When you look at your tires, you may think only one needs to be replaced. However, since it’s common to replace tires in pairs, you may be somewhat confused. Should tires be replaced in pairs, and does it really matter?
Tires should be replaced in pairs for all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles to avoid damaging their powertrain. Two-wheel drive vehicles have a lower risk of damage by replacing a single tire; however, this is conditional on their tread depths not having a significant difference.
Keep reading to learn more about the nuances of when you can and cannot replace single tires on a vehicle!
Why Do Tires Need to be Replaced in Pairs?
This is a fair question. After all, if you have suffered only one flat or damaged tire, why should you spend even more money to buy a second tire you don’t think you need?
The answer comes down to several factors, all of which are important to keeping your vehicle in great shape and keeping you safe while behind the wheel.
First, you need to determine if your car is all-wheel drive or instead two-wheel drive. If it is all-wheel drive, this means your car has been designed based on its tires having very little difference in the depth of their tread.
Thus, if you only choose to replace one tire and you wind up with a significant difference in tread depth, you could potentially damage your vehicle’s drivetrain.
Should you have a vehicle that is two-wheel drive, you could still damage the drivetrain, but it’s less likely if you choose to only replace one tire.
However, on a two-wheel-drive car, you’ll have to abide by the 30 percent rule.
In this case, this means that if the other tires on your car have tread that is less than 30 percent worn out, you can generally get by with only replacing one tire. If you do so, place that one tire on the rear axle only.
If the tread on your tires is more than 30 percent worn out and is in fact approaching 40-50 percent tread wear, you should buy two new tires and also place them on your car’s rear axle.
Can I Mix and Match Tires?
When you are buying new tires, don’t assume you can simply mix and match. If you do, you are asking for additional problems.
If you want to keep your car handling as well as possible, never change the type of tire on your vehicle. For example, never match all-season tires and snow tires.
If you do, this leads to grip imbalance and will throw off your car’s handling. In the worst-case scenario, this could result in you having an accident.
Also, try not to buy a different brand of tire when making a replacement. While you may assume all tires are basically the same, they are not.
As it is with most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to tires. Thus, some tires are made to last longer than others, which could lead to another problem with different tread depths.
Is It Safe to Only Change One Tire?
Generally, it is not considered safe to only replace one tire on your vehicle. The only exceptions are if your remaining tires are very new and still have excellent tread and if you can get the very same tire that will match the others.
Remember that all tires, despite being made much better than those decades ago, are not worth repairing.
Thus, if it is determined that your damaged tire cannot be brought back to life, be willing to spend a few dollars more to get a pair of tires you know will work best for your car and keep you safe when on the road.
Why Tread Patterns Make a Difference
If your vehicle is AWD and you install only one tire that has a tread pattern different from the others, your AWD system will eventually become damaged. This is because the new tire will have a diameter that’s larger than the existing tires.
Though this does not sound like a big deal, it is. When one tire on an AWD vehicle has a larger diameter than the others, this results in the new tire spinning at a much faster rate on a dry road.
When this occurs, this causes the AWD system to engage when not needed, damaging the system.
If you have a vehicle that is FWD or RWD, replacing only one tire could also lead to damage.
In these cases, the older tires that are spinning slower on the pavement can affect the anti-lock braking system and the traction control system, leading to damage and expensive repairs.
Can I Have Different Tires Front and Back?
On most vehicles, it is not a good idea to have different tires on the front and back.
To begin with, the tires will probably have different tread patterns, which will throw off your car’s stability and control. When tires have varying tread patterns, this also means the tread will wear out at different times.
At the least, this means you will be buying new tires far more often than you anticipated!
At the worst, this can damage your drivetrain, braking, and traction systems, and even ultimately damage your engine, due to the added stress the mismatched tires will put on your car.
Should you buy a pair of new tires and think you want then on the front of your car, you should quickly abandon this way of thinking.
If you leave worn tires on the rear axle of your vehicle, your car will have far less ability to grip the road when it’s slick. As a result, you could find yourself hydroplaning on a rainy day, sending your vehicle out of control.
Will Replacing Only One Tire Void My Warranty?
Depending on the type of vehicle you have and the recommendations from the manufacturer found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual, it is not out of the realm of possibility that making a mistake in this area could possibly void your vehicle warranty.
Even if you are sure that you only need to replace one tire on your vehicle, never do so without first reading the owner’s manual of your car to find out what it says about replacing your tires.
If your owner’s manual states that tires should always be replaced in pairs and your vehicle is still under warranty, don’t deviate from this advice.
If you do and you later find yourself in need of repairs for a damaged drivetrain, ABS, or traction control system, it’s a certainty your dealer will put two and two together and figure out the tires don’t match. Rather than face a big repair bill, pay for two new tires instead.
Should Tires be Replaced in Pairs on 4WD Vehicles?
If you own a four-wheel-drive vehicle and need to replace tires, it is actually more important that you replace your tires in pairs. In fact, some manufacturers go the extra mile and recommend you replace all four tires simultaneously.
On a four-wheel-drive vehicle, replacing only one tire could result in a very minimal difference on the axle. Yet despite this small difference, it can be enough to damage your vehicle.
Since you will be relying on your four-wheel drive capability to keep you safe when driving on slick roads or when off-roading, don’t take a chance on damaging your vehicle and putting yourself at risk on the road.
As you realize by now, it definitely matters in many ways when it comes to replacing tires in pairs. Even if you think it’s unnecessary, following the advice of your vehicle’s manufacturer and tire professionals will be the best course of action.
By doing so, you’ll stay safe on the road and gain peace of mind!