Do you recall the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie, (our childhood protagonist, now turned into a reflecting adult), reminisces about his father’s tires? “My old man’s spare tires were only tires in the academic sense. They were round and had once been made of rubber.” He remarks on this as we see his father pull the baldest tire imaginable from the trunk of the car and begin to swap it out for a flat one.  

Of course, while the scene is funny for many reasons, the kicker is that the dad is replacing the bad tire with one that is only marginally safer, in that it is at least inflated. For any driver who is even partially concerned about the performance of their vehicle, we see the joke and may even laugh. But the real truth is that because so many people neglect to keep proper tabs on the health of their tires anyway, that they are effectively following the example of Ralphie’s father each time they start their car.

How To Know It’s Time For A Tire Change

There’s a lot that we can do to avoid putting our families at risk and attaining full-on “Old Man” status. No matter how high-tech your car is, (and they are getting better at sensing their needs than ever before), there is no substitute for taking a moment to check up on your engine, your tires, or if you need an oil change, every now and then. Once you do decide to check your tires, however, how will you know whether they’re road-worthy or not? Below are a few tips.

  • Your tires have gone bald. This is the oldest sign in the book. Each new tire has treads on it that help the car to not only traverse inclement road conditions such as wet or icy streets but also perform handling inputs from the driver better; braking, turning, and reversing all do better when the tires can grip the roads better. 
    • If you aren’t sure your tires are bald just by looking at them (the wear should be obvious), you can run your hands over the top of the tire and it should feel smooth because the ridges are gone.
  • Your treads are too shallow. You don’t want to wait until absolute baldness to replace your tires. Often, the tread will be too shallow to safely drive long before baldness becomes an issue. Normally, tires come with a tread depth of 10-12/32”, but general manufacturers of tires stipulate that a tire should be replaced with that depth wears down to 2/32”. 
    • The most reliable method for determining whether your treads need to be replaced is by using a tread depth gauge. This instrument uses sensors attached to a stick that you place into the tread. The digital readout on the gauge will tell you how deep the treads are. 
    • If you don’t have a gauge, the next easiest method is the old penny trick. Place a penny vertically into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing downwards. If his head is entirely visible, with the rubber meeting the crown of his scalp, then you don’t have that much tread left and you need to replace the tire.
  • Cracks have appeared in the sidewall. This can be a dangerous one since cracks all over the body of the tire﹘especially those that run from the innermost part that connects to the axle up to the top﹘show structural damage to the tire as a whole. Failing to identify sidewall cracks, or allowing them to get wider and deeper, can not only lead to life-threatening occurrences like a blowout on the road but the resultant damage to the car could lead to an even more expensive trip to our auto care shop here in Orem.
    • The easiest way to find cracks in the sidewall before they get out of hand is to bring your eyes level with the tire and shine a flashlight on it. The cracks should be easy to spot, since they will look so out of place, especially compared to a brand new tire. 
  • Your car shakes violently when you drive. Every car, by virtue of its function to travel over wildly inconsistent roads be they dirt, paved, or worn, will shake when it drives. That is the natural result of having tactile contact with the ground while you’re moving. But tires that have reached the limit of their lifespan will shake harder than normal and the driver will be able to tell the difference. 
    • Sometimes the tires themselves aren’t the culprit of the shaking, though they are still being worn down by it and need replacing. A car can shake badly if the tires are out of alignment, or there could be an issue with the struts or the steering column. Either way, one of our mechanics will be able to identify the problem for you and get your tires replaced.
  • Your tires have exceeded their warranty. This is more of a practical issue than a performance one. If the tires have been in use for many years after the warranty has expired, then it is smart to replace your tires. Tires can never “get better”; they will always be worn down until they become unusable. So, driving without a safety net is only increasing the problems you’ll experience when those tires do finally become unusable.