I happen to really like tires—a lot! I find them to be very intriguing and next to the brakes, they are the most important safety feature on your vehicle.
Tires tell a great story about the car they are on. If you take a look at the tread on your tires, it is very similar to the tread pattern on your shoes. On your shoes, you can see which part of the foot you favor by the wear pattern on the soles. If you lean to the left when you walk, your soles will show it. If you turn your feet out when you walk, it's all there on the bottom of your shoes. And for those of you who get holes in the center of your soles, it's because you are putting a lot of pressure on the front of your feet. Your shoe soles reveal a lot about how you walk.
The same is true for your tires. By taking a good look at the tread, you will see how your car is driving and how the wheel balance and wheel alignment factor into that equation.
Wheel alignment and wheel balance are often confused with each other because they are close relatives, but they are different. Wheel alignment is an adjustment of the wheels' angles. They are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. Your tires will have maximum life if your car drives straight and true on level ground.
The wheel balance is the weight on the wheels. If you were carrying a back pack on your left side, you would lean toward the left. But if you work out the muscles on your left side, they can handle the weight, so you will not be off center.
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Without even getting into or driving your car, I can tell you a lot about your cars' suspension, front end, gas mileage, steering, floor board, and vibrations—all by looking at the wheels. Here are some of the biggest factors:
Tire pressure plays a big role here! Assuming all of the other front end and suspension components are within spec, having the correct tire pressure will distribute the weight of your car evenly, ensure you get the best tire wear, and maximize your gas mileage.
If you find your tire tread is wearing deeper on the edges than it is in the center of the tire, your tire is overinflated with air. If the tire tread is wearing deeper in the center than on the edges, your tire is under inflated with air.
The "penny" technique is a simple and effective way to test your tire tread. If you put Lincoln upside down into the tire tread and you can see all of his head, your tire tread is too low and not safe. No tread on slippery roads means no traction, which can cause you to slide and slip around, like wearing flats on a bowling lane. Be sure to move the penny around to different parts of the tire, since it has different wear patterns.
If the tire wear is uneven and deeper on one side than the other, it is an alignment concern and you need to have your front end checked out for "play" or looseness. If you move your hand back and forth across the tire and feel jagged edges one way and smoothness the other way, your tires have what's called "saw tooth." This is an alignment concern related to the suspension.
Lastly, we have the side walls. They really should be first because the side walls are the thinnest part of the tire and what causes blowouts. If the side wall is weak, cracked, bulging, or dry rotted, or has a bubble or a nail in it, the tire should be replaced.
For more information on when to replace your tires, please click here >>
For more information on buying new tires, including advice on whether you need one, two, or four new tires, please click here >>