As we’re all rushing around taking care of last minute Christmas and holiday prep, basic car maintenance is probably one of the last things on your mind. But taking proper care of your tires, especially in the winter months, is really important because it keeps you safe and can help you save money.
Just like everything else car-related, tires are expensive and need a fair amount of attention to keep them in good working order.
It’s important to be aware of how old your tires are and how much tread they have left. Below are some of the main tire wear tips.
- Tires are made with little bumps or ridges, called wear bars, located in the grooves of the tread. When the tread is worn down to the point that it’s even with the wear bar, you need to replace your tires.
- You can also use a penny to check your tread (some sources say a penny is too small and you should use a quarter. I usually just go by the manufacturer’s wear bar). Stick the penny into the groove in the tire with Abraham Lincoln’s head pointing down. If you can see the top of his head, you need to replace the tire.
- If you let your tires wear down too low, they won’t be able to grip the road, especially in rain or snow, and you’ll significantly increase your risk of an accident.
- Even if your tires aren’t totally worn down, you still need to check them for uneven wear – this can be a sign that your alignment is off or that your tire is defective.
- Tires need to be rotated about every 3,000–5,000 miles. Your front tires wear on the top and sides because they turn while the back tires only wear on the top. Rotating the tires makes them wear more evenly, which increases your control on the road and the life of the tire – helping to stretch your money a little further.
Another major factor in tire wear and safety is air pressure, measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). A tire pressure gauge is one of the tools you always need to keep in your glove box.
- Generally speaking, you should inflate your tires to about 33–35 PSI, but your car should have its specific inflation information displayed on a sticker on the outer edge of the driver’s door, on the inside of the glove box, or in the owner’s manual.
- There’s some difference of opinion in tire inflation. The maximum PSI is listed on the tire’s sidewall, and some folks say you should inflate the tire to its max, usually about 44 PSI, depending on the tire. Your fuel economy will increase with higher tire pressure, but you’ll have a bumpier ride, and you may not have as good control in wet and slippery conditions. A slightly softer tire, at the 33–35 PSI mark, will grip the road a little better and give you a smoother ride. You definitely never want to go over the maximum PSI.
- To maintain a constant tire pressure, you need to check itevery few weeks in warm weather, and probably every week in cold weather. The air will contract in cold weather, but keep in mind it expands soon after you start driving as the tire heats up.
- Underinflated tires will run hotter, causing excessive stress and wear on your tires.
- Overinflated tires will wear unevenly, causing them to wear out faster.
Avoiding and/or Fixing Flat Tires
Be smart and pay attention to road conditions when you’re driving.
- Avoid large bumps and potholes, which can damage your tires and wheels. If you hit a big enough pothole, you could blow out your tire.
- If you do get a flat but it’s not a big hole, you might be able to patch it or plug it instead of buying a new tire.
- Putting on a patch can be tricky to do yourself, but plugging a nail hole is relatively easy. Here are some great, step-by-step directions with photos for plugging a tire. You can buy a plug kit at any automotive or hardware store for a few bucks.
Spending a little bit of time on regular tire maintenance will help keep you safer on the road and increase your gas mileage.
If you’ve got any other great tire care tips, let us know!
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