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How to determine when to replace your tires

What we'll cover

  • When and how often to replace your tires

  • Safety hazards of worn out tires

  • Buying new vs. used tires

Tires aren't exactly the most exciting item to put on your shopping list, and they're typically expensive to boot. However, for your safety and the safety of everyone on the road, it's important to know when to replace your vehicle's main contact with the road.

U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association says that a driver is three times more likely to be involved in a crash when they have poor tires. So, if you’re wondering when to replace tires, start with these steps.

Safety hazards of having worn-out tires

Over time, your tires may develop wear, including blisters, bulges and other "bad spots," which means they could lose their ability to grip the road and could cause you to skid or lose control. Too-shallow grooves can be hazardous on wet roads because they cannot adequately funnel water out of the tread. Worn tread means you could hydroplane or lose contact with the road.

In addition, worn tires may start to leak air, which can negatively affect how your vehicle brakes and steers. Leaking air can also cause a dangerous blowout.

Measure tire tread depth

The answer to the question "when should tires be replaced?" should start with measuring your tread depth.

If you've never ventured to the garage to measure your tread wear, don't worry. It's easy! All you need is a penny and two seconds. Insert a penny into your tire's tread groove with Lincoln's head upside down, facing you.

Can you still see all of Lincoln's head?

If so, your tire tread depth is less than 2/32 of an inch, which means that you've worn them down to the wear bars. The good news: It's an easy way to determine whether you need new tires. The bad news: It's time for a tire replacement.

Also check the wear patterns and tread of your tires. Do they look bald in some spots and normal in others? An alignment or suspension problem or improper inflation can cause uneven wear and may also require a tire replacement.

Determine the age of your tires

Wondering when to change tires simply because it’s been a while? Most tires need to be inspected after six years but replaced after 10 years. Of course, there are more factors that go into when to replace your tires such as how much you drive and how well you maintain your ride.

What damages tires?

Besides general wear and tear, there are a few habits that can subject your tires to more damage! For example, did you know that driving on your potholed street might cause undue wear and tear? Or that living in Alaska might require you to replace your tires sooner? Let's take a look at some of the reasons why your mechanic might be adding replacement tires to your bill:

  • Poor road conditions: Is your street unpaved, uneven or crumbling? All of this can cause alignment problems. If you know your street isn't maintained well, get your auto shop on the phone and make sure your vehicle is aligned correctly and that the tires are wearing evenly.

  • Weather: Do you live in the rainy northeast or snowy Midwest? Your tires may have to work harder to get traction in your neck of the woods. If that's the case, you may need to do tire checks more regularly. Check out our winter driving tips and keep in mind that you may need winter tires during colder months.

  • Driving habits: Do you have a bit of a lead foot? Braking hard on busy city streets, rapid acceleration and other aggressive driving can affect wear and increase tire damage.

  • Neglect: If you don't get your vehicle in for regularly scheduled checkups to maintain tire pressure and keep up with alignment and rotations, your tread wear may not be where it needs to be.

Buying new vs. used tires

New vs. used? Obviously, one of the reasons that drivers decide to opt for used tires is that they cost less. Plus, it's environmentally friendly to go for used tires.

But there are risks associated with buying used tires. For one, when you buy new tires, sellers must stick to strict federal standards – but used tires don't have these standards at all. In fact, there are no set guidelines or restrictions on buying used tires (and that means no traction measurements or guidelines for the remaining tread depth).

Furthermore, a used tire isn't going to last as long, so you’ll need to replace it more quickly.

Ask the pros for help

Even though we've gone over how to know when you need new tires, you may still be unsure if it’s time to spring for a replacement. It's a good idea to contact a local auto shop or dealership to find out if your vehicle tires have too much wear and tear. Ask friends, family and coworkers for suggestions if you don't already have a trusted auto shop on your radar.

Keep in mind, in addition to the tire replacement itself, you'll have to pay installation charges, disposal fees for your old tires, taxes and the cost of new tire stems. Get a full cost estimate (including the right tires, tire size and tire manufacturer for your vehicle) and an overview of your tire tread wear before you have a mechanic switch them out. In addition, don't forget to stay on the lookout for tire recall information and get the tire warranty to be extra safe.

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