Replacing tires on your car or truck can be one of the most important purchases you make in terms of safety. Good tires are especially crucial when you live (and drive) in a place, like Boulder, with a sometimes challenging and changeable climate that ranges from dry and sunny to bitterly cold with heavy snowfalls that melt quickly.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation, there are some 11,000 tire-related crashes annually in the United States. Its SaferCar site states that: “Many of these crashes can be prevented through proper tire maintenance — including tire inflation and rotation — and understanding tire labels, tire aging, and recalls and complaints.”
How Do You Know You Need New Tires?
Age is actually more important than tread appearance when it comes to replacing your tires, but if you put on above-average mileage (more than about 13,500 yearly) or tend to drive in challenging conditions, you might notice that your relatively “young” tires don’t have the traction they once did.
There’s the penny test, explained at Tire Rack, that allows you to get a quick measure of the tread depth on your tires. You’re looking here for that crucial 2/32”, which is the point where you must, by law in most states, replace the tire, as it is deemed legally worn out. If, however, you drive in snow a lot, then you don’t want the tread to be that worn before getting new tires: a tread depth of 6/32” is considered necessary to maintain good mobility in snowy conditions.
Here is how you to approximate those measurements with a penny: the top of Lincoln’s head is 2/32” from the edge of the penny, and on those pennies minted between 1959 and 2008 with the Lincoln Memorial on the back, the top of that building is 6/32” from the edge of the coin.
The Right Tires For You
In an article on Popular Mechanics, Mac Demere says if you’re happy with the way your car performs, your new set of tires should be “the exact same model you had.” The reason, he continues, is that tire and car companies specifically develop tires “with the attributes that make you like your car. The original equipment tire was selected to highlight the vehicle’s good features and, often, smooth over weaknesses.”
Don’t mistake a seemingly sudden lack of traction in snow or heavy rain conditions as lousy tires, either. If the car handled well when the tires were new, then it’s likely that the lower performance is simply an indication of decreased tire tread, and that it’s time for a replacement set.
So, How Long Do Tires Usually Last?
That’s a tough one to call. The problem is that with really old tires, the tread can suddenly separate from the tire while you’re driving, which often results in a car crash. And all tires age, whether they’re being driven or stored. The way they are driven (under-inflated, for instance) as well as how they’re stored (in a car trunk vs. on a shelf in the garage) can accelerate the aging process. Even when you buy a set “new,” you should check for the date of manufacture, as a brand new but years-old tire will have a shorter road life.
Visually inspecting tires for bulges, cracks and tread wear can help somewhat, but cracks inside the tire are of course impossible to see; as age trumps everything, an old tire that’s never been on the road and has impeccable tread is actually a hazard that must be replaced.
Consumer Advice Editor Ronald Montoya at Edmonds.com says: “Carmakers such as Nissan and Mercedes-Benz tell consumers to replace tires six years after their production date, regardless of tread life. Tire manufacturers such as Continental and Michelin say a tire can last up to 10 years, provided you get annual tire inspections after the fifth year.”
Tires in Boulder
If you’re a Boulder-area driver and would like a professional assessment of your tires, feel free to drop by Independent Motors. In addition to selling tires and offering free tire rotations, we make it a practice to do a tire check every time we service your vehicle. Not only will we advise you of the condition and age of your tires, but we also look for alignment-related wear. Having your wheels aligned at least once per year (for the average mileage driven) will increase your gas mileage, reduce tire wear, and improve handling characteristics.