Tire Wear and Care

Keeping your tires in good working order can make your car safer and more fuel-efficient and can give you the handling and traction you need. Maintaining your tires can be pretty simple. Here are some guidelines:

Rotating Your Tires

You should rotate a new set of tires after 3,000 miles. After that, your tires should be rotated at least once a year, although some people rotate their tires every time they get the oil changed (that's four times a year). Your mechanic can give you a good idea of exactly how the tires should be rotated, depending on whether you drive a front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, or four-wheel drive.

If you find that your tires are wearing down unevenly, you probably need to have your tires rotated (and possibly rebalanced). Let your mechanic know and get his or her advice.

Check the Air Pressure

You should check your tires' air pressure once a month. Check the pressure when the tires are cold — in the morning before you go to work or school is a good time. Do it early and you'll have time to run out to a local gas station and top off any low tires.

Don't eyeball the tire pressure — use a pressure gauge! Tires can be deceiving, especially as they get older. And besides, a pressure gauge is cheap, and you can keep it in the glove box.

Under-inflated tires create more friction, which makes the tires heat up while you drive and can cause premature wear and blowouts. Keeping your tires inflated to the proper psi (pounds per square inch) will give you better handling, better gas mileage, and a safer drive.

You can find the recommended tire pressure in your car's owner's manual. Lost the manual? Check out the door jamb on the driver's side or the end of the driver's side door. Some car manufacturers recommend different tire pressures for the front and rear tires. Follow their recommendations to get the most out of your tires and your car.

Replacing Tires

Tires wear down over time and eventually need to be replaced. But how do you know when your tires have outlived their usefulness?

Irreparable damage to a tire is an obvious indicator that it's time to replace the tires. If you find any of these things, you need a new tire:

  • Cord or fabric showing through the rubber because of regular wear or from a cut, crack, or snag

  • A tire with a bulge or a split

  • Any puncture or cut that cannot be properly fixed

If your tires haven't been damaged, you can look for signs that they have worn down far enough to require replacement:

  • Most tires today have built-in treadwear indicators, narrow strips of smooth rubber across the tread. These indicators appear as the tire wears down. When three or more of these indicators appear, it's time for new tires.

  • You can also do the penny test: Put a penny upside-down into one of the treads of the tire. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, your tires are worn down and should be replaced.

Don't Forget the Spare

Nothing's more frustrating than having a blowout in the middle of nowhere, only to find that the spare, too, is completely flat and useless. Make sure you check the air pressure on the spare tire often, to make sure it's usable in an emergency. If you have a full-size spare, consider including it in your tire rotation.