How to Know If You Need New Tires

Tire-TreadTires are easy to overlook when they are in good shape, yet they cannot be ignored when something goes wrong, and in this case, a faulty tire can be incapacitating. So do yourself and your car a great favor and keep an eye on your tires, make sure they stay in good health.

Worn Treads

Wearing of treads is inevitable, it’s part of the tires natural life. You need to stay cognizant of how worn the treads become. They should never reach anything less than 1/16-inch, which is dangerous when the wheel comes in contact with wet roads.

To keep track of your tread depth, you can buy an inexpensive tread depth gauge at your local auto parts store. It’s basically a slide rule that you insert between the treads. A second method uses a Lincoln penny. Insert the coin head first, if the tread reaches Lincoln’s forehead, you’re in good shape. If the Lincoln’s hair is visible, it’s time to replace the tires.

Modern tires feature built-in tread wear indicators known as tire bars. These bars run perpendicular to the tread and sit at a low height, only revealing themselves when treads have worn down significantly to the point of the tires needing replacement.

Tire Cracks

Like old rubber bands, the surface of a tire cracks with age. This is partly due to wear, but it is also caused by exposure to the elements, including ultraviolet rays and ozone, and harsh detergents. As cracks worsen over time, they expose the underlying materials of the tire putting the structural integrity at risk for blowout while driving. When you see cracks forming, it’s time to shop for replacements.

Bulges in Side Walls

Bulges or bubbles that appear on your tire’s sidewall indicate damage to the internal structure, usually caused by driving on a wheel at low pressure or hitting a pothole or bump. A leak forms internally where the air escapes to a pocket along the outer, more flexible sidewall creating the bulge. At highway speeds this tire is at risk of blowout and therefore highly dangerous as it can result in an accident. Replace the tire right away.


The NHTSA recommends all car owners change their tires every six years regardless of their usage and condition, with a maximum of 10 years of service life. Check your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s information that came with the tires for more details, but always err on the side of caution if don’t have access to either. Look for signs of aging, like cracks forming on the surface as described above, to help you figure the condition of the tires if you own a secondhand vehicle.

Don’t take unnecessary risks with tires. Address any issues at first sight so they can be repaired or replaced. No one should have to experience loss of control in the rain or a blowout on the highway, all of which can be avoided with some basic care. Tires are the most critical safety investment on a car.