Oil changes and replenishing your wiper fluid: Those are car maintenance to-dos that most of us take care of like clockwork. But there are a surprising number of tire upkeep tasks that can help you boost performance and save fuel. Here are six tire maintenance tasks to think about.
1. Learn a little (or a lot) about your spare
Sometimes referred to as a donut, a spare tire is designed to get you out of a pinch: You’ve gotten a flat or a tire blows out, and you need to get your car home or to a repair shop. That’s why it’s often smaller than your vehicle’s traditional tires: It’s not designed to be a permanent replacement and may even have miles-per-hour speed limitations.
Most spares are located either in the trunk or under the rear of the vehicle. Some cars may have the spare on the exterior. Typically, a spare includes the jack to take off the old tire and attach the new one. Even if you have Emergency Roadside Service, knowing where your spare is and how it works can help you in case you’re somewhere where you can’t access a professional and need to fix your vehicle quickly.
2. Note the details of your vehicle’s tires
If you open the driver’s side door and look on the door jamb, you might see a sticker; that’s where most vehicles supply the manufacturer-recommended tire pressure and the measurements for tire size and vehicle overall weight capacity. If you’re checking your tire pressure and unsure what the goal is, check there or your owner’s manual.
3. Learn how to use a tire gauge
In general, tires lose about 1 psi (pounds per square inch) per month, and if they’re underinflated your gas mileage may suffer. A tire gauge can help. It resembles a chunky pen. Here’s how to use a tire pressure gauge: place its open end on the tire’s valve and apply pressure until the hissing stops; a bar that measures psi will move out from the gauge. However, try not to measure psi on tires that have recently been driven. For the most accurate read, check the cold tire pressure, which simply means checking tires that haven’t been driven for about three hours.
4. Understand your vehicle’s low-tire pressure alert
There are all sorts of sensors — low fuel and battery to name just a couple — that your vehicle offers up when it needs a little love and attention. Luckily for you (and your tires), vehicles manufactured after 2007 issue an alert when the tire pressure on one or more tires falls below 25 percent or its recommended psi. The light is a nearly encircled exclamation point. When it comes on, check the psi of each tire and fill to the recommended level.
5. Finally: a use for pennies
Tires do have a life span — generally about three or four years with average mileage use of about 10,000 to 15,000 miles. There’s a quick way to test how close your tires might be to replacement. Simply insert a penny, Lincoln’s head down, into a tread. If the tire covers his hair, it’s still OK to drive. Or, your tires may have a built-in treadwear indicator, which is a raised section that runs down over time to indicate the need for replacement.
6. Put tire rotation on your to-do list, too
Unless your vehicle is an outlier with differently sized front and back wheels, your tires need to be rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles, according to Consumer Reports. To help evenly distribute wear and tear, the front ones need to go on the back and the back ones need to move to the front. At the same time as your tires are rotated, ask your mechanic to check your tire alignment, too.
Watch this video to learn more about keeping up with your tires.