Of all your vehicle’s moving parts, your tires take the brunt of the wear. That’s because your tires — technically, the air in your tires — carry your body, your vehicle’s frame and all your cargo on a daily basis.
That said, it makes sense that tires wear down and need to be replaced every so often. Not sure exactly when to replace your tires? Besides the obvious flat tire, let’s talk about a few other signs — such as a vibrating steering wheel, tires that are 6 to 10 years old, low tire tread, a bubble in the tire’s sidewall and dry rot on tires — that mean it’s probably time to replace your tires.
Replacing tires at the right time is crucial to your safety, as well as the safety of your family and others on the road around you. Failing to replace tires when it’s time can cause hydroplaning, delayed braking, sliding, swerving and even blowouts.
Vibrating steering wheel
No, those aren’t rumble strips you’re driving over. Perhaps the most obvious indicator that you need to replace your tires is an intense shaking of or persistent vibration in your steering wheel.
The vibration you feel is typically caused by one of two things:
Tire damage, which can be caused by a number of different road hazards
Uneven tire wear, which occurs when tires aren’t regularly rotated
If you notice a persistent vibration while driving, it’s a good idea to immediately slow down and pull off the road so that you can inspect your tire for damage. If, in fact, there is no obvious damage, you may want to take your vehicle in for a professional tire inspection. It might be time to replace your tires because of uneven tread or cupping, which causes a scalloped pattern around the perimeter of the tire. Both can occur from mechanical wear or when you fail to rotate your tires regularly.
The reason tire rotation is so important is that your vehicle’s tires wear differently. For example, your front tires typically carry more than 60 percent of the vehicle’s weight, causing them to wear down faster than your rear tires. The simple act of turning your vehicle right or left also contributes to uneven wear. Whether you drive a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle also matters — each performance mechanism causes the vehicle’s tires to wear differently.
The tasks that you ask your vehicle to perform every day — whether you’re driving up mountain roads, sitting in stop-and-go traffic or cruising for hundreds of miles on the freeway — contribute greatly to the ways in which – and rates at which – your tires wear.
When you routinely rotate your tires, you’re balancing out your tread, which will save you big money on tire replacements in the long run. There are even some tire warranties that require regular tire rotation to keep the warranty valid, so this simple maintenance will keep you worry-free in that regard.
Tires that are 6 to 10 years old
Even tires that are regularly rotated, properly inflated at all times and damage-free need to be replaced at some point. That’s because rubber polymers naturally degrade over time — a process that’s accelerated by heat and friction.
Even if your tires still have plenty of tread remaining, their structural integrity may be diminished — an aging effect that’s not always visible to the naked eye and makes your tires more susceptible to blowouts.
Most tire and automobile manufacturers recommend that tires should be replaced every 6 to 10 years regardless of use, regular rotation and lack of damage, with 10 years being the absolute maximum service life. This range applies to the tires you drive on every day, as well as spare tires. Still not sure when you should replace your tires? Be sure to check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations for your particular set of tires.
Bubble in tire sidewall
If you have a gumball-shaped bulge sticking out from the side of your tire, it should not to be ignored. It is usually not a defect and is a lot more dangerous than it looks because it’s actually an air bubble on your tire that could cause a deadly blowout. Side tire bubbles aren’t repairable — the entire tire must be replaced before a blowout occurs.
If you have a bubble on the side of your tire, be sure to drive slowly and take your vehicle in to your nearest tire repair shop or auto dealership. It’s a ticking time bomb that could quite literally explode at any time — when, for example, you’re cruising at 80 miles per hour down the highway — causing a blowout that can put your life and others’ lives at risk. In fact, the NHTSA has estimated that 11,000 crashes each year are caused by tire failure.
And, if you’re replacing one tire, it’s best to replace at least two tires. If you’re routinely rotating your tires, it’s best to replace tires in sets of two or four to maintain even wear. It might sting financially at first, but replacing tires in sets will surely save you money in the long run. If you do buy two tires instead of all four, you should always have the new tires installed on the rear axle and move the old, partially worn tires to the front axle — those new rear tires will provide the utmost traction and control.
Dry rot on tires
Keep an eye on your tires — if you notice spider-like hairline cracks, or dry rot, along the sidewalls and tread, then it’s a good idea to have your tires inspected by a professional. Dry rot causes tires to fall apart and separate from the steel belt.
Another indication that your tires have dry rot and should be replaced is if they have turned from black to a dull gray wherever the cracks appear. This condition is common in vehicles that are stagnant or improperly stored. If you do notice dry rot forming on your tires, make sure to get them replaced before you do any high-speed driving.
Dangerously low tire tread
Last but not least, tire tread should be factored in when considering whether to replace your tires. If the tread on your tires is worn and bald, your traction and your safety are impacted. A healthy tread helps your tires grip the road and your vehicle quickly respond in adverse weather.
You should be sure to check the tread regularly and replace your tires if the tread has been worn down to 2/32". When your tread gets this low, replacing your tires isn’t an option — it’s a legal requirement. By law, your tires are considered to be exhausted and unsafe for driving when they reach that 2/32" level.
If you think your tire tread may be dangerously low, try the penny tire test. Get a penny, grab Lincoln by his waistcoat, facing you, and stick his head down into your tire tread. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, then your tire tread is too worn.
Be sure to check multiple grooves — inner, outer and central — because, depending on how often you rotate your tires, certain areas of your tires may wear faster than others.