tires, the new ones wear faster.
  • Alignment – Any alignment issues get corrected when you install four new tires. With two new and two worn tires, alignment problems continue.
  • Safety – Four new tires give you the best safety and handling, reducing the risk of spinouts or blowouts.

Cons of replacing all four tires:

  • Cost – Buying two tires is cheaper upfront than four new ones. However, you may pay more in the long run (see analysis below).
  • Waste – The two undamaged tires still have tread life left, so replacing them too is wasteful. But this tread life difference gets factored into the cost analysis.

Cost analysis: Two tires versus four

To decide whether it’s cheaper to buy two or four new tires, you need to run the numbers for your particular situation. Here are the factors to consider in the cost analysis:

  • Cost of two new tires versus four new tires
  • Projected mileage remaining on current tires
  • Typical mileage you get from a new set of tires
  • Cost of an alignment (needed with four new tires)
  • Potential wear and tear on suspension components (with mismatched tires)

Let’s compare an example scenario:

  • Two new tires installed: $300
  • Four new tires installed + alignment: $600
  • Remaining tread life on current tires: 15,000 miles
  • Mileage from new tires: 60,000 miles
  • Cost of alignment: $100

With two new tires, you’ll get 15,000 miles out of the existing tires before needing new ones. That’s a total cost of $300 now + $600 later = $900 for 75,000 miles.

With four new tires and an alignment, you’ll get 60,000 miles before the next replacement. That’s $600 now plus alignment. Total cost is $700 for 60,000 miles.

In this scenario, it’s cheaper in the long run to buy four new tires. You spend more upfront but get better performance, safety, and lower costs per mile over the next 60,000 miles. The slight tread life remaining on the current tires doesn’t offset the costs of uneven wear and premature replacement.

Other factors impacting the costs

There are a few other variables that can shift the analysis in either direction:

  • If existing tires have very low wear, it makes more sense to just replace two.
  • If you drive high mileage annually, the tread life savings of four new tires is amplified.
  • If new tires are significantly more expensive, it can tip the scales towards just replacing two.
  • Regular tire rotations can extend the tread life of your tires and make going with just two new ones more viable.

As you can see, there’s no universal answer. You need to weigh the upfront costs against the long-term savings, based on your driving habits, existing tread life, and new tire pricing.

What the experts say

Most tire and auto experts recommend replacing all four tires if your budget allows:

  • AAA suggests that all four tires be replaced at the same time for optimal performance.
  • Michelin says that uneven tread depth can compromise handling and recommends four new tires for safety.
  • Goodyear engineers advise installing a full set of the same tires for best traction and drivability.
  • Many new car warranties require that all four tires match in brand, model, and size. Check your warranty terms before mixing tires.

While their guidance assumes ideal conditions, your personal situation may call for just doing two tires. The key is analyzing the numbers for your specific scenario.

FAQ about buying two versus four new tires

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about whether to buy two or four new tires.

Is it bad to only replace two tires?

Replacing just two tires is ok temporarily, but not ideal long-term. You’ll get uneven tread wear and compromised handling. Budget constraints make two new tires a viable short-term fix.

If I buy two tires, which axle should get the new ones?

For the best control, the newer tires should go on the rear axle. New tires in front and worn tires in back can make the car feel loose or fishtail in sharp turns.

Can I rotate tires with mismatching tread depths?

You can rotate the tires, but the different tread depths will limit the rotations you can do. Best practice is to replace all four tires so you can freely rotate them.

Is it safety risk to drive with two new and two old tires?

There’s some safety compromise with uneven tread wear, but it’s an acceptable short-term option if you drive conservatively. Replace the other two tires as soon as you can.

Will uneven tires damage my car?

Potentially yes. The suspension and drivetrain components endure extra stress trying to compensate for tires with different slippage and grip. It’s hard on the mechanical parts.

Cons of 2 New TiresPros of 4 New Tires
Uneven wearEven wear
Reduced safetyImproved safety
Alignment issues continueAlignment corrected
Stress on componentsLess mechanical stress

The takeaway

  • If your budget allows, replacing all four tires is ideal for performance, safety, and getting the full mileage out of your new tires.
  • But if money is tight, just replacing two tires can be a short-term fix. Evaluate the tread wear and do the math for your specific scenario.
  • For the best handling, any new tires should go on the rear axle.
  • Regular tire rotations and alignment help you maximize the life of your tires. Don’t neglect rotations.
  • Weigh all factors before deciding between two new tires or four. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Replacing all four tires gives you the safety and performance of a matching set, avoids uneven wear, and ends up cheaper per mile in the long run. But two new tires may be your only financial option. In that case, rotate to the rear axle and start saving up to replace the other two. Stay safe!

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