With the recent focus on improving fuel economy, we’ve been told how important it is to maintain our tire pressure.
We all know that tires wear out, but we want to make them last as long as possible because they’re fairly expensive to replace. In addition to saving gas, properly inflated tires last longer. Under-inflated tires will wear out more quickly.
Some people wonder if there is benefit to adding a few extra pounds of pressure when they fill up their tires. But actually, there isn’t. In fact, there are very good reasons not to over-inflate your tires. For one, the middle of the tread will wear unevenly because the full tread is not contacting the road properly. That also adversely affects your handling.
Every vehicle has a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb that tells you the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. This recommendation is an integral part of the vehicle’s suspension tuning. A lot of engineering actually goes into the recommended tire pressure, so it’s important to follow it.
What else do we need to know about tire maintenance? Tire rotation and balancing are very important. Let’s start with rotation. Because the front tires handle the brunt of turning forces, the shoulders of the front tires wear more quickly than the rear tires. We rotate the tires so that they all get to do some duty on the front and they’ll all wear evenly over their life.
For most vehicles, front tires are rotated to the rear and vice versa. Others recommend a cross rotational pattern. Some vehicles use an asymmetrical tire so those tires need to stay on either the right or left side – it’ll say which on the tire. Some high performance cars have asymmetrical tires and different sizes on the front and rear. These can’t be rotated at all. Your owner’s manual will have details for your car.
How often should you rotate your tires? Your owner’s manual will have a recommendation. Your service advisor can do a visual inspection to let you know if it looks like it should be done. The interval is typically around 5,000 miles.
You know, some people don’t think new tires need to be balanced. What they aren’t taking into account is the wheel. Between the wheel and the tire – even a new tire – there’s enough variation to require balancing.
When you add the valve stem and tire pressure monitoring sensors required on new cars, balancing is definitely in order. When a tire’s out of balance, it’s actually hopping down the road. You’ll feel the vibration through the steering wheel if a front tire’s out of balance and through your seat if it’s a rear tire.
Proper wheel balance promotes tire life and increases safety. Historically, lead weights have been attached to the wheel to bring it into balance. Lead gives some environmental concern, so steel weights are starting to be substituted.
Also, always use the same size tire on an axle. Different size tires on the front or on the back can lead to some real handling problems. And tire manufacturers recommend that when you get two new tires, they be installed on the rear because that’s where you need the most traction to avoid spinning-out.
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