Tires 101: Why You Should Never Neglect Your Tires

August 13th, 2021 by

Four rows of tires for sale are shown.

Did you know that tire maintenance is one of the most neglected maintenance routines among car owners? While you can easily search for “cheap tires Cincinnati” and find a variety of tires that fit your driving and budget needs, your focus on your tires shouldn’t start and end when it’s time to buy a new set. Tires play a crucial role in how your vehicle operates and affect everything from how your vehicle steers to its responsiveness when it’s time to brake.

Despite this crucial role, many people ignore their tires and simply expect them to perform mile after mile without regular maintenance or routine checks. It’s only when they’re stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, or they’re skidding across a wet road on bald tires, that they start to take notice. How can you avoid these dangerous situations and get into a better tire maintenance routine? It starts with understanding your tires and the warning signs of neglect.

Tire Pressure: Why It Matters

One of the easiest aspects of maintaining your tires is checking their pressure. Many modern vehicles have an integrated tire pressure monitoring system that alerts you when your tire pressure is low. This is a great way to ensure your tires are properly inflated and can help you easily detect an underinflated tire before it compromises how the vehicle handles and your control behind the wheel. Underinflation can also affect your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, which leads to more money spent at the gas station.

If your vehicle is older or doesn’t have an integrated monitoring system, you can check the inflation using a tire pressure gauge. While many people visibly look at their tires to check inflation, this isn’t reliable since modern tires slightly bulge and give the appearance that they’re underinflated. It’s also important to check the tire pressure when your tires are “cold” (haven’t been driven) since friction between the road and the tire creates heat and causes the pressure to rise, making it impossible to get an accurate reading.

Once you’re ready to check your tire pressure, look for your automaker’s recommended tire pressure rating. You’ll find this information on a sticker along the doorjamb, in the owner’s manual, or printed inside the fuel door. It’s important to use the automaker’s recommended pressure rather than the max rating printed on the tire, which doesn’t take into account the best pressure for your vehicle. Use the gauge to measure your tire pressure and either add or release air to achieve the recommended rating.

Tire Treads: Not Just a Fancy Design

Everyone knows that it’s unsafe to drive on bald tires, but do you know why? A bald tire has a smooth surface, which means that there isn’t any tread left. The tread is the pattern of grooves or channels that give tires the ability to grip the road by channeling water, mud, ice, and snow away from the tire’s surface. As water moves outward, the tire grips the road and gives you better traction and control on hazardous terrain. Without the tread, the smooth surface of a bald tire doesn’t channel the water away and makes the vehicle hydroplane instead. This will cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

A gloved mechanic is shown rolling a tire after a customer searching for 'cheap tires Cincinnati.'

Noticeable Signs of Wear

You can actively monitor your tires for signs of wear with a simple visual inspection. Bald tires are easy to spot because of their smooth surface. You’ll also notice that bald tires handle differently in wet conditions because they skid and make the vehicle hard to steer at faster speeds. Bald tires are also notorious for making your ride bumpy since there’s no tread to cushion the bumps, potholes, and other obstacles in the road.

The goal is to avoid driving on bald tires, and that starts with actively monitoring your tires for signs of wear before the tread is completely gone. If you have a penny lying around, you can turn the penny so that President Lincoln’s head is facing down. When you stick the penny into the tread, you know it’s time to replace your tires if you can see all of President Lincoln’s head. If you prefer a more accurate reading, you can use a specialized tire tread gauge.

Depending on the brand of your tires, you might see tread indicator bars. These bars are built into the tire and are only visible when the tread is worn down. When you see the bars, you know that it’s time to replace your tires. Other indicators or signs of wear include cracks in the tire’s sidewall and bulges or blisters that weaken the surface of the tire and increase your chances of having a blowout.

Tire Rotation, Tire Balancing, and Wheel Alignment: Why They’re Important

While visibly inspecting your tires is a great way to keep an eye on the tread and other signs of wear and tear, it’s also important to have your tires regularly rotated. Every vehicle distributes its weight differently, which is why the tread on your tires does not wear evenly. For example, your front right tire may carry more weight and therefore experience more wear than the rear left tire. When this wear becomes excessive, it can damage the sidewalls and tread or cause the vehicle to consistently pull to one side, making it harder for you to control the vehicle.

To ensure your tires wear evenly, have your tires regularly rotated according to the tire manufacturer’s specifications. Many experts recommend rotating your tires every six months or 8,000 miles; however, you may find that your driving style, the terrain, and your local weather require more frequent rotations to keep your vehicle evenly balanced and ensure your safety on the road. If you drive a vehicle with a full-size spare tire, be sure to add the tire into the rotation so that, in the event you need to use the spare, the tire’s tread will match the others.

A man is rolling a tire in Cincinnati.

Tire Balancing and Wheel Alignment

Along with regularly rotating your tires, it’s important to have your tires balanced and your wheels aligned. When you have a new set of tires installed, the service technician will balance the wheels using small weights that limit the vibration of the tires and the wheels when they turn. Anytime you notice a vibration in the wheel, or if you have to take the tire off to repair a flat, you should have the tires balanced to minimize wear and optimize performance.

When you buy new tires, you’ll also have your wheels aligned. Alignment settings are outlined by the manufacturer and ensure the vehicle drives in a straight line rather than pulling to either side. This not only ensures your safety but reduces uneven wear on the tires. Like a tire balance, if you notice your vehicle pulling to the side, it may be time for a wheel alignment to ensure the wheels are in the proper position.

Drive with Confidence

Your tires are one of the most crucial components to keeping you safe on the road. An underinflated tire can cause you to lose control, just as driving on a bald tire can lead to hydroplaning or skidding. These hazardous situations can be mitigated when you’re mindful of your tires and know what to look for in terms of tread, inflation, and signs of wear or damage. A visible check of the tread or a few minutes spent checking the tire pressure can mean the difference between a blowout and an accident or a stress-free drive on your favorite road.