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When is it time to change tires?


Last updated 2/14/2008 at Noon

Many drivers do not realize that good tire condition is essential to the performance and safety of a vehicle. Tires can also affect how much fuel is burned, and thus how much a driver has to pay at the pump.

One set of tires is not designed to last the life of a vehicle. Daily wear and tear and general driving habits could cause tires to pass their prime faster. Here’s how to determine if it’s time to shop for new tires.

1. Take a look at the tread pattern on the tires. Tires have “tread wear bars,” which are small bridges that form between the treads. One will see the beginnings of these bars start to form between the treads, or running across the tires. Once the tread wear bars are flush with the tire’s tread, it’s time to replace the tire.

2. Grab a penny and insert it into the tire tread, with Lincoln’s head facing down. A tire with ample tread will go up until at least Lincoln’s forehead. If his hair or any of the penny above his hair is showing, the tires are worn and must be replaced.

3. Pay attention to the performance of the vehicle. If it has been losing traction or is having trouble stopping, the tires are probably worn. Do the above two tests to confirm.

Tire maintenance

One can help prolong the life of tires by rotating them front to rear at regular intervals. This prevents uneven wear depending upon if the vehicle is front- or rear-wheel drive.

Automotive experts say all-wheel or 4-wheel-drive vehicles should have all of the tires replaced at once, because differences in tire diameters can damage the differential.

Also, keep tires properly inflated for the season. Tires that are not properly inflated will wear more quickly and can compromise vehicle performance and gas mileage.

Other advice

Have a competent auto repair shop check the suspension and correct as necessary before replacing tires if extreme uneven tire wear has occurred. Improper alignment or worn suspension parts can dramatically shorten tire life.

Buy tires that are the right size and type for the vehicle and rims (wheels).

Many modern tires have a specific rotational direction and corresponding rotation method, so one can’t just switch the front to the rear. Refer to the tire manufacturer or dealer for details, or consult a reputable shop.


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