Tires are, unfortunately, considered consumable material on a car. Along with things like filters, windshield wipers and fluids, you should expect to replace them several times during the life of a vehicle, as the more they are used, the more worn they become. Actually, considering all that we demand from them, it’s kind of a miracle they last as long as they do. But how can you tell the difference between regular tire wear and something abnormal? And what might your tire wear say about your driving habits? Do you know when it’s time for a change?
Stay Calm and Tread On
The life expectancy of tires varies widely and depends on many factors, such as original construction, driving habits, mileage and maintenance. In general, nonspecialized tires driven 12,000–15,000 miles annually should be good for three to four years, but there really is a wide variation. Don’t settle for the cheapest set, and follow the manufacturer’s specifications when picking them out in the first place. Beyond that, pick the tires best suited to your needs. Remember that no matter what you do though, they will eventually wear. Normal tire wear simply looks like evenly diminishing treads around all parts of the tire that make contact with the ground. It’s when the treads wear unevenly that you have a problem.
Tread worn in the middle indicates you’ve been driving overinflated. If the outsides are wearing, then you’re driving underinflated. If only one side is worn, that’s an alignment issue. Patterns or odd shapes that show up (such as cupping or scalloping, when pieces of rubber are gouged out) mean that you’ve got flat spots, something is wonky in your suspension system or your balance is off. Wear around the outside of the sidewall means you’re maybe not so good at parallel parking.
Read Your Rubber
Your best defense against developing any of these irregularities is vigilance and proper maintenance. Luckily, there are tools to help you on your journey. A tire gauge is an easy tool that will help you know if you’re under- or overinflated. Note that pressure can change for many reasons, and, in fact, is expected to during the course of the day, simply because of temperature. Check in the mornings, and check a couple of times a month to catch any small leaks or keep up with the seasons. You can also grab a tread depth gauge to check tread wear before you can see it, allowing you to get to a mechanic and make alignment changes or otherwise.
In the end, your best diagnostic tool is your eyes. Make a habit of scoping out your wheels before getting in your vehicle to drive, and keep gauges on hand in the glove compartment, so you’ll be more encouraged to use them. As with so many other things, a little extra effort and upkeep in the present goes a long way down the road.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.