Tires are a critical element of your car’s overall safety. They are the only parts of your car that actually make contact with the ground, and because of that, they are subject to a lot of abuse.
At the very minimum, worn or damaged tires compromise your car’s ability to respond to your inputs. Handling, steering, and braking suffer as a result. The longer you drive on bad tires, the more risk there is of a separated tread or blowout, which will cause you to lose control of your car. It compromises not only your safety, but that of the drivers around you.
The simple advice in the following slides will help you recognize when your tires should be replaced.
Checking your tires’ expiration date is the first way to get an idea of their remaining lifespan. In general, you should expect a set of tires to last about six years. It’s possible for tires to last quite a bit longer than that, but according to Car & Driver, you shouldn’t push your rubber past the 10-year mark. That’s because rubber degrades over time due to environmental conditions, so tires that look like they’re in good shape on the surface could still be concealing structural damage. In other words, no matter how well you maintain or store your car, a 10-year-old tire is simply too old, even if it has seen just a few miles.
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If you don’t remember when you bought your tires, or they came on a car you bought used, you can find out the manufacturer’s expected lifespan by looking up the make and model on the manufacturer’s website or on a tire store’s website. You can also find the 16-digit tire identification number, which is printed on the sidewall. The first three digits, DOT, represent the U.S. Department of Transportation. The last four digits reveal the tire’s age by showing the week and the last two digits of the year in which it was manufactured (for example, “1117” would mean the 11th week of 2017).
Tire Tread Indicators
Most tires have tread wear indicators embedded in the rubber near the outside edge of the tire. When your tread is worn down, these indicators will be easily visible and they’ll also make an annoying noise on the road to prompt you to check. You can see an example above (new tire on the left, worn tire on the right). Don’t ignore the noise. Go get new tires.
Uneven Tread Wear
If you notice that your tires are wearing down unevenly, it’s time for replacement. For example, if the tread wear indicators peek through some spots but not all the way around, or if you happen to see areas where the tire surface is inconsistent with the overall wear, you need new tires.
There are a few reasons that tires can wear down unevenly, and most of them are fairly easy fixes. Commit to treating your new tires right and making sure they’re properly inflated at all times. Get your car’s alignment and suspension checked out, especially if you notice problems with handling or excessive vibration.
If your tread is punctured by a nail or other road debris, it might be possible to repair, but damage to the tire’s sidewall generally means the tire will need to be replaced. Make it a regular habit to visually check over your tires’ sidewalls for damage, including bulges, blisters, cuts, and cracking. Bulges and blisters are indicators of structural damage inside the tire, which can result in a blowout or tread separation while you’re driving. Cuts, cracking, and other surface irregularities can be the result of tire degradation or damage from road debris; in either case, the tire’s structural integrity has been compromised, and the tire should be replaced.
This last bit of advice can help you catch a problem with your tires before it gets out of control, and it is also good advice in general. Pay attention to the way your car sounds and feels as you’re driving. If something is out of the ordinary, get it checked out. Excessive vibration can be a symptom of damage in one of your tires, and it can also indicate that one of your wheels is misaligned or bent, which will cause premature tire wear. Vibration can also clue you in to problems with the suspension system, which again, will wear tires prematurely and can create other problems.
As your points of contact with the road, tires play an important role in your car’s ability to keep you safe. In short, your tires need to be replaced if they’re worn down, if they’re damaged beyond repair, or if they’re simply too old.
The symptoms of bad tires are simple, and committing to proper tire maintenance will reduce the possibility that your old, worn-out tires will give up on you.
Trying to squeeze an extra few miles out of bad tires might seem like the frugal thing to do, but the consequences of a tread separation or a blowout simply aren’t worth it.