How Long Do Tires Last and When Should I Replace Them?
Unlike microplastics in the ocean, tires do not last forever.
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We’re sorry to break it to you, but an automobile is composed of an intricate assembly of interconnected parts that will eventually fail. It’s up to the driver to inspect and maintain the car to ensure these parts are either serviced or replaced before they create unsafe situations. One of the biggest safety priorities is a car’s rubber shoes, so it’s paramount to know just how long tires last.
As the sole connection between the ground and the car, a tire takes on a lot of responsibility. It provides grip, stability, comfort, and protection, among other things. With that pressure comes a multitude of outside forces that are constantly wearing on tires and breaking them down. Factors such as weather, road conditions, and age degrade the rubbers, chemicals, and plastics that make up a tire.
Just how long that degradation takes is different from case to case, but there are a few general rules to follow. The Drive’s crack informational team has put together a handy guide to show you the way and answer the question, “how long do tires last?”
What Are Tires Made Of?
Michelin states that a tire’s ingredient list features more than 200 raw materials. The main components include elastomers such as synthetic and natural rubber, reinforcing fillers such as carbon black and silica, plasticizers such as oils and resins, chemicals such as sulfur, and reinforcements such as steel and textile fabrics. Here’s the breakdown of the major parts of an average radial tire:
Inner liner: An innertube made of synthetic rubber that maintains the air pressure
Carcass ply: Thin textile cords affixed to rubber that provide structure and support
Lower bead area: Located at the exterior “edges,” this is where the tire holds onto the wheel when rolling over the ground
Beads: Each wheel features two beads, or circular metal wires, that maintain an airtight fit with the rim of the wheel and keep the tire seated
Sidewall: The outside-facing section of tire that protects it from curbs and other damaging exterior forces
Casing ply: Providing a majority of the strength of the tire, the casing ply is made of up a bunch of tiny metal cords
Cap ply: What Michelin also calls the “zero degree belt,” the cap ply is made of rubber-covered reinforced nylon cords and maintains the tire’s shape while reducing heat
Crown plies: The structural base of the tread
Tread: The tread is the pattern seen on the flat outside portion of the tire. In addition to this part of the rubber creating flash chemical bonds with the ground, the tread helps push away moisture and dirt from the surface of the tire. The tread is responsible for traction and grip, and without it, the tire can become slippery and unsafe.
How Long Do Tires Last?
The length of each tire’s life will be different, depending on the design and numerous wear-and-tear factors, but manufacturers and service companies suggest general mileage limits to help prevent driving on unsafe rubber. Check your manufacturer warranties and guidelines for specifics.
Discount Tire, a large nationwide auto service company, suggests replacing tires, regardless of the tread depth, after six years of use. That time could come sooner, depending on the health of the tires. Every tire also has a suggested mileage limit.
How Old Are Your Tires?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all tires must list the month and year the tires were produced on the sidewall. On tires made in 2000 or newer, this can be found in the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number. Of those four digits, the first two convey the month, and the last two convey the year. For example, a tire that reads DOT U2LL LMLR 3209 means it was made in the 32nd week of 2009. Before 2000, three digits were used, with the first two digits translating to the month and the last digit marking the year.
Related post: Best Car Tires
The best way to inspect tires is to remove them for a full view of the front and rear sidewalls, as well as the tread. Use these items to ensure you’re working safely.
- Mechanic gloves or work gloves
- Safety glasses
- Jack stands (be sure not to use recalled Harbor Freight stands)
- Wheel chocks or wedges
Everything You’ll Need To Check Your Tires
Checking, rotating, and changing tires are straightforward tasks, but they involve lifting 3,000-6,000-pound chunks of metal and plastic above the ground. That makes it dangerous. The right tools provide safety and simplify the job, so here's what you'll need to check your tires.
- Car jack or car lift
- Jack stands
- Tire pressure gauge
- Tire tread depth gauge
- Four-way tire iron, torque wrench, or compressor with air impact wrench
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable while you are inspecting your tires, will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
While you are asking the Gods "How Long Will My Tires Last?" - you’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Tire Health Checklist
A lot can go wrong with a tire, so it’s important to constantly check that it’s up to snuff. Look for and be aware of these factors when examining the health of your tires:
- Pressure: Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), this refers to the air pressure inside the tires.
- Tread depth: This refers to how deep the patterned exterior ridges of the tire are.
- Punctures: Check for anything that has penetrated the tire and innertube that could cause air to leak out.
- Cracks/dry-rotting: Look for cracks or splits in the tire. If found, the tire is not safe for driving and should be replaced immediately.
- Over/under inflation: Inflating a tire with too much or too little air will cause uneven tread wear and will detract from its full performance capabilities.
- Balance: The mass distribution of tires needs to be even and balanced in order to function properly.
Pro Tips for Tire Care and Maintenance
Throughout our years of buying, changing, and fixing tires, we've seen it all. Here are some top tips we've learned from our experiences:
- Always replace tires in complete sets of four or six. Driving with unmatched tires could create or result in more problems down the road.
- Don’t forget the spare tire! The last thing you want is to be stranded with an underinflated spare, or worse.
- Tires have wear bars built into them. If your tread is even with the bar, it’s time to change tires.
- Check your tire with an upside-down quarter (the penny test is dated). If the tread covers Washington’s head, that generally means the tire still has at least 4/32 of an inch of tread or enough for safe driving. If you can see all of Washington’s dome, head to the tire center ASAP.
- Don’t be afraid to use the hand test. Although the best way to inspect is removing the tires, not everybody has the time, space, or know-how. With a glove on, run your hand over the surfaces of the tires to check for uneven tread wear, bubbles, cupping, flat spots, nails, glass, bald spots, or other irregularities.
Get Help With Tire Replacement From a Mechanic On JustAnswer
The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.
So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you
How Often Do You Need to Rotate Your Tires?
As a general rule, we recommend every 5,000-7,000 miles, but it depends on numerous factors, including your car’s alignment. You can read more on The Drive’s guide for How To Rotate Car Tires.
How Often Does Your Car Need an Alignment?
Should you notice any inconsistencies with steering or your car’s straight-line driving, get your alignment checked as soon as possible. If not, a safe and reliable rule is to have it checked once a year. However, this all depends on how and how much a person drives.
How Often Should You Put Air in Your Tires?
It’s not a bad idea to do an eyeball test any time you get in the car. For further inspection, use a tire pressure gauge once a week to check your tires. It only takes a few minutes and could save you time, money, and health in the future.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy New Tires?
This depends on what type of tire, the size of the tire, and the brand. Four 15-inch Sumitomo HTR P02 all-season tires for a 1996 Saturn SC2 cost roughly $275, but four 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza S007 summer tires will set you back roughly $1,800. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars at a minimum.
Find the Right Tires With Tire Rack
Listen, we know how hard it can be to pick the right tire. Between the word-jumble that are tire specifications, as well as the tire manufacturer's names for tires that never just say what they are, it can be a pain and you might end up with the wrong shoes for your ride. That's why we've partnered up with our friends at Tire Rack. They'll take the headache out of tire shopping. All you have to do is click here.
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