Today’s tires are more than basic treaded rubber wrapped around a wheel, as they were a century ago. Technically speaking, today’s radial tires are sophisticated and highly engineered, with multiple layers of belts, several rubber compounds, and computer-engineered tread patterns to improve traction while keeping noise to a minimum.
As a result, modern tires aren’t cheap — most cost between $150-500 per tire. Generally speaking, tires will last 20,000-40,000 miles before they need to be replaced. Yet drivers can do five simple things to stretch the expensive tire replacement interval even further.
1. Check tire pressures often
Don’t wait for your Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) to alert you to low tire pressure (most are only triggered once the pressure drops 25 percent below recommended pressure). Underinflation causes accelerated wear on the outside of the tread and unpredictable handling. Overinflation causes accelerated wear on the inside of the tread. Underinflation causes accelerated wear on the outside of the tread. Follow the manufacturer’s suggested pressures, listed on the driver’s door jam sticker, to maximize tire life. It is best to check tire pressures once a month — with the same gauge to ensure consistency.
2. Ensure proper alignment and balance
Alignment keeps the tires running straight and level with the road (so the vehicle tracks in its lane), while balance ensures the tire isn’t too heavy on one spot (making it bounce or vibrate). Both must be in proper specification, or the tires will wear out prematurely. It’s easy to confirm proper alignment and balance by driving down a smooth straight road — you should be able to let your hand off the steering wheel, and the vehicle will drive straight without correction for at least five seconds. If it pulls too hard to one side, or there is a vibration, have a professional look at the alignment or balance.
3. Rotate the tires regularly
Not all tires are doing the same amount of work. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, the front tires power and steer the vehicle while the rear tires are pulled down the road. All-wheel drive vehicles are more balanced regarding workload, but the front tires will still experience accelerated wear. Per the manufacturer’s instructions, rotate the tires front-to-rear and across the axle to ensure long tire life. In most cases, tires should be rotated every 5,000 miles.
4. Inspect the tires for damage frequently
Most tire problems begin small and grow to the point where a tire replacement is necessary. A simple visual inspection each time you walk out to the vehicle, or a more thorough walk-around while refueling, may reveal unusual bulges or cuts in the sidewalls, debris stuck in the tread, or a low-pressure situation. Most flat tires begin with a nail or screw that has punctured the tire without further damage — ignore or miss it early, and the tire could suffer irreparable damage if it is driven on for some time.
5. Avoid road hazards
Tires face a challenging life as they must carry the vehicle’s weight regardless of the weather and road surface conditions. Tire engineers have done an exemplary job of ensuring today’s tires are robust, but avoiding road hazards will help maximize their service life. Try to steer clear of potholes — or slow down and roll over them, versus hitting them under braking — and avoid hitting curbs, as both will damage the tire. Look down the road to prevent running over debris, such as metal or glass, that may cut the rubber. And always slow to a walking speed on heavy gravel or rocks to prevent the tread from being damaged.