Tire Maintenance Tips for Safe Driving
Updated: Apr 28
Aren’t you glad the winter is over? No more sliding on rock salt and clenching your fingers around the wheel when your car loses traction on an icy patch. If you didn’t get into an accident this winter, give yourself a high-five and thank your tires. They have worked hard; they kept you safe and now they may need some TLC. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), failed tires cause as much as 11,000 crashes a year, many of them fatal. Take a look at these tire maintenance tips straight from our Maryland tire service specialists, and let us know if you need any help implementing them.
Check Tire Pressure
You probably have a tire pressure gauge somewhere in your toolbox. Find it, unscrew the cap from your tire and measure the pressure in each tire of your vehicle, including the spare. Make sure to do this on cold tires, because that’s how the recommended pressure is determined by the manufacturer.
So, now that you have a number for each tire, how do you know what pressure adjustments you need to make? Check your owner’s manual for the operating pressure recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Or look at the vehicle’s placard usually placed on the side of the driver’s door jam near the locking mechanism for the correct cold tire pressure for your vehicle.
IMPORTANT: don’t rely on the number you see on the tire itself. This is maximum tire pressure, which means the total amount of air a tire can take.
Filling Up Your Tires
It’s likely that after comparing your vehicle’s tire pressure to the recommended pressure, you’ll notice that some tires are under- or over-inflated. Tires tend to lose/gain about a pound of pressure for each 10-degree fluctuation in temperature. Most gas stations have an air hose you can use to adjust your tire pressure. Or if you don’t want to deal with it, just bring your car to Hillmuth for a free air adjustment.
With the gauge in hand, fill up or deflate your tires as necessary and then measure the pressure again to make sure it’s right. One pound over or under the recommended pressure is an acceptable variation if you can’t get it exactly right. Check and adjust tire pressure monthly for the best results.
Why Proper Tire Pressure is so Important
Over-inflated tires will cause rough handling of the vehicle and will wear out prematurely.
Under-inflated tires will also wear prematurely and may overheat and fail at high speeds.
Improperly inflated tires decrease fuel economy.
Check Tire Tread
Tire tread is the patterned groves on the surface of your tires. The longer you drive, the shallower the groves become until they disappear completely and you end up with “bold” tires. Of course, you should never let your tires wear down this much. Tires with worn-out tread will lose traction, increase your chance of hydroplaning, as well as increase your stopping distance.
So, how do you measure the tire tread? There are special tire tread gauges you can buy, or you can use the old penny trick. If you insert a penny into the middle tread, with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you, take a note of how much of Lincoln’s head you can see. If you see all of it, it means it’s time for new tires because the tread depth is at 2/32” or less. There is also a quarter trick that works the same way but produces a different result: when all of Washington’s head is showing your tread depth is 4/32” or less. It’s not as bad as 2/32” but know that your tires’ performance is already decreased.
If you don’t bring your car for regular checkups to your trusted Maryland auto repair shop, be sure to check the tire tread on your own every few months.
Check Tire Balance and Rotate Tires
If you want to get the best performance and the longest lifespan out of your tires, then tire rotation is a must. Due to the weight distribution inside your vehicle, as well as other factors, tires don’t wear evenly. In fact, front tires usually wear faster in front-wheel drive vehicles. To compensate for this phenomenon, tires should be periodically rotated, so that each tire gets to experience different driving environments. The frequency of tire rotation will depend on the manufacturer’s recommendation and may vary. We recommend every 5000 – 7500 miles or every other oil change.
Tire balancing is another important aspect of tire maintenance. Tire balance is the distribution of weight along the axle. If one tire is out of balance with the rest, you may notice vibrations in the steering wheel and the overall “shaky” handling of the car, especially at high speeds. Your wheels and tires should be balanced by your mechanic when new wheels or tires are installed. Both tire rotation and balancing are not DIY projects, unless you have a lift. It’s a good practice to check tire balance every 15,000 miles or so.
Need help getting your tires the TLC they need? Bring your car to one of our four locations, Columbia, Clarksville, Gaithersburg or Glenwood for free tire checkup. and we’ll take care of everything!