Like any responsible vehicle owner, you probably keep track of certain maintenance needs—oil changes, belts and other things crucial to keeping your car working optimally and safely. But, how often do you think about your tires? Until you get a flat, you might think that everything’s just fine, but that’s not necessarily the case. Your tires’ quality and maintenance is one of the keys to safety on the road. It’s not just safety, either. Good tires not only protect against some breakdowns and crashes, but they also give you increased fuel economy and longer tire life.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a tire safety checklist that you can use to make sure that you’re taking the best possible care of your tires. Here are the highlights:
- Check your tire pressure once a month (and that includes your spare).
- See if your tires have uneven wear patterns, cracks or visible foreign objects. If you see anything wedged in the tread, either remove it yourself or bring the car to a mechanic to have it removed and the hole patched, if necessary. A tire has a built-in treadwear indicator. This is a raised section in the bottom of the tread grooves. When those indicators are even with the tread, it’s time for new tires. Another trick is to insert a penny in your tread with Lincoln’s head pointing down. If the tread doesn’t cover Lincoln’s head, then you should replace your tires.
- Replace any missing valve caps.
- Check tire pressure, especially before a long trip.
- Your owner’s manual includes a maximum load recommended for your vehicle. Don’t overload by carrying more weight than your vehicle and tires are able to handle. This also means that if you are towing a trailer, some of that weight is transferred to the vehicle, so be wary of the amount of weight you are towing.
For more information and instructions for how to check your tire pressure, see the NHTSA’s Tire Safety: Everything Rides On It booklet.
What are some common tire problems?
As you check your tires, AAA Exchange recommends that you look for the following:
- Over-inflation. This happens when there is too much air pressure and there is too much wear on the middle section of the tread and less on the edges.
- Under-inflation. When the air pressure is too low, the outer edges of the tire wear more than the center. Whether your tires are over- or under-inflated, it means that the tire is not wearing in the way it should be and you’re decreasing the life of your tire.
- Uneven tread wear. If you can see that there is more wear on one edge than another, it usually means that your tires are out of alignment.
If you feel vibration or hear thumping as you drive, that could mean that a tire is out of balance, or that there’s a flat spot that has locked the wheels in a panic stop. It could also indicate a separated belt. If your car pulls to one side as you drive, there could be a damaged tire on that side. The pulling could also be caused by a brake problem or wheel alignment issue.
Vehicle tire maintenance
There are three main aspects to keeping your tires safe and functioning properly: tire rotation, balancing and wheel alignment. A trained automotive repair professional can tell you when you need one of these services. Your owner’s manual also has a guide as to how often these preventive measures should be taken for your particular vehicle. By keeping your tires safe and well-maintained, you’re protecting yourself and others by reducing your risk of an accident.