It’s almost time for that white stuff to fall out of the sky and accumulate all over the place wreaking havoc, and it’s usually then that you realize you need new tires.

I will show you how to tell if you need new tires and also teach you how to prolong the life of them. You’re going to be pro!

All you need, in order to check the tread depth of your tires, is a simple penny. The easiest way to get a good look at your front tires is to start the vehicle and turn the wheel all the way one way or the other. If you happen to own a GMC Sierra Denali or an older Prelude with AWS (All Wheel Steering) this will be particularly easy for you to check the rears as well.

Flip the penny upside down and so that you’re looking at Lincoln. Stick it into the groove of your tire’s tread. If you can see all of his head, hair included, it’s time for tires as you have 2/32″ of tread remaining. To put this into perspective, a new tire usually has between 10 and 12/32″ of tread.

Here we go again with my awesome MS Paint© artwork. The red line shows where you really need new tires as they are very low on tread. The blue line shows where you should start thinking about replacing them as there’s around 4 to 5/32″

There is another way to tell, in case you can’t seem to find a penny. In the picture above, you’ll notice four orange lines across the tread grooves. These are called wear bars, and when the tread is flush with them it’s time for new tires. Note: These will not be orange on your tires. They’re black and blend in with the rest of the tire.

Now let’s talk about preventative maintenance. There are three very critical things you can do to protect your investment:

  1. Maintain proper tire pressure. This is critical. I don’t mean where it says, “Max pressure” on the sidewall of the tire. I mean on the white door placard every car manufacturer places on the vehicle (usually in the driver’s door jamb). If you can’t find the tag, look in your owner’s manual. Overinflated tires will ride worse and wear out the middle of the tread more than the outside edges.The common thought these days is, “Hey, I’ll get better mileage if I bump my pressures up.” Maybe, but not noticeably and all you’re doing is speeding up the time at which you need to buy new tires, which is easily $450+.Underinflated tires will wear on the outside edges more than the middle and will make the car ride better. However, the car may sway more and underinflated tires can create a lot more heat (friction from the road) which can lead to blowouts. The Ford Explorer/Firestone thing comes to mind here. I can’t get into that, but Google it if you’re curious
  2. Rotate your tires. We’ll do it for you for free if you click our blue “Free Tire Rotation” button! This should be done every 6,000-10,000 miles. The reason for this, is that the front tires do all of the turning and therefore get all of the wear on the edges of the tires when the tire flexes and the vehicle’s weight transfers to the shoulder of the tire.The picture below illustrates this.You’ll notice that the rear tires usually stay more squared on the shoulders because they just move in a straight line.If the rear tires on a FWD (Front Wheel Drive) stay on the rear axle for too long, the tire tread may start feathering/cupping. The tread gets a wavy feel to it and can lead to a lot of road noise. The picture below illustrates this.
  3. Keep your vehicle aligned. Wheel alignment plays a vital role in tire wear. If a vehicle’s alignment isn’t set properly, they are not running parallel with each other and the road. Some common symptoms of a vehicle’s alignment being off are:
    • Steering wheel off-center
    • Vehicle wanders or wants to drift off the road one way or the other
    • Excessive edge wear on the inside or outside edges of the front tires

Now, you may think to yourself, “My alignment can’t be off because my wheel is straight and the car doesn’t pull.” You’d be wrong. It can be off. Usually if your toe setting is off, you’ll never know it by driving the car. The middle car in the picture above shows a toe out situation which would wear the tires out on the inside edges. Camber and caster (tops of the tires tipped inward or outward) are the two that usually have a noticeable change in the way the car drives.

Auto Works suggests that you get your vehicle’s alignment checked at least once a year, and have it performed each time you put a new set of tires on. If your alignment is off and you spend that kind of dough on your tires, you’ll be pretty upset when they’re shot after 25,000 miles.

The age of your tires is pretty important, too. Rubber dries out and begins to crack. Look for the DOT number on the sidewall of your tires. It will look something like this:

The last two digits are what matter. That’s the year they were manufactured.

“The minimum replacement time that is recommended by the NHTSA is six years regardless of use, with 10 years being the maximum service life for tires. Check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations related to your car. And always err on the side of caution if you suspect your vehicle has tires that are over six years of age.” -Taken from

Now that you too are a tire expert, put this knowledge into action and maximize the life of your tires. Feel free to leave comments and tell me what you think!

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