Tire Safety Checklist
How much you know about basic tire care, and how well you maintain your tires has a direct impact on your safety, and your vehicle's performance—from fuel efficiency to repair costs. So here are 9 easy-to-follow tips for maintaining your tires.
Check the Tire Air Pressure
Maintaining proper air pressure will extend the longevity of your tires and minimize fuel consumption. Buy a tire pressure gauge to test your tires at home each month. Or pull into your local tire retailer—most tire retailers will check your tire pressure for free.
The proper air pressure for the tires on your vehicle can be found in your owner's manual or on the tire and loading information placard on the jamb of the driver's side door. Remember to check all tires, not just one, even if they all look about the same.
If you need air, you can add it at any air station. Remember tire air pressure should always be checked cold as air pressure builds as tires heat up. Air pressure is considered cold when your vehicle has been driven for less than a mile or after sitting for at least 3 hours.
Check Tire Tread
Bald or nearly bald tires will lose their grip on even a dry road surface and may cause you to lose control of your vehicle. So check your tires monthly for sufficient tread depth. You can do this yourself with the tried and true penny test.
Penny test instructions: Place a penny in a vertical groove of each of your tires with Lincoln's head facing down. If the crown of Lincoln's head still appears, it's time to get new tires. Less than 2/32nds of an inch is considered legally worn out in most states.
Different Tire Rotation Patterns
Rotating your tires is the practice of switching the location of your tires on your vehicle, which can be done in several patterns:
- Bringing your front tires to the rear and your rear tires to the front.
- Switching your tires diagonally.
- Bringing the rear tires forward and switching the front ones to the back.
Doing so helps prevent irregular wear, boosting the longevity of your tires, and increasing fuel efficiency. The standard recommendation is to rotate your tires every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, or sooner if your tires wear in an irregular fashion. You can consult your owner's manual for manufacturer recommended tire rotation intervals.
Tire Balancing And Wheel Alignment
Not enough people know the importance of having tires balanced and wheels aligned.
Tire Balancing makes sure they roll smoothly, giving you a comfortable ride, and minimizing road vibration. New tires, especially when you only buy two, should be installed by a qualified technician and balanced.
Wheel Alignments make sure your tires travel in a straight line, rather than being out of vehicle specification that can result in increased tire wear as well as cause pulling or drifting. Over time these services save you money by extending the life of your tires, not to mention safeguarding you as a driver.
Check for Irregular Wear
In time, all tires wear down. Healthy wear patterns show an even loss of tread. But you'll want to be on the lookout for irregular patterns of wear:
- Overinflation: Excessive wear down the center of your tire.
- Underinflation: Excessive wear along the shoulders of your tire.
- Flat-spot wear: When your tires have flat spots, it's most likely because you had to suddenly brake hard, and left behind a long skid mark.
- Feathering and Cupping: Caused respectively by aggressive cornering, and driving a vehicle with worn-out suspension parts such as shocks or struts. When these patterns of wear become obvious, it's a sure sign that the tires (and perhaps your vehicle) require attention.
Matching Replacement Tires
When it becomes time to replace the tires on your vehicle, it's recommended that you buy tires identical in size as the original equipment. This is to ensure the correct performance between your tires and vehicle. Proper tire specs can be found in your owner's manual, or by entering your vehicle's year, make, and model in the tire search feature. From load capacity to performance rating, it's essential to match the right tires with your vehicle.
Don't Forget to Replace Your Spare
Just because you don't drive on it doesn't mean your spare doesn't age. Temperature, and air quality all contribute to the aging process. Pores and cracks appear in the rubber and eventually they lose their elasticity and proper function. There is no exact date by which you should replace a given tire, but there is a reason why manufacturer warranties only typically cover tires for a limited period from their manufactured date. If your spare is older than that, you should consider replacing it.
Don't Just Rely on Your TPMS System
Having a tire pressure monitoring system is great, as it will alert you to underinflated tires, which can help you prevent tire failure, or irregular wear patterns. But there's more to maintaining tire safety than just air pressure. Invest just a few minutes once a month in checking your tires, and they'll not only last longer, but you'll drive on them with far greater confidence.
The biggest factor affecting a tire's life is the one most often overlooked: your driving habits. Erratically speeding up and slowing down puts a strain directly on your tires. Breaking hard enough to leave a black scuff on the pavement means you've just shaved days, weeks, maybe more off the lifespan of your tires. The same is true when you take that turn too sharply, or are in a hurry and hit the curb of your parking spot. If you really want your tires to last you, keep up with suggested maintenance and have them inspected them regularly.