Understanding Your Car Tires
Tires are probably one of the least complicated elements on your vehicle. That being said, they aren't always as straightforward as they appear and can sometimes be signaling you, in subtle ways, that it's time for them to join the pile of recyclables.
In case you get a flat tire on the road or out in public, it's wise to keep an emergency roadside kit in your car at all times. They are usually compact and can be kept in the trunk or jack compartment with your car jack and lug wrench.
It's not uncommon for a good tire to lose a bit of air over time. Even a tire that has gone flat once or twice doesn't indicate you need to rush right out and get a replacement. Getting regular flats or experiencing tires that deflate regularly is another story. If your tires can't seem to hold the proper amount of air or they go completely flat, it's time to look for new tires.
Alternatively, it's also a good idea to have your wheel or "rim" inspected if you are getting flats, as it could be that your wheels are bent and not maintaining the seal around the inner tire.
2. Low Tread
Tires with low or no tread are a safety hazard. They take away your tires' ability to grab traction on the road, which can cause a major accident. Low-tread tires are also prone to burst while you're driving, another major source of highway trauma.
As we all know, traffic accidents don't just cost us extra travel time, they cost us lives. Even if an accident doesn't kill or seriously injure you or your loved ones, it still costs a ton to cover vehicle repairs. And that doesn't include the price for any public services or property damage. Let's just say that way too many folks try to make their tires last as long as possible, and reach too far into the danger zone by allowing their tires to lose most of their tread before getting replaced.
Save yourself from such a mess, and keep track of your tire tread. You can easily monitor your tires for tread wear using only a penny. The video above will show you how to do it, and you get the bonus of a great YouTube entertainer who shares extra tire tips!
You can also monitor your tires' tread with a simple visual inspection. It's not as exact, but it still helps. When you look over your ties, make sure there is tread all around, and that there isn't more tread to the inside or outside of the tire. If this does apply, your tread is wearing out unevenly, suggesting a potential alignment issue. If your tires aren't wearing unevenly, but clearly have hardly any tread left or are mostly smooth to the touch, then your tires are bald and need to be replaced right away.
3. Unexplained Bad Mileage
Most people are surprised when I inform them that worn out tires can cost them in gas mileage. It's true, and it's worse than you'd imagine. A vehicle that might be rated to get 30 mpg in fair condition might only get 25 mpg with tires that are just a little low on air. In fact, you might not even notice your tires are low on air unless you regularly check them with a gauge. They'll look perfectly normal to the average driver. Don't kid yourself, though. If they aren't in optimal shape, you're losing at the pump.
Your tires can also have what is called a "pit", which is when an area of the sidewall bulges inward. The result is the same—new tires.
4. Tire "Bumps"
If your tires have any bumps or bulges in them, it's likely that part of the belt inside them has been broken or become warped. This isn't unusual, and, interestingly enough, most mechanics refer to them as "tits" or "titties." It's not the most "pc," but it does make it easy to remember them. These bulges are not life-threatening in most cases, and many drivers have succeeded in driving thousands of miles on them without any problems.
That being said, I'm all about prevention, and I urge my readers to think the same. Tire bulges might be a low risk, but there is still a risk, and if you happen to score badly statistically, you could end up with a tire blowout.
As your tires get older and more beat up, they will develop cracks all around. The first and most obvious places you'll notice this happening is in the sidewall of the tire. At first, they'll probably be small cracks that no one really cares about. Although after a while, they'll stretch and start to cover every surface of the tire.
You really should replace your tires before it gets that bad and reaches the potential of shredding the tire open, although tires aren't exactly cheap and most folks can't afford to replace them every 100,000 miles when they really should be changed. So, as a general rule of thumb, a few really small cracks are nothing to worry about. Dozens of small cracks or any long or wide cracks mean you should get new tires.
The above list of signs it's time to change your tires is far from exhaustive. Here are some additional signs you need to get over to the tire store:
- Your brakes wear out faster than they should.
- Your tread wires are showing.
- Your tire blew out (popped or broke open).
- Your tires have "separated" or torn.
- Your car "pulls" to one side of the road or another.
- Your car feels like it "wobbles."
- Your car appears to "sag" or sit lower than it should.
Buying New Tires: What to Know
Tire shopping is one of the easiest elements of car repair and maintenance that you'll ever go through. What you see is pretty much what you get. No matter how fancy the sales guy might want to make them out to be, a tire is pretty much just a tire.
So, when it comes to buying new tires, there are really only a few things you need to be concerned about. Those things are:
- Correct tire size (ex: 205/75 r14)
- Quality manufacturing
- Tire condition
- Terrain uses
Thankfully, most shops are happy to get you the correct tire size for your vehicle and can even tell you what size you need. Although if you want this bit of information yourself, it's right there on the outside tire wall.
When it comes to quality manufacturing and terrain uses, this is where it is helpful to do a bit of googling to find out who makes long-lasting, durable tires that are made for the roads you drive on. Most folks go with "All-Terrain" tires that work well in all forms of moderate weather, and that works just fine. Although if you live in an area that is snowy, wet, dry, or rugged; you'll want to get tires with more specific terrain uses.
Buying Tires: New vs. Used
Most folks manage to come up with the dough to just go get a brand new set of tires. Others find a way to use credit or in-house financing of some sort. Both of these methods are fantastic, and if you can get brand new tires, that is always recommended over used tires. The reason for this is because you will always get greater safety and longer use out of brand new tires.
That being said, if you're short on cash or don't mind replacing your tires a little more often, then used tires can save you a lot of money. The only downsides to used tires are that you'll need to shop around a little bit to find a good used tire source and you'll want to get new tires more often than you would need to get brand new tires.
If money is your curmudgeon, new tires are getting more and more expensive and can cost an upwards of $400 in some areas. Used tires are more likely to run between $15 and $55 dollars a tire. You're also not likely to get out of a fancy tire store without buying a whole set, whereas at a used tire shop, you can get away with only 1 or 2 tires at a time.
This isn't highly recommended, mind you, although I've been in a place where I couldn't afford more than one; hence why I share this tip. Although you'll want to always try for two tires at a time at minimum (fronts or rears), if you do only get one tire at a time, make sure that its tread is a similar match to its corresponding tire on the other side of the car, and that it definitely is not the wrong size.
If you're still undecided about whether to buy new or used tires, consider these questions:
- Do I drive every day for long distances? (15 or more miles)
- Do I have the money to invest in a brand new set of tires?
- Do I have the time to shop around for new used tires every 1-3 years?
- Do I mind unmatched tire brands or designs?
When it comes to new vs. used tires, it's a matter of convenience, aesthetics and financial resources. The rest is just opinion. Used tires work just fine while they are still in good condition. For that matter, I've found plenty of nearly new tires in the racks of a used tire shop. There's nothing like buying a virtually brand new $150 tire for $35 bucks.
Buying Tires: Online vs. in Person
When it comes to purchasing tires, the only time it really matters whether you buy online or in person is when you are purchasing used tires. If you can find a reputable online source of used tires that are what they say they are, then go for it. Otherwise, this mechanic recommends you purchase only brand new tires from online sources.
Prices and quality from online tire shops are virtually the same as they are in brick and mortar shops. If you're a hardy coupon cutter, you'd be more likely to save money by shopping online, although in my experience the prices don't vary in great amounts.
How to Change Your Tires
Changing your tires is an extremely easy process. You can change all four within less than 30 minutes with the proper tools.
You will need:
- Tire lug wrench
- Tire jack/vehicle jack
- Flat-tipped screwdriver
To remove a tire:
- Park your car on flat ground.
- Remove any hubcaps or lug nut caps with a screwdriver.
- Use the Lug Wrench to loosen—but do not remove—one lug nut, followed by the one across from it, moving through the rest in a star pattern.
- Jack your car up near the tire you are changing from a sturdy place on the chassis and not anywhere on any body panels.
- Finish remove the lug nuts, following the star pattern.
- Remove the tire.
To place on a new tire:
- Once the old tire is removed, place the new tire onto the wheel lugs.
- Once the tire is set, place one lug nut onto any lug and tighten it just enough so that it will not fall off. Place the other lug nuts on, following the star pattern. Do not tighten them down firmly until they are all on.
- Once each lug nut is on, use the lug wrench to continue tightening the lug nuts until the tire rotates when you continue trying to tighten them.
- Lower the jack and allow the car to sit on the tire again.
- Use the lug wrench to finish tightening the lug nuts in the star pattern. It's difficult for most people to tighten them "too much," so don't be afraid to give them a little muscle.
- Drive the car around the block a few times and then use the lug wrench to check that all nuts are firmly on, tightening any that might have loosened.
Some tires have what is called a "wheel key," which means they have special anti-theft lug nuts that will require a specialty lug wrench. If this is you, you'll need to make sure you always keep your wheel key in the car.
5 Ways to Re-Purpose Your Old Tires
Tire manufacturing already has a bad enough rap, but tire disposal has it even worse. This is mostly because old tires tend to be burnt up or melted down back into liquid rubber. Both of these processes are horrible for the environment. So, until something gets better in this process, it's important to consider how you might be able to repurpose your old tires at home.
Here are five fun ways to reuse your old tires:
- Make a tire swing.
- Use old tires as garden "pots."
- Turn them into flip flop shoes.
- Turn them into outdoor furniture.
- Donate them to a go-cart course (or make your own).
You are encouraged to ask any tire-related question you might have and I will do my best to answer those questions! It's also fantastic to hear your experiences, adventures or advice if you have it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Wrench Wench