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Most of the time when you need to replace your car’s tires, you may end up replacing all four tires at the same time. You might even replace the two front tires or two rear tires if the front or the rear has worn down first. But when you’re in a situation where one tire gets damaged and it can’t be repaired, you might ask yourself: can I replace only one tire on my car?
Can I Replace Only One Tire On My Car?
The answer is usually no, but in one case it is acceptable to do. You can safely replace only one tire (rather than two or all four at a time) is if all of your tires are relatively new and they have not lost more than 4/32″ of tread depth from when they were new. Most new tires will have a tread depth of about 10/32″ to 12/32″.
Well, that is the technical guideline to determine whether or not you can get away with replacing only one tire. Obviously it’s absurd to expect anyone to know the exact tread depth they’ve lost since their tires were new. As a general guideline, if your tires are still pretty new, you can probably get away with replacing only one tire. If they are not, then you may need to replace two tires or all four tires.
When I found out that our car had damage to the tire in the sidewall where the steel braiding was visible, I knew that we had to get the tire replaced. We bought the vehicle from another owner who had the tires replaced about a year prior. I was probably in that gray area between being OK to replace just one tire and replacing two tires at a time (this is a FWD vehicle.) In the end, I decided to fork out the money for two tires rather than one as I wanted to play it on the safe side.
If you do plan on replacing only one tire on your vehicle, strongly consider doing the following for optimal and safest results:
- For your new tire, use the same brand and size of tire, as well as the same type of tire (e.g. winter tire, summer tire, all-season tire, etc.) You want to be sure that the tread pattern is the same, which won’t be a non-issue if you use the exact tire as your existing ones.
- The new tire should be installed on the rear axle along with the highest-tread tire out of of your three existing tires. The two tires with the least tread should be installed on the front axle. This minimizes the occurrence of spinning out around turns.
Why Can’t I Replace Just One Tire if My Current Tires are Worn?
If the existing tires on your vehicle are already worn more than 4/32″ of tread depth (for simplicity, let’s just say moderately worn), it is not recommended that you replace only one tire. Why?
One new tire with full tread along with three other tires of significantly lower tread, means that you have one wheel spinning at a slower revolution (larger overall diameter) compared to the remaining wheels which have an overall smaller diameter. This can cause issues with your vehicle’s drivetrain, as well as with the safety systems like the anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control. Furthermore, you’ll have one tire with greater traction than the other three tires, which can lead to some erratic vehicle behavior.
For two-wheel drive vehicles, it’s better to replace at least two tires at a time, with the two new tires installed on the rear regardless if your vehicle is front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), or all/four-wheel drive (AWD/4WD). But with all-wheel drive systems, it is generally recommended to replace all four tires at the same time.
Replacing All Four Tires on an All-Wheel Drive (AWD) Vehicle?
With an All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicle, it is more critical to have all four tires with the same diameter and traction. Car manufacturers will even state that on their vehicles equipped with AWD, it is recommended to have all four tires replaced at the same time, rather than one or two two tires at a time.
With even a small difference of one tire’s overall diameter from the rest of the tires, one wheel will be travelling at a different speed compared to the rest. Because of this, it will put additional strain on the drivetrain, which can potentially cause damage over time. It can also cause unexpected acceleration, braking, and handling behaviors with the AWD system.