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Insurance–it’s everywhere. One can insure just about anything. Are tires an investment one needs to insure? Tire insurance, also called a road hazard policy, road hazard warranty, or tire reimbursement plan, is a rapidly growing industry in the automotive world.

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Tire warranty plans pay in full or in part for the replacement or repair of damaged tires and/or rims from “road hazards.” Road hazards are defined as pot holes, debris, nails, wood, and other hazards found in the road. Curbs, sidewalks, and stone walls are not road hazards. This is an important distinction to consider when deciding if tire insurance is right for you (discussed further ahead).

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Tire plans last for a specific period of time and tire wear tread-depth. Some plans last 2-3 years. Others can last 5 years or 60,000 miles. Several plans come with fixed amounts of coverage: $500 per year up to 4 years. Many contracts require three years of law school to comprehend. In terms of tread depth, a tire is usually considered worn out (and thus the plan null and void) at 2/32 to 3/32 of an inch.

Another important distinction is in the type of plan.

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Tire reimbursement plans are just what they say. You, the plan holder, will be reimbursed after the claims process is finalized–usually 2-8 weeks. There is an out-of-pocket expense. These plans are often sold by new car dealerships. The prices can range from $300 to $600 dollars.

Road hazard policies operate similarly to reimbursement plans. However, some tire insurance providers, in partnership with the repair facility, may have a direct-pay relationship. Thus, there would be no out-of-pocket expense, except for applicable deductibles, and items not covered in part or in full. These plans are primarily sold by tire dealers and repair shops. The prices range from $10 to $30 per tire. They also can be based on a percentage of the cost of the tire: usually 12% to 15%.

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Both types of plans have a number of variables, requiring a magnifying glass to read the fine print. Also, many are pro-rated warranties, covering only a percentage of the cost of the tire based on its wear.

Claims and Coverage

Depending on the plan, claims are initiated by the repair shop. The process is fairly smooth, although there can be a significant delay from the provider for authorization. This delay may be an hour or an entire weekend. This means that you’ll have to “ok” the tire replacement, and then hope it’s authorized for the full amount, or drive on your spare.

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Another interesting note is that a lot of tire damage is caused by curbs. Curb damage is not covered under most road hazard policies. High granite curbs with sharp edges slice through tens of thousands of tires per year.

You Won’t Notice

Many people don’t even notice tire damage. Other than to see if the tires are holding air, who “really” looks at tires? Tires are subject to a whole host of external influences which cause bubbles, slices and gouges. Despite the potential dangers of damaged tires, the damage very often does not translate into any noticeable drivability issue. The point is that if you don’t notice any tire damage you can’t benefit from the coverage.

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Those raving about the benefits of a road hazard policy are the actual folks in the industry who stand to benefit from the sale. They’ll argue that it’s so cheap–only $10 to $20 per tire. Even so, for four tires, that’s $80 based on the “possibility,” the “chance,” of damaging a tire that meets the repair/replacement requirement protocols.

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If a rim and tire has incurred significant damage, it’s quite likely that other problems have resulted as well. The first is that the vehicle may have been jarred out of alignment. Secondly, hub bearings, front end components: tie rods, spindles, ball joints, and a variety of other components may have sustained damage. In this case, auto insurance, which you are already paying for, will pay for everything–brand new.

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Free Road Hazard Warranties

Many tires come with road hazard warranties FREE. In other words, in an effort to secure retailers, many tire distributors provide service centers FREE road hazard insurance. Some shops pass this on to their tire customers, others sell them. Ask if the tire “comes” with a road hazard protection policy. If not, request that one be provided at no additional charge. It’s worth a shot.

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Also, some car manufacturers provide road hazard warranties FREE of charge for 12 months or 12,000 miles. If you’re buying a new car or even used, ask that the dealer provide a complimentary road hazard policy (after all the wheeling and dealing is done, of course), and just before you commit.

What’s the best road hazard policy?

Money in your bank account.

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When buying secondhand (used) tires either from a tire shop or an online auction site its important that you are aware of the following 5 issues. You can then ask the right questions and make sure you don't end up with a tire purchase that leaves you and your wallet feeling deflated!

1. Sizing
People get confused by tire sizing and it is no wonder really - its pretty bizarre. The basic tire size is made up of 3 measurements and if one of them isn't mentioned you should not assume what it is - it pays to check.

Width - this is the section width of the tire for example a 195/70 R14. This means the tire is 195 millimeters across the width of the tire.

Profile - The sidewall height is represented as a percentage of the width so a 195/70 R14 means that the sidewall or profile height of the tire is 70 percent of the width. Often the profile is not mentioned and that normally means that the tire is a standard 82 or so percent. Never assume though as this is a common misunderstanding that can occur when buying used tires. There is nothing worse than buying something that simply does not fit - ask the person selling the tire to read you all the numbers on the sidewall to make sure!

5. Type of Tire
Its important to either ask (if you are buying off EBay) or check yourself if you can for that the tire you are buying is not for example a snow tire - sometimes it can be hard to see from a photo on an auction site but the tires you are buying may have a snow or off road type of tread which will result in extremely poor handling and traction on tar seal. Its important to check that if you are looking for an on road only tire - that is what you end up purchasing.

Its important to be as educated as you can be when buying secondhand items that your life literally depends on so don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions and make sure your used tire purchase is a safe and economic one!

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Check car tyres regularly for any signs of wear. This is important as they are the only point of contact between a car and the road. Any deterioration of the tread or damage to the sidewalls may be risking an accident.

The basic legal requirements for car tyres are:

a) Tread Depth must be a minimum of 1.6mm. This applies to the entire circumference of the tyre. A bald patch on a tyre, where the tread depth is below the minimum requirement, is against the law. Check a tyre after a skid or emergency braking as this is when bald patches can occur.

b) Tyres must be inflated to the correct pressure. Consult the vehicle manufacturer's handbook to find the recommended pressure. Not only is this a legal requirement, it improves the vehicle's handling and reduces fuel consumption.

5. Speed

Driving at high speeds increases the car tyre temperature and accelerates the wear.

6. Car Tyre Alignment

Incorrect alignment of car tyres causes uneven and increased wear.

7. Driving Style

Aggressive cornering, accelerating and braking excessively are all causes of car tyre wear.

One factor that is unavoidable is time. Tyres deteriorate naturally over time due to the effects of the weather. Vehicles kept outside will degrade faster than those kept in a garage. Cracking due to sunlight exposure usually becomes evident on car tyres that are five years or older. When this happens, as with any signs of wear, replace the car tyre immediately.

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