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how to take care of your tires

Your tires need you as much as you need your tires. And a happy set of wheels can save you money at the pump and help you avoid accidents. In other words, there's a lot riding on them. Use this guide to make sure you and your tires are safely in sync.

Tire maintenance 101

Tire neglect is a common factor in car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly 1 in 10 crashes is tire-related. But here's the good news: many tire-related accidents could be avoided with some simple tire maintenance.

Inflate your tires properly

Tires often lose pressure over time, and underinflated tires can make your car 3 times as likely to end up in a severe crash, according to the NHTSA. Overinflated tires can be a problem, too.

It's easy to avoid tire-pressure peril. Get yourself a handy tire gauge and check your pressure once a month (preferably when the tires are cool and have been sitting for an hour). Make sure the psi matches the number in your vehicle manual or on the tire sidewall.

Track your tread

Your tire tread should be at least 2/32 of an inch deep for safe handling. Here's a trick to help you measure: stick a penny into a tire groove. If part of Abe's head is covered, you're OK. If you can see his entire copper dome, it's time to replace your tires. Why? In a 2012 NHTSA study, tires with treads shallower than 2/32" factored into significantly more crashes than their properly treaded counterparts.

Rotate and realign your tires

Rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. This helps balance the wear between the front and rear and prevents uneven deterioration. It's surprisingly easy for wheels to fall out of alignment — sometimes it's as simple as hitting a pothole.

Look for tire damage

Watch for severe damage like punctures, bulges, or cuts in the sidewall. If you're unsure whether the damage warrants a tire change, check with an expert from a tire shop or a repair shop.

Change all 4 tires

When it's time for new tires, some drivers buy only 2 at a time to save money. But this can leave you at risk. If you replace just the front tires, you could start fishtailing on sharp turns. And if you swap out only the back tires, you could lose traction in wet weather.

We recommend biting the (relatively minor but admittedly more costly) bullet and replacing all 4 tires at the same time. It could end up saving you money in the long run by helping you avoid a costly accident.

If you opt for only 2 new tires, however, experts recommend replacing the rear ones.

Driving habits that can extend your tires' lifespan

In addition to maintaining your tires, these good-driving tactics should help extend the life of your tires:

  • Obey speed limits. Faster driving means shorter tread life (not to mention possible increases in car insurance rates if you get a ticket).
  • Avoid sudden stops, starts, and turns. Burning rubber is a great
    way to quickly ruin those new tires — and it's an open invitation for
    any nearby cops.
  • Avoid rubbing against curbs when parking. For all you city
    dwellers, we know finding an open space can be a long and grueling
    battle. But when you do find one, take an extra second to park slowly
    and save your tires from any sidewall cuts or punctures.
  • Load your car with caution. Your car can only carry so much. Check your manual for your vehicle's load limits and stick to them.

Treating your tires right

You count on your tires to keep you safe, so take good care of them. They'll return the favor.

For more safe-driving and car-maintenance advice, browse through our safety tips.

Related links

Tire buying 101
You have options when it comes to tires. Learn how to shop for and find the right set of tires for your safety and your budget.

How to handle a blown tire
No matter how safely you drive, the possibility of a blowout on the highway is always real. We explain how to handle this scary situation.