Tires are hugely important to nearly every aspect of your vehicle’s performance. As the only portion of any car, truck, crossover and SUV that actually touches the road, they impact acceleration, cornering, handling and braking while also playing a huge role in fuel economy and road noise as well. Tires may not be as thrilling as sleek sheet metal or a high-horsepower engine, but there’s nothing more important to your vehicle’s safety than their care and maintenance. That means making sure your tires are properly inflated and regularly rotated and balanced.
According to the experts at Goodyear, making sure your tires are correctly inflated is the most important aspect of vigilant tire care. Every tire comes with inflation recommendations – listed as “PSI,” or pounds per square inch – on the sidewall, but it’s worth noting that those are the maximum allowable pressures. While the tire can handle those inflation levels, they may not be what are actually recommended for your vehicle. Those figures can be found in your owner’s manual, on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door or on a door pillar. Lower than recommended inflation can lead to premature tire wear, uneven braking and early tire failure. It can also cause a serious drain on fuel economy, up to a 0.4 percent reduction for every single PSI below optimum levels, according to some studies.
On the other hand, overinflation can be just as dangerous. Extreme tire pressures can warp the tire’s tread, thereby reducing the physical area where the tire touches the road. Not surprisingly, this reduces your vehicle’s traction on dry pavement, which can lead to longer braking distances and unstable handling at speed. Like underinflation, overinflation can also lead to premature tire failure.
Most tire manufacturers recommend having a rotation performed every 6,000 miles to promote even wear and to extend the life of the tire. A qualified factory service technician will know the best rotation pattern for your tires and your vehicle, but the procedure typically entails moving the tires that were on the drive axle to a non-drive axle and vice-versa. The process is different for all-wheel drive vehicles and those equipped with directional tires, but the aim remains the same. This prevents one area of the tire from wearing down before the rest of the tread, and can save you serious money on a premature replacement.
While making sure that your tires are properly inflated and regularly rotated can save you hundreds of dollars a year in replacement costs and fuel economy, making sure that your tires are accurately balanced is also important. Your vehicle’s tires and wheels spin at a rate of thousands of revolutions per minute when at highway speed, and, as a result, any small imbalance can cause a significant vibration. While tire and wheel manufacturers strive to produce the most perfectly balanced products possible, some variance will always exist. Service technicians overcome those variances by securing small, incremental lead weights to the vehicle’s wheel to achieve proper balance.
Balancing is typically performed anytime that a new tire is mounted to a wheel, but as the tire ages, balancing may need to be rechecked. Those lead weights routinely fall off over time as well, which can lead to a harsh vibration in one wheel. That vibration is translated directly to the vehicle’s suspension components, which can cause premature wear to expensive components like bushings and shocks, and into the vehicle’s cabin. As the vibration increases, so can driver fatigue. If you notice a regular vibration while driving your vehicle, it may be time for a rotation.
As the only link between your vehicle and the road, your tires are monumentally important to your safety. Simple maintenance like keeping up with inflation, regular rotations and prompt balancing can extend tire life, save you money and improve nearly every aspect of your vehicle’s performance.