2009 Spring Car Guide
auto
Keeping your tires in shape

Front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles need to have their tires rotated differently, though, and these recommended tire-rotation patterns vary even more if you are rotating a fifth tire -- a full-size spare -- regularly. For complete instructions and illustrations concerning proper tire rotation, Edmonds encourages readers to visit the Tire Rack's consumer information page.

T is Tread

You should also carefully examine your tires for any signs of excessive or abnormal tread wear, punctures or other signs of physical damage. Any cuts, abrasions or other blemishes or defects anywhere on the tire should be examined by a trained service technician or tire professional right away.

"As a tire wears, there are also these things called 'wear bars' located at any number of points on the tire that tell you that your tire has 2/32 of an inch or less of tread left," says Zielinski. "And if you see these on a tire, they are a visible indicator that you need to replace the tire. Replacing your tires when you can see all of Abraham Lincoln's head using the time-honored 'penny test' is also a good rule of thumb."

And now that spring is here -- the rainy season across much of the country -- it's not good to be driving on tires that have insufficient tread.

"We've actually become big proponents of upgrading the time-tested 'penny test' to the 'quarter test' -- using George Washington's head in the same fashion that we once used Lincoln's on the penny," says Edmonds. "If you can insert a quarter into your tire's tread and see George Washington's entire head, well, you're just below 4/32 of an inch versus 2/32 of an inch for a penny. But that small difference in terms of remaining tread can be tremendous in terms of a car's stopping distance in wet weather."

When you drive on a wet road on tires that have 2/32 of an inch of tread versus 4/32 of an inch of tread, worn-out tires can move much less water from the tire's contact surface with the pavement, says Edmonds. "In a panic stop from 70 miles an hour -- not an uncommon emergency maneuver on the highway -- that difference in tread translates into an additional 100 feet of stopping distance."

"At present there really are no real hard-and-fast recommendations about tires in terms of their age," says Zielinski. "Some automakers recommend replacing a tire after six years while others recommend replacing a tire after 10 years of service -- but as yet there is really no data indicating that a tire of a certain age is going to be unable to perform."

"Our experience has been that, when properly cared for, most street tires have a useful life of between six to 10 years," says Edmonds.

But if you think that tire dressings can make your tires last longer, guess again.

"There are currently one or two new products out there that are actually beneficial for your tires," says Zielinski. "But, generally speaking, tire-dressing products should not be used because by bringing out that nice, wet, black shine that everybody is so interested in today, you could actually be pulling out certain chemical properties from the tire which the tire needs during its life. So you can effectively wind up bringing out important antioxidants that otherwise protect your tire from the elements. The best thing that you can do is just to wash your tire with regular soap and water."

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