The Best Tire Maintenance Tips
The tires on your car are the only parts that come into contact with the road, and replacing them can be an expensive proposition. You need to take good care of them. So how can you maintain your tires so that you get the most use out of them?
To help you improve the life and performance of your tires, we offer these easy-to-follow maintenance tips. They range from simple things you can do in just a few minutes to work that must be done in a shop.
Understanding Your Car Tires
Finding Problems with Your Tires During a Visual Inspection
Get into the habit of inspecting your tires once a month to make sure that everything is good to go. A quick walk-around will suffice; you don’t need to take the tires off your car or anything. You are just looking for obvious problems that could lead to bigger problems if left unnoticed and untended. What to look for during the inspection:
- A nail, screw, piece of glass, or other object sticking out of a tire.
- Bulging sidewalls, which may indicate an impact break, i.e., damage to the tire casing.
- Irregular wear patterns on the tread.
- Missing valve stem caps.
- Tires that look flat, indicating low air pressure.
How to Check Your Tire Pressure
The best thing you can do for your tires is regularly check their pressure and make sure that they’re properly inflated. We suggest that you check the pressure at least once a month. If a tire has too much air, the center of the tread will wear out prematurely. If a tire has too little air, the edges will wear out prematurely. Either way, you’ll get less efficient fuel economy.
How to check your tire pressure:
- Grab your tire gauge and use it on the valve stems. If you don’t have a tire gauge, you can find one for a few bucks online or at your local auto parts store. Once you have it, remove the cap from the valve stem of the tire and simply press the gauge onto the stem. You’ll hear a brief hissing sound until the gauge and the stem make an airtight seal.
- Read the pressure on the gauge. The pressure is usually shown pretty quickly, but how quickly depends on whether you are using an electronic gauge or an analog gauge. Once the measurement has stabilized, compare what the gauge tells you to what the tire pressure should be. The recommended air pressure is reported on the tire-information placard on the inside of the driver’s door or along the door jamb. Note that this listed pressure refers to the pressure of tires that are cold—that have been driven less than a mile. In the case of tires that have been in longer use, add three or four pounds per square inch (psi) to the listed pressure.
- Ensure that the tires are properly inflated. After you have compared the actual pressure to the recommended pressure, increase or reduce the pressure as needed. Once the level matches the recommended level, you’re good to go.
Check Tread Depth
Also get into the habit of regularly checking the tread depth of your tires. A good time to do so is when you’re checking your tire pressure each month. But what is tire tread depth and how do you check it?
If you look at the treads of any tire, you will see a network of channels, grooves, and tread blocks, the orientation of which differs in different kinds of tire. Those differences don’t matter. What you need to know is the depth of the channels and grooves—the gaps between the tread blocks. This tread depth gives you an idea of how much life is left in your tires.
You can check the depth visually. You can also use a standard penny. Orient the penny so that Lincoln’s head is facing you and is upside-down, and stick it into one of the grooves of the tread. If Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread or if his head is at least touching the tread, the tread is fine. If the tread is not touching his head, the tires are getting worn out, and you should consider replacing them.
As tires wear out, their performance deteriorates. So it’s important to keep your eye on the tread depth of your tires so you can be sure to replace them as soon as they need to be replaced.
Rotate Your Tires Regularly
Rotating your tires means moving the rear tires to the front and moving the front tires to the rear. The purpose is to get the most even possible tread wear on the tires and thus extend their life as much as possible.
Rotating your tires is worth doing because the front tires tend to wear out more rapidly than the rear tires. The front tires are subjected to all of the steering forces and about 70 percent or so of the braking forces. (A common misconception is that the front of the car is heavier than the rear because of the engine, and that this alleged disproportion of weight makes the front tires wear out faster. But the weight of most modern cars is almost equally distributed between the front and the rear.)
As a rule of thumb, get your tires rotated every 5,000 miles or so. In fact, most major tire manufacturers require you to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles in order to keep the protection of the tread-life warranty. Check your owner’s manual for specific guidance for your vehicle. You definitely don’t want to do anything to void your warranty.
Balance Your Tires
Most tire service shops will rotate your tires and balance them at the same time.
Tires are balanced with a sophisticated machine called a tire balancer. Once the wheel and tire combination is attached to the tire balancer, it spins the tire at a speed of up to 50 miles per hour or more to simulate normal driving conditions. While the tire is spinning, the balancer monitors how much it vibrates in deviation from a perfectly round rotation. Technicians will then attach weights to parts of the wheel to counteract the vibration and make sure that the tire turns as smoothly as possible.
This procedure reduces the extent to which your tire vibrates as you drive, preventing premature wear patterns. Your tires will last longer and your ride will be much smoother. If you notice a vibration in your steering wheel or in your seat as you are driving , it’s likely that your tires are out of balance. Fixing the problem is simple and affordable.
Check Your Tire Alignment Twice a Year
One of the most important ways to extend the life of your tires is to get your tire alignment checked every six months. Technicians use high-tech equipment to measure the exact direction and orientation of your tires. The two aspects of tire alignment that can cause uneven tire wear are toe and camber.
To measure the toe of your tires, the machine checks whether the tires are pointed inwards or outwards from the center of your car. If the tires are out of alignment, the inside or outside edges of your tires will wear prematurely , and they will start to provide a rough ride.
Camber pertains to whether your tires are leaning inwards or outwards from a straight vertical line. If your tires are not straight up and down, the edges will wear prematurely, but in a much more even wear pattern than when the tires are out of toe. Typically, the tires should be as close to vertical as possible, but automakers specify what’s best for their own vehicles.
Although getting your alignment checked twice a year will greatly extend the life of your tires, it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of tire maintenance. Most people get their vehicle aligned only when they install new tires, then never again until they replace those tires with other new tires. You can do better.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Tires are one of the most expensive recurring costs that you have as a vehicle owner. During the life of your car, you’ll probably go through at least three to five sets of tires, an expense that can add up to thousands of dollars.
Performing simple tire maintenance will help you reduce that expense. Regularly check your tire pressure. Get your tires rotated and balanced every 5,000 miles. Get the tire alignment checked twice a year. Doing all this can easily extend the life of your tires by 25 percent or more.