When Should I Replace my Tires?

When do I need to replace my tires

Despite all the gains in active safety technology that have been applied to cars over the past few years, your car’s tires are still the most critical element in the safety chain. As your car rides on four patches of rubber only about the size of your palm, almost every active safety device must still rely upon the tires as it’s the sole connection of the vehicle to the road.

Modern radial tires are designed to provide consistent service throughout their life. However, it’s important to recognize the signs that your tires are due for replacement, as opposed to waiting until they’re completely worn-out, as that limits the full range of your vehicle’s capabilities.

Out with the Penny, In with the Quarter

It used to be that an easy test to see if you needed to replace your car’s tires was to stick a penny into one of the tread grooves, inserted with Lincoln’s head down. If the tread comes up to Lincoln’s head, the old standard indicated that the tire was worn out and needed to be replaced. There are also government-mandated wear bars in the tire that provide the same information – they are even when the at 2/32” of groove depth. The problem with the test is that people took it to mean that their tires were okay to drive on. That’s not the case. With only 2/32” of tread remaining your tires are beyond the legal limits in all 50 states. You’re actually driving on non-legal tires.

A new test that has been adopted by consumer groups and tire markers alike, and it uses a US Quarter instead. Now you dunk George Washington’s head into the tread and if it reaches just to the top of his head, it’s time to start tire shopping. You have 4/32” of tread which is what most safety groups believe to be the safe limit for tire wear. So next time you’re looking to check the tread depth of your tires, upgrade to a US Quarter.

Be On the Lookout for Irregular Wear

It’s best to measure the tread depth of your tires in various locations across the tread as well as around its circumference. You may find that the measurements come out differently in different locations. For example, if the shoulder area is much lower than the rest of the tire it could be an issue with the vehicle’s alignment, the speed with which one or more drivers take a corner, or even that the tire is or underinflated inflated for a period of time. Another common cause of irregular is worn struts, shocks, or other suspension components. Worn shocks create a strange diagonal wear pattern across the tread that’s unmistakable. Just remember, there’s nothing built into the tire that would cause these types of wear patterns – it’s either use, misuse, or a mechanical condition.

Inspect Your Tires Well

Look for debris the tire may have picked up while driving. Sometimes it’s obvious things like a nail, which if caught in enough time, can be repaired and the tire saved. Wait too long and rust can develop or the hole can get enlarged so that a repair is no longer possible. Look for other debris, especially sharp stones, as they can actually drill their way through the tread of the tire. Removing them is simple but don’t remove anything you suspect may have punctured the tread. Otherwise, you’ll have to jack up the car and find another means to get the now flat tire to the tire dealer as you’ve just let all the air escape.

Another area to inspect is the sidewall. Due to the amount of flexing the sidewall is required to endure while driving, punctures to the sidewall cannot be repaired. Your best solution if you find a puncture or a bulge, typically caused by a pothole or striking a curb, is to get to your tire dealer as soon as possible. However, don’t panic if you want a reverse bulge – that is an area that’s best described as a shallow valley. That’s where splice in the body cords of your tire is located (think about how a belt around your waist is double thickness at the buckle). You’ll typically find it 180 degrees from the valve stem. It’s actually an area of greater strength, due to the overlap of materials, and shouldn’t be of concern.

Tires Have a Life, Too

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that tires remain in use no longer than six years. So if you have a six year old car still rolling on its original tires, congratulations, as you’ve obviously taken good care of your tires. To celebrate, drive down to our service center and have all five tire replaced (don’t forget the spare). At six years old the synthetic rubber compounds in the tires start to disintegrate. What happens is that, like your skin, tires ooze a small amount of oil to keep the tread and sidewall area pliable. At a certain point, the tire can no longer provide enough of the needed oil. It’s caused by use, environmental substances like ozone, sunlight, and other factors.

The phenomenon is commonly known as dry rot, and it may appear sooner depending upon where you live and drive. It’s apparent in crumbling of the tread rubber and/or cracks or crazing in the sidewall. Should any of these conditions appear, no matter how long the tires have been on your car, it’s important to have your tires inspected by a tire expert.

So take the time to look at your tires and understand what it is they’re trying to tell you. It will make for safer, more trouble-free driving in the long run.

Six Vital Vehicle Fluids

six-vital-vehicle-fluids

The bulk of your vehicle’s maintenance should be preventative. That is, as long as you follow the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals it’s unlikely you’ll run into unexpected mechanical repairs. 

Maintenance service is largely covered under one of three categories. One is belts and hoses. Second are the filters: air, oil, and fuel, but also cabin air filters. The third is the fluids that flow through your vehicle. A modern vehicle simply couldn’t exist without these fluid systems. Furthermore, if they’re neglected they could cause system failures that can be expensive to repair.

Instructions on checking all six of the systems that we have listed below are included in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. You can also have the certified technicians at Fletch’s check any or all of these systems on your behalf, or even teach you how to check them yourself if you’d like.

Engine Oil

This is the process in which drivers are most familiar. With an emphasis on reducing internal engine friction (lowering emissions and improving fuel economy) modern engines sometimes utilize synthetic oils and or have less oil in the engine than their predecessors. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions as to when and how to check the oil to get the most accurate reading. The same goes for oil change frequency. The owner’s manual will provide you with the recommended interval for normal driving and for driving in severe conditions, which is more common than you might think. Some vehicles use a sophisticated computer-based system that recommends oil change intervals based on the actual use of the vehicle. If you have any questions as to which system or schedule to follow, the Service Advisors at Fletch’s will be happy to help.

Transmission Fluid

The automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is optimized for the special requirements of an automatic transmission, such as valve operation, brake band friction, and the torque converter as well as gear lubrication. You check your automatic transmission fluid the same time as your engine oil, with the exception in most cases that the vehicle should be running per the frequency listed in your owner’s manual. Unlike engine oil, transmission fluid is part of a closed system, so it should never be low (which would indicate a leak that should be addressed as soon as possible). Smell the fluid on the dipstick, which should be red and not smell burnt. If it shows discoloration or gives off a scorched smell, have it inspected by a Certified Technician at Fletch’s to determine whether the transmission requires repair or simply a fluid change. 

Engine Coolant/Anti-Freeze

Engine coolant/anti-freeze keeps your car, truck, or SUV running cool in the summer and keeps it from freezing up in the winter. If you ever run low on coolant, your engine, radiator, and hoses will either overheat if it’s summer or freeze if it’s winter.  Unfortunately the properties in coolant/anti-freeze that allow it to function better than straight water wear out over time. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on when you should check your coolant and how frequently the coolant should be replaced or renewed.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is formulated to capture water that comes into the braking system from atmospheric contamination. Water is bad news for a braking system as it’s compressible (which makes the brakes spongy), and it creates the risk of a metal brake line rusting through causing a partial system failure. So brake fluid needs to be removed and replaced per the manufacturer’s schedule listed in your owner’s manual. In addition, check the brake fluid reservoir for the color of the fluid. Clean brake fluid looks somewhat like oil. If it’s brown, it’s contaminated and definitely time to replace it, and if it’s low (marked on the reservoir) it could be the sign of a leak.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering uses a pump to push a piston that’s attached to the steering rack. Turn right and the pump sends fluid to the appropriate piston.  If the power steering fluid is low, the first indication you may get is a squeal when you turn the wheel all the way to the right or left while parked with the engine running.  Any drop in fluid usually indicates a leak in either one of the hoses or the seals inside the ram. As always, these can usually be avoided by performing the preventive maintenance outlined in your owner’s manual.

Washer Fluid

While most people who list oil and brake fluid as critical to the operation of their car, truck, or SUV, they rarely think of washer fluid as important. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here in Michigan, as snows melt and streets and highways get wet with run-off, it’s a constant battle to keep your windshield clean. Washer fluid is a consumable so there’s no schedule to replace it. Instead, as the vehicle operator, you should take the opportunity at every other fill-up to lift the hood and eyeball the washer fluid tank. 

So whether its regular scheduled fluid maintenance or a concern over a low fluid level or bad smell, bring your car, truck, or SUV into the certified technical experts at Fletch’s and they’ll have it sorted out in no time.