Be Nice to Your Tires

Don’t forget those black doughnuts, your life could depend upon them, and your wallet.

Tires are just too easy to take for granted.  After all, when do they ever complain?  Maybe when you are taking that quick left-hander a little too aggressively? 

Since they are your only contact with the road they deserve some respect and maybe a little love.  The first thing you should do is check the tire pressure.  You do know how to check the tire’s pressure right?  So what should the pressure be?  Check the door jam or the owners manual to find out the factory recommended pressure.  You can always increase it a pound or two from the factory setting, but you definitely don’t want to lower it.  The fronts are often set higher than the rear.  That’s to deal with the weight difference of the front of the car versus the rear.

So what difference will a few pounds make?  A drop of six pounds will increase fuel consumption five percent.  If it stays that low and you are cruising on the highway you might find a tire blows up because the low pressure allows it to over heat.

Some people look at the tire’s sidewall to figure out the correct pressure.  Wrong.  Go back to the label in the door jamb or the owners manual. 

Check the pressure when the tires are “cold” or haven’t been driven on in an hour or so.  Driving a mile can raise the temperature of the tire and therefore the pressure.  If you have to drive to get air put in the tires use this trick.  When you check the tire and find it is down three pounds of pressure from the recommended you drive to where you can get the tire inflated and read the pressure one more time before you fill it up.  Maybe it now reads a pound higher than when you measured it cold.  Just add three pounds of pressure to THAT reading.  Check again when the tires are cold and you should find that the reading is correct.

What are you checking pressure with?  I hope its not one of the “pencil” gauges.  They are notoriously inaccurate.  What you should use is a dial gauge.  These use a bronze Bourdon tube and are very accurate.  many of them come with a bleed valve built in so you can bleed off pressure easily.  When you get a dial gauge get one with a maximum reading that is about twice what you run your tires at.  If you are supposed to have your tires at 32 pounds then find a gauge that has a top reading of 60 pounds, not 120.  That is because the gauge will have its highest accuracy in the middle.  There are some electronic gauges out there that are very accurate as well, but it is hard to beat the dial gauge with a bronze Bourdon tube.

Rotate your tires if you can.  If they are all the same size on all four corners then rotate them front to rear (not cross, unless the tire manufacturer allows).  Do this every three thousand miles, or at the very least every five thousand miles.  When I say rotate I’m not talking about spinning the tires.  I mean put the front tires on the rear and the rear tires on the front.  This allows them to wear more evenly.  This is especially true with front wheel drive cars.  You will get more life out of your tires that way.

While you are moving them around (or having them rotated) take the time to look over the tread.  You might be surprised to find a nail, screw or other sharp object has found a home in your tire.  Looking over the wear pattern in the tread will also let you know if you have another problem.  If your car’s alignment has been changed by a pot hole or hitting a parking curb too hard you will likely see it reflected in how the tires wear.  If you’ve lost a wheel weight you might not notice the vibration, but it could show up as intermittent wear on the tread.

Also take a look at your brakes and other parts of the suspension while the wheels and tires are not blocking the view. 

When you put those tires and wheels back on use a torque wrench to tighten the lug bolts or nuts.  Professional tire shops use an air gun with specially designed socket extension that is supposed to limit torque, but these can still be off by 10 lb/ft or more.  Spring for a good torque wrench and buy a 1/2″ drive socket that fits your lug nuts snugly.  There are two types of torque wrenches.  One is the deflection beam type that is very accurate but many people find difficult or confusing to use.  The other is the “click type”.  The click type is much more expensive and must be treated carefully, but is very easy to use.  The click type also has a built in ratchet.  You set the torque you need as the maximum and when the wrench senses you have reached it you feel a clunk and here a click.  These torque wrenches must be set to a lower setting, say 25 lb/ft when not in use in order to retain its accuracy.  They should NEVER be used to loosen nuts or bolts.

When tightening wheel nuts or bolts be sure to come up to the desired torque setting gradually and use a star pattern as you tighten each nut.  The idea is you don’t want to tighten up one nut all the way before you move on to the next.  You want to evenly tighten the wheel so you don’t warp or break something.

When you get a new set of tires be sure to have the car aligned ASAP.  Fresh tires is the best time to have an alignment done.  Also make certain the tire pressures are correct when you have it aligned.

If you have a leaking tire or one with a nail or other foreign object, get it fixed by a tire place.  They can dismount the tire and plug it from the inside out in many cases and save you the expense of purchasing a new tire. 

Check for unusual appearance on the tire.  Check the sidewalls for scarring or bubbles on the inside of the tire as well as the outside.  If you don’t drive much and the tires are five years old you better plan on getting replacements.  They don’t have a good shelf life and can dry rot or be damaged from exposure to sunlight and ozone.  If you do store your tires try to keep them inside and sitting on their sides, not on the treads.  This may be the case where you have snow tires for the winter and summer tires for the rest of the year.

Treat your tires with respect, they are keeping you in contact with the road.  They deserve your attention.


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One Response to Be Nice to Your Tires

  1. mannthoughts says:

    Wow! I knew you were into cars, but I didn’t know how much you actually know about them. Some great stuff on tires here that I had no clue about. I just drive on them, have the guys who change my oil every 3K check them, that’s about it. Great stuff. I won’t be driving my own car for the next year, but will be sure to recall this info. when I’m back in the states.


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