The tires on your vehicle are what connect your car with the road. They must withstand and support the weight of the vehicle and contents, as well as provide sufficient protection against obstacles encountered in your daily driving, including potholes and road debris. The tire’s job is never done. You need it to behave in a predictable manner whether the road surface is 110 degrees or below zero. Taking into consideration all of the variabilities your tire endures on any given drive, it’s hard to imagine how easy it is to forget about proper tire maintenance.
To monitor “normal” wear and tear, you should inspect your vehicle tires at least once a month. If you regularly drive on uneven roads, drive long distances, or drive in a cold climate, you may want to consider inspecting your tires more often.
It’s important to monitor tire wear and tear, both visually and while driving your vehicle. Look and/or listen for the following:
- Over inflation. Signs of over inflation include wear primarily in the center of the tread.
- Under inflation. Under-inflated tires will show wear on the outer edges of the tread and less wear in the center.
- Tread wear. If tires are properly inflated yet still show signs of wear on one edge, it may indicate the wheels are out of alignment. If the tread is wearing sporadically, cupping could be occurring, indicating the wheel is out of balance, or that shock absorbers or other suspension components need replaced.
- Unusual vibration or thumping noise while driving. This can indicate that a tire is out of balance.
- Pulling to one side. If this occurs while driving at a steady speed, it could indicate an underinflated or damaged tire, or a brake or wheel alignment issue.
In addition to regular screening and inspection, you should consider adopting a tire maintenance schedule to not only help prolong the useful life of your tires, but to also maintain optimal safety while driving.
Consult the vehicle owner’s manual for specific recommendations, but in general, the following tire maintenance activities should be conducted at regular intervals:
- Rotate the tires
- Balance the tires
- Perform a wheel alignment
Does tread depth matter?
Adequate tread on your tires helps maintain traction on wet roads. Treads also help channel excess water on the roads out from under the tires, so there’s more tire-to-surface contact.
Tire tread checks should be done at least once a month. There are several methods, including using a tread depth gauge, or the traditional quarter and penny tests.
The quarter and penny tests are similar, requiring you to insert either or both coins into the tread on your tire (heads facing down). If the top of Washington’s head is not visible on the quarter, that means your tires have at least 4/32” of tread left and are in satisfactory condition. If you can see above the top of Lincoln’s head on the penny, it means your tires have less than 2/32” of tread, indicating a cause for concern. Be sure to take measurements on the outer edge, center, and inside edge of the tire.
The difference in results may seem minimal; however research has shown that there is a 24 percent difference in stopping distance (the equivalent of six or more car lengths) if your tires pass the quarter test. This means the vehicle can come to a stop about 122 feet sooner than a vehicle that passes only the penny test.
Keep in mind, these tests and other information on this page are intended to provide only a general guideline about tire safety on your vehicle and may not always be the best indicator of a problem. It is always best to schedule routine tire and vehicle maintenance with a qualified mechanic or tire professional to ensure the optimal safety and performance of your vehicle.