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Consumer Guide to Tire Care

CONSUMER GUIDE TO TIRE CARE:
Basic Maintenance Can Keep Tires Traveling Longer

With the increasingly high cost of tires and pressing tire safety concerns, consumers are searching for ways to make their car tires last longer without sacrificing safety and performance. Maintaining proper tire pressure, rotation and alignment will not only lengthen the life of the tires, but also ensure vehicle safety. In honor of National Car Care Month, AAA and Michelin offer drivers great advice on how to keep their tires in peak performance.

Tire Pressure

Maintaining proper tire pressure will allow your tires to last longer and perform better. Unfortunately, according to AAA vehicle inspection reports, 20 percent of vehicle tires are under inflated, which affects not only their life span, but also vehicle safety and fuel efficiency. Low tire pressure, or under-inflation, can lead to internal friction that creates heat — an enemy of tires causing tread wear, loss of tire tread segments and, possibly, a blowout.

However, over-inflation effects may not be as clear because many tires are built to handle slight over-inflation, even producing better handling due to it. However, consistently over-inflated tires will result in a less compliant ride and uneven tread wear. Since proper inflation depends on the tire brand, vehicle model, tire position, vehicle speed and load, consult your owner’s manual or the tire specification decal located on the vehicle’s doorframe, inside the glove box lid, inside the fuel filler door or trunk lid. Tire pressure is given by pounds per square inch (PSI).

Gauges used to check tire pressure come in a variety of styles such as dial, digital and stick-type. Gauge accuracy is important since it will help you determine proper tire pressure. To ensure accuracy, take the gauge to a vehicle technician who can compare the gauge to a professional gauge.

If the tire pressure is higher or lower than it should be, follow these steps to correct the pressure:

  • Check and record the pressure in each of the tires.
  • Subtract the recorded tire pressure from the factory specifications to find how much air to add to each tire.
  • Drive to the gas station, then recheck each tire's pressure.
  • Then add the calculated amount of air to each tire.

For example, if the air pressure in the left-front tire was 20 PSI when the tire was cold, and the specification was 32 PSI, you'll need to add 12 PSI. During the drive to the gas station, the pressure may increase to 23 PSI. Add 12 PSI to that and bring the tire to 35 PSI. That should bring the tire up to the proper level. To be sure, check the pressures again the following morning.

Since proper inflation is the single most important factor in extending tires life and vehicle safety, here are some inflation tips to help tires last longer and minimize the chances of tire failure, which could result in an accident.

  • Check tire pressures regularly. Once a week (and before any long trip) is optimal, but no less often than once a month.
  • Use a high-quality gauge when checking tire pressures. Stick-type gauges work, but quality dial and digital gauges tend to be more accurate.
  • Follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressures printed in your owner’s manual, or on the tire specification decal attached to a doorframe or inside the glove box, fuel filler door, or trunk lid.
  • Check tire inflation pressures when the tires are cold, for example, first thing in the morning.
  • Don’t release excess pressure from hot tires. An increase of 4-8 PSI is normal when tires are hot, and is perfectly safe even if the pressure exceeds the maximum value.
  • When towing, carrying heavy loads, or taking long highway trips, increase tire inflation pressures as specified by the vehicle manufacturer for the driving conditions.

Tire Rotation

Tires wear based a variety of conditions such as the placement of the tire on the car. For example, front tires wear on the edges because they turn with the steering wheel. Right side tires may also wear more because of contact with potholes and curbs. However, the left side tires support the weight of the driver.

If tires are left on the same corners of the car, one tire may wear out faster than the others. To prevent tires from wearing unevenly, the tires must be rotated ever 5,000 to 7,500 miles. This means moving the tires from where they are on the car to a new spot as stated below:

  • Rear-Wheel Drive — The rear tires move directly to the front, while the front tires should be switched side to side and then moved to the back.
  • Front-Wheel Drive — The front tires move directly to the back, while the rear tires should be switched side to side and then moved to the front.
  • Four-Wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive — Both front and rear tires should be switched side to side and then moved to the opposite axle.

Tire rotation does have some exceptions. For example, tires with directional tread designs that must rotate a certain direction can only be rotated front to back only without switching sides. Also, ertain cars, usually performance cars, have different tire sizes in the front and back. These tires can only be switched from side to side providing they do not have directional tread patterns. Therefore, tires with directional tread on vehicles with different size tires in front and back cannot be rotated at all.

Wheel Alignment and Balance

Aligning the wheels and balancing the tires regularly can increase the life of tires. However, regular alignment may not save money.

In the past, a set of tires cost about $200 to $300. An alignment cost around $30, and if performed regularly — about six times over the life of the tires costing around $180 — the alignments could provide up to 40 percent more tire life. The cost of doing this would equal the benefit. While tires still cost about the same today, the cost of an alignment has increased and, therefore, skewed the cost/benefit ratio making it less financially beneficial.

Wheels should be aligned and tires should be balance whenever they are first put on the car. After that, they should be maintained if the car experiences any problems such as unusual tire wear, vibration, or steering problems. Of course, wheels can be aligned more often to extend tire life if desired, but this, most likely, will not save much money.

For more information on maintaining tires, visit AAA and Michelin.

Sources:AAA and Michelin

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