When to Replace Your Tires

There are few things on your car that need more attention than the tires. Even the highest-quality set will lose effectiveness over time. Driving on worn-out tires puts you at risk of having a blow-out and finding yourself stranded far from home. Additionally, worn tires have less tread, making them less able to maintain traction and grip on the road. This presents a significant safety issue to you and other people on the road as well. Fortunately, there are signs to heed when you wonder when should tires be replaced.

When to Replace Tires

1. Keep an Eye on the Miles

All tires are rated for a certain number of miles. The better the tire, the higher the mileage rating it will have. This means the tire should be in good condition up until that point. Many tire stores will give you a credit on your next purchase should you need to replace the current set before reaching the mileage. You can find tires rated anywhere between 30,000 and 70,000. If you are getting close to the end of your tires’ lifespans, then it’s just about time to start shopping for some new ones.

2. Tread Depth

This is one of the most obvious visual signs that you can rely on. Tire tread is critical for gripping the road, especially in poor weather conditions such as rain and snow. Balding tires can slip and slide all over the road. The lower the tread depth, the longer it will take to bring the car to a stop, particularly when the road is wet.

You can measure tread depth in inches or millimeters. It’s worth checking to learn the recommended tread depth for your tires. Generally anything above 1/16th of an inch indicates a healthy tire and no need to replace it. Once the tire gets below this, you should purchase a new set right away.

Tire gauges can show the depth for you. Or, you can try the penny trick. Place a Lincoln penny head-down in the tread. If you still see the great president’s entire head, there isn’t enough tread on the tire. This trick works in a pinch, but you should be sure to check with a tire gauge as soon as possible.

3. Uneven Wear

One of the most common wear issues, this tell-tale sign of an alignment problem. Uneven wear can cause the outer or inner portion of the tire to wear quicker, as this portion of the tire is making firmer contact with the road. Be sure when checking tire tread depth to inspect the inside and outside edges of the tire for excessive wear. More importantly, if you discover an uneven wear problem, you need to get it rectified with a proper alignment. Replacing the tires without correcting the problem will only lead to premature wear of new tires in the exact same fashion.

Tires should all wear evenly, and the two biggest reasons they don’t is because of alignment issues or not properly rotating tires. Tire rotation may seem like a hassle, but it’s necessary as your steering tires wear differently than your rear tires. Even though you may not be able to see the differences in wear visually over several thousand miles, it’s there. Don’t skip this important maintenance and have your tires rotated. Most of the industry recommends having them rotated every oil change, or at a bare minimum, every 10K miles.

4. Sidewall Cracks

Tread depth isn’t the only thing you can quickly look at on the tire. Another symptom of bad tires can be cracks or dry-rotting in the sidewalls. If you see cuts or grooves in the sidewall, it’s definitely time to get a new set. You shouldn’t have to get too close to notice this damage. When it’s easily visible, you know the tires have come to the end of their life.

This damage is a clear indication that the tires are losing air. More dangerously, the sidewalls provide tires with most of their structural support, so it may mean they’re about to blow. You don’t want to be on the road when this happens, take care of the issue now.

5. Tires Bulging

What is known as a tire blister can indicate that the tire is about to pop. This shows you that the outer part of the tire is weakening and doesn’t have much time left before it bursts. If you see this sign, don’t wait another day to have a mechanic inspect it.

6. You See the Indicator Bar

In the old days, there was no such thing as a tread wear indicator bar. This isn’t the case today. Most new products have this handy tool to clue you in that the tire doesn’t have many miles left in it. You will have a difficult time seeing this bar when you first purchase the tire. Gradually, as the tire gets more and more use, the bar will become clear.

The bars are made of raised rubber and run perpendicular to the tread patterns. You shouldn’t worry too much if you see one bar, but when two or three become clear, it means there isn’t much tread left.

7. You Feel the Car Vibrate

Have you experienced that annoying vibrating feeling as you drive? You may notice it more when you’re going downhill and apply the brakes. Various issues can cause your car to vibrate, but it could be the tires. Often, it indicates an imbalance issue. It may also mean something is wrong inside the tire.

Don’t ignore these sensations. Even if the tire isn’t the culprit, the vibrating could harm the tire and damage it severely. A professional mechanic can get to the bottom of the problem and recommend a solution, whether it’s getting new tires or something else.

8. Check the Dates of the Tires

All modern tires have a “born-on” date. This date is marked with a series of numbers starting with the words “DOT” on the sidewall. The manufacturer date normally the last 4 digits of this number and represents the week, and year the tire was made. For instance, a DOT code of 4112 would indicate a tire manufactured in the 41st week of 2011. DOT codes with 3 digits indicate a tire made before the year 2000, which is really old. Many date codes can be slightly different, but there are plenty of online sources to help you see and understand how to read a date code on your tires. Most major tire installers won’t even mount a used tire that’s over 10 years old.

Even if your tires tread is in decent shape, if your tires are approaching 10 years old, it’s a good idea to replace them. As rubber ages, it hardens and looses its ability to properly grip the road. This can be especially problematic in colder temps, even when there is no ice or water on the roads. Pay very close attention to spare tires over 10 years, especially those exposed to the elements like Pickup Truck spare tires. Many folks are shocked to realize their 16 year old truck still has the original spare tire. You can read here more about maintaining your spare tire.

You can get the parts you need at your local AutoZone Store. For experts on tires and tire maintenance, check out our list of Preferred Shops in your area that can help assist with tires, tire purchase, and alignments.

Preserving the Life of Your Tires

You expect to buy new tires every few years. The more you drive, the more often you’ll need to make this financial commitment. Still, there are ways you can get more life out of them and make sure they last up to and even beyond the manufacture’s mileage rating. Rotating the tires is one of the simplest things you can do. It’s critical to change the position of the tires every 5,000 to 6,000 miles. Move driver’s side tires to the passenger’s side; move front tires to the back and back tires to the front. Doing this will reduce uneven wear.

Another way to prevent uneven wear is to check the tire alignment. Over time, they can stop running straight ahead. This will cause some parts of the tire to wear out much faster than other parts. Check with tire manufacturer to see how often you should do an alignment. Generally, it is a good idea to do this every year.

Lastly, keep an eye on inflation levels. It can be easy to ignore this, but it’s critical that they are not under-inflated or over-inflated. Purchase a tire gauge and test the pressure every time you fill up the gas tank. Improper levels can wear out a tire faster than anything.

All drivers should pay attention to the question, “When should tires be replaced?” Nothing is more important than safety when you are in the driver’s seat of your vehicle. You can also save money and hassle in the long run when you follow these guidelines and take good care of your tires. Don’t put off maintenance issues or tire replacements for any reason.

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