How to read your tires

Practitioners of traditional Eastern medicine have long used the tongue as a mechanism for diagnosing malfunctions in every part of the body. For your vehicle, a tire is as good as a tongue. Of course, wear and tear on your tires won’t tell you much about the battery or other electronic components, but all sorts of suspension problems can be diagnosed simply by looking at the way in which the tires are wearing down.

Your tires may be worn in four basic ways. First, if there is simply too much wearing of your treads, yet the treads are wearing evenly on the entire width of the tire, as they should be, simply replace your tires. If you can see your tread bars – if there is wire or metal showing on your tire – you are long past needing to change the tires of your vehicle.

If you would like to keep a closer eye on your treads, you can perform a regular penny check by sticking Abe Lincoln’s head into your tread where it is the lowest. If any part of the president’s head is down in the tread, then your tires are all right.

If the treads are wearing unevenly, that can signal deeper problems with your vehicle. For instance, if the treads on only one side of the tire are worn, this can signal a need for wheel realignment. The very need for this realignment, however, can signal different things like worn ball joints or arm control bushings. Worn treads on one side may also indicate sagging springs, so this type of wearing means that someone competent should check your suspension system.

Wearing of inner and outer treads without wearing of the inner treads can be a sign of chronic under-inflation. However, if you have been using care to keep your tires properly filled with air using a tire pressure gauge, this type of wear may be a sign of a bent or worn steering component. Your wheels may also need alignment. If you consistently put too much air into your tires, you will get wear down the center of the tire. This wear pattern may also indicate that you’ve put enormous tires on narrow rims, in which case you can replace either the tires or the rims.

Other strange wearing patterns include feathering, which means that each tread becomes round on one side and sharp on the other. Experts suggest that you look for this pattern with your hand, as you will be able to feel the sharp edges before your tire’s condition is visually apparent. Second-rib wear and cupping are other wearing patterns that indicate deeper problems, such as the wrong size of steel-belted radials and worn or bent suspension parts.

In order to keep abreast of these problems before they get too far and cause further damage to your vehicle, it is a good idea to get to know your tires by walking around your car and looking at them each day. You should also run your hand along their surfaces and do the penny tread test once or twice a week.