Tire Maintenance to Keep Your Wheels on the Road Longer
Just like the other parts of your car, if you take care of your wheels and tires, they will last longer. Tires are expensive, so the more miles you can safely put on them the better.
Before you do anything to your tires to keep them in good condition, you have to move them. With tires, if you don't use them, you lose them. You can prevent tire dry rot and other issues from occurring by simply driving your car. And while they are in use, here are some tips to extend the life of your tires.
Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
When was the last time you pulled into a full-service gas station and the attendant checked your tire pressures while the gas tank was filling? Probably several decades ago.
Likewise, we're getting our oil changed at longer intervals, so our tires' air pressure goes a long time before it gets checked when we service our cars.
Low air pressure is the biggest reason tires wear out prematurely. Tires rolling low on air pressure generate more internal heat. That heat softens and weakens the tires, so they wear out much faster. Plus, tires low on air generate more friction against the road surface as they roll.
If you check on the inside of your door frame, you'll find a sticker indicating the air pressure your tires need. Along with being detrimental to your tires' longevity, cruising with low tire pressure is a big safety hazard since tire blowouts are more likely to occur.
Like when you're washing your tires, you need to check your tire pressure when they are cold. Try to wait until the car has not been used for eight hours, or has been driven less than one mile.
Use a decent dial-type gauge too, not a cheap pencil stick gauge. Your tires deserve the best.
Low air pressure is the biggest reason tires wear out prematurely.
Keep Your Tires Clean
Since they are so expensive, wheels and tires are worth treating right. Just like when you wash your car, you want to use quality cleaning products on your wheels and tires.
Gone are the days of scrubbing them with household cleaners, Brillo pads and Comet. Those cleaners will dry out the tires and make them look dull.
Likewise, many of today’s factory and custom wheels have a soft, clear protective finish. Harsh cleaners will mar, dull or even scrape that nice finish right off. Not good.
When you're washing your car, only use modern wheel and tire cleaners for these areas. Read the directions and cautions on the package before you apply them. And make sure you read them all the way through before you begin. You might actually be harming your tires and wheels if you're using them incorrectly.
Wait until your tires are cool so the cleaner doesn't cook itself on. Let them sit for eight hours if they have been driven for more than a mile.
If you must scrub to get that annoying brake dust off your wheels, only use a very soft brush especially made for wheels and tires.
Be sure you wash the cleaner off with a gentle spray of cold water from your garden hose. A hard spray could splash water into the brake components, which don't react well to water.
Have Your Tires Rotated Regularly
Having your tires rotated is an important component of vehicle maintenance. The outside edges of the front tires wear as the tire leans when you turn a corner. If they are left as is and you don't rotate them, the outside edges will deteriorate quicker than the rest of the tire.
The back wheels roll in the same direction, so the wear is more evenly distributed over time. Rotating the tires from front to back will keep them from wearing unevenly, and extend the life of your tires.
Try to get your tires rotated every 6,000 miles. If you're lucky, your shop will rotate them for free with every oil change.
Have Your Tires Aligned and Balanced
Your car performs best when the wheels are nicely lined up straight. Unfortunately, potholes, speed bumps and other obstacles you encounter in the road will knock your wheels out of whack.
If your tires are out of alignment, they will wear out unevenly. They will also prevent your car from performing as well as it should. An alignment puts all of your tires back the way they should be.
Separate from an alignment, you should also have your tires balanced to prevent your tread from wearing out too early. Most people have their tires balanced while they are being aligned.
As with a rotation, you should have your tires aligned and balanced about every 6,000 miles to keep them in good shape.
Fixing a Flat Tire Is a Temporary Solution
Even if you wash your tires properly, and get them rotated, aligned, and balanced regularly, you are still probably going to end up with a flat tire from time to time.
A number of "fix a flat" products are available that will get your affected tire back in working condition. However, these are temporary solutions. You will need to take your tire into a mechanic shop to see if the tire is salvageable, but you'll probably need to purchase a new tire if the puncture is too big.
A puncture sealant that you inject into the tire isn't a very effective way to quickly fix a flat. They don't work very well, and if the puncture is only slight you still won't be able to have it repaired. Plugs are your best bet for a temporary fix.
These quick and easy-to-install plug kits stick in where a nail or other object was pulled out of a tire.
If you carry plugs in your roadside emergency kit, buy plugs rated specifically for steel belted tires. If you have the wrong type of plug, the steel belts in the tire will saw through the inferior plug as you drive.
Never use plugs in the sidewall of a tire. That is not safe. A puncture can only be safely repaired if it happens in the thread area - the space between the two outermost treads. That small area is where the tire is strongest and flexes the least.
Follow the instructions for installing a plug on your tire. After that, you'll need to have the wheel inspected and patched with a glue-on patch. Again, this is just a temporary solution. You won't want to drive on a patched tire for a long time.
Understand the Numbers and Letters on Your Tires
Your car’s tires have numbers and letters on the sidewall. If you understand this information, you'll be able to take better care of your tires.
The string of numbers and letters will look something like this: 225/55R17. The first portion, "225" means that the tire width is 255 millimeters, measured from sidewall to sidewall. The actual tread area is a little smaller than that. The larger the number, the wider the tire.
The "55" means that the sidewall is 55 percent as tall as the tire is wide. That’s called the aspect ratio. A "40," for example, would indicate a shallower sidewall, which would give you better handling (less sidewall to flex on turns) but a harsher ride. Everything in car design is a trade-off.
The "R" means the tire has radial construction. The belts in the tire’s body run radially, directly from sidewall to sidewall. They don’t crisscross each other as with bias tires.
The "17" means that this tire is on a 17-inch wheel. There will be other letters and numbers on your tire. Those denote the date the tire was manufactured, by week and year. That’s important to know, because tires dry out and their chemical compositions break down with age, and eventually become unsafe simply from the passage of time.
Another alphabet letter will indicate the speed rating, the maximum safe speed for that tire. Other symbols and characters will indicate if you have winter or all-season tires.