Your car might be the fastest around, or the one with the highest safety rating. Maybe you go for most cargo space, maximum payload, or elegant interior. No matter what your preference, all cars, trucks, and SUVs have one thing in common: the tires are the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road. Those tires directly impact ride quality, handling, performance, and braking. Most importantly, your tires are a key component of vehicle safety.
Regular tire maintenance will help you to make sure your tires are in sound shape for driving. Your tires need to be monitored for proper air pressure, an effective amount of tread depth, wheel balance, and wheel alignment. Frequent inspection, professional service, and responsible driving habits all play a role.
Inspecting your tires
Checking your tires regularly will help to protect your investment and ensure your safety – and that of your passengers. Tires should be inspected at least monthly, more often if you drive aggressively. They should also be inspected before embarking on a long trip. Check for proper inflation, tread depth, and signs of damage.
Underinflation is the most common cause of tire failure (even blow-out). Tires that have insufficient air pressure are prone to premature and uneven wear, cracking, poor ride quality and handling, and decreased braking. Underinflated tires also lead to “rolling resistance,” a condition that forces the engine to work harder to get the car moving, or rolling. Minimum tire pressure is usually listed on a tag on the inside edge of the driver’s door. Make sure to use a quality tire gauge when measuring pressure.
Overinflation is also a problem. Tires with too much air pressure can be stiff, can lead to reduced ride performance, and can produce vibrations. An overinflated tire may also have difficulty when braking. The recommended tire pressure is located on the inside edge of the driver’s door on most vehicles. But the tire pressure should in no way exceed the maximum specified on the side of the tire itself.
Tread depth refers to the amount of tire tread on the surface. Over time and with normal use, the tires wear down. The minimum amount of tread depth on most cars is 2/32”. This can be measured accurately with a simple tool – a tread depth gauge. For a quick estimate, you can use a penny. Place the coin inside a tread groove on the tire with Lincoln facing you and with his head in the groove. If you can see the top of his head, the tires are worn beyond their limit and should be replaced.
Cracking and other signs of wear or damage (such as bulges or missing pieces) can also be spotted before they become a serious concern on the road if the tires are inspected regularly.
Professional tire service
While tire inspections are simple and can be done by any vehicle owner, tire service should be left to the professionals. Manufacturer’s recommendations for tire size and type should be followed. Tire mounting and balancing require specialized equipment. Tire rotations involve lifting the entire vehicle in the air – something that the average owner is not equipped to do. And a wheel alignment, necessary for proper tire performance and wear, requires an expensive alignment rack and a trained technician.
Tire size and type – Each vehicle manufacturer will recommend a specific size tire for a
given vehicle. All tires are not equal. Improperly-sized tires can cause problems with the way the tire fits, with the way the car handles, and even the reading on the speedometer. Tires are also designed with designated speed ratings that are matched to your vehicle. Tire size and type should be followed whenever you are purchasing new tires.
Mounting and balancing – Mounting is the process of removing the old tire from your wheel and installing the new one. Many years ago, it was possible to mount tires manually with very basic tools. That is not the case today. Low profile tires, radial compositions, expensive rims, and embedded electronics (i.e. tire pressure monitoring system sensors) all make it necessary to utilize specialized equipment and training to mount tires. Likewise, balancing requires a tire balancing machine. Because no tire or wheel is perfectly round, compensation needs to be made to make it spin true, or straight and even. This is done whenever new tires are installed, but may be necessary if the vehicle develops a vibration.
Tire rotation – Tire rotation is the process of exchanging the back tires on a vehicle with the front tires. This promotes even tire wear and helps them last longer. Automakers recommend distinct rotation patterns for their vehicles. This information is easily accessed in your owner’s manual; rotating the tires is not so easy. In order to rotate your tires, you would have to loosen the lug nuts, raise and support the entire vehicle off the ground, remove the wheels and tires, place them in their designated spots, replace the lug nuts, lower the car, torque the lugs to a designated specification, and, maybe, reset the tire pressure monitoring system with a digital tool. Whew! That’s a lot of work for what seems to be a simple job. It may indeed be simple; it may not be easy. Leave it to a professional.
Wheel alignment – A wheel alignment (sometimes called a “tire alignment”) is not actually a procedure done to the tires. Rather, it is an adjustment of the suspension and steering components on a vehicle to ensure that the wheels and tires are set at the correct angles for proper handling, performance, comfort, and safety. If the wheels are not aligned right, these qualities are compromised. Premature tire wear is also likely. The procedure is done on a machine – an alignment rack – where a technician will lift the vehicle, install sensors on the wheels, and analyze the angles of the steering and suspension.
Tire inspection and professional tire service are key to extended tire life and safe driving. But so is the development of safe and reasonable driving habits. For instance, a vehicle (and its tires) have a maximum load capacity that should not be exceeded. If it is, unwanted flex in the sidewalls of the tires can occur, putting additional strain on the tires and reducing safe vehicle handling. (It can also lead to tire blowouts at worst, or decreased fuel consumption at least). Since tires are rated for specific speeds, frequent driving above those speeds inhibits the safe function of the tires and causes excessive wear. Finally, if you allow the tires to spin freely – whether because you are stuck in mud or snow or because you like to show how powerful your engine is – excessive wear will occur to your tires. Naturally, this leads to premature failure and the need for new tires.
With a little attention paid, and a little follow-up with the pros, you can significantly increase the lifespan of your tires. In the process you will also improve the handling, the ride quality, the performance, and the safety of your vehicle.
Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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