HomeTips is a home improvement site, but we know that DIY enthusiasts sometimes work on their cars, too. That’s why we have assembled a few of articles about car care and maintenance—in this case, tire care. These articles were written specially for HomeTips by nationally-known car expert Michael Morris.
Hope you find these helpful!
Think about this: Four thin patches of rubber about the size of your hand are all that separates you from the highway at speeds that can shred metal—and lives.
Tires that are over- or under-inflated, badly worn or older than their expected lifetime reduce braking ability and result in poor handling and performance. As a result, each year tires are a major cause of vehicle accidents.
Unfortunately, tires get lots of abuse and little attention, but a little attention is all they usually need.
At least once a month, take a few minutes to look them over for damage and check their inflation level. Periodically rotate them to even out tread wear. And once a year have a service station check each tire’s balance and your vehicle’s front-end alignment.
Taking these simple steps will not only prolong your tires’ life—it could save yours as well.
Any tire that chronically loses air, even small amounts, should be closely examined. Bits of glass, wire or nails embedded in the tread are obvious culprits, but the cause also could be a bent wheel rim, or a loose or defective valve stem (Schraeder-type valve stems screw in, so you can try tightening one on a leaking tire to see if it helps). Always use valve caps as a precaution.
You can also check a slow leak by removing the tire (mounted on its wheel), overfilling it slightly with air, then submerging it in a tub of water one section at a time. A thin stream of air bubbles will indicate a leak.
Regular tread inspections can also reveal uneven tread wear, which is usually caused by an out-of-balance wheel or front-end misalignment. Look for missing wheel-balancing weights (small dirty or discolored spots along the rim where the weights were installed).
Cracks in a tire’s sidewall indicate that the tire is old or its rubber compound has dried out. Tires that are not used regularly can actually deteriorate faster that those that see frequent use. Manufacturers recommend replacing tires when they reach a maximum of 10 years of age, although safety experts say tires that have been improperly stored or used can need replacement after only five or six years even if they are not worn out.
Driving on a flat tire or one seriously low on air for even a short distance will quickly ruin a conventional tire or render it unsafe for further use. If you ever find it necessary to do this, replace the tire instead of trying to patch or refill it with air. New run-flat tires have been developed to prevent loss of control in the event of a blowout. Most of these tires are designed to be repaired after run-flat use.
Conventional automotive wisdom says that if you can see over the top of Lincoln’s head when you stick a penny into a tire’s tread groove, that tire is down to 1/16-inch of tread thickness and should be replaced.
At that point, you should also be able to see a “treadwear indicator” in the tire itself.
All manufacturers include these indicators, which are raised sections at the bottoms of the tread grooves that become exposed when a tire wears down to 1/16 inch of remaining tread depth. But you shouldn’t wait that long to buy new tires.
Although most states allow a minimum tread thickness down to 1/16 inch (more precisely, 1.6 mm, or 2/32 inch, as manufacturers gauge tire depth), even a fractional amount of additional rubber can improve your stopping distance—and driving ability—by a considerably safe margin.
The Tire Rack, an online discount retailer, tested vehicles in 2007 and found that tires with 1/16 inch of tread averaged 499.5 feet to stop at 70 miles per hour. How much is that? Would you believe nearly a tenth of a mile—the length of a dozen school buses!
Then vehicles with double that amount of tire tread depth (1/8 inch, or 3.2 mm) were tested. This shortened the stopping distance by 122 feet—equal to three school buses, but still requiring nine bus-lengths of roadway to come to a dead stop. Think about that the next time you’re driving the kids to school.
To be safe, don’t wait until your tires are worn to the minimum. Older, balding tires are also more vulnerable to blowouts, punctures and other kinds of road damage. The new recommended home tire-replacement gauge is now a quarter instead of a penny. With a quarter, if you can see the top of Washington’s head, your tire is down to 1/8-inch (3.2mm) of remaining tread. That’s double the legal limit but, in practical terms, twice as safe.
—Michael Morris for HomeTips