Why worry about your tires?
Taking care of your tires is all about safety. With healthy tires, you drive better in all weather and road conditions, you protect your car from wear, and you keep you and your passengers safe. Learning to recognize the signs of tire wear is one of the most important skills you can learn. When it’s time for a tire change, don’t hesitate; driving on worn tires is dangerous and, in many states, illegal.
Signs You’re Driving on Bad Tires
Because tire health is such a critical issue in driving safety, tire manufacturers provide a number of different ways to assist drivers in monitoring the health of their tires. In addition to these tools, your car’s performance can also alert you to tire troubles. Get into the habit of checking your tires regularly to watch for these signs of wear.
Tire tread refers to the grooved rubber on the circumference of a tire that makes physical contact with the driving surface. Tread provides traction by diverting water from beneath the tire and is critical to safe driving. A good way to think of this is to imagine high-performance race cars. On dry tracks in dry weather, race cars are fitted with tires called racing slicks, which are tires with zero tread. These slicks minimize traction and allow the cars to almost ski over the road at super-fast speeds. If you’ve ever watched an auto race, you also know that as soon as it starts to rain, the cars pull into the pits for rapid treaded tire installation so they can avoid the dangerous loss of control experienced when hydroplaning on a wet surface.
Your tires’ tread, the patterned grooves around the surface of the tire, help your car maintain traction on wet roads. Tread depth, the depth of the grooves, must be greater than 2/32 of an inch to provide safe traction. As you drive, the tread on your tires wears down. Once the depth drops below 2/32 of an inch, it’s time for new tires. Worn tread makes it difficult to come to a quick stop on wet roads and increases the risk of hydroplaning.
How do you measure your tread depth? Tire manufacturers build in easily visible wear markers into their tires to help drivers monitor the health of their tires. These tools, called wear bars or tire wear indicators, are designed to measure tread integrity.
- Examine Wear Bars. All new tires sold in the United States have tread wear bars. Most standard tires will have 6 wear bars, but some small tires with narrow rims may have only three. Wear bars look like horizontal bridges that connect treads. When these wear bars are flush with your treads, it’s time to replace your tires. Check your wear bars regularly and make sure to look at the whole surface of the tire and not just one location, as treads can wear unevenly. One wear bar may look like you’ve got more wear left in the tire, while another spot may indicate that it’s time to replace your tires. You should always use the lowest tread as your guide.
- Tread Depth Gauges. If you’d like a more accurate measure of your tread depth, use a tread depth gauge. These gauges will measure your tread depth in 32nds of an inch. For particularly accurate readings, digital tread depth gauges calculate and display the measurement for you to avoid human error. Again, make sure to measure depth in several spots around your tire.
- The Penny Trick. What if you can’t find your wear bars and you don’t own a tread depth gauge? Lincoln to the rescue! Place a Lincoln penny upside down in the center of the tread with Lincoln’s head facing you. If any of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, you’re in good shape. But, if none of Lincoln’s head is hidden, you need new tires. Be sure to check several locations around your tire and use the shallowest tread as your guide. Tires generally show more wear in the inside, so be sure to check there.
Other Signs of Wear
While tread depth is certainly a valuable indicator of the health of your tires, it is by no means the only one. Other visible or otherwise detectable signs of wear will alert you that it’s time to replace your tires.
- Irregular or Uneven Tread Wear. Tires do not wear perfectly evenly, but if you notice extreme irregularities in wear patterns or if your tires are showing wear more quickly than normal, have them checked right away. The solutions might be as simple as a rotation, but these could also be signs of more serious problems with your car or with your tires.
- Cracks, Bulges, or Gouges in the Sidewalls. The sidewall is the outer flat surface of the tire outside the rim that faces you when the car is parked. A bulge in the sidewall means that the frame of the tire is damaged, which allows air pressure to escape to the flexible outer layers of the tire. Tires with bulging sidewalls, regardless of the health of their tread depth, must be replaced. Similarly, tires with cracks or gouges may also lack the integrity necessary to ensure safe driving and should be checked and replaced if necessary.
- Nails or Other Foreign Bodies. If you see nails, screws, or other items lodged in your tires, don’t wait to get them checked. In many cases, this type of damage can be repaired without replacing the tire, but older tires with this kind of damage or oft-repaired tires will likely need to be retired.
- Shaking. If you consistently feel shaking or vibration in your steering wheel at speeds at or above 40mph, your tires need attention. Shaking is often a sign of uneven wear and rotation may solve the problem. However, if the vibration persists following rotation, you need new tires.
- Tire Pressure Warnings. Many newer cars have built-in tire pressure warnings to alert you to potential problems with your tires, but low tire pressure is often something you can see with your own eyes. If you get any kind of warning about low tire pressure, heed it. Do a visual inspection of your tires to see if you can spot the problem. If the warning persists after adding more air, take your car in for a professional tire inspection.
- Weather. When the weather changes, it’s a good idea to take a good look at your tires. Healthy, newer tires with deep treads are sufficient to get people safely through the wet winter in moderate climes. However, if your tires are showing their wear and are close to the edge of safe, it’s wise to replace them before winter weather sets in. If you live in regions where winter weather is severe, put on your snow tires to maximize safety.
Maintain Healthy, Safe Tires with Tire Outlet
Tire Outlet is here to keep you driving safely on good tires. We carry an extensive selection of tires and our skilled technicians provide comprehensive tire care services. Call today to find out how we can help you. We’ll discuss tire change costs and any other services you might require.