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Maintaining Your Tires

You've bought your dream car, you love driving it, you even sprung for the extra maintenance package at the dealership so you don't have to worry about oil changes and tire rotation and all the other piddly stuff that encompasses the boring part of owning a car.  But you should at least have a foundational knowledge of tire safety, after all, even if the dealership is responsble for maintenance you should be able to tell if your tires aren't quite right.

Proper Tire Wear

Follow these tips in maintaining and reviewing the safety of your tires:

1. Tire pressure - This is the most common, every day item you should be aware of.  All four tires should generally have the same tire pressure. What pressure? Luckily all tire manufacturers print this on the side wall of the tire!  You need to look for a number followed by 'p.s.i' which stands for 'pounds per square inch'. This is the amount of internal air pressure pushing outward on the tire. Most gas stations with air will have a pressure gauge attached to the air machine.  Do not inflate your tires and guess.  Just because one tire looks the same as the others doesn't mean it is, you could be off by many pounds of pressure causing instability in your vehicle at high speeds.

Further, it is not recommended to tweak the recommended psi.  Some people believe that a lower or higher psi will give you a better ride or more road grip. This is not true. Every tire is different and the channelings in the tire will behave differently than intended if the manufacturers pressure ratings are not followed.

2. Even wear - Tire wear should be all about symmetry. Each tire should wear evenly on the left and right side and each tire should look like it is wearing evenly when you compare one to another. It is largely recommended that tires be rotated every 3,000 to 6,000 miles. Many mechanics will also cross rotate. That is, they will put your rear driver side tire on the front passenger side and the rear passenger tire on the front driver side and vice versa.  This ensures that each tire, over its life receives the same general treatment and wear.

3. Tire tread, lug, void, and sipe - The tire tread, lug, void, and sipe are what keep you on the road. The tread is the part of the tire that touches the road and gives the tire traction.  The lug, void, and sipe make up the geometric patterns of the tire which in turn allow the tire to shed water and avoid hydroplaning. As the tire wears the depth of the tread decreases as does its ability to shed water and maintain traction.

4. Replacing based on time - So you have a classic car or a keepsake vehicle that you only take out on special occasions.  You can keep the same set of tires until they are worn out, right? Wrong!  While it is true that most tires get replaced due to wear and tear that is not the only factor to consider. Tires are made of rubber and other composite materials and like most things, they will degrade over time even without use.  It is recommended that tires be replaced at least every 6 years regardless of mileage.

5. Replacing based on mileage - This is another alternative to consider when ensuring that your tires are in good shape.  Every tire is rated for a specific mileage.  This is a recommendation with the assumption that the tires are well cared for, rotated, and fall within a normal range of driving habits - a certain number of city and highway miles.  It is very possible to go well over recommended mileage without wearing through all of the tread.  If you are over the rated mileage for the tire it may be time to replace the tires as the materials can degrade from use and not be as safe as they were when new.

There are many tire companies such as Goodyear and Tires Plus that can help you decide on tires and maintain them over their lifecycle.  Many tire retailers offer a maintenance plan (balance and rotation) for the life of the tire when they are purchased.

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