Your tires are one of the biggest investments in your car -- your safety literally rides on them, yet it’s easy to take them for granted until there’s a problem. Thing is, tires need maintenance just like your car’s other systems. Here are some ways to be sure you get your money’s worth out of that investment.
General Tire Maintenance
Tire maintenance doesn’t have to be really involved, but it’s got to be done on a regular interval just like oil changes or other maintenance items. Besides, it’ll save you money in terms of both fuel and heading off premature wear, as well as keeping you safer and improving your driving experience.
Some aspects to consider:
-Tire pressure -Tread depth and overall tire wear -Making sure your spare’s in good shape -Alignment -Tire cleaning and sidewalls -Tire rotations, which we’ll discuss in more details below.
Tire pressure is really important for several reasons, and should be checked monthly since rubber is porous and air can migrate through the valve stem and tire sidewalls. Ever ride a bicycle with a low tire? That’s what increased rolling resistance is like, and that’s what you’re doing to your car and your tires when they’re underinflated.
Underinflated tires will mean heat buildup, which is extremely damaging to the tire’s internal structure, will affect braking and handling and will cost you in terms of fuel economy. Don’t rely on the max pressure on the tire sidewall; instead refer to the tire inflation placard on your door frame for the right PSI and remember to check the inflation when the tires are hot, as air expands when heated.
Tread Depth and Overall Tire Wear
Tires with excessively worn tread will ride harder and handle poorly. Worse, they’re especially dangerous in wet weather, since they can’t evacuate water back behind the tire’s contact patch and put your vehicle in danger of hydroplaning.
State laws mandate a minimum tread depth to be able to pass inspection, so here’s a really easy way to gauge your tires’ tread. Take a penny and stick it into the tread groove, Lincoln’s head down. If the rubber reaches Abe’s head, your tires are at 2/32” depth (minimum allowable by state law). Try again with the penny; if the tread reaches the Lincoln memorial, your tires are at 4/32” depth.
Making Sure Your Spare’s in Good Shape
It’s really easy to forget about your spare tire, but that spare won’t do you much good if you need it and it’s flat. Tires have a definite shelf life -- a brand-new tire that’s never been on the ground is considered no good after five to seven years.
Spares have even been known to spontaneously explode in hot weather. Get a look at your spare from time to time, make sure it’s got the proper inflation and that it doesn’t show any signs of cracking or dry rot.
Wheel alignment is another big factor in tire life expectancy. If you’re noticing a persistent pull to one side when driving or the steering wheel doesn’t center itself easily after rounding a turn, your steering alignment angles might be off.
When a tire is skewed to one side, either inward or outward, it’s trying to steer the vehicle in that direction and is being dragged along by the other tires while you go in a straight line. That will scrub tread off the tire at the inside or outside edge and hurt fuel economy. Think about this: if you’ve got a wheel that’s toed-out ⅛” and you were to cover a mile of highway with your hands off the wheel, you’d end up about 30 feet off the road at the end of that mile.
Tire Cleaning & Sidewalls
Finally, cleaning your tires is a good idea for more than just appearance’s sake. When you’re scrubbing them down, that’s a good time to look for cracked sidewalls, scuffs, bulges and other damage. Take your hand and run it over the tire’s tread face, feeling for rocks, glass, nails and other debris as well as “sawtooth” or “feathered” tread wear patterns.
Tire Rotations Are Really Important
No vehicle has 50/50 weight distribution from front to rear, and when you’re braking or cornering the vehicle’s weight is shifted forward. That’s just simple physics and momentum; it’s why front brakes will always wear out long before rear brakes will. That also means undue wear on front tires over the miles. Tire rotation is essential to ensure even wear to all four tires.
Tires should be rotated at a 5000-7000 mile interval. Since oil changes should be done at about that interval, that’s also a good time to get the rotation done. Some tires are designed to be rotated front-to-back on the same side, while others should be rotated in an X pattern.
To get this done, you can visit quick-lube shops, tire stores, or even better in this modern age, you can book a tire rotation online and have a mechanic come directly to you! Some people do the rotation themselves, but it involves getting all four wheels up off the ground and supporting the vehicle on jack stands at all four corners so it’s not exactly a fun driveway-mechanic chore.
You’ll generally notice an improvement in your vehicle’s handling and road manners after a tire rotation, and it’s important to note that tire wear due to improper alignment or failure to rotate tires will void a tire warranty.
When Is It Time To Replace Your Tires?
Tires have a definite service life, and as mentioned above, worn tires are a hazard. And sometimes it’s not wear; it can be damage or failure that brings a tire to the end of the line.
-Tires are designed with wear bars at the base of the tread grooves
-Be mindful of your treadwear warranty and how long you’ve been driving a set of tires
-Worn tires will be noisier and ride harder
-Worn tires may vibrate or wobble, which can be a sign of internal failure
The wear bars in the tread grooves are 2/32” and are perpendicular to the grooves; if you can see those bars, it’s going to be time for new tires soon. If the wear bars are at the same level as the surface of the tread’s rubber, get to a tire store because it’s definitely time.
Also, remember how long ago you bought a set of tires and what their warranty is. If your treadwear warranty is 60,000 miles and you’re at 55,000, be sure to inspect those tires regularly because you’re coming to the end of their life cycle.
Worn tires are louder due to the fact that there isn’t as much rubber to insulate you from road noise; the same thing with the harsher ride, since much of the cushion of rubber is gone. The wobble or vibration can be due to either a balance problem that can’t be corrected through balancing (since much of the mass of rubber is gone), or could indicate cords, steel belts or plies that are starting to separate internally. In the latter case, that could lead to the tire coming apart at highway speed.
All this along with the sacrifice in traction, braking performance and wet-weather safety adds up to one thing: when it’s time to replace your tires, don’t put it off. It’s dangerous, possibly more than you realize.
Proper inflation, alignment, tire rotations and regular inspections -- it’s not that hard to keep your tires maintained, and it doesn’t even cost much money. It’s worth it, though, both for your own safety and for the amount of money it can save you in the long run. You wouldn’t put off oil changes, drive your car while it’s low on coolant or drive around with a broken window -- why put off maintenance on your tires?
Schedule Tire Rotation
The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Tire Rotation. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORESEE PRICING & SCHEDULING