GM Malibu/Cutlass 1997-2000

Tires and Wheels


The tire placard for your vehicle is permanently mounted on the rear face of the driver's door, and should be referred to for basic tire information. The placard list the maximum vehicle load, tire size (including spare), and cold inflation pressure (including spare).

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Fig. The tire placard for your vehicle is permanently mounted on the rear face of the driver's door, and should be referred to for basic tire information

Common sense and good driving habits will afford maximum tire life. Fast starts, sudden stops and hard cornering are hard on tires and will shorten their useful life span. Make sure that you don't overload the vehicle or run with incorrect pressure in the tires. Both of these practices will increase tread wear.

For optimum tire life, keep the tires properly inflated, rotate them often and have the wheel alignment checked periodically.

Inspect your tires frequently. Be especially careful to watch for bubbles in the tread or sidewall, deep cuts or underinflation. Replace any tires with bubbles in the sidewall. If cuts are so deep that they penetrate to the cords, discard the tire. Any cut in the sidewall of a radial tire renders it unsafe. Also look for uneven tread wear patterns that may indicate the front end is out of alignment or that the tires are out of balance.


Tires must be rotated periodically to equalize wear patterns that vary with a tire's position on the vehicle. Tires will also wear in an uneven way as the front steering/suspension system wears to the point where the alignment should be reset.

Due to their design, radial tires tend to wear faster in the shoulder area particularly in front positions. Radial tires in non-drive locations may develop an irregular wear pattern that can increase tire noise if not rotated.

Rotating the tires will ensure maximum life for the tires as a set, so you will not have to discard a tire early due to wear on only part of the tread. Regular rotation is required to equalize wear.

When rotating "unidirectional tires," make sure that they always roll in the same direction. This means that a tire used on the left side of the vehicle must not be switched to the right side and vice-versa. Such tires should only be rotated front-to-rear or rear-to-front, while always remaining on the same side of the vehicle. These tires are marked on the sidewall as to the direction of rotation; observe the marks when reinstalling the tire(s).

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Fig. Tire rotation pattern

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Fig. Unidirectional tires are identifiable by sidewall arrows and/or the word "rotation"

Some styled or "mag" wheels may have different offsets front to rear. In these cases, the rear wheels must not be used up front and vice-versa. Furthermore, if these wheels are equipped with unidirectional tires, they cannot be rotated unless the tire is remounted for the proper direction of rotation.

The compact or space-saver spare is strictly for emergency use. It must never be included in the tire rotation or placed on the vehicle for everyday use.


A Tire Performance Criteria (TPC) specification number is molded in the sidewall near the tire size of all original equipment tires. This specification number assures that the tire meets the vehicle manufacturer's performance standards for traction, endurance, dimensions, noise, handling, rolling resistance and others. A specific TPC number is assigned to each tire size.

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Fig. The Tire Performance Criteria (TPC) specification number is found near the tire size of all original equipment tires

For maximum satisfaction, tires should be used in sets of four. Mixing of different types (radial, bias-belted, fiberglass belted) must be avoided. In most cases, the vehicle manufacturer has designated a type of tire on which the vehicle will perform best. Your first choice when replacing tires should be to use the same type of tire that the manufacturer recommends.

When radial tires are used, tire sizes and wheel diameters should be selected to maintain ground clearance and tire load capacity equivalent to the original specified tire. Radial tires should always be used in sets of four.

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Fig. P-Metric tire coding

Do not mix different types of tires on the same vehicle such as radial, bias, and bias-belted tires except in emergencies because vehicle handling may be seriously affected and may result in loss of control and possible serious injury.

When replacing tires, use only tires with the same size, load range, and construction as the original tire. Use tires with the same TPC specification number. Use of any other tire size or construction type may seriously affect ride, handling, speedometer/odometer calibration, vehicle ground clearance and tire clearance to the body and chassis. This does not apply to the spare furnished with the vehicle.

It is recommended that new tires be installed in pairs on the same axle. If it is necessary to replace only one tire, it should be paired with the tire that has the most tread, to equalize braking action.

Although they may appear different in tread design, tires built by different manufacturers with identical TPC specification numbers, can be intermixed on the same vehicle.

Snow Tires

Good radial tires can produce a big advantage in slippery weather, but in snow, a street radial tire does not have sufficient tread to provide traction and control. The small grooves of a street tire quickly pack with snow and the tire behaves like a billiard ball on a marble floor. The more open, chunky tread of a snow tire will self-clean as the tire turns, providing much better grip on snowy surfaces.

All Season radial tires qualify as snow tires, with a 37 percent higher average rating for snow traction than non-All Season radial tires. These tires are identified by as M+S molded into the tire sidewall before the size. The suffix MS is also molded in the sidewall after the TPC specification number.

Most manufacturers strongly recommend the use of 4 snow tires on their vehicles for reasons of stability. If snow tires are fitted only to the drive wheels, the opposite end of the vehicle may become very unstable when braking or turning on slippery surfaces. This instability can lead to unpleasant endings if the driver can't counteract the slide in time.

Note that snow tires, whether 2 or 4, will affect vehicle handling in all non-snow situations. The stiffer, heavier snow tires will noticeably change the turning and braking characteristics of the vehicle. Once the snow tires are installed, you must re-learn the behavior of the vehicle and drive accordingly.

Consider buying extra wheels on which to mount the snow tires. Once done, the "snow wheels" can be installed and removed as needed. This eliminates the potential damage to tires or wheels from seasonal removal and installation. Even if your vehicle has styled wheels, see if inexpensive steel wheels are available. Although the look of the vehicle will change, the expensive wheels will be protected from salt, curb hits and pothole damage.


If they are mounted on wheels, store the tires at proper inflation pressure. All tires should be kept in a cool, dry place. If they are stored in the garage or basement, do not let them stand on a concrete floor; set them on strips of wood, a mat or a large stack of newspaper. Keeping them away from direct moisture is of paramount importance. Tires should not be stored upright, but in a flat position.


Refer to the tire placard located on the rear face of the driver's door for proper inflation pressures.

The importance of proper tire inflation cannot be overemphasized. A tire employs air as part of its structure. It is designed around the supporting strength of the air at a specified pressure. For this reason, improper inflation drastically reduces the tire's ability to perform as intended. A tire will lose some air in day-to-day use; having to add a few pounds of air periodically is not necessarily a sign of a leaking tire.

Two items should be a permanent fixture in every glove compartment: an accurate tire pressure gauge and a tread depth gauge. Check the tire pressure (including the spare) regularly with a pocket type gauge. Too often, the gauge on the end of the air hose at your corner garage is not accurate because it suffers too much abuse.

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Fig. Tires should be checked frequently for any sign of puncture or damage

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Fig. Tires with deep cuts, or cuts which bulge, should be replaced immediately

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Fig. Examples of inflation-related tire wear patterns

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Fig. Radial tires have a characteristic sidewall bulge; don't try to measure pressure by looking at the tire. Use a quality air pressure gauge

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Fig. Common tire wear patterns and causes

Always check tire pressure when the tires are cold. A cold tire is generally one that has not been driven for more than three hours.

Cold pressure is the pressure of the tire before extended driving. After extended driving, pressure will rise due to the heat expansion of the air. Never counteract excessive pressure build-up by bleeding off air pressure (letting some air out). This will cause the tire to run hotter and wear quicker.

Never exceed the maximum tire pressure embossed on the tire! This is the pressure to be used when the tire is at maximum loading, but it is rarely the correct pressure for everyday driving. Consult the owner's manual or the tire pressure sticker for the correct tire pressure.

Once you've maintained the correct tire pressures for several weeks, you'll be familiar with the vehicle's braking and handling personality. Slight adjustments in tire pressures can fine-tune these characteristics, but never change the cold pressure specification by more than 2 psi. A slightly softer tire pressure will give a softer ride but also yield lower fuel mileage. A slightly harder tire will give crisper dry road handling but can cause skidding on wet surfaces. Unless you're fully attuned to the vehicle, stick to the recommended inflation pressures.

All tires made since 1968 have built-in tread wear indicator bars that show up as 1 / 2 inch (13mm) wide smooth bands across the tire when 1 / 16 inch (1.5mm) of tread remains. The appearance of tread wear indicators means that the tires should be replaced. In fact, many states have laws prohibiting the use of tires with less than this amount of tread.

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Fig. Tread wear indicators will appear when the tire is worn

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Fig. Accurate tread depth indicators are inexpensive and handy

The original equipment tires have tread wear indicators that show when you should replace the tires. The location of these indicators are at 72 degree intervals around the outer diameter of the tire. The indicators appear as a 1 / 4 inch (6mm) wide band when the tire depth becomes 2 / 32 inch (1.6mm).

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Fig. The tread wear indicators will appear as bald spots when the tire's tread depth is 2 / 32 inch (1.6mm)

You can check your own tread depth with an inexpensive gauge or by using a Lincoln head penny. Slip the Lincoln penny (with Lincoln's head upside-down) into several tread grooves. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head in 2 adjacent grooves, the tire has less than 1 / 16 inch (1.5mm) tread left and should be replaced. You can measure snow tires in the same manner by using the "tails" side of the Lincoln penny. If you can see the top of the Lincoln memorial, it's time to replace the snow tire(s).

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Fig. A penny works well for a quick check of tread depth


Wheels must be replaced if they are bent, dented, have excessive lateral or radial runout, leak air through welds, have elongated bolt holes, if wheel nuts will not stay tight, or if they are heavily rusted. Wheels with excessive runout may cause objectionable vibrations.

Replacement wheels must be equivalent to the original equipment wheels in load capacity, diameter, rim width, offset, and mounting configuration. A wheel of improper size or type may affect wheel and bearing life, brake cooling, speedometer/odometer calibration, vehicle ground clearance, and tire clearance to the body and chassis.

Steel wheels can be identified by a two or three-letter code stamped into the rim near the valve stem. Aluminum wheels have the code, part number, and manufacturer ID cast into their back side.

If you have invested money in magnesium, aluminum alloy or sport wheels, special precautions should be taken to make sure your investment is not wasted and that your special wheels look good for the life of the vehicle.

Special wheels are easily damaged and/or scratched. Occasionally check the rims for cracking, impact damage or air leaks. If any of these are found, replace the wheel. But in order to prevent this type of damage and the costly replacement of a special wheel, observe the following precautions:

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Fig. Alloy wheels need special care, inspect for stress cracks

Use extra care not to damage the wheels during removal, installation, balancing, etc. After removal of the wheels from the vehicle, place them on a mat or other protective surface. If they are to be stored for any length of time, support them on strips of wood. Never store tires and wheels upright; the tread may develop flat spots.
When driving, watch for hazards; it doesn't take much to crack a wheel.
When washing, use a mild soap or non-abrasive dish detergent (keeping in mind that detergent tends to remove wax). Avoid cleansers with abrasives or the use of hard brushes. There are many cleaners and polishes for special wheels.
If possible, remove the wheels during the winter. Salt and sand used for snow removal can severely damage the finish of a wheel.
Make certain the recommended lug nut torque is never exceeded or the wheel may crack. Never use snow chains on special wheels; severe scratching will occur.

Wheel repairs that use welding, heating, or peening are not recommended. Inner tubes are not a recommended repair. Replacement is usually the most cost effective option.