Checking a car's tires for wear and tear

5 Signs You Need New Tires

Take it from former race-car driver Johnny Unser—checking for telltale warnings of a worn-out tire is more important than you think.

“Checking your tires is like going to the dentist,” says Unser, five-time veteran of the Indy 500. “It’s something we don’t do often enough, that we put off until we absolutely have to.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire failure causes around 11,000 car crashes each year. Both Unser and NHTSA recommend doing a quick tire inspection once a month to see if you need new tires.

How To Tell If You Need New Tires: What To Look For

  1. Bulges, gouges or cracks
    When a tire deflates, it bulges at the sides. Unser says this is a sign of low tire pressure or a slow air leak. “If you see cracks in the sidewall, gouges or anything that looks odd, take it in to your dealer and have them look at it.”
  2. Tread wear
    One of the best ways to tell if you need new tires is the old-school penny test: Place a penny into the tread, with Lincoln’s head pointing down. If you can still see the top of his noggin, the tread is dangerously low. Most modern tires, however, have wear bars: bits of rubber woven into the pattern at a specific depth. “You can find the wear bars that go across the groove, and if the tread pattern is worn down to that wear bar, you need to replace your tire,” says Unser.
  3. Tire pressure
    Tires deflate at a rate of about one pound per square inch (PSI) per month. “You’re not going to wear your tires down in a month,” Unser says, “but you should check that you have the right inflation pressure.”
  4. Temperature Changes
    Tire pressure drops in extreme cold. The challenge in summer, says Unser, is “excessive heat buildup in the tire.” If you’re heading out on a road trip with an underinflated tire, it will generate more heat and wear out faster.
  5. Vibration
    Watch out for vibration or thumping when you’re driving. If it feels like it’s coming from under the seats, the rear tires may be out of balance. Vibration from the steering wheel could indicate suspension issues. Unser says anything less than a smooth ride means you should take your car in to the dealer.

When it’s time to replace your tires, Unser recommends doing so in pairs or all four at a time for better performance and traction and, ultimately, a safer ride.

From a flat tire to a car that won’t start, be ready for anything with GEICO’s 24-hour Emergency Roadside Service.

By Maria Carter

Next article: Top 5 Tire Myths Debunked

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    Leave a comment

  1. Jenkins Leroyson says,

    These are some great things to look for on your tires. I had no idea that such a large number of accidents happen due to tire failure. I’ll be sure to be more mindful of their condition now! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Zach Potter says,

    I have just purchased a new/used car and want to be sure to take the best care for it that I possibly can. I definitely didn’t change the tyres enough on my last car and want to be better about it this time around (especially in my new car that I love)! Thank you for the good advice here and I’ll be sure to look out for these signs while driving!

  3. James Bay says,

    I have been looking for new tires for my car. I had no idea that tires could deflate a pound a month! I will need to make sure I watch that closely. Thank you for the information.

  4. Raylin Sutter says,

    I recently noticed some bulges in my tires. I knew that it was time to replace them. I decided to go looking for some tire sales near me. I then decided to change the tires myself. I was pretty impressed with myself that I was able to do it!

  5. Lily de Grey says,

    Excellent article, Maria! I’m glad that I stumbled upon it because I’ve been thinking about getting new tires for my cars. My car vibrates frequently, so I’ll be sure to follow your suggestion by taking it in to get checked. Thanks for sharing these tips with us; they’ve been very helpful!

  6. Owen Camden says,

    I had no idea that you could check the tread of a tire by using a penny. That is definitely something that I am going to have to try out. It seems like my tires are starting to get pretty old and worn down. It might be a good idea to get some new ones soon. Hopefully, I will be able to find the best type of tire for my car.

  7. Jeff Bridges says,

    Be careful when you check your tires. Make sure you check the inside of the tire as well. When I went in for a vehicle inspection it turned out the alignment was off and wearing away the inside of the tires where you couldn’t really see without removing the tire. Luckily there was a nearby tire dealer and I got them replaced on the spot.

  8. Sara Killinger says,

    After driving my car for three years, I started to wonder if it was time to change my tires. Your tip to use a penny to determine the tread wear on your car is an excellent tip! I’ll be sure to check my tires as soon as I get home from work.

  9. Meg Lund says,

    I had no idea that tire pressure drops in extreme cold weather. You suggest that in the summer, if you don’t have adequate amount of air in the tire, and you go on a road trip, the tire will wear out faster. Since I live in an area that gets especially cold winters, I will definitely be sure to check my tire pressure to make sure that the air is where it needs to be for my summer excursions. Thanks for the great tip!

  10. Skylar Mitchell says,

    I should definitely start checking my tires more often. Right now I think they are wearing out, which is a bit concerning. Recently I noticed that there are a few bulges in my tires, so I am worried that there is an air leak. This sounds like it could be a fairly significant problem, so I will probably get this checked out soon. That way, I don’t have to worry about my tires going flat or causing problems while I am driving!

  11. Fitz says,

    Hello, and thank you very much for explaining what to look for when tires need to be replaced. There are many reasons why it’s important to have good tires when driving around as bad tires can be dangerous for you and others. I think it’s good to do what’s necessary to have good strong tires on all of your cars.

  12. Blakeley Southern says,

    Thanks for the tips on what to look for in worn down tires. Driving on low tread tires can be very risky and dangerous and that’s why it’s always important to take your car into a professional who can help remedy the problem and keep you safe. I never have heard about tread bars before. What do they look like?

    • Deane Williams says,

      To see a picture of one go to Google Images and search for “Tire tread wear bars”. It is a section of rubber in the tread that runs across the tire between the grooves.

  13. Steve Holt says,

    Thanks for the tips! Watching out for vibrations coming from my tires while I’m driving seems like a good way to keep them in good condition. Knowing what to look for seems like a great way to get a better idea what tires are having problems. I’ve always thought that feeling vibrations coming from my car is normal, but now I can see that I should always expect a smooth ride. I’ve been feeling some vibrations coming from my steering wheel, so now I know to have my suspensions checked out.

  14. Skylar Mitchell says,

    It is good to know that checking tires is so important. I have always tried to get my tires rotated on time, but on many occasions I forget about it and just put it off for a few months. I think it would be really good for me to look for things like cracks and wear on the tread to see if any of those seem to be apparent. Lately, I have definitely been noticing vibration when I drive, so this seems like a fairly good sign that I need tire replacement. From now on, I would really like to be more on top of getting my tires checked so that I can be safe while driving!

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