It’s a fact of car ownership that your vehicle’s tires will sustain wear and tear—how bad and how quickly this happens depends on how you use them, and how often.
Tires can be rather expensive and we tend to make them last as long as they can, but if you wear them down enough, they could get to the point where the rubber is cracking and the steel belts underneath are exposed. They may still hold air and keep rolling, but at this point, they’ve become too dangerous to use. And the danger is not only to yourself but to other road users as well, because a tire blowout can cause an accident that may involve other motorists and pedestrians.
Needless to say, you need to change to a new set of tires well before your current one gets to the cracked-rubber, exposed-steel-belts stage. How often do you need to change your car’s tires? There are different factors to consider because we all use our cars differently, but here are three points of reference:
Tires have wear indicators molded into the tread. These wear indicators are bars that go across the tire tread at regular intervals. They have a height of 1.6mm, which is the legal minimum of tire tread depth.
Yes, “legal.” In some countries, using a tire whose tread has been worn down beyond this minimum depth risks penalties under law. As a matter of fact, in countries where this rule is enforced, tire shops will not service tires that are already at the minimum tread depth—they will suggest that you buy a new set instead. The rule recognizes that tires can become dangerous at a certain point, and regulators in other countries have deemed that point to be at 1.5mm in tread depth.
In our country, there is no rule on minimum tire tread depth—which means it’s up to the individual’s personal responsibility to make sure that his tires are still safe to use.
Some people hardly use their cars, so technically, the tires on those cars hardly get any wear and tear. In such a case, the tires need to be judged on the basis of age instead.
If stored in a dark, cool place, a tire will retain its original design efficacy for five years, according to the tire manufacturers. There are some websites that say that this period can be pushed to about 10 years. But personally, I would not use a 10-year old tire to cruise at 100kph on the expressways even if it has all of its tread on there.
A tire’s age is determined by its date of manufacture, which is stamped on the sidewall. It is usually indicated by some letters and numbers within an oval molding. The last four numbers refer to the date of manufacture: The first two in that series refer to the week the tire was produced, while the last two refer to the year. In the case of the tire we have pictured, this tire was manufactured in the eighth week of 2019. Thus, this tire is almost one year old as of this writing.
Take note of the date of manufacture when you’re buying tires. Some shops will have tires that have been sitting in storage for years—even if they’ve never been used, they’re already old and might be approaching the end of the manufacturer’s efficacy period. Now, if a tire shop sells you an old tire nearing its five-year efficacy period at full price, that’s unfair. Try to get a tire that’s just a few months old so that you can maximize its use.
Tires are your car’s principal point of contact with the road. Considering how rough and ripply our roads are, then, our tires take quite a beating. They can get out of balance, and as they get older, they ride rougher. Since this happens slowly over a long period of time, we forget how smoothly new tires ride. If you’re the kind of motorist that values a smooth ride, you should regularly check the balance of your tires.
But sometimes an old tire, even if it has plenty of tread left, and even if it’s well within the five-year efficacy period, just cannot be balanced anymore. If you cannot fix a bad vibration despite balancing and having eliminated all other possible problems in the wheel and suspension, you just might have to change out to a new tire.
All in all, just be mindful of your tires. Have them checked regularly and balanced at a reputable tire shop. Also, check out our tip sheet on how to make the most out of a new set of tires.