Replacing tires can be an expensive process, but sadly it is a very necessary one to ensure that we stay safe on the roads. Old tires are incredibly unsafe, especially in colder temperatures where it is likely that roads are icy and therefore provide less traction for tires to grip.
However, given the expense, how do you know when to replace tires so that you don’t do it unnecessarily causing you a bigger than needed expenditure? Or so that you are not driving a car that is unsafe or unfit to be on the road simply because the tires are too worn down? There are several factors to bear in mind when checking your tires to ensure that they are safe for use. They are any damage, how worn down the treads are, whether they are performing correctly, how old they are, and if the change in weather requires a different type of tire. We discuss these factors below in this guide to learn when we should all change our tires.
One of the easiest ways to spot whether your tires need changing is due to damage.
Some damage that a tire goes through is clearly obvious. In cases like this, your tire is likely to have gone flat and is beyond use. You can take it to a shop to see if they can repair it, but if they can’t this is the first instance of when you need to replace your tire.
However, this type of obvious damage is not always the case as sometimes tires do suffer from issues that are hard to see upon first glance. Therefore it can also be a case of listening out for your tires to ensure that no air is leaking from them in a slow puncture. Additionally, look out for any bubbles in the sidewall of your tire, or even within the tread area. This can signify that your tire has come into some damage internally that needs to be checked out by an expert and will inevitably have to be replaced.
Other forms of damage that would be a good idea to have a mechanic take a look at before immediately replacing your tire is a deep cut. Car owners tend to see these only when they are on the sidewall of a tire and not the tread itself. Hopefully, the cut or tear won’t have gone deep enough to warrant a replacement but speak to your mechanic as to whether your tire has become unsafe as a result.
Finally, keep an eye out for any objects that have embedded or penetrated your tire. While there are some objects that you can probably remove safely without the tire being damaged to the point of needing replacement, there are other objects that you should not pull out for fear that you make matters worse for your tire. Objects like pebbles or small stones are fine to try to dislodge yourself. However, try not to remove objects like nails or screws. In instances like these, drive your car straight to the nearest mechanic to see if they can repair it or try repairing it yourself if the puncture is small enough. However, be aware that some punctures cause too much structural damage for your tire to be safe and so need to be replaced straight away.
2. Amount of Tread Wear
Tread wear is perhaps the reason that we should all replace our tires at some point in a car’s lifetime. While tires are certainly very durable and long lasting these days, they simply can’t last forever and the reason being is that the tread gets worn down through wear and tear on the road. Tires need to have a proper amount of tread to be safe to use and the pace that the tread gets worn down depends on the amount that you use your car, the roads that you use your car on and the amount of load that you put in your car when driving it. The make will also have a big bearing on how quickly the tread gets worn down as well as the time of year you do most of your driving. Both very hot weather and very cold weather can affect the flexibility in the rubber of a tire which can materially impact a tire’s tread.
Given all these variables, it is impossible to know a definitive time frame for when a tread will be too low and therefore require a tire to be replaced. It is therefore necessary to know how to test for tread wear instead. Plus, more often than not tires on the same car do not have the same amount of wear across the board. Sadly, sometimes this means that you still have to replace the tire on the other side, or even all of them when just one is worn, but how do you test for tread wear in the first place?
There are two ways you can do this, firstly you can use a penny. Put the penny into the tire’s tread with Lincoln’s head facing towards you and down. If, when the penny is in the groove, you can see the whole of Lincoln’s head, it means you have more than 2 millimeters of tread wear so you should have your tire replaced. Secondly, you can use a nickel in the same way especially if your tires have much deeper treads so that when you use a penny, a great deal of Lincoln’s head becomes hidden. If you can see the top of Jefferson’s head on a nickel, it is probably best to have the tire replaced in all weather conditions. However, if the tread wear turns out to be slightly less than this, you need to decide whether to replace your tire depending on the weather conditions you drive in. In snowy or icy conditions anything around 5 millimeters of tread wear should be replaced.
3. Performance Problems
Performance problems come in two guises. The first is where your tire needs to be reinflated with air far more than it should do. If this is the case, it may sadly have to be repaired. Check with your mechanic if you are topping up the air in your tires around once a week or so. Tires should not really have to be topped up this much so it’s one of the first indicators to a driver that their tire may not be performing as well as it should do so may have to be replaced.
Checking your tires’ air is good practice so ensure that you do it regularly. This way, you will be alerted to the fact far more quickly that you may have tires that are not performing as they should. Plus, in doing so your are simply being a safer driver as well as helping towards improving your fuel economy. To check your tire pressure properly, use your owner manual to see what the recommended pressure of your tires should be. If you need to top up the pressure on a weekly basis, it could mean that your tire has a crack or a dent in it. If you don’t want to replace it immediately, ask your mechanic as they may be able to find the source of the leak.
The second reason that your tire may be having performance issues is signified by vibration while you are driving your car or by the steering wheel vibrating unusually too. This can be because your tires are worn, but more commonly this type of performance issue actually comes from the wheel balance of your tires. This means that your tire may have suffered from one of the balance weights falling off. If the vibration is accompanied by a hum or a whine, it is even more likely that this is the issue that is troubling your car and its wheels. It does not necessarily mean that your tire needs replacing therefore. Instead, it can mean that your car is in need of having its wheels rebalanced. To do this, take it to the car shop to check. Wheel rebalancing is cheaper than replacing a tire so it’s a good idea to check this out first before blindly replacing a tire unnecessarily.
4. Tire Age
If you are lucky, your tires will not be subject to any of the above issues and will actually make it through the lifetime they were designed to withstand. In general, a good rule of thumb is to realise that tires need to be replaced around every 6 years to stay on the safe side of things. Some road users will argue that it is actually closer to ten, but eeking out the life of your tire to this age is taking a risk that your tire has not become faulty in some way that can’t be tested like the above issues can be. Certainly, if you live in a hot country or place, you will need to replace your tires more regularly and perhaps even more regularly than every 6 years.
There is a check for old age however that you can keep an eye out for and that is dry rot. This is caused by the UV damage of the sun causing tires to crack when they are left out in the elements for too long. It first becomes noticeable on the sidewalls of a tire and if you notice this, your tire is beyond repair and needs replacing. You can prevent dry rot from developing by storing your car properly if it is going to be parked for any long period of time, either by covering them or stowing your car away in a secure garage under a roof and therefore away from the elements.
5. The Seasons
Without doubt, one of the biggest reasons to change a tire is because of the season you are driving in. Car owners who live in a country or part of the world that is subject to being under snow for a great deal of the winter should have two sets of tires – Winter and Summer tires. Summer tires simply are not cut out of the dangerous and treacherous conditions that Winter can cause on the roads. The ice and the snow makes stopping distances so much longer due to making roads close to frictionless, even when they have been gritted or salted for driver safety.
Owning Winter tires and replacing your Summer ones at each change of season is good practice therefore and will not only keep you safer it will also make your car perform better. Ultimately, having two sets of tires will make them last longer too as your Winter ones are far better equipped to cope with the cold weather than your Summer ones. That being said, there is also the option of owning all weather tires so that you need not change them with every season. They just wear down that much quicker.
When Should I Replace My Tires? The Bottom Line
Replacing your tires, and knowing when to replace your tires, is advisable for all road users out there. Driving on tires that are not fit for purpose is incredibly unsafe and puts yourself in unnecessary danger, not to mention the risk that you therefore pose as a consequence to all other road users. Learning when to change your tires by taking on board all of the above factors is therefore not only the actions of a conscientious driver, it is simply good, responsible behavior.