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Tires 101: Everything You Need to Know

May 7, 2020

We generally don’t think twice about our tires until they need replacing. But show your tires a little TLC, and they’ll give it back 10-fold by way of better handling, longer tire life, and improved gas mileage. Caring for your tires is much easier than you could imagine. Doing so will make a world of difference to your driving experience.

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Replace Your Tires?

When a tire is nearing the end of its lifecycle, the tread depth will have considerably diminished. This causes the tire to have less grip which can lead to a loss of control over your vehicle. The tire also becomes more prone to punctures due to a decrease in the thickness of the tread. Checking if your tire needs to be replaced is so simple that anyone can do it.

Most tires have tread wear indicators – they look like strips of rubber in between the grooves of a tire. When these become exposed, the tire needs replacing. If you can’t find the tread indicators, place a penny headfirst into the grooves on the surface of the tire. If the top of the head is visible (less than 2/32 inch of tread depth), the tire is worn out.

Age also plays a factor in tire degradation and generally, manufacturers suggest replacing any tire that is over 10 years old.

How Much Air Do You Need In Your Tires?

Under inflated or over inflated car tires are just as dangerous as ones that are worn out. Incorrectly inflated tires worsen gas mileage, affect the handling, put stress on your vehicle steering components, and cause premature tire wear.

Tire pressure is a measurement of how much air is in the tire and is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). To check your tire pressure, all you need is a tire gauge which you can purchase from any automotive parts store. Newer cars often have a built-in tire pressure monitoring system that alerts the driver if a problem is detected.

So, how much air do your tires need? You can typically find the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure located on a sticker inside your door jamb. You can also find it in your vehicle owner’s manual. If you really can’t locate it, this online tool from tire manufacturer Firestone will tell you your tires’ recommended PSI.

What Do The Numbers On A Tire Mean?

Printed on the side of your tire is a bunch of information that tells you almost everything you need to know from wheel size to tire speed rating. The most common numbers you’ll use are the ones in large print that read something like: P225/45R17

This refers to the size of a tire and is all the information you need when shopping for new tires.

The letter P at the beginning tells you the tire is intended for use on a passenger vehicle (hence, the letter P). This classification includes most cars, SUVs, small pickup trucks, and minivans.

The number 225 indicates the width of the tire (in this case, it’s 225 millimeters at its widest point).

The number 45 tells us the profile measurement, sometimes called the aspect ratio. If you’re buying high performance, low profile tires, this number is very important.

Next, the letter R, which you will see on 98% of tires sold, means it is a radial constructed tire – these tires offer superior fuel consumption and a more comfortable ride at cruising speeds than other tire types.

Finally, the last number refers to the wheel diameter. In our example, this tire should be fitted to a 17-inch wheel.

How To Get The Maximum Life From Your Tires

Follow these steps to ensure you get the longest life and greatest driving experience from your tires:

Are There Tires For Different Weather?

As far as a seasonal tires go, there are three main categories:

All-Season Tires: Most cars use all-season tires year-round. They’re a well-balanced tire that can handle all conditions besides snow.

Winter Tires: Sometimes referred to as snow tires, winter tires give maximum grip in slippery road conditions. If you drive in snowy road conditions annually, you will need a set of these over winter.

Summer Tires: You’ll typically see these on sports and muscle cars such as AMGs and Porsches. They are extremely temperature-sensitive and can only be used at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s The Difference Between Cheap And Expensive Tires?

This is a difficult question to answer categorically, but with over $150 difference in price between the cheapest and most expensive tire, it’s a question worth asking as choosing a tire that meets your needs can save you some serious cash.

Engineering Explained has a great video on this subject where they go in-depth into AAA test results and studies. To summarize, when the tires are new, the more expensive tires performed much better at braking and handling than the cheapest tires.

As the tires wear though, the performance gap narrows, with the cheaper tires offering a more consistent driving experience over the lifespan of the tires.

So, are expensive tires worth the money? It depends on the car you drive and your driving habits. If you’re mostly traveling to and from work and driving normal speeds, you can safely choose any mid-range tire and get satisfactory performance and longevity.