Everything You Need to Know About Car Tires

Fran Majidi
November 3, 2020

Taking good care of car tires is essential to road safety. Good maintenance is essential to tire health and safety. If you don’t take some precautions, you may suffer a blowout on the road or have an accident. So let’s look at ways to take care of your tires before hitting the road.

Tire-Related Accidents

In 2017, there were 738 people killed in tire-related crashes. Many crashes can be prevented through proper tire maintenance, including tire inflation, tire rotation and understanding tire labels and tire aging.

The Need for Proper Maintenance

Only 19 percent of consumers properly check and inflate their tires. And one in four cars have at least one tire that is significantly underinflated.

Tires lose about one pound per square inch of pressure each month. So be sure to check your tires monthly. And inflate them to their proper pressure. Be sure to check your tires regularly for wear-and-tear such as cuts and abrasions as well. And get tires checked annually for rubber break down, which is accelerated by heat and sunlight. And rotate those tires. Most vehicles should have tire rotations every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.

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Monitoring System in Newer Cars

Vehicles made after 2007 have a tire pressure monitoring system. This system alerts drivers when tire pressure is significantly low. But you don’t want your tire pressure to slip so low.

Doing monthly checks with a tire gauge will help you stay on top of what is happening with your tire pressure. If an alert does sound, take it in to a repair shop so they can assess the tire pressure and the state of your tires. How bad is the tire wear-and-tear? Do your tires need rotating? What else have you neglected in tire maintenance? A repair shop, a tire shop or the dealership will be able to look at the tires and let you know what may be happening beyond simply significantly low pressure. They also will fill your tires to the proper air pressure where your car will ride much more easily. Proper inflation will extend the life of your tires up to 4,700 miles. It can also save you money in gas.

Pressure Number for Your Tires

Looking for the pressure number for the tires of your car? Try the door edge, glove box, owner’s manual or trunk lid. This is the number you want your tires to maintain as much as possible. Check with a tire gauge each month and inflate with air as needed.

Three Steps to Tire Maintenance

Check your tire pressure every month, inflate as needed. Rotate your tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles and check your tire treads for wear. Follow these three steps and your tires should be in good shape.

Rubber Break Down

Rubber in a tire can break down causing the tires to become unstable. Tire aging can be due to normal use or poor storage of the vehicle. So don’t hang on to old, worn down tires more than need be. Get a new, safer tire on your car.

What Is a Tire Blowout?

A tire blowout is a sudden loss of air pressure in any inflatable tire. It is abrupt and can be very alarming if you are driving on the road. It is sometimes accompanied by the sound of an explosion.

A tire blowout is caused by a combination of factors including too little air pressure, extreme heat, impact damage and overloading the car with too much stuff. All these things result in excessive strain on the tire’s internal structure and can be followed by a blowout.

Impact damage occurs when you hit the end of a parking space or slam your tires into a pothole. These impacts affect your tires, too many can contribute to a tire blowout.

Overloading the vehicle with excessive loads can lead to an overheating of the tires. Summer months from May to late August are known as tire blowout season because it is the time of year that people overload their vehicles and take off driving on long, hot roads. Some will be in for a surprise on their summer vacations should a tire blowout occur.

A tire blowout doesn’t happen all at once. A gradual break down and loss of air pressure bit by bit over months or even a year can result in a tire blowout.

Drive Through a Tire Blowout

If you suddenly lose a tire out on the road, the first advice is to briefly accelerate. Doing so should prevent you from losing control of the car. So just press the gas pedal to sustain your cruising speed. Because the blowout tire will create drag on the car, you won’t be able to truly accelerate. By maintaining a safe speed, you’ll be able to gain your bearings in the stabilized car and steer your car to the road’s shoulder while slowing the car to safety. Stay calm and drive safely through the tire blowout, by guiding your car to the side of the road and away from other traffic.

How to Change a Tire

Here are some steps for how to change a tire. These steps should take 15 minutes to half an hour to complete.

Find a Secure Location. As soon as you realize you have a flat tire, slowly reduce your speed and look for a straight stretch of road with a wide shoulder. An empty parking lot also will work. Look for level ground because it will prevent your car from rolling.

Turn on Hazard Lights. Your hazard lights will help other drivers see you on the side of the road. You want to turn on hazard lights as soon as you realize you need to pull over.

Apply the Parking Brake. Once your car is stopped, you want to put on the parking brake. This will minimize the possibility of your car rolling.

Apply Wheel Wedges. Wheel wedges go in front of or behind the tires to further ensure the car doesn’t roll when you are changing a flat tire. If you are changing a rear tire, place the wheel wedges in front of the front tires. If you are changing a front tire, put the wheel wedges behind the rear tires.

Remove the Hubcap. If your car has a hubcap covering the lug nuts, it’s easier to remove the hubcap before lifting the car with the jack. So go ahead and use the flat end of your lug wrench to remove the hubcap. This will work for most cars. But some hubcaps require a different tool. Check your owner’s manual for the proper hubcap removal procedures and tools. Loosen Lug Nuts. Using the lug wrench, turn the lug nuts counterclockwise until you break their resistance. Loosen the lug nuts about one-quarter to one-half a turn. Don’t remove them completely just yet. You’ll do that when it is time to remove your tire from your car.

Place Jack Under the Car. The right place for the jack is usually beneath the car frame, alongside the tire that is flat. To safely lift and avoid damage to the car, follow the instructions for jack placement in your car’s owner manual.

Raise the Car With the Jack. Place a small cut of wood beneath the jack before attempting to raise the car. This is especially helpful if the car is on asphalt. With the jack properly positioned, raise the car until the flat tire is about six inches above the ground.

Unscrew Lug Nuts. Now is the time to remove lug nuts. Since they are already loosened you should be able to unscrew them by hand.

Remove the Flat Tire. Gripping the tire by the treads, gently pull the tire toward you until it’s completely free. Set the tire on its side so it doesn’t roll away.

Mount the Spare Tire on The Lug Bolts. Place the spare tire on the wheel hub. Line up the rim of the spare tire with the lug bolts. Push gently until the lug bolts show through the rim.

Tighten Lug Nuts by Hand. Put the lug nuts on and tighten them all the way around by hand. Once the lug nuts are on, check each one again, tightening each lug nut as much as possible. You will tighten them again with a wrench after lowering the car to the ground.

Lower Car and Tighten Lug Nuts Again. Use the jack to lower the car so the spare tire is resting on the ground but the full weight of the car isn’t on the tire. Next, tighten the lug nuts with a wrench, turning clockwise as much as you can.

Lower The Vehicle Completely. Bring the car all the way to the ground and remove the jack. Give the lug nuts another pull of the wrench, making sure they are as tight as possible.

Replace the Hubcap. If the hubcap you took from the flat tire will fit your spare tire, put it in place. If it doesn’t fit, stow it away when you stow your equipment.

Stow All Equipment. Stow your jack, lug wrench, wheel wedges, flat tire and maybe a hubcap if it doesn’t fit your spare tire. Put them all in your car before driving away.

Check the Pressure in the Spare Tire. You will want to check the pressure in your spare tire to make sure it is safe to drive on. If the tire needs pressure, drive slowly to a service station immediately.

Take Your Flat Tire to a Technician

Remember temporary spare tires aren’t made to drive long distances or at high speeds. So drive your car cautiously until you are able to visit a technician. A tire expert will be able to tell you if a tire needs to be repaired or if you will have to replace it with a new tire.

How Long Do Tires Last?

Most tires should be inspected if not replaced after about six years. And tires should absolutely be replaced after 10 years, regardless of how much tread they have left. Looking at it from a mileage perspective, most tires last about 60,000 miles. So keep close tabs on your tires and replace them as needed.

How Often Should I Rotate Tires?

You will want to rotate your tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. Don’t neglect this important maintenance step for your tires.

How To Put Air in Tires

Check in your owner's manual for the correct tire pressure for your car. You also may find this information on the driver’s side door jam, inside the glovebox or even on the trunk lid. You will want to check and refill tires once a month. Buy a digital tire gauge and keep it in your glovebox. Record tire pressure in a notebook or on your smartphone. Double-check your car’s required tire pressure. It might call for different pressure levels for front and rear tires.

Check tire pressure when tires are cold. They heat up when you drive and take about half an hour to cool down. Checking tires first thing in the morning is a good strategy. Unscrew the valve cap and set it aside or place in a pocket for safe keeping. Press the tire gauge onto the valve stem. You only need to do this for a second or two, long enough to get an accurate reading. Read the tire pressure on the digital tire gauge. Make note of the pressure as you go around to all four tires. If your tire pressure readings are below the pressure recommended by your car manufacturer, you need to fill up your tires. You can go to an auto parts store and buy a portable air compressor so you can fill your tires at your home. But most people refill tires at the gas station and use the air compressor there.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pull in close to the air compressor so the hose reaches all four tires.
  • Turn on the air compressor. Remove stem caps and place them to the side or in a pocket.
  • Press the hose, fitting down on the valve stem and press the lever. You will hear air flowing through the hose and inflating the tire.
  • Check to see when you have enough air pressure in tires by releasing the inflation lever.
  • The gauge on the hose will show you approximate air pressure. You can check again later with your own gauge.
  • Adjust the pressure in all four tires. Recheck the tire pressure with a digital gauge.
  • Replace the valve caps on all four tires.
  • Get in the habit of checking your tire pressure once a month.

How To Plug a Tire

Often nails and screws get stuck in tires. Here’s how to take them out and plug the tire. You may be able to remove the nail or screw with pliers.

If the nail or screw is in the sidewall to the tire, you won’t be able to plug or fix it and you will need to get a new tire. But if the nail or screw is in the top surface of the tire you will be able to repair it. Once the screw or nail is out of your tire, you will want to get to work with a simple tire plug kit. First, you will use one of the tools in the kit to clean out the hole. Next, you’ll take a small piece of rubber material and press it into the hole. This seals the hole. The second option is to use a tire patch kit. You will need to take the rim off the tire and get to the inside of the tire. You put glue on the hole and put a patch on top of it, sealing up the hole. Plugging holes or patching holes are your two do-it-yourself options when a screw or nail gets in your tire.

What do Tire Sizes Mean?

Reading tire sizes can be tricky. Here’s what those numbers and letters mean. The letter “P” means the tire has been made to certain standards within the United States for passenger vehicles. The next three numbers are the width of the tire measured in millimeters from sidewall to sidewall. The next two numbers are the aspect ratio, which is the ratio of the height of the tire’s cross-section to its width. The letter “R” stands for radial, which means the layers run radially across the tire. The next two numbers are the wheel diameter, which is the size of the wheel measured from one end to the other. The next two numbers are the service description rating, which is used to identify the tire’s load index. The final letter is the tire’s speed rating. Now that you know everything there is to know about tires, consider comparing car insurance rates for free by entering your zip code below.

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