It’s easy to take car tires for granted. At least it was for me when I owned my first car, a sweet ’67 Buick Skylark. As long as the tires were “working” (taking me where I needed to go), I gave little thought to their care and maintenance. Until, of course, I needed to come up with money to replace them.
New tires are still an investment for me, though I no longer take them for granted. I want the best performance—especially in Iowa winter months—and I want them to last as long as possible.
Happily, there are some easy-to-implement maintenance tasks that can make tires last longer:
- Check your air pressure. Make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended number. This will be a psi (pounds per square inch) number that you’ll find on a sticker on the driver’s side door jam. Keep in mind that you want the recommended tire pressure, not the maximum pressure (which appears on the tire). The correct number depends on the weight of your car, not the type of tire. Note that the numbers are different for front and rear tires. Pressure that’s too low means the outside (shoulders) of your tire will wear more, and pressure that’s too high will cause the center of the tire to break down faster. Overinflating your tires can also cause hydroplaning and skidding. Experts recommend checking your tire’s air pressure at least once a month, because colder temps can lower air pressure, and warmer temps can increase it. Even normal driving causes tires to lose air pressure gradually—at the rate of a pound or two a month. The best time to check your air pressure is first thing in the morning, before the rubber hits the road. (The recommended psi numbers assume the tires are not heated up from driving.) If you have a newer car, you may have built-in tire pressure monitoring that will let you know when your pressure is low. But don’t wait for that little exclamation point! That means that the pressure is well below the sweet spot you’re aiming for.
- Rotate your tires. Because tires don’t share the work evenly, they don’t wear evenly. If your vehicle is front-wheel drive, your front wheels will wear more quickly, and if your vehicle is rear-wheel drive, the back tires will wear more quickly. Having your tires moved to different wheels evens out the wear over time. Most experts recommend rotation every 6,000 miles or so. (Your car manual may have another recommendation.)
- Have your wheels balanced. As long as you’re rotating your tires, have them balanced, too. Balancing and alignment are different things, BTW. As the tire tread wears, the weight distribution around the tire changes. When your tires aren’t balanced, you might notice a vibration or shaking. Balancing is a matter of placing small weights inside the wheel to make sure the weight around the wheel is evenly distributed.
- Check your alignment. Once or twice a year should do it for alignment. Basically, good alignment means that the tires line up nicely, without tilting toward or away from the frame of the car or each other. If your tires aren’t well aligned, your steering wheel may be off center when driving straight, and your car might tend to pull to the right or the left. Eventually, you’ll notice uneven tread wear.
your tires. Take a look at your tires every week or so. Are there any nails
or rocks in the tires? Slashes or holes? (Run your hand over the tire to feel
for any air leaking.) Let your mechanic know if you spot any uneven wear or
unusual surface on the tires; he or she can help identify and fix the problem.
- Wash your tires. Scrubbing your tires free of anything that can dig into the rubber will help them last longer. Don’t forget to roll the car ahead (or back) a bit to clean all the way around. A stiff scrub brush is ideal (if you’re washing your car yourself), but a powerwash is fine, too.
- Drive carefully. Driving over potholes and debris and against (and over, yikes) curbs will wear out your tires quickly. So will speeding and aggressive breaking. So take it easy!
Added perks: Longer-lasting tires are only one benefit of taking good care of your tires. These easy maintenance steps can also improve your gas mileage and give you a smoother, safer ride.
What do you routinely do to help your tires last longer? Have you recycled old tires? Please share!
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