Know When to Replace Your Car Tires

by Matt Solis

Most tires are designed to provide similar performance throughout their entire lives, but at some point they start to lose their traction and braking abilities. Understanding when a tire needs to be replaced is important to maintaining the overall performance and longevity of your car, but it’s also important to make sure replacement is the only option you have left. Before making a final decision, consider the following tips:

Look at the tread pattern. All tires sold in the United States have “tread wear bars,” which are small bridges that form between the treads. Look at the tread pattern and you’ll see the beginnings of these bars start to form. As the tires wear, these bars will become level or even with the tire’s treads. At this point, it’s time to replace the tires.

Use a tread depth indicator or gauge. If you don’t already own one, the gauge is cheap to purchase from an auto parts dealer and easy to use. Alternatively, you can visit your regular tire company and ask them to check the tread depth; if you’re a regular customer, they’ll likely do this for free.

Know the legal requirements. Worn tires should be replaced as a matter of common sense to assure safety, but there are also legal requirements to consider in some jurisdictions. In California, tires are considered to be legally worn out when they’ve worn down to 1/32 inch of their remaining tread depths.

Make note of any irregular tread wear. Uneven tread wear is a sign that you need to take your car in for servicing—it could indicate a wheel misalignment, the need for a tire rotation or both. If uneven tire wear is extreme or if tires wear out much faster than expected, have a tire shop check your suspension and correct as necessary before replacing the tires. Improper alignment or worn suspension parts can dramatically shorten a tire’s lifespan.

Rotate your tires from front to rear in pairs. Take both front tires and move them to the rear, and vice versa. If you see uneven wear on a front tire, chances are the front end is out of alignment. You should have the tires rotated to the rear if possible (some vehicles have different sizes on the front than the rear). The back tires should be fine, and once moved to the rear, the uneven tires will start to correct themselves.

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