On his way to the doctor on a winter’s morning, Mike’s dashboard lit up with a notice that his tire pressure was low. He ignored it because the weather was too cold, and he wasn’t dressed for it. He passed at least five locations on the way home with air pumps intending to put it off until he had a warmer jacket and gloves. It was a mistake that left him in a ditch when the tire went flat.
But Mike’s tire had not been punctured. The only problem was the loss of air pressure, perhaps related to the tire’s age. The tire had not run as many miles as most cars, but at 10 years old, it was worth replacing to avoid danger and possible casualty.
According to the National Traffic Safety Board, “Tires degrade over time regardless of whether they are in service. Tire failures can result from thermo-oxidative degradation (“Tire Aging”) caused by: time, ambient and operating temperatures, partial pressure of O2 in a tire, flex fatigue, construction and compounding characteristics.”
However, you should not wait for your tires to show fibers or fall apart to show their age. You must monitor their performance and condition regularly to avoid the serious risks that put you and your vehicle in anger.
7 things to keep in mind:
- Even tires have a life span. Vehicle tires are no exception to the rule. Different brands are made differently. They use different materials and patented engineering. But most tires are manufactured by melding rubber to an infrastructure of fabric plies and steel cords. The designers and manufacturers do their best to mix in anti-aging ingredients and chemicals. Tire rubber is more durable than ever, but it is still perishable. And, some tires will burn out before expected.
You will find a lot of debate about determining a tire’s age. Some say any tire over four years old needs your attention. Others urge immediately replacing any tire after 10 years. Just because the tread looks good does not mean it is “healthy.” The date of manufacture is stamped on every tire as four digits: the week and year of its making. So, you should date is age from that date and not the date you bought the tire.
- Tires are better than ever. Today’s vehicles come with longer-lasting tires than they used to. Radial tires are standard on recent cars and trucks. They promise about 60,000 miles of tread wear under average driving use over four years. Heavier use in extreme weather conditions and/or on rough surfaces will affect the longevity promised.
Michelin, GM, and other manufacturers are close to introducing airless tires designed to reduce tire maintenance, problems, and environmental issues. The prototype called the “Uptis (or Unique Puncture-proof Tire System)” is built around an internal system of flexible spokes that support the tire. It will eliminate blowouts, extend the tire’s life, but Uptis are not expected to hit the road until 2024.
- Some research will help. The internet allows you to look up everything you need to know about your tires and tire dealer. You can find customer and expert reviews of different tire brands. There is information on their performance and longevity. And, your vehicle manual will recommend routine care and replacement.
But you should take care to buy tires for your climate. Today’s rubber compounds in winter tires are not designed for warm weather life. They will wear away at elevated levels when driven above certain temperatures on hotter surfaces. The “snow” tire may not provide good wet traction to fight hydroplaning. “All Season” tires perform well throughout the year in mild climates, but you need to shop carefully for appropriate reading in very hot, dry, and deep snow environments.
- Routine tire care is smart. Tire care takes more than washing during your car wash. In fact, a car wash is a good time to visit your tire center. They will inspect the tires, check air pressure, and rotate them at a minimal cost. If you’re in the St. Louis area, you can find tire services here.
From the beginning, you want to find perfect-fit tires. For example, Telle Tire & Auto Service has an automated tire finder. You enter your car’s make, model and year, and they will find the appropriate size and a list of options. The info helps you comparison shop for the smartest deal. However, you must remember buying “cheap” is not always buying “smart.”
- Watch the tire pressure. Tire professionals urge you to Keep tires properly inflated. You can drive with under-inflated tires, but this will permanently damage the internal tire. Riding on low tires also exposes the tread and sides to wear they were no designed for. Tires should be properly inflated monthly and checked every time you visit your local garage.
All you need do is remove the tire stem cap on tires that have been sitting for three or more hours to cool off. Using a pressure gauge, you press it into the valve stem until the hissing stops. The pressure reading should match the pressure recommended by the manufacturer.
- Rotate and align regularly: Depending on what vehicle you drive and how you use it, tires will wear unevenly. Moving tires back to front or clockwise twice a year will help tires wear their tread evenly. Alignment assures he wheels and tires are balanced to provide a better drive and prevent tires from wearing in spots.
Normal wear can upset your tires’ alignment. Potholes, rough roads, speed bumps, and other barriers can cause injury to wheels, shock absorbers, and springs, as well as random wear to tires. Imperceptible wheel wobble will show by aging your tires and risk accidents and injury. You should watch for unusual vibrations or thumping noises while driving, indications of an unbalanced or misaligned tire or one with a separated belt. In addition, if the car pulls to one side, it could indicate a bad or damaged tire on that side of the car.
- Check the tread. Since tires have been on the road, owners have tested treading by inserting a coin. No one really knows why, but it’s a lesson learned from their dad or mom. Chances are you need new tires if you feel coin testing is the answer. The idea is to insert a penny upside down into the tread in hopes the tread covers Lincoln’s head. Using a quarter and Washington’s head as a measure works better on snow and truck tires.
Experts at R&T (Road & Track) advise, “Wear bars usually present themselves at 2/32 tread depth, which is fine for dry climates like Los Angeles or Phoenix, but not so great for parts of the country that see regular rain. Instead, 4/32 of tread depth is the minimum safe threshold for evacuating water from beneath the tire and reducing the chance of hydroplaning.”
Are you in danger?
The National Highway Traffic Safety study of 2017 attributed tire-related vehicle accidents to:
- Poorly inflated tires
- Inadequate tire tread depth (generally1/32nd of an inch)
- Tire damage appearing as complete or partial tread separation
- Functioning PMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) warning
The rubber on tires will crack over time. The minute cracks might appear on the outside or hide on the inside. The cracks will admit water, road salt, and other damaging materials to separate the tire’s steel belts from the rest of the tire. Extreme heat and cold will accelerate tire damage, and poor maintenance and driving habits will expedite their aging.
Finally, if you have reason to store your tires for the season, they still need care when not in use. You should not hang tires unless they are mounted on wheels. Before storing them, you should take some precautions:
- Clean the rubber and scrub the whitewalls. Sitting still in storage, salt, road debris, and toxins will work on the rubber. You should clean and dry them well remembering stacking dirty whitewalls on black walls can damage both.
- Store them as upright as possible. You should wrap individual tires in large plastic trash bags or invest in protectors like tire totes for individual tires or small stacks of tires.
- Keep them cool. Direct sunlight and heat will damage the rubber. So, you need a cool dark place. All those neighbors who store theirs in the yard or at the side of the house are just aging their tires.
You and yours are in serious danger of an accident or financial loss from aging tires. Without routine care and maintenance, your tires will lose their usefulness, safety, and value. If Mike had checked his tire pressure regularly, if he had thought to do so when he had his quarterly oil change, and if he had made sure to act fast when the dashboard warning lit up, Mike would not have wound up with a flat in a ditch in the cold.