Scales of Justice

Tire Tread, Pressure, Alignment and Rotation Tips

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What is tire tread?

Tires need traction to grip the road in dangerous weather conditions, such as rain, snow, ice, or mud.

If we only drove on dry, non-weather effected roads, treads wouldn’t be necessary because smooth tires are best for gripping dry surfaces.

But most of us drive in all kinds of weather conditions, and we need good treads to drive safely.

These weather conditions can change from hour to hour in Oklahoma. Without safe treads, the cars we drive would be almost impossible to control on wet, icy, or slick roads.

What makes bald tires so dangerous?

Too much heat can build up with bald tires. When you drive, your tires create friction with the road surface. This friction causes heat. Too much heat can cause a blowout, causing you to lose control of the car, especially at high speeds.

Tires are made of materials that can withstand fairly high levels of heat. But once it reaches a certain limit, the tires become unsafe.

The faster you drive, the more heat the tire must be able to withstand. That’s why having proper tread depth is so important – treads help cool the tire by allowing air to flow in between the grooves.

Bald tires don’t have the grooves provided by treads, so the heat can easily build up to unsafe levels.

Bald tires increase your risk of hydroplaning. You probably have experienced a small hydroplane at some point in your life. Hydroplaning occurs when water gets between the tire and the road. When this occurs, the tire loses its ability to grip the road, causing the car to spin out of control.

If you’ve ever hydroplaned while driving a car, you know that it can be very difficult to regain control. Modern tire tread patterns contain deep grooves that channel water away from the tire, which enables it to maintain a firm grip on the road in wet conditions.

As the tread wears away over time, the grooves become shallower, making them less effective at directing water away from the tire. The shallower the grooves, the greater the risk of hydroplaning, even on roads that are only slightly wet.

When tires are completely bald, hydroplaning in heavy rain conditions becomes highly likely.

Difficult handling in snow or ice. Wet roads aren’t the only safety problem with bald tires. Unless you have good snow tires, which have wider and deeper grooves than everyday tires, driving on a road covered with snow or ice can be a risky proposition.

Loss of air pressure. Bald tires are bad news all around. Not only do they make it harder to control the car in most conditions, they also lose air faster than tires with good tread depth.

Even if you make a point to check your tire pressure on a regular basis, low-tread and bald tires can lose their air sooner than you think. Once your worn-out tires become under-inflated, they become even more dangerous to drive. Under-inflated tires can’t grip the road properly, even in dry conditions, which can make it harder to steer your car.

They can also affect braking by causing the car to skid during sudden stops. They even put a dent in your bank account by reducing gas mileage, which drives up your gasoline costs. Under-inflation also causes the remaining tread to wear out quicker, which means you must replace your tires sooner than expected.

Sudden blowouts. This is possibly the biggest threat from driving on bald tires. In addition to improving handling in bad weather, treads also help reduce the chances of suffering a blowout while driving. Experiencing a blowout is dangerous at any speed; blowouts at high speeds can be fatal. Treads can’t prevent all punctures, but if you run over a nail or other hard, sharp object, they stand a better chance of resisting the blowout than bald tires. Few moments behind the wheel are more terrifying or dangerous than a sudden blowout at freeway speeds.

Not enough tread depth

Always use a tread gauge to properly check your tread depth.  They don’t cost much, can be bought at most service stations or auto parts stores and are easily stored in your glove compartment. They’re also simple to use, even if you don’t have any auto experience.

The penny trick also works. Insert a penny into the tread with the “heads” side facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tread is too low and it’s time to get new tires.

Visible indicator bars. To make it quicker and easier to judge the amount of wear on your tread, today’s tires are made with tread indicator bars. These flat rubber bars are built right into the tire, but you can’t see them when the tires are new and have plenty of tread.

As the tread wears down over time, the bars gradually become visible. When you can clearly see them, it means the tire tread has reached unsafe levels.

Sidewall cracks. Bald tires aren’t the only danger sign to look for; cracks in the sidewall also pose a potential Tire sidewall don’t wear away like tread, but they tend to dry out as the miles go by. This can lead to cracks or cuts that compromise the structural integrity of the tire. Very small cracks are common on older tires, and don’t pose much of a threat. Large cracks should not be ignored. Any time you spot one, head to your tire shop as soon as possible for a professional evaluation.

How to check your tire pressure

It is important to have the proper air pressure in your tires, as underinflation can lead to tire failure, You can find how much air should be in your tires on your car’s door edge, doorpost, glove box door or fuel door. It is also listed in the owner’s manual.

Follow the steps below when checking your tire pressure.

When you check the air pressure, make sure the tires are cool — meaning they are not hot from driving even a mile.

  1. Remove the cap
  2. Press the gauge onto the stem
  3. Add air to achieve the recommended air pressure
  4. If you overfill the tire, release air by pushing on the metal stem in the center of the valve. Then recheck the pressure with your tire gauge.
  5. Replace the cap.
  6. Visually inspect the tires to make sure there are no nails or other objects embedded that could poke a hole in the tire and cause an air leak.
  7. Check the sidewalls to make sure there are no gouges, cuts, bulges or other irregularities.

Alignment tips

Hitting a curb or pothole can throw your front end out of alignment and damage your tires.

Misalignment of wheels in the front or rear can cause uneven and rapid treadwear and should be corrected by a professional. Front-wheel-drive vehicles, and those with independent rear suspension, require alignment of all four wheels.

Have your alignment checked periodically as specified by the vehicle owner’s manual or whenever you have an indication of trouble such as pulling to one side or vibrations.

Tire rotation tips

You can slow down uneven tread wear by rotating your tires which simply means moving them around on your vehicle in a systematic way. Rotation is important because each tire on a car carries a different amount of weight, making them wear at different rates. By rotating them, you basically even out those differences.

Your owner’s manual will tell you how often to rotate your tires, as a general rule, it should be done every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. You might want to rotate them sooner if you see signs of uneven wear.

Misalignment and other mechanical problems can also cause such wear, so check with your mechanic to determine the cause.

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