Replacing Two Tires – Age Before Beauty

Dear Tracy,

I recently did the “penny test” and discovered that the two front tires on my Ford Focus need to be replaced.The rear tires still have a decent amount of tread left. I asked my dad how the two sets could be so different and he explained that on front wheel drive cars, the front tires wear out faster if the tires have been not regularly rotated. (Then he lectured me about not having my tires rotated.)

So I thought I needed to have two new tires put on the front of my car, but my dad said that the new tires need to go on the rear, and the ones that were on the rear get moved to the front. This does not make sense to me! If the front tires wear faster, why wouldn’t I put the new ones on the front? That way, by the time the front ones wear out, I’ll be ready for a whole new set. Plus if it is a front wheel drive car, shouldn’t you have the better tires in the front?

Peter B.

Dear Peter,

Your line of thinking does seem logical, but I am going to have to agree with your dad on this one.  Here is why:

No matter what type of car you have, the driving stability that enables you to brake and steer is provided by the rear tires. Installing  your new tires on the rear will help you to maintain vehicle control on wet roads. This is largely because of the different types of hydroplaning that can occur.

Hydroplaning happens when tires cannot maintain road contact due to the tire’s failure to move water through tread patterns. When front tires hydroplane, the vehicle trends to understeer or stay straight. When rear tires hydroplane, the vehicle tends to oversteer, or spin. While understeering can be alleviated by releasing the gas pedal and slowing down, in the case of oversteering it is much harder to regain control. This is why it is important to have the better tread on the rear tires. To see a demonstration, check out this video.

I know getting a lecture on tire rotation from your dad may seem like adding insult to injury, but again, father knows best. The optimal way handle this dilemma is to avoid it. Next time you have a new, full set of tires remember to keep them rotated.

Studded or Studless Winter Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I have been hearing about studded tires and how they are best for driving on snow and ice. Is this just another name for winter tires or are they something all together different?

Jean A.

Dear Jean,

While studded tires are for winter driving, not all winter tires are studded tires. Studded tires feature a series of metal studs, which are built right into the tire tread. These studs are designed to penetrate snow and slush,  and grip into ice that lies beneath. Winter tires without studs, or studless tires feature a softer rubber than all season tires, which is intended to provide better gripping. The open tread design is another feature that gives winter tires better handling capability on slush and snow.

Like tire chains, the problem with studded tires is that if the studs are not digging into snow and ice, they are digging into the road surface. This is why studded tires are not allowed many areas. Typically if studded tires are permitted, it is only for specified times during the year. While studded tires do offer handling advantages such as better cornering ability, increased traction and more powerful braking force on snow and ice, they can actually cause a poorer handling on non-icy roads due to increased friction. Unless you are an ice road trucker, you are probably better off with studless winter tires.

The Salt Assault

Dear Tracy,

In my area there has been some significant snow fall and ice accumulation lately and I have seen the salt trucks out in full force. While I appreciate the safer roads, I am worried about the affect the salt will have on my tires. Is there any particular maintenance or protective measures I should be taking to preserve my tires during winter driving?

Sarah B.

Dear Sarah,

Salt provides an inexpensive and fast way to deal with snow and ice problems on driveways and roadways because salt lowers the freezing/melting point of water. Unfortunately the affects of salt can be brutal on vehicles, asphalt, and roads, as well as your leather footwear. But as long as you have good winter tires that are in decent shape, with a good amount of tread, you should not have to worry about salt damaging your tires.  Your wheels are more likely to suffer damage as a result of road salt. The metal surfaces of your vehicle are most susceptible to salt damage. Salt can eventually lead to rust occurring on the body and underside areas of your vehicle. The good news is that the process of salt leading to rust takes time. Especially since the coatings and paint finishes used today do a much better job of providing protection. If you take your vehicle in for regular washings during the winter months you should have no problems. How frequently you need to run through the car wash will depend on how much salt and road sludge you encounter. Because salt is especially hard on chrome, if you have really expensive wheels, it may be worth swapping them out it the winter months to make sure they are shining brightly for your summer driving. Lastly, make it part of your fall routine to wax your vehicle. This extra protection will make your winter washes more effective.

New Year Resolution: Take Better Care of My Tires

It is the beginning of a brand new year and time to start or get back into some good habits for taking care of your tires. Here is my suggested list of simple tire care resolutions that will increase the life of your tires, improve your gas mileage and keep you safe on the road.

Check Tire Pressure

Make it part of your car care routine to check your tire pressure at least once a month. If you are not sure of the proper pressure for your vehicle’s tires, check your owner’s manual. Remember that the maximum pressure is not the same as the recommended pressure.

Take the Penny Test

Regularly check your tire tread depth with these easy steps:

1. Hold a penny so that “In God We Trust” appears across the top. Insert it into five different sections of the tire, taking note of the visibility of Lincoln’s head.

2. If you can consistently see the top of Lincoln’s head, your treads are excessively worn, and it is time to go shopping for a new set of tires.

3. If the top of Lincoln’s head (to about the forehead hairline) is covered throughout the tread grooves, the tread is in good shape and your tires probably do not need replacement.

Tire Balancing

Make tire balancing part of your regular service, which can be done according to your owner’s manual recommended schedule. Tire balancing provides a smooth ride and assures even tire wear by properly adjusting the wheel weight distribution around the vehicle.

Tire Rotation

Consistent tire rotation is an important maintenance step that will significantly prolong the life of your tires. Different manufacturers have specific recommendations for a particular vehicle or tire, so it is advisable to refer to your owner’s manual tire rotation guidelines to ensure proper tread wear.

Tire Alignment

Improper tire alignment will not only decrease the life of your tires through uneven tread wear, it will adversely affect the safety of your vehicle. Have the alignment checked if you have hit something or notice a difference in your vehicle’s handling.

Spare Tire Check

Make sure your spare tire is in good shape and that you know how to use it. Check the tire pressure of your spare when you check the pressure of your other tires. Be aware that a spare is intended for temporary use only. Finally, be familiar with the tire changing process before an emergency strikes. You can look up a tutorial video or ask a knowledgeable friend to give you a hands-on lesson.