Learning The Ropes Of Your Vehicle's Tires

By Ed Jamison

Given that a car's tires are the only part that makes contact with the ground, it's surprising that few motorists understand how they work. While it's unnecessary to memorize the chemical compounds used to make the rubber last, it's worth having a rudimentary appreciation for the factors that influence their life. The longer they last, the less often you'll need to have them replaced. And that trickles down to your budget's bottom line.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at your wheels and identify a few warning signs that suggest replacements may be in order. I'll describe a few items to look for and what those items imply. I'll also explain a few technical details that are helpful to keep in mind when it's time to invest in a new set.

An Overview Of Wearing

If you're not already doing so, get into the routine of checking the tread wear on your tires two or three times each month. If they begin wearing unevenly, they'll eventually expose you and your passengers to safety issues. The key is to understand what different forms of wearing suggest.

If you notice excess wear in the center of the tread, that means your tires are overinflated. The excessive pressure causes the outer edges of your wheels to make less contact with the ground.

The opposite is often true if you notice excess wear on the sides. That means your wheels are underinflated. Keep in mind that driving aggressively (for example, taking turns quickly) can also lead to side tread wear.

If you see excess wearing on one edge, but not the other, the problem is likely due to misalignment or an issue with your suspension. Have a mechanic inspect your car to identify and fix the culprit.

A Few "Technical" Details

The wheels that are installed on your vehicle at the factory are designed with the proper aspect ratio, contact patch, and speed rating. The aspect ratio is a measurement between a tire's width and sidewall height. You'll see wheels on muscle cars that have a low aspect ratio. They grip the road better, but usually deliver a "harder" ride.

The contact patch represents how much of your tread actually touches the ground at any given time. Race cars usually have a wider patch, which means more of the tread is on the pavement.

Tire manufacturers put speed ratings on their wheels. These signify the top speed at which you can travel on the treads for an extended period without introducing safety issues. For example, a Honda Accord might come with wheels that have an "S" rating. That means its top sustained, safe speed is rated at 112 mph.

When it's time to invest in a new set of tires, keep the above criteria in mind. It's the best way to purchase a set that is well-suited for your vehicle while ensuring your safety on the road. - 29952

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