Tire Maintenance 101: How To Take Awesome Care of Your Tires
You’re driving down the road minding your own business and listening to your favorite playlist when suddenly you feel a jerk and your car starts pulling to the right. And that noise! What in the world just happened, you think? Unfortunately, my friend, you just got a flat tire, and once your mind catches up with your racing heart, you’ll realize pretty quickly that you’re going to need help. Great, you think, where in the heck is there a tire shop near me? And at some point, you’re going to ask yourself, when was the last time I checked my tires? And maybe, how the heck do I check my tires anyway?
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We tend to believe our cars will just start for us when we want and faithfully take us where we need to go reliably and consistently. Perhaps we remember to get that oil change because the giant sticker that guy at the service center slapped on our windshield reminds us in big black Sharpie, but we’re busy people. We forget the other stuff sometimes. However, it only takes one flat tire to bring us back to the sobering reality that it’s very important to not only stay on top of routine vehicle maintenance but also have a baseline of knowledge about how our cars work and what to do when something goes wrong.
Don’t worry! We’ll give you a crash course on everything you need to know about how to take care of car tires. From how to spot signs of wear to the types of tires to dealing with a flat, we’ve got you covered here. Read on, and take charge of your car even on the days when it doesn’t all go well.
Anatomy of a Tire
Car tires look pretty simple, don’t they? Actually, they’re a complex piece of equipment on your vehicle and an integral part of the overall quality of your ride, as well as the safety of you and your passengers. Generally, tire condition tells us a lot about how the vehicle performs. Tires that are bald or unbalanced can greatly affect a vehicle’s ride and handling, not to mention the potential safety issues that may arise.
When you look at a tire in the tire shop, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a donut. Without the wheel, a tire is just a hollow round rubber circle. Yet it’s so much more than that. In order to see deeper into the tire’s anatomy, you’ll want to see if the tire shop has a display that shows its guts.
There are multiple layers to a tire, and each one plays an important role. First is the visible tread area. This outer rubber layer is the part of the tire that makes contact with the road. Steel belts sit just underneath the rubber, and their job is to strengthen the tread area. The tread patterns, also called sipes, are what give the tire its gripping ability, and those patterns differ depending on the driving conditions they’ll be used for. That’s why the type of tire you choose is largely dependent on weather conditions in your area, and many people will exchange their standard tires for a different all-weather tire during the winter months.
Plies are essentially the tire’s structure, almost like a skeleton. They allow the tire to stay inflated and keep its shape while remaining flexible. Then there’s the bead, which is what allows the tire to create an air-tight seal with the wheel. The sidewall is the part of the tire you can see – the side view – and back in the 1950s, it was all the rage to have “whitewalls” or a white stripe around the sidewall. Nowadays, the trend is for bigger wheels and smaller sidewalls. Connecting the tread and the sidewall is the shoulder.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to the tire than the rubber you can see. Each of these parts plays an important role, and they combine to create one of the most important parts of your vehicle. Remember, tires aren’t cheap. It’s important to do everything you can to extend their life, not only to ensure a safe ride but to avoid feeling the pain in your wallet. So how do we keep our tires in good condition for as long as possible?
First and foremost, tires need the correct amount of air. Air pressure will vary based on temperature, so it’s critical to check your tire’s air pressure often. Monthly is a must, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check your tires more often. You’ll want to check the tires when they’re cold, which means doing it before you drive on them. The first thing in the morning is a great time.
Your owner’s manual will tell you the recommended tire pressure, and you’ll need a tire pressure gauge to do this test. Simply remove the valve cover on the tire, place the gauge on the valve and press down until the hissing sound stops. That tells you the tire’s psi. Compare it with the recommended psi number, and if the tire needs air, either bring it to your dealership, a tire shop, or the air machine at your local gas station.
You must have your tires rotated on a regular basis. Usually, this timing coincides with your vehicle’s oil change schedule, so plan to rotate your tires when you get that oil change, roughly every 5,000-7,000 miles. Tire rotations ensure an even wear pattern by alternating the tire’s location on the vehicle. Also, the technician can inspect your tires before rotating them to look for any uneven wear patterns or other issues.
Next, check your tire’s wear patterns because they can tell you a lot about the health of your vehicle. Simply grab a quarter and insert it head down in the most worn part of the tread. If you can see George Washington’s entire head, your tire needs to be replaced. Pretty easy, isn’t it?
One other note: if you’re buying a used vehicle, don’t forget to check the tire tread’s wear. It can be an expensive initial fix if you accidentally buy a car with old tires, and it tells you that the previous owner may not have had scheduled maintenance done on the vehicle.
Dealing With a Flat
Sometimes you do everything right, and you’ll still get a flat. Unfortunately, there is debris on the road, and all it takes is a nail or other sharp object to end up with a flat tire. This can happen suddenly, such as with a blowout on the highway, but usually, that only happens when the tire is very worn and gives out all at once. More typically is a slow leak caused by a nail penetrating the tire.
First things first, try not to drive on a flat. If your vehicle is equipped with a spare – either a full-size or a temporary tire – you’ll want to change it. If you belong to a roadside assistance club like AAA or if your vehicle’s manufacturer offers roadside assistance, a simple call will dispatch a technician to help. If not, you’ll want to locate your spare (usually in the trunk or under the vehicle) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to replace it. Pro tip: loosen the tire’s bolts before you jack up the car.
Tire maintenance doesn’t have to be complex. Just remembering to keep an eye out for anything unusual, staying on top of regular rotations and inspections, and knowing what to do in an emergency are all it takes. Now you’re armed with all the information, so happy driving and keep those tires properly inflated!