When it comes to safety, tires are one of the most important components of your vehicle. Your brakes stop the wheels from turning, but it's the grip of the tires that brings your car to a stop.

When you think of all the safety equipment on cars these days, people quickly think of airbags, emergency braking, anti-lock brakes, lane departure warning, etc. The truth is, your tires are one of the most important safety features of your vehicle. It is often the most ignored as well. They cushion the car providing a more comfortable ride. Develop traction for driving and steering under a wide variety of road conditions and help absorb massive forces even a small car can generate during accelerating, braking, and cornering.

Today, we bring you some tips on how to keep your tires in good condition. After all, tires are all that separates you from the road.

Keep An Eye On Tire Pressure

This is one of the most critical things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe. Many people think you can tell if a tire is low just by looking, but the truth is you just cannot. It starts with a good tire gauge, so you know the info is accurate. This assumes the vehicle you own doesn’t have a diagnostic center that shows each tire's pressure. All newer vehicles have a light that comes on to tell you when the pressure is low, but often by the time the light comes on, the tire is very low.

We know that a low tire runs much hotter due to friction, and this can lead to a blowout. It also hurts your fuel economy. An overinflated tire will lead to increased wear right in the middle of the tire, and because there is less tread on the road, handling is not as good, and neither is braking.

Use the tire pressure recommended by the automaker, not what it says on the side of the tire. One particular size and brand of the tire may be used on many different vehicles. Almost always, if you look inside the driver’s door, there are stated air pressures. The front may be different from the rear tires, but whatever the case, use the pressures that are on the car. If you drive around with one or multiple tires with low pressure, you risk more than just the possibility of a blowout. Driving on underinflated tires causes a drag, a force that works against your car to slow it down, and that negatively impacts your gas mileage. “Doing something as simple as checking tire pressure once a month and making sure that you have the proper inflation pressure can make a big difference in the safety, the wear, and the fuel economy in your tires. Most new cars have tire pressure warning indicator lights on the dash to alert you when a tire is low on pressure.

Nitrogen vs. Air

Understand too, that changes in temperature can affect tire pressure. Putting nitrogen in your tires can have a slight effect on tire pressure and how fast they lose pressure over time. Nitrogen is more commonly used in the tires of special equipment vehicles, airplanes, and race cars. These are heavy-frequency vehicles that operate at extreme temperatures where even the most minuscule of pressure changes can have drastic or even unpredictable effects.

They require the air pressure stability nitrogen gas provides. Tires filled with nitrogen also tend to run cooler than those filled with air. Because tire grip strongly correlates to tire temperature, using nitrogen is necessary for race car drivers.

Ultimately, your gas of choice should depend on how you use your vehicle. If you use your car on the racetrack, consider switching to nitrogen if you haven’t done so already. For car owners who mostly use public transportation or have cars in storage for extended periods of time, nitrogen may be a beneficial option. Filling a tire with nitrogen gas is a long process that involves filling and purging tires multiple times, which slowly removes oxygen and any water. Using 93 to 95 percent pure nitrogen will prevent wheel corrosion from internal moisture and result in greater longevity for your tires. Unfortunately, nitrogen can be expensive, and the inflation process is time-consuming

Regardless of the type of gas, you decide on, be sure to check your tire pressure at least once a month and take your car in for regular maintenance to ensure tire health.

Tire Rotation Is Critical

Too often people don’t spend the money needed to get their tires rotated. This should be done every 8000 kms. What people often don’t realize is rotating tires will extend the life of your tires, sometimes you can double the tire life just by being diligent with the 8000 km rotation. Rotation will help keep tread wear even, especially on front-wheel-drive cars. I would use a dealership to do this since some vehicles have different rules of rotating. Some vehicles have to be cross-rotated. Also, most dealerships will do a free brake inspection for you and give you the amount of brake wear since they’ve already got the wheels off anyway.

Don't Forget The Front End Alignment

Again, this will extend the life of your tires, and you often can’t tell by driving if your front end is out of alignment. Potholes and curbs will knock a car out of alignment in a hurry. Often, by the time you figure out your car needs an alignment, you’ve eaten through the tires. The safe mileage to have an alignment checked is no more than 25,000 miles unless you hit a curb or pothole that you really feel.

Check Your Tread Depth

This is something you can easily do yourself using a tread depth gauge, which can be found at almost any Canadian Tire or local Automotive parts store for under $5. Take measurements in three locations across the tire’s tread: Check the outside edge, right in the center, and on the inside edge.

If your tires have less than 2mm of tread, which is below the legal minimum in most places, and should set off all sorts of warnings, they should be replaced immediately. Tires worn to this level could also have visible wear, like the steel cords showing from side to side across two or more tread segments. Tires this worn are a true safety issue and you are at risk.

Between 4 to 5mm is considered good, and 6mm and over is good.

A Few Other Thoughts

  • Besides making your car look good, a good tire dressing is smart, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of sun and heat. Tire dressing is great for keeping your tires from cracking due to age.
  • If you feel your front end shaking or shimmying, and your steering wheel shakes at speeds over 50-65km, you may need a balance. Weights are put on your wheels to make them perfectly balanced, but those hard potholes can knock the weights off and cause your vehicle to drive differently. This is not something you need to do as regular maintenance, but only if you feel your car is driving differently.
  • Vibration and shaking at lower speeds may indicate tire damage and should be checked immediately.
  • Tire age is important, so know how old your tires are. We know that tires get substantially weaker after they are six years old, regardless of mileage. On the side of the tire, you’ll see DOT (Department of Transportation) and a four-digit number. This number represents the date the tire was made. For instance, if you see DOT 1916, the tire was produced in the 19th week of 2016. When buying new or used tires, ask about age and check it. Sometimes tires, especially odd-sized ones, can sit on the shelf for many years.

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