It’s easy to neglect what seems like the most basic part of your vehicle, your tires. But in reality, they contribute significantly to the well being of your vehicle and even more, the safety of occupants. Tires impact braking and vehicle handling, which is why proper maintenance is paramount. It may seem daunting at first between rotation, pressure, and treads and figuring out what needs to be done when.

Tire Tread 

Checking tire tread is easy, and there’s a simple trick to do so. Technically, tires should have at least 4/32″ of tread depth for safe operation. Otherwise, you may face the inability to maintain road traction and, at worse, a blown tire. To measure, use a tread depth gauge if you have one or pick one up, they’re widely available at automotive or parts stores or use the quarter trick with a US quarter. 

Another easy coin test is the quarter test. Insert a quarter into your tread groove. If the tread touches Washington’s head, you have at least 4/32 inch of tread remaining. If the tread doesn’t touch his head, it’s time to look at replacing your tires. 

Quarter test to determine tread wear on tires.

Tire Pressure

Tire pressure is a simple way to extend the life of your tires and maintain good gas mileage. As is with tread, this should be checked once a month and can be done in minutes.

For this maintenance check, an inexpensive tool is required. Tire pressure gauges can be found in any automotive or parts store and don’t cost much. While a visual inspection is important, accurate measurement is a much better indicator. 

Take a look at the label on the inside of the driver’s side door or the owner’s manual to determine the recommended air pressure for your specific vehicle. The number will be labeled in ‘psi’ (pounds per square inch).

Unscrew the valve cap and place the gauge over top of the valve stem, press down with enough pressure to ensure a good seal. Read the numbers that line up with the bottom of the gauge. Repeat this process with all four tires. If air needs to be added, use an air compressor, if you don’t have one, they’re available at all gas stations. Continue to use the gauge until the correct pressure is reached. Don’t forget to replace the cap once you’re finished!

Maintenance: stuff for the experts 

If you’re beginning to feel confident in the realm of tire maintenance, that’s great, but certain things should remain for the experts to take care of. Even routine tire maintenance requires technical knowledge and tools that you may not have. However, understanding what maintenance needs to be done should help you feel more comfortable next time you go to the shop. Tire rotation, balancing, and alignments are commonly used terms that we’ve broken down, so you know what you’re getting and why. 

Tire Rotation

Tires should be rotated between 5000-8000 miles. The wide gap takes into consideration what the vehicle manufacturer recommends.  

The most common reason you’ll hear it’s important to rotate tires is to disperse wear on each tire evenly. It may seem like they would evenly distribute, but each corner of your vehicle operates differently, requiring each tire to work a little differently. For example, a front-wheel-drive vehicle requires the front two tires to take on a more significant proportion of the load working to move the car and break. 

Expanding on the even wear practice will also keep tread depth uniform across all tires providing even traction, meaning a safer overall vehicle.

Tire Balancing 

Tires have small metal attachments that are clamped around the rim. These are placed in specific locations to remove imperfections in the distribution of the tire’s weight. If you can feel vibrating when driving the vehicle, especially greater than 55 mph, the tires need to be balanced. It’s inexpensive and can be done quickly. Whenever the tire is removed from the wheel, it should also be balanced. During an inspection, if any of the three metal pieces are missing, it’s essential to bring your vehicle in for a tire balancing. 

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment or tire alignment helps tire performance and can improve longevity. It is an adjustment to the suspension, which is the connection between the vehicle and the wheels. There are a few telltale signs to determine if you need an alignment: uneven tread wear, the vehicle pulling to the left or right, steering wheel not centered while driving straight and steering wheel vibration.

Any time new tires are installed, or you feel any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should have a wheel alignment performed.

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