Tire Siping – Is it Necessary?

Dear Tracy,

I am wondering if you can tell me what tire siping is? I have heard it improves traction and tire performance, and improves handling when driving on snow and ice. Friends of mine were talking about having their tires siped this fall, before the winter weather hits. Is this something I should be doing?

-Tony B.

Dear Tony,

When tires are siped, it involves a process of cutting slices across the tire tread. The concept is that the slice opens up on the surface of the road, griping the road and dispersing water to improve traction.

The idea of tire siping goes back to the early 20’s when John Sipe, a slaughterhouse employee, had problems with his shoes slipping on the wet floor. Sipe discovered that by cutting groves into the sole of his rubber shoe, he could greatly improve their traction. Sipe was so confident in his discovery that he had the concept patented and it became officially known as “siping.” By the 1950’s, tire manufacturers were using siping in tire tread designs. Today specialized siping patterns are used for a variety of tire types.

There are varying opinions on as to whether or not after-market tire siping is beneficial. On the pro side, those who believe in tire siping say that that it offers real performance and safety benefits. There are actually tire siping machines that can do a variety of configurations for after-market tire modification. On the con side, many argue that today’s tires already use siping in the way that there are designed and manufactured. There is a lot of engineering and performance testing behind modern tread design, and many think that there is no need to modify it. It is also said that after-market siping could void your tread-wear warranty.

Tony, as to whether or not you should sipe your tires, your best bet will be to talk to your tire dealer who knows the type, condition, and age of your tires. It might make more sense to purchase a quality set of winter tires that are manufactured to incorporate siping features and benefits.

Tire Balance and Rotation

Dear Tracy,

I’ve noticed that tire balancing and rotation are commonly advertised auto services, but I am not really sure how necessary it is to have these services done on my car.  Can you explain what these services are and why they are important?

-Claire M.

Dear Claire,

Tire balancing and rotation are necessary services – you should check your owner’s manual to find out how often service is recommended and make sure you get them done. Here is a brief description of what these services are and why they are important:

Tire balancing is needed because tires and wheels lose balance over time. The weight distribution around the tire changes as the tread wears, leading to an imbalance that causes vibration or shaking. To restore proper balance to your tires your technician will use a calibrated spin balancer.  Both static (non-moving) and dynamic (moving) wheel balance is usually tested. Out of balance wheels are adjusted to the proper balance.

Tire rotation is essential because front and rear tires wear very differently. Tread tends to wear more quickly on the front tires because they are subjected to  more pressure than rear tires. In the tire rotation service process, the front tires are usually exchanged with the rear tires. More often than not, the driver side tires remain on the driver side and the passenger side tires stay on that side. Since types of vehicles and tires vary, in some cases the approach may be different. Your experienced professional technician will know the best process for your car.

Both tire balancing and tire rotation are important maintenance steps to keep up with as they will extend the life of your tires and significantly increase the safety of your vehicle.

Hot Wheels -Wash, Wax, and Don’t Forget the Details

Dear Tracy,

My dad is going to be going away on business for a few days, and I would like to surprise him by washing and waxing his car, including detailing the tires and wheels. He is so proud of the “hot wheels” had put on it, but he has been working so much, he hasn’t had time to do the detailing himself. My mom said I had better be careful with his baby – lol. Do you have any tips or suggestions for me?

-Shannon M.

Dear Shannon,

What a great surprise – your dad will really appreciate that! Wheel and tire detailing is not a difficult job – it just takes a little time and investment in the right cleaning products.

When you wash the car, have two wash buckets – one for the car and one for the wheels.
Since tires tend to have more abrasive dirt on them, it is important not to use that cleaning water on your car’s painted surface. Clean the wheels and tires first, scrubbing  with a sturdy, soft-bristle brush to prevent scratching. Finish and rinse each tire before moving on to the next  so that the cleaning product doesn’t dry on the surface. After washing the entire car, dry it with a chamois, then towel dry each wheel. As with the water, designate a separate towel just for wheels and tires. After waxing the car, you should apply a wheel wax and tire dressing. Give your tire dealer or mechanic a call to find out the best product for your particular tires.

Although you may have a wide selection of cleaning products at home, but not all of those may be safe for cleaning wheels and tires. Non-petroleum based products should be used to clean tires. A cleaner that has no abrasive detergents or harsh acids is the best option for your wheels. Look for products that are specifically designed for tires and wheels. There are many good ones on the market, including environmentally friendly formulas.

Your dad will really appreciate your efforts. Clean tires and wheels not only make your car look fantastic, cleaning them is an important step in good vehicle maintenance. Brake dust accumulates on your wheels and tires, and includes abrasive elements such as metal, adhesive, and carbon residue from your brake pads and rotor. Driving creates heat and friction that makes this dust extremely corrosive. Regular wheel cleaning removes the dusts and contributes to longer tire and wheel life as well as an awesome looking ride.

Blowouts – Keeping Calm is Key

Dear Tracy,

Do you have any advice for handling a tire blowout? I recently saw an auto accident on the highway that was caused by a tire blowout and it really got me wondering if I would know what to do if that happened to me. It seems like my instinct would be to hit the brakes and swerve off of the road. Would that be the right thing to do? Also, I know there is not a lot a driver do about road debris, but are there things I can do to help prevent a blowout?

-Lucas Z.

Dear Lucas,

Experiencing a blowout at highway speeds is a scary situation. Even seasoned drivers may panic and handle the vehicle in a way that makes a bad situation even worse.
If you experience a tire blowout try to remain calm. Maintaining control and balance of the vehicle is critical in getting off the road safely. While your instincts may tell you to hit the brakes or abruptly take your foot of the accelerator, you should not do either of these as it will diminish your vehicle stability and control.

In order to safely maneuver through a tire blowout  your must first slowly release the accelerator. As you gradually reduce speed, you will be able to correct your steering and maneuver the vehicle off the road.

Be aware that front and rear tire blowouts do not feel the same. A front blowout is felt in the steering of the vehicle, and a rear blowout is felt in the vehicle’s body. No matter which tire is effected, a tire blow out should always be handled in the same manner.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has some information and videos that explain what to do and what not to do in the event of a blow out.

Lucas, you are wise to think about steps you can take to avoid a tire blow out. Making sure your tread depth is adequate and keeping your tires properly inflated will help decrease your chances of trouble.