A mechanic rolling a new tire, preparing for the installation.

Tire maintenance & safety

When do I need new tires? 5 ways to tell

It’s a simple question: “When do I need new tires?” Usually, people answer by saying when the tire goes bald, you can’t see any tread left, or the cords are showing.

While none of these answers are technically wrong, you’re only judging one aspect of a tire’s life. In reality, there are so many more factors that go into deciding when it’s time to change tires.

And considering the tires are the only part of your car actually touching the road, making sure they are in good condition is imperative to the safety of not only those in your car but also other motorists sharing the road with you.

Next time you ask yourself, “When do I need new tires?” look for these five signs and use the knowledge you’re about to learn to guide your decision.

Close-up of tire tread

1. Treadwear

Yes, the most obvious thing to look at when deciding when it’s time for new tires is the amount of tread you have left. If you can visually see the tire’s tread is gone (or nearly gone) and you just have a bald piece of rubber staring back at you, then count your lucky stars that nothing bad has happened yet, and get new tires immediately.

For reference, the average tire begins with 10/32" of tread, and the laws in most states require tires to be replaced when their tread depth wears to 2/32”. Check your tread depth monthly to make sure your tires aren’t worn out.

There’s a simple way to check the tread depth that you can do with an item you probably have laying around the house: a quarter. Take the quarter and place it between the tread grooves of your tire, making sure General George’s head is going in first. You’re good to go if you stick the quarter all the way in and you can’t see Washington’s head.

It’s time for new rubber if you can see his head, and it’s best to err on the side of caution if it’s close. This is your safety we’re talking about, after all.

Checking air pressure

2. Air Pressue

The signs of when to replace a tire get a little more tricky after treadwear. Tire pressure is very important, for example, but it’s not one of those things that you can visually inspect with the naked eye - at least it shouldn’t be. You run the risk of driving on an underinflated tire if your tire can’t retain a consistent amount of air (otherwise known as tire pressure), which is a very dangerous situation.

Tires should always be filled to your vehicle’s recommended PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) to reduce the chance of an accident or a blowout. Consult your owner’s manual or reference the stick with that information on your door jab if you’re unsure of your ride’s proper PSI. Unsure of how to check your tire’s air pressure? No worries, we have a handy guide that can teach you how to do just that.

Fill your tires back up to the recommended settings if you find at least one tire that is low on air, and be sure to consistently monitor them using a tire pressure gauge. There could be a leak occurring somewhere if you regularly find the pressure dropping again, and that should be addressed in order to avoid safety issues.

Sometimes the leak can be repaired and you can continue using the same tire. However, there are times when it can’t and a new tire will be needed. Again, your tire technician will be able to guide you to the safest solution.

Cracked sidewall

3. Cracked

This one is especially troubling. Your tire may be slowly leaking, or worse - rotting, if you notice cracks or gouges in the sidewall. Tires get old, and degradation is only natural over time, due to the harsh conditions they repeatedly endure.

One of the harshest settings they endure is sitting, parked, getting battered by the sun’s UV rays. Tire manufacturers incorporate chemicals in their tires to help resist the effects of UV rays, but other than parking your car fully indoors shielding your tires from the light, the sun is always going to win. Even still, age will eventually affect your tires.

That said, if you see cracking on a tire that's only a few years old, the cause could be a manufacturing defect. Either way, it’s best to take it to your dealership right away. A small crack might seem like no big deal, but as the tire’s structural integrity worsens, the risk of a blowout increase.

Tire driving on snow

4. Temparature

Staying on top of your tires is important if you live in an area with extreme temperatures, cold or hot. Cold weather causes tires to lose pressure. Hot temperatures can result in excessive heat buildup.

Why is that? Well, think back to your science classes in school: objects expand when heated and contract when cooled. The same thing happens with tires, and it’s easy to forget about the status of your tires when the timeframe is extended over several months as winter turns into summer. Still, the expansion and contraction of your tires under extreme weather may have caused air to escape.

Why is this important? Because underinflated tires generate more heat and wear out faster, meaning you’ll need a replacement sooner than you think. So be sure to give your tires the air and care they need during winter and summertime.

Shaking Steering Wheel On Smooth Road

5. Vibration

Feeling a vibration in your steering wheel or noticing that your vehicle seems to shake on smooth roads is a potentially dangerous sign that you may need new tires. I. No matter what, though, if you feel a vibration from the steering wheel, definitely do not ignore it.

The vibration could be a sign that your tires are out of balance. Unbalanced tires wear out much faster than they normally would, which means you’ll need new tires sooner than you think.

The good news is, if you catch it early, unbalanced tires can easily be rebalanced at a tire center and the vibration should go away.

However, if you ignore the shaking, you can weaken wheel bearings and shorten the life of a suspension system. Making that repair will be much more expensive than purchasing a set of new tires or rebalancing your existing tires. We recommended that you have your tires rebalanced at least once during their lifespan to help extend their run on your vehicle.

How long do tires last on average?

On average, tires last about five years. This is taking into account that, on average, people drive about 12,000 - 15,000 miles a year. Don’t forget this is an average.

Your mileage may vary depending on your vehicle, tires, and driving habits. And it could vary considerably if you have super high-performance tires, a sports car, and a heavy right foot. You might even see that number chopped in half. Regular tire rotations every 5,000-8,000 miles will also extend the life of your tires.

At what tread depth should I get new tires?

When your tread depth reaches 2/32” then it’s time for new tires. For reference, new tires typically have 10/32” or 11/32”. You can buy a tread depth gauge or take the quarter test that we outlined above if you aren’t sure what your tread depth is. Be sure to visit your local tire center and have a technician check the tread on your tires if you’re still unsure, or if your tires are close to 2/32” tread depth after using a tread depth gauge or completing the quarter test.

How many miles can you go before you need new tires?

The answer to this can vary wildly, but you can expect to get about 50,000 miles out of a set of tires in a best-case scenario depending on the tire type. However, it’s worth stressing that there are so many factors that can shorten that number significantly. Some tires, like the Continental ExtremeContact Sport, are backed by a 30,000 mile limited manufacturer tread life warranty, which means the tires are expected to last at least 30,000 miles.

Should I replace all four tires if mine are worn?

Yes, you should replace all four tires if they are worn. It’s always best to replace all four to keep things consistent, but if you can’t for some reason, then it’s highly recommended to replace the two tires on the same axle (either the two front tires or the two rear tires).

Replacing only one tire will cause uneven tire wear. So while you may spend more to replace at least two tires initially, you’ll be saving in the long run by avoiding premature wear.

Don’t forget about your spare tire either! Some vehicles, like a Jeep that does a lot of off-road driving, might need to replace five tires at once so that their spare has the same tread depth and durability of their new tires.

Rubicon x Yokohoma and SimpleTire in Moab

Hopefully, these five signs helped you determine when you might need new tires. It goes without saying that tires are a very important element to your safety, so anything you can do to make sure they are in good shape is worth doing. And if, after reading this, you see a sign that you need new tires, then the information you’ve learned has been put to good use.

Still, this information might be a lot to absorb, and maybe you don’t understand it all. If you have any questions about the health of your tires or need more clarification about when to get new ones, feel free to reach out to us at SimpleTire. One of our experienced representatives will be happy to answer your questions.

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