Angie's List: Vehicle Tires

With the height of the summer travel season, high gas prices should not be your main concern when planning a family trip. Rather, where the rubber that meets the road.

Tires have an impact on gas mileage and importantly safety, as neglecting a car's tires can be a safety hazard.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that under-inflated tires contribute to more than 600 deaths and 33,000 injuries each year.

"Many people don't realize that keeping your tires properly maintained and inflated properly can improve your gas mileage by up to three percent," said Angie Hicks of Angie's List. "Having your tires properly maintained improves your steering, your stopping, and the traction of the car."

Checking tire pressure, which should be done often, is easy with a pen sized pressure gauge.

Hicks recommends that every time a car needs gas, walk around and take a look at the tires in addition to checking the tire pressure.

"Those are simple things. If you find that you have some problems with your tires - if your car is pulling for example, or you are hearing strange noises from your tires, that's when you want to consult a pro," said Hicks.

Chris Cooper, auto service sales managers said that proper inflation can keep tires wearing correctly, under inflation the opposite.

"It's important to keep your tires inflated to the pressure that is recommended by the manufacturer of the car," said Cooper. "Usually you find that on the door jamb of each car - it tells you the air pressure your car should be at."

Tire rotation is also important, many mechanics recommending it to be done as often as an oil change.

"We recommend anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 miles to rotate your tires," said David Beck, an auto service department manager. "A lot of times we tell our customers that when we change their oil at 3,000 miles, we'll just rotate them then. It's never a bad idea to rotate your tires. It will help the tires last longer. It will keep the wear even. And again it's going to cost the consumer less money in the long run when the tires are running evenly and more efficiently."

Proper alignment of tires helps ensure the car handles correctly. Hitting a curb or pothole can knock a vehicle out of alignment and damage tires.

To tell if a vehicle needs new tires, take a penny with Abraham Lincoln's head upside and facing out and place it in the tread of the tire. If Lincoln's head is visible, it's time to see a tire specialist and get new tires.

    Top Tire Safety Checks:
  • Check tire pressure: Tires that are over or under inflated are a safety hazard. If there's not enough pressure, you could blow a tire. Keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure also increases your mileage by up to 3 percent. Look on the driver's side door jamb or in your owner's manual for your vehicle's recommended tire pressure.

  • Rotate and balance: Tires wear differently on the front than the rear. Tire rotation will help you get more life out of your tires if you do it every 6,000 to 10,000 miles, or with every other oil change. There are different methods and patterns depending on the type of car and whether it is front wheel drive, rear wheel drive of all wheel drive. The owner's manual will indicate the pattern.

  • Alignment check: Hitting a curb or pothole can know your vehicle out of alignment. Proper alignment helps ensure your car handles correctly. Check alignment every year to make sure there are no suspension problems.

  • Check tire tread: Tread is what gives your vehicle traction it needs to navigate safely through virtually any weather conditions. There's a quick test that can help you figure out whether it's time to visit the tire shop, and the only tool you need is a penny. Take a penny, with Lincoln's head upside down and facing you. Place it in the tread of the tire. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, it's time to see a tire specialist and get new tires.

  • Buy correct tires for your vehicle: Tires typically last between 25,000 and 50,000 miles, depending on road, weather, and driving conditions. Some tires may have a P or LT at the beginning of those numbers and letters. If you see "P" on your tires, it stands for passenger; "LT" stands for light truck. This is important, because the wrong tires on your car could be a safety hazard and affect other areas of the vehicle, like the suspension.

    Decoding that string of letters and numbers you see on the side of your tires:
    For example, if a tire reads 235/65R17, here's what that means:
  • 235 is the width of the tire in millimeters.· refers to how tall the tire is compared to how wide it is. In this example, the tire height is approximately 65 percent of the width of the tire.

  • R stands for radial. Radial tires have a series of strong fabric layers called cords or plies under the rubber. Most tires these days are radial construction, but you may see B for bias-belted or D for diagonal or bias ply.

  • 17 represents the rim diameter in inches.

If your car is pulling, vibrating, or making a noise, get it checked out by a professional. Having a certified professional inspect your car according to the manufacturer's recommended schedule is an opportunity to catch problems before they get you stuck or escalate into larger repairs.

    Angie's List Tips for finding reliable car repair:
  • Find a good shop before you need one: Don't wait until your car is on the blocks to find a mechanic. Doing your homework and developing a long-term relationship with a mechanic/service shop will help you avoid being rushed into a last-minute decision. You'll also be first in line for emergency service and cost savings.

  • Specialty service: A full-service shop may be able to handle most of your needs, but if you need a highly specialized service, do some research to find the right specialist. If you have a good and long-term relationship with a full-service shop, you'll likely find at least one good recommendation there.

  • Read and follow the manual: If you read nothing else in the manual that comes with your car, read the preventative maintenance schedule about tires and follow it. Know what type of tires your car has.

  • Get it in writing: Get a written estimate before authorizing repairs. Request that all replaced parts be returned and insist on a detailed invoice of work done, including an itemized description of parts and labor charges.

  • Check licensing & certification: State or local law may require that a shop be licensed or registered. ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified mechanics must have two years of experience and pass an exam to become certified.

  • Warranty work: Determine if your warranty requires you to use a specific dealership or shop. If you use another source, keep all receipts in case your warranty coverage is questioned.

  • Diagnosis: Many auto service shops charge a diagnostic fee to determine what ails your vehicle. Some may reduce or forgive that fee if you have the work performed there.

  • Get a second opinion: On expensive or complicated repairs, get a second estimate. If you decide to have the work performed elsewhere, be aware that you may have to pay another diagnostic charge.

  • Before you leave the shop: After repairs are finished, get a complete repair order that describes the work done. Ask to see any old parts. Some states require mechanics to give you any parts they have removed from your car unless the warranty requires they be sent back to the manufacturer.

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