Last updated: August 2023
The quality of your car’s tires can be drastically impacted by changes in temperature, run-ins with potholes, and rough roads, not to mention time passing by. Like shoes, clothes, and even appliances, tires don’t last forever. However, unlike your favorite pair of shoes or your refrigerator, a tire that calls it quits can lead to a dangerous situation—you could lose control of your car or get stranded on the side of the road if you don’t know how to change a flat! Learn how to tell if you need new tires to steer clear of danger.
Tire Inspection Checklist
Know when to replace tires by answering these questions.
How much tread depth is left?
If you’re wondering why it’s important to keep an eye on your tires’ treads, you’re not alone! According to Continental Tires, “tread is the rubber that touches the road,” meaning if your tires’ treads are worn down, your vehicle could lose traction, have trouble braking, or be harder to control in wet weather. If you have less than 2/32 of an inch of tread depth remaining, most companies recommend buying new tires. Firestone also points out that excessive tread wear can indicate problems with other parts of your car, like incorrect wheel alignment or camber angle. The bottom line is worn down treads are a safety concern, and this is why it’s important to check your tires regularly.
The Penny Tire Test
Now that we’ve covered the importance of tire tread, we’re going to teach you how to check tire tread with a penny. It’s actually a fairly straight-forward process! Here’s what you need to do, step-by-step.
- Snag a penny. Honest Abe will serve as the measuring stick to check the tire’s tread.
- Turn the penny upside down, and insert it in one of the tire’s treads, Lincoln’s head first.
- If you can still see all of Lincoln’s head, your treads are worn down, and it’s time to purchase some new tires. If his forehead is still covered, your tire should still have some life left in it! These measurements follow the 2/32-inch rule pretty closely.
How do the tires look?
Though you might not have the trained eye of a mechanic, sometimes you can spot an issue with your tires just by giving them a “once over.” Are there any signs of tears, bulges, cracks, blisters, or other damage to the tire? Anything embedded in the rubber?
In particular, check your tires’ sidewalls for signs of wear. Cracks and bulges can signal that a tire blowout is near or that your tire has a slow leak—two situations that could put your safety at risk. If you notice anything unusual, talk to your mechanic. Your tire might need a simple patch, or it might need to be replaced entirely.
How do the tires handle?
How does your car react to the road when you’re driving? Does it seem to pull to one side? Wobble under normal driving conditions? Too much shivering and shaking isn’t a sign that your car is coming down with a cold—it could be trying to communicate with you! There might be something fishy going on inside one of your tires, things could be misaligned, or your shock absorbers may be worn. Even if your tires are fine, continued vibration could cause them to have problems soon enough. Let your mechanic take your car for a spin and do a quick inspection.
How long have I had the tires?
The health of your tires can deteriorate over time, even if you only drive a few miles each day. Factors like sunlight, heat, and ice, can all speed up the process. Eventually, a tire will simply fall apart, just like an old rubber band!
The lifespan of a tire depends on its age, but also the number of miles it’s driven. “If you drive a typical number of miles,” writes Edmunds, “somewhere around 12,000-15,000 miles annually,” your tire tread could wear in as little as three to four years—long before the rubber breaks down. Think about how many miles you’ve put on your tires, as well as their overall age.
According to Car and Driver, “there’s a general consensus that most tires should be inspected, if not replaced, at about six years, and should absolutely be swapped out after 10 years, regardless of how much tread they have left.”
Do I have any doubts or worries?
While the tips above can be helpful tools, if you ever have any doubts about when to replace your tires, please talk to an expert. For example, if you live in an area with more rain and snow than the average location, you might want to talk to a local tire shop about replacing your tires before they reach 2/32 of an inch. Or, if you think something looks off, say something now to hopefully avoid a headache later.
How to Choose New Tires
So, you need new tires. How do you find the right ones? Consider these important factors before you buy.
- Weather Requirements: The kind of tires you need may change with where you live. All-season tires near the Rockies in Colorado will be different than for someone who needs wet weather tires near the shores of North Carolina.
- Tread Life: You want to get the most life out of your tires, so the grade you choose is important. Besides looking at the manufacturer’s wear rating and the tires’ warranty, look at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s required Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) ratings. The higher the number, the longer the tire’s tread will last.
- Speed Rating: The higher the speed rating, the more you’re going to pay for your new tires. The first question to ask is: Am I really going to be driving 150 plus mph? Lowering your speed rating when you purchase tires will make them more affordable and you probably won’t notice a difference if you normally drive within speed limits.
How to Buy Affordable Tires
Tire costs can add up quickly, so it’s understandable you want to save money. Shop around for the lowest price possible and see if you can get a discount by replacing multiple tires at once. You might even be able to score free service on your tires for their lifetime depending on where you buy them.
You might be tempted to buy used tires to save money, but this can be dangerous. You don’t know a used tire’s history, looks can be deceiving, and you won’t have notice of any potential recalls. It’s far less risky to purchase new tires from a reputable company with a warranty.
Consider roadside assistance.