10 Tire Tips for Moms

As busy moms, shuttling kids from activity-to-activity with an ever-growing to-do list, it can be easy to neglect maintenance on your car. The integrity of your tires is arguably one of the most important aspects of keeping you and your family safe on the road. New brakes, suspension upgrades, the latest crumple technology all become trivial when you’re riding on a worn set of tires. Luckily, your car’s tires are one of the easiest parts of your car to monitor and maintain (no need to poke around under your hood or stain your hands with motor oil). Below we’ve got tips on tire safety moms can easily and quickly follow to ensure your family’s safety on the road, as well as some basic tire information you should know.

1. Check your tread often.

Our number one tire safety tip is to regularly check the tread on your tire. Tread that’s worn down or unevenly worn won’t grip the road, making braking and turning inefficient, especially in wet conditions.

When should you check your tread? About every month and before embarking on a long road trip. Set a recurring reminder on your smartphone or calendar to help you remember. Where should you check? Look for an area that appears the lowest. Checking several spots is a good idea too. Checking your tread only takes a few moments and there are several ways to do so:

Good: Check wear bars. All tires have bars which run perpendicular to the tread pattern. They may not be visible on brand new tires. Cooper Tire recently added a Wear Square to their CS5 Touring Tire which makes it easy to check tread and signals five stages of wear (read more about the CS5 in our Tires 101 article). The indicator begins as a square when tires are new and ends with an exclamation point when tread reaches 2/32”. The Wear Square’s design also alerts you to uneven wear when wheels are misaligned. The good thing about this method is you don’t need anything else, just your eyes. Make it a habit of taking a glance at your tires at least once a week.

Better: Use the penny test. This is probably the most popular way to test your tread depth. Place Lincoln head-down. Your tread should go up to at least the very top of his head. This distance is about 2/32”.

Best: Use a tread gauge. 2/32” is the legal minimum for tread depth, but your tires can become inefficient well before they reach this level of wear. Frequent wet conditions call for at least 4/32” while greater than 6/32” is best in snowy conditions. A tread gauge will give you an accurate reading that if used regularly will give you an idea of how quickly your tires are being worn (which may surprise you!). A gauge can also help you more easily compare different areas of the tire so you can be on the lookout for uneven wearing which could signal a misalignment.

Be conscientious of your tires’ responsiveness. If you feel like you’re getting less traction when it rains, there’s nothing to stop you from replacing your tires before you reach the guidelines above. At the very least, if you notice a problem you can get a technician to look for misalignments or other problems.

2. Perform visual checks.

Look for cracks or cuts, especially in the sidewall of the tire (the side with all the spec information). These could signal an impending leak or blow-out. The tire should also appear upright and not tilted. If so, your wheels could be misaligned or suspension damaged. Also keep an eye out for abnormal bulges in the sidewall. If you suspect bulging, check the air pressure…

3. Check inflation pressure.

Keeping your tires at their ideal inflation pressure will keep you safe on the road, help your tires last longer, and help your car be fuel-efficient. If you don’t have a pressure gauge you can pick up a cheapie for as little as a couple bucks, or you can get fancy with a digital reader with a light or even a multi-tool that will come in handy for other tasks.

  • For an accurate reading, always check pressure when your tires are cold. Driving even a mile will affect the reading.
  • Know your operating pressure. For this value you’ll need to check the pressure given on the placard in your driver’s door frame (or sometimes on the inside of the fuel door). The value listed on the tire is the maximum pressure and should NOT be used. This pressure doesn’t take into consideration your particular vehicle, so don’t go by this. Note: Front and rear tires may require different pressures.
  • Uncap the pressure valve, position the gauge onto the valve and the indicator will pop out.
  • If you need to add air to the tire, go ahead and add a little air.
  • If the tire is overinflated, the gauge will have a button you can use to release some air.

How precise should you be? A pound +/- from the given operating pressure is OK. But a tire that’s under inflated by just 5 psi could potentially fail.

4. Don’t forget to check the air in your spare!

The spare’s operating pressure is also listed on your placard. As with normal tires, it’s important to go by the pressure listed on your placard and not on the tire itself. What’s more, it will probably have a different pressure than regular tires.

5. Pay attention to your TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) indicator light.

But don’t rely on it. TPMSs are required to be included in cars made after 2007 and while they’re good at signaling an acute problem with inflation, your indicator light is not required to come on until a tire is 25% below the maker’s recommended pressure, and this is well below the pressure needed for safe driving. If the warning light comes on, you should then check your tires immediately. Also consider this: TPMS sensors located within the tire are fragile and can become corroded easily, and are expensive. Anytime your tires are serviced, a mechanic must deal with the TPMS and damage during this process is usually inevitable. Don’t be surprised if this shows up on your bill. Complex laws often require garages to place temporary sensors or hold a car until a replacement can be ordered.

6. Rotate your tires regularly.

Keep an eye on your mileage and get your tires rotated every 5,000-6,000 miles. The tread design on your tires will determine how the tires may be placed and thus how much they can be rotated to maximize their lifespan. All-season tires such as the CS5 Touring Tire (read more about it here) often feature symmetrical or asymmetrical designs, allowing several different configurations. Directional tread patterns, on the other hand, are more limited and expensive to rotate but often offer an advantage if you drive in frequent wet conditions.

7. Buy new in the autumn.

Many people mistakenly think Spring is the best time to buy new tires. But when your tire wears, your traction in rain and snow decreases. However, if your tread is worn there’s no better time to buy new than immediately, regardless of the season.

8. Time your winter tires well.

If you’ve determined winter tires are right for you, you want to have them mounted at the correct time. If put on too early, you risk wearing them out on dry roads and when temperatures are still higher. Don’t wait too long to order your winter tires or else you may face waiting times or inventory shortages. A good guideline is to have them mounted when temperatures reach below about 44ºF (which is the temperature at which many rubber compounds in all-season tires become stiffer).

9. Ask for the manufacture date on new tires, and check the date on your spare as well.

Most experts recommend replacing a spare tire after its 6th birthday, even if it’s never been used. The same goes for your regular tires. Of course, most new, unused tires will be fine assuming they were stored properly and will wear out well before they hit this mark. You can find the date of manufacture on your sidewall.

10. Put new tires in the rear.

It’s best to buy four new tires at a time, however with diapers and daycare bills, many of us may not be able to afford to replace all at once. If you must buy only two, make sure your new tires go on the back. This advice is the same whether you have two-wheel or four-wheel drive. If a mechanic tells you otherwise, get a second opinion!


Ready for a new set of tires? Don’t miss our article Tires 101: Understanding Sizes & Options for all about tire sizing and what you should know when buying.

Photo credits: The Whimsical Photographer.

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Laura

Laura is a wife and a new mom living on the East Coast. She and her husband welcomed their first child in September 2013. She has a passion for photography and an incurable case of Wanderlust. In her spare time she enjoys blogging about photography, travel, married life, and motherhood at The Whimsical Photographer.

Comments (3)

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    Aria Wellington

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    I really like your tip about buying tires in the fall. I can see how that would make your car much safer during the winter. The tread on your tires is what grips your car to the road so making sure that is the best it can be for winter conditions will help your car’s handling. I will have to keep this in mind for the fall months, thanks.

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    sam finixx

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    Very good and informative. I absolutely found what I was looking for in this article.

    Reply

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    Georgia Boothe

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    I’m glad you mentioned buying new in the autumn as opposed to in the spring! I’m one of those that always thought that spring was the best time to purchase new tires–kind of like a spring cleaning for your car. However, it’s so true that the time you need the best tread is in the winter when you’re dealing with more slippery conditions. I’ll be sure to get my tires changed before the weather really drops!

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