A sidewall closeup of heel toe wear of a tire.

Learn

Understanding When to Replace Tires is Critical

Many are guilty of driving on tires that have been ready for retirement for far too long. Sometimes it’s because we forget to keep an eye on our tires. Other times it’s because we’re trying to save a few bucks by squeaking by on a worn set. Some of us might even convince ourselves that we’re ace drivers who can handle anything, even a busted set of tires.

No matter the case, driving on worn tires is always a bad idea. Not just because it kills performance and efficiency, but it can be downright dangerous.

Not everyone knows when tires are worn down, though. There are plenty of people who’ve always relied on the shop to say when they're due for a new set of tires, while others are just getting their first vehicle and have no clue where to start. That’s what we’re here for. We’ll teach you everything you need to know so you know when you’re ready for a new set of tires.

How many years do tires usually last?

The amount of time tires last is relative. In any case, tires do have a shelf life and aren’t likely to last more than 5-10 years. Even in the best storage conditions, the tires will oxidize and break down, meaning the compounds and components simply aren’t as good as they once were.

However, tires—on average—have a lifespan of about 50,000 miles. The average motorist drives roughly 13,500 miles per year and should therefore expect their tires to last just over 3.5 years.

This doesn’t take into account the many variables that can extend or shorten the lifespan of tires. For example, if you switch between summer and winter tires appropriately, you can expect your tire investment to take you further than if you were to run the same set of tires year-round.

If you’re hard on your tires and neglect to stay within their limitations in terms of speeds, driving styles, and the terrain they’re used on, you may run through a set of tires much sooner. Neglecting to rotate the tires, adjust air pressure, and care for them properly will also shorten the lifespan.

Let’s also not forget that you will ultimately have them longer if you invest in tires able to survive for more than 50,000 miles. However, the issue of oxidation might shorten the life of the tires if they aren’t stored and cared for properly.

Does driving fast wear out tires quicker?

Driving fast does wear tires out quickly. The primary reason for this is the heat created by the increased friction between the tire and the asphalt. This heat breaks the rubber down and makes it wear out more quickly. If you’re also accelerating and braking hard, and taking sharp turns at high speeds, you can expect the even higher rate of friction in these conditions to wear them down even faster.

How do you know when your tires need replacing?

Knowing when to replace your tires is your key to safety. Even with the best road conditions, worn tires will fail to perform properly, creating issues for your vehicle’s mechanical systems. If ignored, the tires will continue to deteriorate until their eventual failure.

You do need to worry about tire tread, and we’ll teach you how to inspect it in a bit. For now, we want to talk about some of the performance issues that generally mean it’s time to replace tires.

What are the signs of bad tires?

  • Slipping during acceleration or braking
  • Sliding/chirping in turns
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Wobbles/vibrations while driving
  • Burning rubber smell after driving

Something to understand is that these issues are likely to appear whenever you push the limits of a tire. For example, a comfort tire may struggle under hard acceleration or skid through turns at high speeds. You might also experience vibrations whenever you drive beyond the tire's speed rating, and you’re bound to smell burning rubber whenever a tire is abused.

However, if you’re just driving along at the posted speed limit and experience any of these issues, the chances are your tires have worn down and are ready for replacement. They may also mean a brand new set of tires are defective and need to be replaced immediately.

How to inspect your tires for replacement

We get it. When you’re filling your gas tank or connecting the charger, you may be distracted and thinking about what your to-do list is for the day. You’re probably not thinking about how often to replace tires. Still, this is the perfect time to go around and do an inspection of your tires. After all, it’s a lot better to find a problem than find yourself in a parking lot or by the side of the road with a flat.

Visual inspections

You’re still probably wondering what physical signs tell you if a tire is worn down. Let’s start by talking about the issues that need immediate attention:

Irregular tread wear

You should have the tires replaced any time you see cupping, flat spots, grooves, or any other irregularities in the tread pattern. These issues dramatically reduce traction and can leave you with little control over the vehicle.

Severely worn tread

It’s easy to see if a tire’s tread has completely worn away. The lack of sipes, grooves or generally bald look of a tire means the tire has no tread to provide traction with. Furthermore, you may even see the tread has worn away completely, leaving cords or bands showing. In any case, where the tread is gone, you need to have the tires replaced before driving.

Worn Tire vs New Tire

Bulging

You may notice bulges in the tread or sidewall of the tire. If you do, have them replaced immediately. This means the tire’s structural components are breaking down or out of place. Either way, it can be dangerous to even handle the tires as they can blow out at any moment.

Buldging Tire

Cracking/dry rot

When a tire oxidizes, the compound becomes brittle and dry, hence the term “dry rot.” At this point, the compound will wear down rapidly while failing to provide traction. This is why it’s important to replace the tires whenever you see this condition.

How to functionally inspect your tires for replacement

If the tire is in relatively sound condition, you can move to inspecting the tread as normal. As a rule of thumb, the tire should have at least 2/32 inch of tread and no less. If there is any less, the tires will need to be replaced. To get this measurement, you will need a tire tread depth gauge.

What if you don't have one? Well, you're not out of luck. All you'll need is a US penny. With Lincoln's head facing the tire, place the edge of the penny between the tread blocks. If Lincoln's head is covered, you're good. If Lincoln’s head is not covered then it's time to replace your tires.

Repeat this same test for all four tires and on multiple points of each tire to ensure there are no irregularities. Don't forget your spare tire, too. Inspect it for any signs of aging or damage and give the tread a good once-over. If it's a full-size spare, you can repeat the penny test. Donuts, however, will likely need to have the tread inspected by a professional at a tire service center.

You should inspect tire tread depth every time you rotate your tires and during your monthly inspection of air pressure. Keep in mind that you can invest in a set of tires like the General Altimax RT43 and the Continental DWS06 PLUS. Both feature indicators to help you gauge tread depth without any tools.

How often to replace tires

As we said, how often you should replace your tires is dependent on many factors. At the very longest, you can likely expect a set to last seven years, so long as you’re changing your tires seasonally and practicing proper tire maintenance. Even then, it is wise to take professional advice as trained eyes may spot details you have missed. If you are ready for a new set of tires, we make it simple and easy to find your perfect match, and can even help you set up an appointment at your local installer!

SimpleTip: Keeping a log of your inspections can also help you track when it's time to start thinking about your next set of tires.

*Special thanks to Yokohama Tires for sharing images.

Ready to find the perfect tires?

Search By