How old are your tires?
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It’s not rude to ask, it’s a question of safety. Tires wear down over time. When they start to get weak or lose their grip on the road, it can mean big trouble.
Maybe you don’t remember when it was the last time you got your tires replaced, or how to tell if they’re due for an update. In this case, read on to learn how tires age and when you need new ones.
How long does a tire last?
You might be wondering, just how long does a tire last? Maybe I should just plan on replacing them every two or five or ten years?
Well, it’s not so simple. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get many different answers on the average life expectancy of a tire. Car manufacturers, tire makers and rubber companies don’t agree, and even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t offer specific recommendations.
There are many factors that influence how long a tire lasts, for example:
- Heat: Tires age faster in warmer climates, especially coastal climates and with exposure to sunlight. Extreme cold can also take a toll.
- Storage: A tire that’s just sitting around in a garage, rather than in active duty on the road, will age slower. (But it will still age.) However, a spare tire that’s mounted underneath the vehicle, exposed to heat, dirt and road salt, degenerates faster than one stored inside the trunk.
- Maintenance: Taking good care of your tires will help them last longer. Proper inflation, especially care that the tire isn’t under inflated, reduces damage over time. Hitting the curb with your tires, or having a puncture that needs repair, will reduce the tire’s life expectancy.
- Driving conditions: Are you commuting an hour each way every day, or you only take the car out on weekends? Do you drive on smooth paved streets or on dirt roads? Use makes a big difference in your tires’ rate of degeneration.
Old tires aren’t just a drag on your car’s gas mileage, they’re a safety hazard.
Once tires start to lose their tread, your car won’t handle well, especially in tough weather conditions like rain and snow. This is why driving a car with insufficient tire tread is actually illegal in some states!
Then there’s the risk of tire failure, either a sudden blow-out or tread separation. Either one can be catastrophic, causing your car to spin out of control. The older a tire gets, the more chance of a sudden disaster.
So be smart and be safe: replace your tires before they become unsafe!
How to check if you need new tires
There are a few signs to check for to determine whether your tires need replacing. You don’t need a mechanic, only knowing what to look for.
1. Tread depth
Tires should have a minimum tread depth of 1/16 of an inch (1.16 millimeters), and up to twice that if you drive often in the rain.
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The penny test is a simple and easy way to find out how worn down your tires’ treads are.
Take a penny and insert it into the grooves on your tire tread, with President Lincoln’s head pointing down.
Now see how much of the President’s head you can see. If any part of his head is hidden, your treads are deep enough. If you can see his entire head, they are worn down too much and it’s time for new tires.
2. Tread wear indicator
Newer tires have a built-in feature to indicate when their tread is getting low.
Tread wear indicator bars are flat rubber bars running perpendicular to the direction of the tread itself. Invisible or barely visible at first, as the tire starts to wear down you will start to see them.
Once the bars start to appear on any of your tires, you should soon have them replaced.
3. Look for signs of wear on the tire
Some tires clearly show their age with visible wear and tear.
Look at the sidewall: do you see any cracks, tracks or cuts? This is a sign that your tire has developed a leak or is heading towards a blowout.
You may also notice bulges or blisters as the outer surface of the tire begins to weaken. This is a danger sign: a weak spot like this could burst at any moment.
The last thing you want is for this to happen while you’re full speed on the highway. If you see something like that, immediately take your car to a mechanic or tire service center.
4. Vibration while driving
Some vibration is inevitable on the road. However, if you notice your car is buzzing much more than usual, it could indicate something wrong: either with the shock absorbers, some misalignment with the tires, or an internal problem with the tires themselves.
In any case, it’s a good sign you should stop at a mechanic and have it checked out.
Just as a good pair of shoes can make all the difference when you’re out hiking, strong and healthy tires are essential for your car’s performance and safety.
Tires don’t last forever. It’s fast and easy to check their level of wear, and it’s an important safety measure.
If your tires are getting old and tired, any mechanic can replace them with a fresh set.
Always buy new tires. Buying used might save you a few dollars, but you never know how old the tires really are or what problems you’re inheriting.