How Do I Know if My Car Needs a New Set of Tires?

Are your tires ready to roll? Worn or damaged tires not only negatively impact your gas mileage and vehicle control but can also be a serious safety risk. Fortunately, keeping your tires in great working condition is usually pretty easy. Here’s what you need to know:

What Causes Tire Wear?

Most tire problems are caused by one of three issues:

  • Worn Tread
  • Age
  • Extreme Temperatures

The problem is more common than you may think. Roughly 50% of all vehicles on the road have a tire with half-worn tread. Ten percent had at least one tire below the minimum safe level of tread.

How to Check Tire Tread

Tire tread provides traction which helps you maintain control over your vehicle even in slick and slippery conditions. But tread wears down over time. If too much tread wears away, your tires become “bald” and won’t be able to grip the road as they should. Additionally, in some states having poor tread on your tires is a ticket-worthy motor vehicle violation.

Checking your tire tread is actually pretty easy. All you need is a penny, which is an easy way to measure tire depth.

First, orient the penny so Lincoln’s head faces down (meaning the bottom of his chin faces away from the tire). Then place the penny into several tread grooves on the tire. Look closely at Abe’s head each time.

If any part of his head, even his hair, is obscured by the tread, the tire is in good shape. It has the 2/32 inch of tread depth required for safe operation.

If Lincoln’s head and hair are visible, the tread has worn down to unsafe levels. You’ll need to replace these tires.

Tire Age

There’s no particular lifespan for a tire. Instead, where you drive, how you drive and how often you drive all play a role in tire condition.

Have your tires checked out by a professional every five years. Schedule an inspection even if your tires seem perfectly fine. An automotive expert will be able to spot minor issues before they turn into big problems.

Generally, tires should be replaced completely at least every 10 years. That’s about as long as tires can be used safely. When replacing tires, don’t forget to replace the spare, too.

The date of manufacture will be printed directly on the tire. Look for a DOT number on the sidewall. This is the tire’s “birthday” and can be used to keep track of maintenance milestones.

Extreme Temperatures

Harsh climates and rough roads can damage tires over time. Cold temperatures can lower the air pressure in the tire, making it more susceptible to damage. Hot temperatures can also increase the speed of tire wear. Salt, rocks and other road debris will also affect the rate of decline.

Tire Inspection 101: How Do I Know the Condition of My Tires?

Preventing tire issues is usually pretty simple if you follow a regular maintenance routine.

Check your tire pressure every month. You can find the correct pressure listed in your owner’s manual or on the side of either the front or passenger door. Aside from regular monthly checks, also check the pressure following any excessively hot or cold temperatures, both of which can lower tire pressure. (Looking for a good tire pressure gauge? Check out our tire pressure gauge round-up here.)

Also check your tire treads every month. The penny method described above is quick and easy. But you can also use a tread depth gauge, available at any auto parts store.

Even a simple visual inspection can be very helpful. Look for any signs of damage or wear. Aside from the tread, also check out the valve caps. Perform a few quick visual inspections throughout each month. This lets you see the entire tire over time.

Also give your tires a thorough inspection before starting any road trips or other long drives. A professional inspection from an automotive expert is a good idea at least once a year.

What Do Worn Tires Feel Like?

Worn tires can cause an overall rough ride when you’re behind the wheel. The vehicle might vibrate, pull to one side or otherwise display abnormalities. If any sudden change occurs while you’re driving, stop and pull over as soon as you can. You’ll want to check the condition of your tires immediately

In Conclusion

Don’t neglect your tires. They’re the key to safe driving. Fortunately, the maintenance steps will not only help keep your tires in great shape, they’ll also keep you safe when behind the wheel.

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