You might be surprised by how many people have tire problems and don’t even know it. In an average day at least one third of all the cars I see in my shop are sitting on problem tires. They might have incorrect tire pressure, bad wear patterns or even dangerous damage that could lead to an accident. Most people don’t even know how to spot tire problems and only realize something is wrong when they go flat. By that time the tire is probably beyond fixing and has to be replaced. Tire replacement is spendy and with so many cars being all-wheel drive it can force you to prematurely replace tires that still have life left in them.
How can you get rid of tire problems on your own vehicle? It’s all fairly simple and I’ll let you in on some secrets…secrets earned from working in auto repair for a few years.
To Prevent Tire Problems, Check Tire Pressure
The number one tire problem I see constantly is incorrect tire pressure. Thankfully newer cars with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems have helped reduce but it hasn’t cured it yet. Correct tire pressure is vital for making sure you get all the miles you’re supposed to out of your tires. You can shorten the lifespan of a set of tires significantly with this tire problem and spend hundreds of extra dollars you don’t need to.
What’s My Correct Tire Pressure?
There are two places to find the correct tire pressure for you vehicle. One is your owner’s manual and the other is a sticker that all car companies are required to put on the driver’s door frame. This is the only tire pressure you should use for your car and if you do anything else you’re going to have tire problems. Do not inflate your tires to the pressure listed on the tire itself. You may have never noticed it before, but every tire actually has quite a bit of writing printed subtly on the side of the tire. One should be the “Maximum PSI” which tells you how much air goes in to your tire. This is the max amount of air the tire can hold before becoming dangerously overfilled. Note that this is the amount of pressure that should be in your tires when they are cold.
If you check your tires (with a tire pressure gauge, a $10 device that everyone should keep in their glove box) and they are a little high and you’ve been driving then you are fine. Driving can add up to five pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure to a tire which is normal.
Having pressure that is too high can make your tires susceptible to a blowout. But having your tires too low is also a problem, as low tire pressure increases the odds that your tires will pick up nails and sharp rocks from the road, kind of like a sponge.
Overinflation for Gas Mileage
You’ll see this ‘one weird trick’ everywhere that seems like a no-brainer way to save some money at the pump. Never do this! Yes, an overinflated tire rolls easier and does give you a mile or two more per gallon. However the damage you’ll cause to your tire will cause you to lose all that money and more by having to replace the tires sooner.
Check Tire Pressure Often
If your car is equipped with tire pressure monitoring then you’ll see a light come on when your tires are low on air OR overinflated. If it comes on, check your tire pressure as soon as possible to avoid costly tire problems. The newest monitoring systems will actually display the pressure on the dash which is great. There you can see right away how bad things are. If you don’t have a monitoring system then check your tire pressure every time you get gas. It’s important to catch tire pressure problems as soon as possible to avoid irreparable damage to your tires. Get a quality, dial type pressure gauge to make the job quick and easy, like this one from Amazon.
Spotting Pressure Tire Problems
If you have been driving with incorrect tire pressure you’ll be able to spot it by noticing how the tread of the tire is wearing. Tires with too much air wear faster in the middle. Tires with low air wear faster on both edges. If you notice that your tires are wearing more on the sides or in the middle you have a pressure related tire problem.
Cheap Tire Problems
Tires are getting expensive. When buying a set of tires for your vehicle you might want to go as cheap as possible but this can lead to some major tire problems. You might save a little today but you’ll be spending far more in the long run by going with a cheaper choice.
By far the most popular vehicles on the road today are Sport Utility and what they’re calling Crossover Utility Vehicles. Basically these are any vehicles that are bigger than a traditional four door sedan. They make cheap tires for these but you want to avoid them. SUV/CUV’s and minivans are a bit heavier and they will wear out ‘car tires’ incredibly fast. Tires marketed specially for SUV/CUV’s are heavier duty and built to carry the extra weight. They can last up to twice as long as the cheaper tires that might even advertise the same mileage warranty.
One Step Up:
If you’re on a budget and want to avoid tire problems and costly early replacements then remember the ‘one step up’ rule. This isn’t an ‘official’ rule but something I’ve noticed from years spent replacing thousands of tires. When buying tires you’ll probably have a few options: super cheap ‘store brand’ tires, cheap ‘name brand’ tire and expensive fancy tires. Always go one step up from the cheapest tire available. It might cost a little more but it’s usually only $10 per tire. A small price to pay for tires that will probably last an extra year or two longer than the cheap tire.
A better tire will not only last longer, but will likely give you a smoother ride, a quieter ride, and might even be better on snow and ice than a cheapo tire.
Avoid Tire Problems with Rotations!
Rotating your tires on a regular schedule is vital for avoiding costly tire problems. Most people have no idea what a tire rotation is and seem to forget about them. Every car has two tires that actually move the car and two tires that just roll along. If you have a front wheel drive car then it’s the front tires that do all the work. All this work makes them wear out faster than the rear ones and you get a serious tire problem. Your front tires will need replacing prematurely while the rear ones will have very little wear at all.
To make sure they wear evenly you need to get them rotated to avoid tire problems. A good rule of thumb is to get a tire rotation every other oil change. This will keep all the tires wearing at the same rate and make them last longer. You can check your tires with a tread depth gauge to determine when the best time is for a rotate. Pick up a tread depth gauge on Amazon and keep it in your car.
Measure your tires when you check your tire pressure. If the front tires read a lower number than the rear tires it’s time for a tire rotation on a front wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. On a rear wheel drive vehicle it would be just the opposite.