How to care for tires


"The proper care of tires is a most important item in a car's upkeep. The driver should examine them carefully after every trip and promptly take care of an injury, no matter how slight. A trouble, small at first, may lead up quickly to a bad blowout, and then a new tire."

The above advice was taken from a New York Times article published in 1916! Although tires have changed considerably from the old Model T Fords, their care is still just as important almost a century later.

Learning how to care for tires is about more than just the tires. Vehicle performance, gas mileage, and safety of you and your passengers is at stake.

Tire Inflation

Checking your tires regularly for proper pressure is probably the most important thing you can do. The manufacturer puts all the right stuff on the outside, it’s up to you to keep the right amount of air on the inside. Proper inflation affects everything: ride, handling, gas mileage, and longevity.

Tire pressure should be checked weekly with an accurate gauge. Check when the tires are cool. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations located in the owner’s manual, the glove compartment, or in the side panel. It is impossible to determine proper inflation by merely looking at a radial tire.

Over-inflation can create problems in the ride and ease of handling. It also reduces the ability of the tire to adjust to road impacts.

Under-inflation creates a dangerous situation and will decrease the life of the tire. It can cause cracking and blowouts. Low pressure causes heat buildup in the tires. It has even been linked to SUV rollovers.

It’s good to get into the habit of checking the pressure each time you fill up with gas. Either carry your own gauge, or use the one most filling stations provide.

Balancing tires

In addition to proper inflation, tires must also be rotated, aligned and balanced. Manufacturers recommend that tires be rotated every 6000 to 8000 miles.

If you have a full-sized spare, it should also be included in the rotation (this is called a "five-tire rotation"). This is a job generally performed at a garage. Most of us don’t have the equipment to carry out this routine. The mechanic who does your oil changes can probably do your tires at the same time.


Keep your tires clean

Keeping your tires clean can also help extend their life. No need to invest in any fancy equipment or state-of-the-art cleanser. Just wash off with a mild soap solution and rinse with clear water.

An inspection that only takes a penny

When you clean your tires, it’s a good time to inspect them for bulges, scrapes, and cuts. Quick attention to trouble spots can prevent disasters on the road. Check for uneven tread wear as well.

While you’re inspecting them, don’t forget to examine the tread. The most common trick is to use a Lincoln head penny. Insert the penny into the tread, head side first. The tread should come to the top of Lincoln’s head (about 1/16 inch). If it doesn’t, it’s time for new tires.

Does it feel right?

Knowing how your vehicle rides is also important. If it feels stiff and unwieldy, the problem may be with your tires, not your shocks. Any unusual vibration should be checked out right away.

Dodge the potholes

Rough treatment is going to have an unwanted effect on your tires. Hitting potholes, curbs, and other obstacles can not only damage the tire, but ruin your alignment as well.

If your vehicle isn’t designed for off roading, the tires probably won’t handle unsurfaced back roads.

Other considerations

Extremes in heat and cold are enemies of the rubber compounds in your tires. If you live in a cold climate, you may need to install snow tires for the winter. Tires that are rated as safe for extreme snow conditions are marked with a symbol approved by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). Look for a mountain icon with a snowflake inside.

Store your off season tires in a cool, dark place. Protect them with plastic bags, and stack them flat. Never leave tires on a vehicle that will not be used for a long period of time.

When possible, all four tires should be the same. If you must mix tires, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Put newer tires on the rear axle
  • Place wider tires on the rear
  • Never mix tire types on the same axle
  • Match tread pattern, performance rating, size, and construction

Check your tire pressure if you travel from one elevation to another or if you experience extreme weather changes. Outside temperature can cause a change in inflation. Don’t overload your vehicle.

You have a lot riding on your tires

That’s not an original sentiment—you probably recognize the commercial. But it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Learning how to care for tires could actually save your life some day.