On the Road Again

Dear Tracy,
This summer my family and I are planning to take a driving trip out west, with the Grand Canyon National Park being our ultimate destination. We expect the trip to be around 3,000 miles. Although our car is reliable, it is several years old, has over 100,000 miles on it, and it has been awhile since we’ve purchased a new set of tires. Tracy, what do you recommend we do to prepare our car for the trip?

-Beverly D.

Dear Beverly,

It sounds like you have a wonderful trip planned! When I was a kid, we made a similar trip, traveling the Historic Route 66 and taking in the sites of classic America, including the Cadillac Ranch. If you happen to stop there and see “Tracy Was Here” on the tire of a 1949 caddie, you’ll know who it was!

You are smart to think about preparing your vehicle for a long road trip. When it comes to your tires, you will first need to check your tread depth – the old fashion penny test works great for this. Adequate tread is absolutely essential to assure proper traction and safe handling. Next, you should make sure that your tires are properly inflated. For summer driving, you can keep the pressure a little closer to the maximum, but always keep it below that maximum. Finally, it is a good idea to make sure you have a spare tire available, and that it is in good working order.

To be extra confident on the road, you can have your tires and spare inspected before your trip. This would also be a great opportunity to have a few other important auto service checks performed:

  • Hoses & Belts
  • Oil, Coolant, & Fluids
  • Brakes
  • Wipers
  • Lights
  • Battery

Though preparing for a trip can keep you extremely busy, it is worth the extra time to have these tire and auto service checks done. Your summer vacation time is limited, and you want to spend that time on the road, not on the side of the road, waiting for a tow!

A Tire for All Seasons or an All Season Tire

Dear Tracy,
I have recently heard that summer tires are the best choice for driving performance in warmer climates and during the summer months. Because I live in the Midwest, and have to drive in a variety of conditions throughout the year, I have always used a set of snow tires on my vehicle during the winter months, and switched to a set of all-season tires for the spring, summer, and fall months. Should I have a set of tires specifically for summer driving? Are the all-season tires best for spring and fall only?

-Troy D.

Dear Troy,
With all of the different varieties of tires available, including summer tires, all-season tires, and winter tires, choosing the right tire type can be a little confusing. While winter or snow tires are pretty straightforward, the name “all-season” may be a little less clear, because for some areas, an all-season tire may not work for all the seasons. Depending on whether or not you deal with harsh winter driving conditions, which as a mid-westerner, you likely do, an all-season tire may not meet your needs. A winter tire designed for snow and ice may be a better choice.

Summer tires are not exclusively the best choice for summer driving. The name “summer” is actually more indicative of the fact that these tires are ONLY appropriate for warm seasons and climates. Summer tires do offer excellent driving performance because they are made of a softer rubber that enhances handing, acceleration, and braking. Despite the great performance, they are probably not the most practical choice for the typical driver. The reason is that these tires wear much more quickly than other types of tires, due to the soft rubber used. This makes summer tires a relatively more expensive option than all-season tires.

An all-season tire is a great choice for all driving seasons other than winter, if you live in an area with harsh winters, during which you will want to use your winter tires. It sounds to me like your approach is the right one, so stick with it!

Driving in the Rain

Dear Tracy,
I am a new driver, and just bought my first car – a used Corolla that used to belong to my aunt. The car is in great shape but my dad says it needs new tires. I plan on getting them, after I get some money saved up again. In the meantime, whenever it rains my dad makes me drive my mom’s van instead of my own car! I don’t understand why rain makes a difference. When I asked him, he gave me a long, drawn out answer I didn’t understand. As usual, he went on and on and even ended up talking about boating! Can you explain it to me in a way I can understand?
–Tony P.

Dear Tony,
Congratulations on your first car! I know it probably feels like your dad is raining on your parade, but if you need new tires, he’s right to have you drive a different car when you know the roads will be wet. Worn-out tires are most dangerous during wet weather driving. Here is why: for tires to have traction in the rain, tires need to be able to channel the water away. The grooves in the tread of your tires are there to do just that. When the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, tires can’t do the job. The best way to tell if your tires are too worn is to take a penny and put Abe’s head into one of the grooves of the tread. If part of his head is covered by the tread, they’re okay. If you can see all of Abe’s head, you need new tires.

When your dad was “talking about boating” was he by any chance telling you about “hydroplaning?” Even though it sounds like a kind of water sport, hydroplaning is something that happens when you drive in the rain, and it is an important thing to know about. Ask our service specialists for more information to keep you safe on the road.