Tire Maintenance: A Guide

Posted on: June 1, 2016

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, it only takes five minutes every month to make sure that your tires are in good shape.  It’s also a good idea to take another five minutes and check your tires before every long trip. That five minutes can pay off big time in safety and peace of mind.

There are four main characteristics that affect the health of tires. Here are some recommendations of how to check these features, along with some troubleshooting and maintenance tips.

Always Under Pressure

Keeping the air pressure within the recommended range is hugely important for tires.  An under-inflated tire can cause irregular wear, increased gas mileage, and a loss of control when steering.

Don’t know the proper psi for your tires?  Take a look in your owner’s manual, the car door, the glove compartment, or the inside of the gas cap cover. Somewhere on or in your car there should be a mention of the recommended tire pressure.

When you check your tires, make sure they are cool.  Tires heat up very quickly, even when the car is driven a short distance, and this can cause a false reading of higher tire pressure.  If you have to drive more than a mile to reach an air pump, make sure to take your tire pressure before you start out.  Once you’ve arrived at the pump, take another reading and adjust the amount of inflation accordingly.

Remember that when you are checking tire pressure, always check the spare as well.  You never know when you’ll need it.

Getting Aligned

Alignment is another important facet of tire maintenance. Without good alignment, tires will develop uneven wear patterns.  Steering can also be affected by misalignment, causing the car to pull to one side or the other.

How does a car get out of alignment?  Actually, it can happen very easily.  The simple act of hitting a pothole or traveling over a stretch of bad road can cause your suspension to go out of alignment.

And, if a car has 4-wheel drive or if it has independent suspension on all four wheels, each wheel should be checked for its individual alignment.

The tough thing is that it’s hard for most folks to determine if a wheel’s alignment is off.  For that reason, it’s important to have a tire professional check the alignment at least once a year, or if there seems to be a problem.

While the alignment is getting its yearly check, be sure to get your tires balanced, as well.  Just like a misaligned wheel, an unbalanced tire can cause uneven tire wear.

Rotation Rules

Tires begin to wear irregularly for several reasons.  Each tire supports a different portion of the car weight, so switching the position of each tire on the car will keep them wearing evenly.

Why is that important?  In addition to making your travels safer, a tire that wears evenly on its contact surface will last much longer than one that doesn’t. Rotation extends the life of your tire, which means you save money—and that is always a good thing!

Please note that if your car tires require different pressures on the front and the rear tires, you’ll need to readjust the tire pressures immediately after rotation.

How Much Tread Is Enough?

The basic rule for replacing tires because of worn tread is to replace the tire when there is only 1/16 of tread left.  Not sure how to accurately check such a small measurement?

There is a standard of checking tread that still works as well today as it did 50 years ago—the Lincoln penny test.

Place a penny—with the top of Lincoln’s head pointing down—into a tire groove.  If some of his head is blocked by the tire, the tread is still good.  However, if the top of Lincoln’s head is showing, it’s time to replace the tire.

Another good indicator are the wear bars.  Every tire has wear bars, but the bars aren’t apparent until the tread is significantly worn. Take a close look at your tire, between the treads.  If you can see a bar, the tire should be replaced.

Additionally it’s a good idea to periodically take a thorough overall look at a tire’s surface.  Look for signs of uneven wear, flat spots in the tread, or even for objects embedded in the treads.

Tire safety depends on several factors, but keeping a consistent and thorough maintenance regimen is one of the key factors in getting the most value from your tires and the safest ride.