There’s talk of the first big winter storm, so it’s a pretty good bet someone in your pod just told you to get your snow tires on for the season. But unless you live on a dangerously steep driveway or are heading up to Vermont or New Hampshire for the duration, I’m not convinced snow tires are a top priority here.
Winter tires are built with extra space between treads to help move snow and put you in better contact with the road. The rubber compound used in a winter tire is different, too, made to stay more flexible in freezing temperatures.
The weather here mostly doesn’t merit those technologies, but you do stand to gain from taking care of your tires and replacing them now if they need it. I’m not saying this to sell you a set of tires — most of us mechanics leave that to specialty shops. I’m saying it because a lot of people ignore their tires completely.
One reason seems to be that the sensor systems mounted on wheels too often corrode and trigger a tire alert on the dashboard that people learn to ignore.
Me: “Didn’t you see your tire pressure light on?”
You: “Yeah, it comes on all the time, so I don’t pay any attention to it.”
People actually ask if they can be removed. That’s illegal. The systems are improving. And they do serve a purpose. Remember the Bridgestone/Firestone exploding tires? Heat buildup from underinflated tires is not a good thing.
Do me a favor and, if the light is on, have your tires checked. It’s also smart to check your tires monthly at home, while they’re cold. Don’t bother with those pencil-style gauges — a good digital one is more accurate.
Keep your tire pressure consistent. The level right for your car is on a sticker just inside the driver’s door, expressed in pounds per square inch (psi).
It’s normal for tires to lose as much as one psi per month, and the pressure also goes down about one psi for every 10-degree drop in the outdoor temperature. Unless your tires are filled with nitrogen. But that gimmick presents its own problems, including how to fill your tires.
Back to where I started out here — have you looked at your treads lately? Because decent tread depth is important for performance. You could start to have visible wear once your tires are about five years old, depending on how much you drive. Some people use a penny to see if the tread depth reaches Abe Lincoln’s head. But you can get a depth gauge for six bucks and check whether it meets the tire manufacturer’s recommendations.
You’re also looking for uneven wear patterns, which can mean alignment issues or just that it’s time to rotate your tires.
Will buying more expensive tires change any of this? Tires that last are nice. But I’d want to see what kind of warranty comes with any that make big promises. And nothing will really make the need for basic tire maintenance to go away. Thankfully, it’s all pretty simple to do.