How to Extend the Life of Your Tires  

August 17, 2016
Gas mileage

According to a 2015 report by the Modern Tire Dealer, we’re keeping our cars longer. It’s resulting in an increase in replacement tire sales. It’s a sign that we often just stick our tires on our long-serving vehicles and forgot about them. Yet the same source indicates we’re going to be paying more for tires in the future. It may be in our best interest to take steps to increase the long-term utility of the tires we purchase. Here are some ways to do it.

Regularly monitor the tire inflation. Most of us only inflate tires when they don’t pass the eye test for proper inflation. However, experts like the MIT-trained engineers at Car Talk recommend checking the air pressure monthly. When tire pressure is too low, more of the surface area touches the ground when driving, leading to increased friction. This will cause the tire to wear out faster. The increased friction can lead to overheating which can be bad for the tire’s integrity or even cause tread separation. If you hear squealing when you’re turning the wheel, your tire pressure may be too low.

Tire pressure can be too high as well. High pressure can give you a bumpy ride and poor traction, the latter outcome being unsafe. The PSI number printed on your tire is the maximum pressure the tire can handle, so don’t fill to this amount. You can find your vehicle’s recommended pressure in the user manual or inside the door of your vehicle. Some cars have tire pressure monitoring systems that alert you when tire pressure is too low. Don’t let that light stay on any longer than you would a “check engine” alert.

Rotate your tires. This is simply switching the position where the tires are already installed, for example, moving the front tires to the rear position. This helps extend the life of your tires by changing the points where tires receive pressure. The passenger-side front tire experiences a different wear pattern than the driver-side rear tire. In rare cases, you may have a unidirectional tire, which literally means it can only rotate in one direction, so it must stay on the same side of your vehicle.  At Swift Auto, we recommend rotation every 6,000 miles. 

Get the wheels aligned. Getting your wheels aligned regularly can prevent uneven wear on the tires. There’s no generally agreed upon alignment schedule; you’ll have to judge for yourself when to get it done. If your car tends to veer to one side when you have the steering wheel pointed straight ahead, your wheels may be out of alignment.  Swift Automotive recommends you get 2 alignments per year. 

Watch out for hazards. Driving on rough roads that haven’t seen much work from your local transportation department can wreak havoc on your tire tread. Potholes are among the worst road hazards for damaging tires. Road hazards can also knock out your wheel balance and alignment, causing more problems for tire life over the long term. If you pass too close to where workers are building a home or working on a new highway divide, you might pick up an unwanted passenger like a nail or screw. You then need to patch the tire, which can also negatively affect tire integrity.

Inclement weather can also be bad for tread life. If you have to drive through it, there’s little you can do to protect your tires outside of tire chains for ice or snow. Winter tires are a good solution for bad weather; however, on dry pavement, the tread for winter tires may suffer.

Low treads aren’t good. All of these problems can lead to you driving with little tread life left on your tires. This is an unsafe way to drive. How do you know when to swap out tires? You don’t need a mechanic to tell you. Take a penny, stick it between the tread ribs, with Abe’s head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.

If you are a careful and observant driver, you can easily extend the life of your tires. However, it’s safest when in doubt to replace the worn workhorses with new ones.

Matt Kuchera