I don’t want to start this conversation by dividing people into two groups; but if science didn’t tell me otherwise, I would assume that “car people” and “non-car people” were completely different species. “Car people” often obsess over their rides, no matter the age or financial outlay. “Non-car people” generally treat their vehicle of choice just like they do their blender or toaster, an appliance. For the latter having a car is often the means to an end, maybe even a burden. Alternate side street cleaning may be the most routine activity this poor ride is ever subjected to. My most recent purchase (which remains anonymous until at an event hosted by Out Motorsports later this year) is a textbook example of a generally well-maintained machine that had a few items that didn’t get looked at well enough.
How often should I be inspecting my tires?
When I mention in casual conversation that tire inspections should be on a routine checklist, I most often receive blank stares. Well, do you even inspect them at all? If the answer is no, you need to change that habit immediately. Try to take a look once a month, and before venturing any significant distance. Yes, that means all four tires. Do you rely solely on the service facility that does your routine maintenance? If that answer is yes, make sure they’re spinning the tires all the way around to get a good look, and not just giving them a glance. If you buy your tires from a big-box tire retailer, they often offer free rotations and inspections. A tire puncture or odd wear is often easy to hide, and not always going to leak immediately.
What am I looking for?
Tires always have the ability to tell an interesting story!
Age: Tires manufactured after 2000 will always have a four-digit date code. Located on the sidewall of the tire in much smaller text than any model or size information, this will be broken down into a pair of numbers. The week (first) and year (last) will tell you precisely the week and year that your tires were manufactured. My tires have “4103” shown, which indicates my Michelin MXV4 tires were manufactured between October 6 and October 12, 2003. I wasn’t even a junior in Highschool at that point. The rubber compound of your tires can be much like a rubber band hiding in your junk drawer; it’ll look perfectly fine to use, but it has actually become quite brittle over time and has broken down.
Tread Depth: Tires having a tread visible should not be assumed that you’re ready to go. Legally “Bald” tires happen long before your tires are completely smooth, even in just one portion. Treadwear bars (Shown above) are fine lines within the deep grooves of your tires to indicate when the tires have reached the end of their useful lifespan. In this scenario, the rest of the tire will be even with that bar running the width of the tire.
Uneven Wear: Tires that show uneven wear on the inside, outside, center, sidewall, or in odd spots are certain to indicate a problem. Excess wear to the tire sidewall or the center of the tire indicates that they’ve been grossly under or over-inflated. If you’re presented with wear on the inside or outside edge of the tire, you’re certain to have a worn suspension component or alignment issue. Any of these items listed above could certainly cause premature tire failures or blowouts.
Why Should I Bother?
Tires are the last detail of your car, truck or SUV that actually connects you to the road. Sure your steering and suspension bits are critical, but the tires are the only component that provides a contact patch.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Tires that have a defect, excessive age, or improper care can most certainly lead to the damage of your vehicle or sudden loss of control.
Practice what you preach: I try to inspect my tires monthly, especially covering roughly 1,000 miles per week. With the amount of ground I cover, my rotations are coming every 45 days or so, leaving a second set of eyes more frequently than most consumers. For the cars I use very seldomly, I make sure to inspect the tires before every single drive, just to make sure there are absolutely no surprises.