The End of the Road (For Your Tires)
Like every well-worn pair of sneakers, your tires will eventually need to make the journey to the racetrack in the sky. You’ll find yourself looking for new treads at a tire shop near you whether you like it or not, and that’s not so bad – nothing improves ride quality like changing to a fresh set of tires. But how do you know when it’s time for new tires?
New tires can be expensive, so you don’t want to jump the gun; on the other hand, it’s important to know what the symptoms of a bad tire are because they can be extremely dangerous to drive on. The short answer is that if you can see balding or unevenly worn tread, blistering or bulging, or cracks and holes in the sidewall, then you need to replace those tires ASAP. From the driver’s seat, you might notice unusual vibration, loss of traction on wet pavement, a new humming or thumping sound, or even a wobble at low speed – any of these symptoms should prompt you to schedule a tire inspection.
Something Might Be Wrong
The best way to tell if there’s anything wrong with your tires is to take a look, and it’s wise to do just that on a regular basis. Even if you do, though, you’re most likely going to be in the driver’s seat when you notice something that says your treads aren’t quite what they used to be. The most obvious – and perhaps scariest – sign of bad tires is a loss of traction in the rain. If the car hydroplanes or the tires spin when you start on wet pavement, it’s a sign that your tire treads may be worn down and a sure sign that you need new ones. You may want to consider using a product with better performance on wet pavement if this occurs before the treads reach 2/32” – more on that later.
The other signs are all about the sound and the feel of the ride. You might get a wobble at low (think: parking lot) speeds. This is the result of severe layer separation within the tire; the rubber loses the support of the steel cords inside, resulting in a large bubble that causes the wobble. If the normal vibration of your car changes or becomes more severe, even on smooth roads, it indicates that layer separation is starting within one or more of your tires. A humming or thumping sound that changes depending on your speed is a sure sign of tire defects like chopped threads and flat spots. You know your car better than anyone, so when you think something like the vibration or road noise is changing, trust that instinct and have your tires inspected.
There’s a lot you can do to check your tires for problems, whether you notice changes in performance or not. The good news is it’ll only take a couple of minutes to visually inspect your tires for issues. The obvious indicator of tire life is the tread. Whatever the initial tread depth was on your tire, you know it wasn’t smooth like the ones on an Indy car.
The good news is that there’s a number, and an easy method, to tell you when your tread has run its last mile. The magic number is 2/32”, and the easy way to check if your tire is still above that threshold is to slide a penny into one of the threads. Turn the penny so that Lincoln’s head is as close to the tire as possible. If you can see his entire head, then your tire is below 2/32” and needs to be replaced. If it’s close – say, only his hair is blocked from view – then it might be a good time to start shopping.
Another sure-fire way to tell that the treads are spent is to look for the wear bars. A wear bar is a straight bar of rubber running perpendicular to the tread, from sidewall to sidewall. These are typically invisible on new tires but become pronounced when the tread wears down. The tread is completely spent when it reaches the same level as the wear bars.
Ideally, your tires will wear evenly. When you’re inspecting the treads, if you can tell that the left, right, or center tread of any tire is lower than the rest, or if one or more tires is wearing faster than the others, schedule a service appointment. Even if the wear is not bad enough that the tire needs to be replaced, it indicates a mechanical problem that will cost more money in the long run if it doesn’t get addressed.
The best-case scenario for any tire is that you use it until the tread wears down, evenly, to 2/32” before replacement. However, if the structure of the tire gets compromised, replacing it quickly can save you from experiencing a blowout on the freeway. While you’re inspecting the treads, keep an eye out for bulging spots or blisters anywhere on the tire.
These are weak spots in the structure, which could cause a wobble and eventually a blowout. Also, check out cracks or gouges in the sidewall – sidewall rubber isn’t as thick as tread rubber and can fail if damaged. If you see minor cracks or gouges, it’s best to have them looked at, and you can always take a picture to check again in a week or two to see if they’re getting any worse.
Finally, it’s an excellent practice to check tire pressure regularly and to maintain it around the manufacturer’s recommended setting (which can be found on the driver’s door frame). If you find that one or more of your tires is at low pressure, be sure to top it up and check again soon. Most slow leaks can be repaired for much less than it costs to replace a tire due to premature wear.
How Much Time Do I Have?
The lifespan of a tire depends on three factors: the design, the maintenance, and the driving style. New tires are averaging around 60,000 miles before the tread wears down, which is 4-5 years for the average American. That being said, the best guideline for the expected full life of the tire is the warranty. Some tires are covered against normal wear for 80,000 miles – others are only certified for 30 000 miles, so they’re unlikely to last half as long.
Defensive driving practices like gradually accelerating, turning, and braking will minimize wear. Taking care to rotate your tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles helps ensure that your tires wear evenly, and maintenance work such as balancing and alignment will further limit uneven wear due to mechanical issues. Sometimes though, life happens. A pothole finds you, a student driver scrapes the curb, you slam the brakes because a dog ran into the street – and just like that, the car is making a new noise, or it’s pulling to the left a bit.
You don’t want to drive on bad tires for long. With a slow leak or severely worn tread, you should try to get it looked at within a week and avoid driving in bad weather. For damaged tires, you should schedule service immediately – your tires and even your entire car can be replaced, but you can’t be, so don’t take the risk of driving with compromised tires.
Blossom Chevrolet is Here to Help
Whether you’re looking for advice on a DIY repair, a diagnosis for a mysterious new sound, or a brand new set of tires, Blossom Chevrolet has got you covered. Our team of GM-certified technicians is ready to help with any of your tire-related concerns from diagnosis right up to repair and replacement. Our location in east Indianapolis, near the junction of I-70 and I-465, has us ideally situated to be your next pit stop when you see any of the signs of tire wear and damage. So stop by if you have any concerns! We’ll have you running laps again in no time, and with that awesome new-tire feel on your ride, you’ll be glad you visited us.