A Visit to the Tire Shop
Automobiles are pretty complex. While most of us operate one every single day, the average driver actually knows very little about how a vehicle really works. In fact, many people neglect necessary maintenance on essential pieces of the vehicle, such as tires. Often, people believe that tires can go on and on; they either work, or they don’t. Taking a trip to a tire shop near you, however, might entirely change your perspective on that matter.
First of all, you need to know when to change your tires. In order to change your tires, you need to know which tire size you need, as well as the type of tire your vehicle requires. If you’re thinking, “there are different types of tires?” this article is for you. Let’s take a look at some basic tire maintenance requirements, and then dig deeper in what you need to look for before you buy new tires, and a few helpful hints to help you pick out tires that are exactly right for your vehicle.
In order to go anywhere, you have to make sure that everything is safe and sound where the rubber meets the road. That means knowing when your tires are doing well and when they need your attention.
The most important thing you should do on a regular basis is to check your tire pressure. Many of the cars, trucks, and SUVs that roll off the manufacturers’ lines today have a tire pressure sensor already built-in that takes care of this for you. A light, alert, or message will display, urging you to check your tire pressure. When this happens, be sure to check the pressure in all of the tires, regardless of what the sensor message may say – you might have a tire that’s just about to dip below the recommended levels.
If it’s been a while since your vehicle was featured on the “new vehicle” lot, and does not have this feature, a tire pressure gauge will do the trick. Some air pumps actually have the gauge built-in, too. When you fill your tires, make sure you do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended pressure level, which will be displayed on a sticker inside the driver’s side door, and in your owner’s manual. This is important as maintaining ideal tire pressure will ensure that your tires are safe to drive on, and help you get the most out of your fuel economy, as well.
You should also check your tires frequently for irregular wear patterns, and to make sure the tread is deep enough. The tread is the part of your tires that actually touches the road, and it’s made in various patterns to help generate friction that ultimately keeps your car on the road when it’s wet or cold.
If the tread is wearing unevenly, that can be a sign that your tires are overinflated or underinflated. As time goes by, uneven tread wear can cause a shimmy or wobble in the way the vehicle drives, which can then throw the overall alignment out. One way to prevent uneven tread is to rotate your tires regularly, typically every 5-7,000 miles.
Your tire tread should be a uniform 10/32” to 2/32” in depth. You may have heard of the “penny trick,” in which you place a penny head-first into the grooves of your tread. As long as you can’t see the top of President Lincoln’s head, your tire still has the ability to perform as needed. If you do see too much, then it’s time to get new tires.
How Do I Know What Size Tire I Need?
If you’ve ever walked into a tire shop, you’ll know that tires come in all sorts of sizes and styles. Each vehicle rolls off the line with a specific size and type of tire and is manufactured with that tire in mind. That means that making any changes to the size or type can alter your vehicle’s performance, including the handling, steering response, ride quality, and even how well it brakes. Therefore, unless you’re making some professional-level changes to your entire vehicle, it’s best to stick with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
You can find these recommendations inside the owner’s manual or on the placard inside the driver’s side door jamb. You’ll typically see a combination of numbers and letters printed there, for example, P215/60R16 95H. The experts in your local tire shop will know exactly what that means, and a quick search will help you find exactly where you can find those tires. But what do all those numbers and letters mean?
“P” stands for “Passenger vehicle.” 215 is the width of the tire in millimeters. The “60” is the aspect ratio of the sidewall height- that means that the height of the tire from the rim to the tread is 60% of the tire’s width. “R” is the type of tire, in this case, “Radial.” The wheel diameter is the value expressed by 16. The 95H indicates the load index, or how much weight each tire can handle, and the speed rating. Everything you need to know about the tire size and what that tire can handle is right there in that alpha-numeric code.
What Are the Different Types of Tires?
It stands to reason that not all tires are exactly the same. After all, an off-roading Jeep Wrangler will have far different needs than the reliable Toyota Camry you drive around town for errands, or to and from work each day.
When you stop into a tire shop, you’ll be asked a bit about your driving habits, such as whether you spend a considerable amount of time on the road, if you drive year-round, and so on. If you have a truck, you’ll need to take into account on and off-road driving, as well as how much cargo and towing you do. If you have a high-performance sports car, you’ll likely want tires that are up to the job of zipping around tight turns and fast acceleration and braking.
So how many different types of tires are there? Well, the answer is: Plenty! Modern technology has fine-tuned tires so that each is perfectly designed to take on the role needed for any driver and vehicle combination you can imagine.
For most daily drivers, such as sedans, SUVs, and minivans, a passenger touring or grand touring tire should do the trick. These tires are specifically designed to create a smooth, quiet ride, with a tread that is reasonable for driving in all seasons. An all-season tire is enhanced with a symmetrical tread and specific groove pattern to help with handling in wet or cold weather. A Grand Touring tire will have a higher speed rating, leaning a bit more towards performance than comfort, but still hitting that “all-purpose, daily driving, highway handling” sweet spot that keeps families safe on the road.
Performance tires tend to have a different type of tread and grooves to allow for cleaner acceleration, with sufficient grip to keep you on the road at higher speeds. For those who plan to hit the track for extra speed, track and competition tires might be a good next step. These types of tires may not be appropriate for driving on streets, and depending on the series in which you’re driving or competing, there may be regulations on the specifications. Track tires are intended for high performance, reinforced to provide the snuggest contact with the road for the ultimate launch and handling at very high speeds.
For those heading out to the trails, you’ll need a tire with a more aggressive tread pattern. All-Terrain, or A/T tires, are designed for driving on and off standard roadways and make a good choice for those who need to get to the office during the week but need some extra mud and wind on the weekends. These tires have a tread that can take on a variety of surfaces, such as gravel, light mud, and sand, but also provide a steady, quiet ride on asphalt.
Mud Terrain, or M/T tires, have an even more aggressive tread and a reinforced, specifically designed sidewall to help guide your off-road vehicle through deeper mud and sand. The reinforcements help these tires stand up to any potential scrapes or punctures typical of heavy-duty off-roading. The deeper, wider tread, while excellent on trails and climbs, can be less comfortable on regular roadways, so these may not be the tires you want to put on your daily driver.
If your vehicle has a specific job in mind, such as climbing light trails, a high-speed performance truck, or heavy winter usage, mention it to the professionals at the tire shop near you. The chances are high that there is a specific niche tire perfect for the job you have in mind.
Tires Are Important
By keeping up with basic tire maintenance, you should be set to extend your tires’ lives for a significant amount of time. But when the time comes to replace them, first make sure you’re shopping for the right tire size, based on the manufacturer’s specifications. Once you’ve got the correct sizing, make sure you buy tires that are ideal for your driving needs. Having the right tire on the right vehicle is just another way to ensure that both pieces of the puzzle are on the road for a long time to come.