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Taking Care of your Tires

A little maintenance could save your life!

Most of us don't spend much time thinking about our tires. In fact, they are probably one of the last things we worry about. Now, sure, the car can run out of gas, or the battery can die, or a multitude of other things can go wrong. But, short of your brakes completely failing, and possibly even more so than that, having a tire fail can be catastrophic.

In Arizona it's tire season. You can see the remains of tires all along the highway. Just as Arizona is hard on batteries, it is also extraordinarily hard on tires. To portray how rough it is here, it is recommended that regardless of wear, you should replace your tires every 10 years at an absolute minimum. Here in Arizona, it's 5 years.

It's always a good thing to take a quick walk around your car and look at it before you get in, you'll suprised how many things you'll be able to determine from a casual glance. That being said, checking your tires should be part of your weekly mainenance checkup on your car.


Monk says,
"Keep a penny handy to check your tread depth. Stick in the tread with Lincoln's head upside down. If you can see the top of his head, it's time for new tires!"
Melba says,
"Most Tire Shops will do all this for you for free, including airing up your tires. Let them do it for you, but be ready for a sales pitch."

Buy a decent tire gauge. Those cheap ones you see in the bins at the counter for a $1.99 are just not worth it. I prefer a dial based or digital tire gauge. As you check the tire pressure keep in mind the ambient temperature when you're checking. As temperature changes, so does your tire pressure. For every 10 degrees of temperature shift your tire pressure will change 1-2 psi. For most places in the country this isn't an issue, but here in Arizona we can have 40 degree temperature shifts in a day which can rate up to 8psi! If you aren't sure the air pressure rating look at the sidewall of the tire. All tires are marked with their air pressure ratings.

Once you've insured that your air pressure is correct, you should also check your tread depth. While tires vary greatly in regards original tread depths, they are universally the same when it comes to time for replacement. When your tread depth reaches 2/32" or less it's time to replace the tires.

Now that we've established that the pressure on the tires is correct and you have appropriate tread depth, it's time to do an overall check to ensure that the sidewalls are still true and that there's no odd wear in the tread.

Sidewalls are often difficult to diagnose for problems. In many cases spontaneous tire failures occur in the sidewall. When you examine the sidewall of the tire, you need to be looking to ensure that the overall shape of the curve is contiguous. If you see warps, bends, bows or other irregularities in the sidewall then the tire should be considered suspect until it's checked out by a professional. Remember, check the inside sidewall as well as the outside sidewall.

Tread issues are generally pretty easy to identify. It's all about the treadwear on the tire. If most of the treadware is in the center of the tread, you've been over inflating the tires. Too much wear (equally) on the outside of the tread means that the air pressure in the tires is too low. If you have uneven wear, or one side wearing more than the other, then the car's alignment is most likely off. You should take it in to have your alignment checked.

With a little bit of preventative maintenance you can save yourself from a middle of the night side of the road tire change. Or even worse, having an accident that hurts yourself, your family or other motorists. Last week a good friend had a blowout on the rear tire. Not terribly dangerous from a rollover perspective, but it occurred in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a really nasty storm. Not a good place to be stranded with your family. And, to top it off, the debris coming off the tire ripped off the bumper on that side of the car, which will cost far more money to repair than replacing the tire.

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

All references to They Might Be Giants are fan references only. John & John I hope you don't mind! And if you're ever in Phoenix stop by for a visit!

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