Whenever you’re in your vehicle, its tires are your first line of defense against bad weather, poor road conditions and inferior roads themselves. As they get older, however, tires become worn and their effectiveness decreases, sometimes dangerously so.
How long a tire will last depends on many factors, including:
- Initial quality
- Road conditions
- Driver habits
Basic tire care, such as maintaining proper alignment, rotation, balancing and air pressure, will increase your tires’ lifespan. It’s also important to regularly check them for tread wear and physical damage.
Once a tire has been driven 50,000 miles or becomes five years old, it should be thoroughly inspected by a tire professional, even if it has no visible damage and its tread appears to be good. Such inspections should occur on a regular basis.
The treads on a tire are what make contact with the road. Their main purpose is to improve traction, move water away from the tires and prevent hydroplaning. In most states, a tire is legally worn out and must be replaced when its tread wears down to 2/32 of an inch (1.6 mm) above the tire. The tread wear bars (i.e., bridge pieces between the treads) help you see when your tire’s tread is reaching that critical point. If the tread is level with the wear bar, it has reached the end of its useful life and should be replaced.
The penny test is another good way to check for tread wear. Grab a penny and hold it between your thumb and forefinger at the position of Lincoln’s shoulder. Insert the penny head down into one of the grooves where your tire’s tread appears to be the lowest. If the tread covers any part of Lincoln’s head, it is still above the legal limit.
Tires are subject to damage from potholes, curbs, speed bumps, construction areas, steel plates and other such road hazards. Make it a habit to regularly check your tires for nails, cuts, gouges, cracks, and bulges. If a tire bulges at the sides, it means it’s been punctured and is in the process of deflating.
“Feel” of the Tires As You Drive
If you notice vibrations in the steering wheel while driving, or your car seems to be riding rough, this may be a signal that you have tire problems. Slow down, pull over to the shoulder or curb as quickly as it’s safe to do so, stop and check all four tires. If one is going flat or you see obvious damage, change to your spare or call your roadside assistance service to come and do it for you. Remember that temporary spares, especially “donut” spares, are not meant to be driven for long distances or at speeds above 50 mph.
If you don’t see any tire damage, but the vibrations or roughness continues, drive to a tire dealer at your earliest opportunity so a professional can thoroughly inspect your tires.
Finally, be aware that poor driving habits such as speeding, quick starts, and emergency braking can greatly reduce the lifespan of any tire.
By following these tips you’ll be safer in your car and know when it’s time to change your tires.