Keep Your Wheels Turning

Extend the life of your auto tires and know when it’s time to replace them.

Close-up of car wheel with black rubber tire iStock

Your tires affect your vehicle’s handling, ride, braking and safety. Most auto tires last about 50,000 miles, and an average vehicle travels 14,000 to 15,000 miles per year, so most drivers can expect to need new tires every three to four years.

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your tires in good shape—and recognizing when it’s time for new ones.

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The safety hazard of worn tires

Tire performance is affected by the degree of wear. AAA research reveals that driving on relatively worn tires at highway speeds in wet conditions can increase average stopping distances by 43%, or an additional 87 feet, compared with driving on new tires.

Four signs you need new tires

Inspect your tires once a month and before you take any long road trips. Here’s what to look for:

  • Reduced tread depth. Tires should be replaced once tread depth reaches 4/32nds of an inch.
  • Sidewall cracks or bubbling up. Hitting a pothole or curb can cause sidewall damage that may not be repairable.
  • Uneven tread wear. Neglecting to have tires rotated and balanced (and keeping them under- or overinflated) can cause uneven wear. Read more from NAPA on the causes for uneven wear.
  • Bad vibrations. If your car pulls to one side or the steering wheel shakes when you’re driving, the problem could be the tires, or it could be suspension, brakes or tire alignment problems.
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Special considerations for electric vehicles

The extra battery weight and extra torque of the motors on an electric vehicle (EV) can cause premature tire wear. And because EVs tend to be brought in less frequently for routine maintenance, regular tire rotation can also be neglected, leading to uneven wear.

If you own an EV, make sure to bring it in for a regular tire check, even if you don’t require other maintenance.

Man shopping for new tires in auto shop while talking on mobile phone iStock

Choosing the right tires

Summer tires, winter tires, performance tires—it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the types and brands of tires available. That’s why Scott Stilwell, AAA Car Care director, recommends consulting a professional who can help you pick the tire that best meets your needs.

Stilwell asks drivers the following questions to help him advise people regarding good, better and best tire options:

  • What is the brand and type of tire you’re replacing?
  • How many miles do you drive a year?
  • Do you do a lot of long-distance driving?
  • Is price the deciding factor, or are you focused more on comfort or quality?
  • How long do you expect to keep the vehicle?

And if you elect to replace your tires yourself, here’s how to recycle the old ones.

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