Tread Carefully: 6 Signs It’s Time for New Tires

Tire failure causes about 11,000 car accidents every year.

Signs It’s Time for New Tires Getty Images/Illustrations by Kate Francis

Think of tires as the shoes of your car. When your shoes are worn out, they can wreak havoc on your feet and your entire body. It’s the same with the shoes for your car. Worn-out tires can decrease your vehicle’s fuel economy, prevent good handling, reduce traction and make it uncomfortable to drive.

So how do you know when it’s time to buy new tires? Here are six visible signs that your tires are in the danger zone.

Tread Wear

Worn-out treads mean your car can’t adequately grip the road in the rain or snow, and can result in a slippery ride. Use the “quarter test” to determine the depth of your tire’s tread, which should never fall below 1/16th of an inch. It’s a good idea to start thinking about replacing tires when there’s only 4/32″ of tread remaining. Place a quarter, George Washington’s head down, into the ridge in the middle and on the side of your tire. If Washington’s head is not exposed, you’re okay. If you see all of Washington’s head, or if the tread-wear indicator bars—pieces of rubber molded between the grooves—are flush with the adjacent ribs—your tread is hazardously low and you need new tires.

Sidewall Cracks

UV exposure over time causes the tire rubber to break down and can lead to cracks on the sides of your tires, or even separation of the treads, even if they’re not worn down in the center. Also, cracks can be the result of hitting a pothole or curb, and can indicate you’ve got a leak—or worse, they can lead to deeper fissures and eventually separation, which can mean blowouts.

Bubbling Up

A tire with a bubble on the sidewall has probably hit a pothole or curb recently. Fixable? Nope. Unattended, a small bubble will result in a blowout. If you see a bubble or a bulge, replace the tire right away.

Stay Rotated

Tires that aren’t regularly rotated and balanced will wear unevenly. The front tires, which do all of the turning around corners and carry additional weight from the engine, will wear down faster. They need to be replaced more frequently than the rear ones unless they’re being properly rotated, which is about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles for most cars. If you’re the type to skip rotating your tires when you get your vehicle serviced, you might be in need of new tires.

Bad Vibrations

Your car doing the shake and shimmy is not good. Rumbles from underneath the seat might mean your rear tires are out of balance, whereas a bumpy feeling from the steering wheel could indicate something even more serious, such as a suspension issue or that you need an alignment. Anything but a smooth ride ought to be checked out.

Under- or Overinflation

Unchecked under- or overinflated tires will result in uneven wear. Underinflated tires will wear on both the outside and inside edges, while overinflated tires will wear in the center. If you notice an uneven wear pattern on your tires, see an expert. Your vehicle’s correct manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure is located on a sticker in the door jamb and in the owner’s manual. The tire pressure PSI (pounds per square inch) molded on a tire sidewall is its maximum PSI.

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