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My Car, My Life: Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes

Updated on June 24, 2014

The Automotive Blog for Independent Women...

You wouldn’t let your best friend buy a pair of shoes that just weren’t right, would you? Or better yet, what about going out on the town in a pair that is so last season you can’t remember when it was but you’re afraid it may have the word disco attached to it. (Of course, your Goth friend from childhood is another matter. There’s no telling what the style is for her. But she’s still your friend after all these years, ‘specially since she forgave you for that Tommy Tucker thing back in 8th grade.)

Your other BF needs shoes, too

So anyway – back to the shoe thing. There’s another best friend for whom shoes are very, very important and chances are, no one’s taken even a moment to check out what shape they’re in. Who would such a friend be? Your car!

That’s right, you think your shoes are important – the shoes (tires) your car is wearing are responsible for stopping so you don’t hit that car in front of you, gripping the road so you actually can take that corner a little too fast and live to tell about it and give you a more comfortable ride. When was the last time you considered what this best friend was wearing?

The rule of thumb for tire care

Here’s a rule of thumb. If you can’t remember – go take a look right after you finish reading this.

What do you need to look for? Let’s focus on the three most important things: Tire pressure, tire wear and tire age.

With all the talk about fuel economy today, it’s important to make sure your tires are properly inflated. Too little air and they actually create more grip on the road which means your gas mileage will suffer because your car is working harder to go forward. Too much air and your tires suffer by wearing out faster. Plus, your car won’t handle right because the tires are not able to flex and bend properly with all that air.

Air isn't just for breathing

The point here is that keeping the right amount of air in your tires isn’t a guessing game. It’s not like putting your thumb on a bicycle tire to make sure it’s hard. Your tires need to have an exact amount of air pressure and that exact amount is written in your owner’s manual under the heading “Tire Pressure”. Look it up. Sometimes it is different for the front and rear tires. If you have a tire gauge, use it on all of them. They work independently and one can be low and the others fine. If you don’t have a gauge, gas stations usually have them on the air hose. Or better yet, just buy one the next time you fill up. (Back in the day, smiling, uniformed attendants would check your tire pressure for you while they filled up your tank with gas – wow! Is that ever a page from ancient history).

One thing to remember, if one of your tires is really low, there might be a leak somewhere. Keep an eye on it or stop by a tire shop and have them take a look. Tires can usually be repaired for like $10. Sometimes it’s free. If they’re all low, guess what? It’s been too long since you checked them!

Worn tires like worn soles are a no-no

Tire wear is something that is way too easy to overlook – even if you are totally fanatic about keeping the pressure perfect. When you look at a tire, you’ll see a series of grooves and high points. The high points are the tread. The tread wears away the longer you drive on the tires, just as the tips of your high heels wear out the longer you wear them. If you wear down that tip too far, then you’re looking at some nasty damage to the spike or worse, that skidding sensation that happens when the nail in the heel is finally exposed. The same type of thing happens with your tires. The more wear, the less grip they provide. Too much wear and the tire could fall apart. And you thought damaging a heel was a disaster.

To ensure you have enough tread to bring back your peace of mind, here’s a nifty trick that guys think they and only they know. It involves the use of a penny. (This probably makes them more useful then they are as coinage….) Take a penny and, with the profile of Abe Lincoln facing you, stick Abe head first into the groove. On a new tire, Abe’s head will be completely hidden by tread. (On some beefy SUV tires, the whole coin might disappear.) If you can see Abe’s head completely while it is still in the groove then you probably had a bit of trouble finding the groove and your next stop needs to be the tire store. Seriously, that’s the indicator that your tires have served you well. Give’em up – and do it quickly. They’re not just out of style, they’re out of usefulness. And they’re not going to keep you as safe as you’d like to be when driving.

Birth year really does matter

The third and final thing you need to look for is the age of the tire. That’s right, beer isn’t the only item these days that comes with a “born on” date. It’s important to know this date, because, just like milk, tires have a “best by” date – a time after which they are going to start deteriorating.

Experts in this type of thing generally agree that after 6 years, the rubber on the tire starts to break down. This break down means it won’t wear as well or perform as it was intended. It also means the tire can just up and break down on you. It can actually come apart – even if it looks brand new and has never been put on a vehicle.

And here comes the dirty little secret of tires stores – many of them sell tires that have never been installed but have been hanging around in warehouses for six or more years! They look new, but watch out! They aren’t.

Now this holds true for the tires on your trusty steed, as well. They may be older than your buddy – especially if you’ve purchased a used vehicle that is new to you.

So here’s what you do – check the “born on” date. It is written on the tire, but it is also sort of hidden. When you look at the side of your tires, you’ll see a bunch of numbers. You’ll also see a bunch of writing. It can all look like goobly-gook, but you need to work your way through it all. Forget the numbers that look like 205/55R16. These tell you the size of the tire. We’re not interested in that right now. Look for the letters DOT and a series of number after DOT. Now look for 4 numbers that are in a rectangle. Bingo! That’s the “born on” date. Let’s say it reads “3805”. The first two numbers represent the week within a year. The last two numbers, “05” in the example, indicate the date. The tires in this example were made in the 38th week of 2005.

Make sure you check all four tires. Though tires are sold in sets they only become a set because the tire store put four of them together. Think of them as a mix and match set, like a bikini. The tops and bottoms may match, but you got them from two different racks. Same with the tires – so check them all – especially if the front and rear tires are different sizes. In some performance-oriented vehicles, the rear tires are wider than the front ones, even though they look identical from the side. You’ll want all your tires to be the same date, the newer the better.

The road ahead

In fact, let’s start a little grass roots movement here. If you’re buying new tires, insist on them being new—being no older than within 12 months of the purchase date. If you drive 10,000 miles a year and are buying 50,000 mile tires, you don’t want them to be 6 years or older when you’re putting on that last 10,000 miles.

You know what the perfect shoe does for an outfit. Perfect tires are even more important. The shoes will make the outfit. The tires will save your life. It’s easy to over look this with all the other things that are going on in our lives. But take the time to take care of your tires. The next time you go shoe shopping, make sure the friend that really needs them gets them.


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