Tires take the brunt of punishment whether they are negotiating city traffic, highway miles or off-road conditions. Yet many drivers don’t realize that winter brings increased stress and wear on their wheels and tires. Cold temperatures affect rubber and steel, and salt on the roads can cause rusting and weakening of steering and suspension parts. It’s also important to know what kinds of tires are good for snow and ice conditions if winter conditions happen to frequent their area more than others, or exposure to cold temperatures comes naturally to the location, like the northern states or Alaska. Proper care and maintenance will prevent premature wear on suspension and wheels, and potential tire failure. At EZAccessory, we understand the importance of a high-quality suspension and steering system. Here are some tips to keep your tires, wheels, and suspension components working properly throughout the winter so that you are safe while driving and get top performance from your vehicle.
Checking Tire Condition
The gripping area for a standard set of tires approximately amounts to the surface area that a sheet of typing paper occupies. That is an 8.5 by 11-inch square footprint on the ground. You can see why it is so important for tires to have as much gripping surface as possible, and this means the best tread depth. Slick, bald tires do not have the gripping friction of a tire with projecting tread. This means if the tire has worn spots like cupping (bad shocks) or worn surfaces on the sides (alignment problems) or a continuous bald spot over the top (age and wear), it’s time for a replacement.
Look for any cuts or gouges in the tire tread or side wall. These are potential unsafe areas that may be weakened by an impact or manufacturing defect. Any type of steel belt separation, regardless of how good the tread looks, is a sign that the tire has suffered internal damage. Tire sidewalls should be smooth without any humps, bulges or irregularities. Tires that have sidewall deformation should be replaced.
Inflate your tires to manufacturer’s specifications. Tire inflation pressures will be included in your owner’s manual, or can be easily found online. A typical tire inflation pressure will look like this, 32psi or 34psi. Remember that overinflated or underinflated tire pressure will cause tire wear! Be sure to inspect valve stems to ensure proper air flow and air holding within the tire.
Check your tires with a tread depth indicator. You simple place the needle probe in the valley between the tread and push down gently to get a reading on the graduated scale. If the tire reads less than 2/32 of an inch, you can reasonably expect to replace the tire due to excessive wear. Take several readings. Even if you get higher readings at different areas of the tire but your lowest reading is less than 2/32, it is still time to replace the tire. You may also use a penny to make the measurement by placing the penny in the tire groove. If Lincoln’s head (upside down) is covered or partially covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32 of an inch. If his head is not covered it is less than 2/32. A quarter works in the same fashion—if Washington’s head is covered, you have 4/32 of an inch, which is a safe margin.
Tire and Wheel Maintenance
Winter months bring out road crews who’s specific job is to salt the roads and streets. They do this because salt has a tendency to melt snow and ice, thus making the surface safer for driving. Salt has a devastating effect on tires by drying them out and it harms any type of metal rim, in addition to rusting suspension parts and wheel adapters.
Washing the undercarriage, tires and rims is a good preventative maintenance to keep corrosion at bay. Reach further under the vehicle with the use of a long-handled brush. Scrub the tire and inside and outside of the rim and any suspension part you can reach. Rinse thoroughly. Perform a tire washing every week or just after heavy use, to remove caked snow and mud. You may use a tire dressing polish, but do so sparingly because it sometimes attracts dust and other small particles.
Tires rated for snow and ice are particularly useful in areas that receive a lot of seasonal snowfall or have snow and icy conditions most of the year. This does not mean they will not function well during normal seasonal weather on regular roads. Generally, snow tires are made of a better quality rubber that is more resistant to colder temperatures. They may even have small or large studs embedded in the tread to allow for traction in heavy snow. Snow tires have a symbol or logo impressed into the sidewall. The symbol looks like a snowflake inside of a jagged mountain. This is an industry standard symbol which means the tire has undergone vigorous tests in fully packed snow. All season tires don’t have quite the depth of tread that a full snow tire has but they will have more than a standard road tire.
Snow tires penetrate snow layers to find traction. The design of the tread pattern allows them to flush snow out of the way and to the sides, rather than riding on it. You will immediately experience an increase in control during turns, acceleration and stopping. They are resistant to sliding in but all of the worst conditions, and increase overall driving safety.
When purchasing snow or all season tires, make sure you understand the warranty and what materials and areas of the tire are covered. At the very least, replace old tires with new tires in sets of two, mounting them on the driving axles. However, it is advised that all tires be replaced at the same time so they may be monitored and rotated regularly. When replacing and inspecting tires, be sure to check the wheel lug bolts as well to ensure proper fit and driving security.