Old Tires Can Be Dangerous

old tiresMost everyone understands that driving on compromised tires is dangerous. It is important to inspect tires and measure tread depth on a regular basis to assure that tires are safe. There is another tire problem, though, that many drivers may not even realize is a safety issue. Old tires can be dangerous, even if the tread appears to be okay.

In many cases, old tires show no visible sign of deterioration and appear to be safe, usable tires. Because they are rubber products, tires have a limited service life, since tire rubber compounds deteriorate over time. Regardless of wear and mileage, cracks develop in the rubber as they age. These cracks can occur on both on the inside and outside of the tire. Eventually this cracking leads to the separation of the steel belts in the tread from the rest of the tire.

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, it is not easy to put a specific expiration date on a tire since factors such as heat, driving, and storage conditions can greatly impact a tire’s usable life. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends following the guidelines established by the specific tire manufacturer when it comes to tire aging. 

In situations where the origin and age of a tire are in question, you can learn something from the tire itself. Since 2000, tires are required by the U.S. Department of Transportation to have a DOT code. This code provides details about the tire, including its age. The code can be deciphered by downloading a free app offered by the Tire Safety Group. The app, available for Android and iPhone, enables you to get to get a free Tire Facts Report by entering the DOT code from your tire.  The report lets you know if a tire is old, defective, or has been recalled. The app shows you where the code is located on the tire and even includes a flashlight function so you can see what you are doing!

Remember – never take any chances with your tires. Too much is riding on them!


Do I Really Need to Replace All Four Tires?

tiresThe only thing worse than hearing that a damaged tire cannot be repaired is hearing that you should replace all four tires, instead of just the bad tire. This has to be a tire sales pitch, right? Why should you replace three tires that still seem to have good tread, just because the fourth hit a nail at a bad angle? There are actually several good reasons why you should replace all four tires, instead of just the one that has been compromised.

Most of today’s all-wheel drive vehicles recommend that you the replace all four tires at a time because all four wheels need to have the same rolling circumference. If the wheels are not uniform, abnormal drivetrain wear  can occur, resulting in costly problems down the road. All-wheel-drive systems are designed so that the differential and the computer work together to send the right amount of torque to each wheel to minimize slippage and maximize control. When one of the tires is a different size than the others because three tires are worn and one is brand new,  the computer will take an inaccurate reading and the differential will have to work excessively hard. This can eventually result in damage to the drivetrain.

Additional benefits in going with a full set of tires for replacement include a more comfortable ride and better safety. Uneven tires can result in road noise and a vehicle that handles improperly, affecting maneuverability, traction, and smoothness of the ride. Four equal tires will provide the best performance for your vehicle.

Understanding the importance of uniformity in your tires also serves as a good reminder of why tire maintenance is so important. Keeping your tires properly inflated and keeping up with recommended tire rotation will make sure they wear evenly, and give you the best performance and service life.

Tire Rotation: Why is it Important?

Tire rotation extends tire life

Tire rotation is important for even tread wear and longer tire life.

Regularly scheduled tire rotation is an important service that is among those recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Rotating tires is a critical maintenance step because it extends the life of your tires and greatly increases your safety on the road. Additionally, many tire mileage warranties require rotation to keep the warranty valid.

Tire rotation service should be scheduled per the recommendations specified in your owner’s manual. Rotation involves the periodic repositioning of tires to promote more even tread wear. Performed at the scheduled  times, tire rotation will preserve balanced handling and traction, and promote even tread wear. Tire rotation can also result in performance advantages.

Tire Rotation Pattern is Also Important

Rotation pattern is important because in most cases, the tires on the front axle need to accomplish very different things than the tires on the rear axle. Conditions encountered on a front-wheel drive vehicle are considerably different than those of a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Tire wear effects on a performance vehicle are typically more severe than what you would see on a family sedan. Each individual wheel position can create different wear rates and different types of tire wear.

According to TireIndustry.org, the typical rule for tire rotation is to cross the free rolling axle. This means that on a front-wheel drive vehicle, the front tires should be rotated straight back to the rear and the rear tires should be crossed to the front. In the case of a rear-wheel drive vehicle the opposite applies. Front tires are crossed to the back while the rear tires are rotated straight to the front. A “double x” pattern is used with four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles, so the right front and left rear tires switch positions, as do the left front and right rear.

Tires are a substantial investment. It pays to take care of them. Properly inflated tires that are serviced on a regular basis with proper tire rotation can be expected to deliver optimal tread life, as well as excellent performance and value.


The Cold Facts About Tire Pressure

It is always alarming to see one of the gazillion warning lights on your dashboard illuminate. If you drive a newer vehicle that has an integrated Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) you may find you’ve been recently haunted by the light shown on the right. Seeing the TPMS light more often in winter is not uncommon, but it is also not something you should ignore.

First, it is important to understand how your TPMS works. The system use sensors technology to alert drivers when tire pressure in one of the tires goes below a predetermined level. When tire pressure in one or more of your drops, the light comes on.

Since air pressure decreases in frigid temperatures, drivers tend to see the TPMS light illuminate. According to tire experts, air pressure in a tire goes down 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. While you need not necessarily be surprised if  you see the TPMS light come on during cold spells, you should be sure to manually check the air pressure of your tires.

It is very important to check the pressure of your tires when it is cold outside and to keep tires inflated to the proper levels. Reasons include:

  • Low tire pressure can make a vehicle handle poorly
  • Tires tend to wear out much faster when they are not  properly inflated
  • Under inflated tires tend to overheat, which could lead to a blowout
  • Low tire pressure reduces gas mileage and costs you money

Check the pressure of your tires monthly. In order to obtain the most accurate pressure level, wait until tires have cooled – about 30 minutes after parking.

All-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive

Although the terms may sound similar, all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are very different systems. On all-wheel drive vehicles, the drivetrain has a front, rear and center differential to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. On a four-wheel drive vehicle, the drivetrain has two differentials and a transfer case to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. All-wheel drive is found on cars and crossover vehicles, while trucks and truck-based sport utility vehicles usually have four-wheel drive. Both all-wheel and four-wheel drive systems improve vehicle acceleration in slippery conditions, and can enable better handling on some types of roads or terrain.

All-wheel drive and  four-wheel drive can be worth the extra investment if you live in an area that gets heavy rain or snowfall for much of the year. Also, if you tend to do a lot of off-road driving or driving on unpaved roads, all-wheel or four-wheel drive will be a highly beneficial investment for you. Additional advantages to having all-wheel drive or four wheel drive include better traction with towing and often in some cases, added resale value.

There are drawbacks to having an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle. All-wheel and four-wheel drive systems mean lower fuel economy and often require more maintenance than standard vehicles. An advantage that four-wheel drive offers that  all-wheel drive does not is that it can be turned off, so you can only use it when you need it, saving that extra fuel cost.

If you are considering whether or not to invest in an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle for safer winter driving, keep in mind that selecting the right type of tire may be the best thing you can do to enhance safety and performance.

Fall is the Time to Think About Winter Tires

Whether we are in denial about the end of summer, or just busy thinking about a million other things, most of us don’t give any thought to winter tires until the first snow or ice hits. At that point, everyone is thinking about them, panic ensues, and winter tires, like shovels, suddenly become very difficult to find.

If you are in need of new winter tires, fall is the time to shop for and buy them. Retailers begin to stock the newest models of winter tires in the fall, so you will have the best selection from which to choose. If your tire retailer does not have the tires you want in the size you need, you can typically order them, and your retailer will install them, at your convenience, before the winter weather strikes.

Since winter tires are usually manufactured during the previous summer, quantities are most often limited. If you put off shopping for your winter tires too long, you may not get the tires or the price you want.

Not sure if you need winter tires? Consider the weather in your region. Do you often drive in snowy or icy conditions? In the winter time, do you find yourself waiting to leave until the roads in your area have been cleared? If so, then winter tires probably make sense for you. Winter tires offer superior grip when driving, stopping, and cornering. Winter tires do have the drawback of faster tread wear than all-season tires. This is because the tread is designed to bite into snow and ice, and the softer rubber is formulated to stay pliable at freezing temperatures. As long as you change back to your all-season tires in the spring, your investment should last for several seasons.

When shopping for winter tires, note that they have a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall. It assures you that they passed an industry test for severe snow use.

Snow Tires for an SUV?

Dear Tracy,

I thought that having a 4-wheel drive vehicle meant that I would not need snow tires, but my SUV’s handling on icy roads is not as great as I thought it would be. Would having snow tires installed help?

Rob T.

Dear Rob,

An SUV does offer many winter driving advantages. When you drive on snow covered roads, or try to get up  an unplowed driveway, you will be especially appreciative of that 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately, when it comes to slippery ice and slush, the power advantage of the 4-wheel drive system does not provide much benefit.

SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles usually come equipped with large, wide all season tires. While great for driving in most conditions, these standard tires are less than ideal for winter driving conditions. The type of rubber used does not grip well in cold temperatures, and the tread pattern is not designed to channel large amounts of water on the road. Also, tires with a larger surface area may not cut through snow effectively, and be likely to hydroplane.

Snow tires, or winter tires are developed from a softer rubber than all season tires. This allows them to provide better road grip and handling. Winter tires also feature an open tread design, which gives them better handling capability on slush and snow. When it comes to stopping and cornering on snow and ice,  winter tires will give you a definite advantage, especially with four-wheel drive vehicles, which tend to be heavier and take longer to come to a stop.

If you are doing a lot of driving in slick and icy conditions, winter tires are well worth the investment. Using them will also help you extend the usable life of the your all season tires!

Cold Weather & Tire Pressure

Dear Tracy,

I have a new car that has several fancy features, including a tire pressure monitoring system. Since the cold weather has set in, I have been noticing that the TPMS light always seems to be on. A friend told me it’s not unusual for that to happen in cold temperatures, and not to worry. Is this true?

Mara W.

Dear Mara,

Your friend is partially correct, it is common for that light to illuminate in cold weather.  But you should not ignore it. The reason the light comes on is because air pressure decreases in frigid temperatures. Experts say that air pressure in a tire goes down 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. You need to check the air pressure of your tires, and most likely you will find you need to add air to them.

There are several reasons why it is important to check the pressure of your tires when it is cold outside and keep them inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendation:

  • Low tire pressure can cause a vehicle to be sluggish and hard to maneuver
  • Wear and tear on the tires increases substantially when the pressure is low
  • Low tire pressure has a negative impact on your gas mileage and costs you money
  • When the pressure is too low, your tires could overheat, which could lead to a blowout

It is a good idea to check the pressure of your tires monthly. Make sure the tires are cold when you adjust the air pressure to reach the most accurate pressure level.

All-Wheel and Four-Wheel – Nice for Snow and Ice

Dear Tracy,

What is the difference between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive? Are these systems better than two-wheel drive?

Larry K

Dear Larry,

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are different, but similar types of systems. The drivetrain of an all-wheel drive vehicle has a front, rear, and center differential to provide power to all four wheels. The four-wheel drive vehicle’s drivetrain has two differentials and a transfer case to supply power to all four wheels. The systems are similar in that they both can enhance acceleration in wet or icy conditions and improve handling in some driving situations. Cars and crossovers will feature all-wheel drive, while trucks and sport utility vehicles tend to have four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive can offer significant advantages, depending on the type of driving you do and the climate in which you do your driving. If you encounter a great deal of rain, snow, and ice, four-wheel drive can be a life-saver.  A-wheel drive or four wheel drive also provide superior traction with towing and add to the resale value of a vehicle.

On the down side, all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles tend to have lower fuel economy and require more maintenance than standard vehicles. Both consume more gas, but four-wheel drive, unlike all-wheel drive,  can be turned off so there is the option to only use it, and the extra gas, when you need it.

Tire Siping for Winter Driving

Dear Tracy,

I recently heard about process called tire siping. Apparently this is something you can have done to your tires to improve traction and handling on snow and ice. Is this something I should do this fall, before winter arrives?

-Duncan S.

Dear Duncan,

Tire siping is a process that involves cutting slices across the tire tread. The idea is that the slice spreads open on the road surface, griping it and dispersing water to improve tire traction.

The concept of siping actually began with shoe rubber, not tires. In the early 20’s a slaughterhouse employee by the name of John Sipe found a solution to the problem of his shoes slipping on the wet floor. Sipe tried cutting groves into the bottoms of his rubber shoes and discovered that it greatly improved their traction. Mr. Sipe had the foresight to realize that his discovery would be useful and had the concept patented. About 30 years later, by the 1950’s, tire manufacturers were widely using the siping concept in their tire tread designs. Specialized siping patterns are still used today for a variety of tires.

As to whether or not after-market tire siping is a good idea, opinions differ. Tire siping machines have been developed do a variety of configurations for after-market tire modification. Those who believe in tire siping contend that it offers significant performance and safety benefits. The problem with siping, others say, is that today’s tire manufacturers already use siping in the design and manufacture of new tires. Extensive engineering and performance testing goes into modern tread design, so many experts believe there is no need for after-market modification. Another consideration is that after-market siping could void your tread-wear warranty.

When considering tire siping, first talk to your tire dealer about  the type, condition, and age of your tires. Rather than make irreversible changes to your tires, consider purchasing a quality set of winter tires, which are designed to incorporate siping features and benefits.