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


    My 2007 Toyota Tacoma makes a loud noise its being parked specially overnight. When I am backing out this noise appears and sometimes when I turn either right or left. It is like a cracked noise, loud. What could this be, people in Toyota do not noise what it is!

  2. Mark says,

    Not related but. With 4WD/AWD comes a sense of invincibility, just ask anybody who has crashed one. They don’t stop or turn any better, in some cases worse.

    Always be aware of your situation and DON’T GO ANY FASTER THAN YOU’RE WILLING TO CRASH.

  3. Linda Freudiger says,

    I thank you for the information. And from what I can tell GEICO wants us to drive safe or not drive at all in bad weather. It could be too that if we have an accident claim’s they will go through the roof and if that happens our rates will rise to offset there red column. So we should stay in but you know those people who will drive no matter how bad the weather is so even if we stay home someone’s car crashes will raise our premiums anyway ?.They can’t take a loss Why That’s Unheard of!!

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