5 Signs You Need New Tires

Checking a car's tires for wear and tearTake it from former race-car driver Johnny Unser — checking for telltale warnings of a worn-out tire is more important than you think.

“Checking your tires is like going to the dentist,” says Unser, five-time veteran of the Indy 500. “It’s something we don’t do often enough, that we put off until we absolutely have to.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire failure causes around 11,000 car crashes each year. Both Unser and the NHTSA recommend doing a quick tire inspection once a month.

Here’s What To Look For:

  1. Bulges, gouges or cracks
    When a tire deflates, it bulges at the sides. Unser says this is a sign of low tire pressure or a slow air leak. “If you see cracks in the sidewall, gouges or anything that looks odd, take it in to your dealer and have them look at it.”
  2. Tread wear
    The old-school penny test is one way to check for when you need to get new tires: Place a penny into the tread, with Lincoln’s head pointing down. If you can still see the top of his noggin, the tread is dangerously low. Most modern tires, however, have wear bars: bits of rubber woven into the pattern at a specific depth. “You can find the wear bars that go across the groove, and if the tread pattern is worn down to that wear bar, you need to replace your tire,” says Unser.
  3. Tire pressure
    Tires deflate at a rate of about one pound per square inch (PSI) per month. “You’re not going to wear your tires down in a month,” Unser says, “but you should check that you have the right inflation pressure.”
  4. Temperature
    Tire pressure drops in extreme cold. The challenge in summer, says Unser, is “excessive heat buildup in the tire.” If you’re heading out on a road trip with an underinflated tire, it will generate more heat and wear out faster.
  5. Vibration
    Watch out for vibration or thumping when you’re driving. If it feels like it’s coming from under the seats, the rear tires may be out of balance. Vibration from the steering wheel could indicate suspension issues. Unser says anything less than a smooth ride means you should take your car in to the dealer.

When it’s time to replace your tires, Unser recommends doing so in pairs or all four at a time for better performance and traction and, ultimately, a safer ride.

From a flat tire to a car that won’t start, be ready for anything with GEICO’s 24-hour Emergency Roadside Service.

How often do you change your tires? Tell us below.

By Maria Carter

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  1. Emil Tuch says

    I take the vehicle in for service. The mechanic or service advisor usually points out any problems, like if we need to have repairs or new tires. I check the pressure and inflate the tires myself monthly, if they need it. I do not rely on those sensors they install in the valve stems. Once a month I check the oil, transmission, and fluids, and air cleaner and other wear and tear. This is why I can keep a vehicle much longer than most people.

  2. Ben L Lofgren says

    we really need to get the consumer taught about tire age as a factor of when to need new tires. DOT has a date code stamped into the tires. Even buying tires you need to look at each tire and get the newest tires that you can as just sitting on a shelf or in a stack will age a tire. I have seen tires with the casting plugs still not worn off that look like new tires but are unsafe to put on my car. If you buy a 90,000 mile Michelin tire and do not put on 10 -15,000 miles each year you are probably wasting your money and giving up age safety. Look for the DOT code on every tire to determine the age, the last 4 numbers are what to look for. The first 2 numbers will show the week manufactured and the last 2 numbers are the year so 1109 would be the eleventh week of 2009. People need to be aware of manufacturing codes. Other parts of the codes determine where in the world it was made and which facility along with manufacturing specs for that particular tire as well.

      • John B says

        My SUV tires and info from Discount Tire have always shown the date code to be first two digits indicating the “week” of manufacture; the last two digits to be the “year”. My current Michelins show three tires with dates of “1911” and one with a date of “1611”. Although I still have very good tread life and sidewalls after almost six years and 58,000 miles, I will likely replace them prior to our summer driving this year.

        You may want to check with your tire dealer in case some tire manufacturers use a “MMYY” code rather than the more established “WWYY” code.

  3. Stuart Eber says

    I rotate my tires when the Honda Care Center says I should, linked to me oil change appointments.
    I buy new ones after 40,000-50,000 miles.

  4. Perry Townsend says

    Replacing your truck tires is one of the regular expenses to be expected when operating a commercial truck. Irregular wear, however, can force you to replace truck tires early and waste money.

  5. Ham says

    This is a good article about tire maintenance. Here’s a few more pointers to remember. Tires wear out either by age or tread wear. As tires age the rubber becomes stiffer, tires decay from the inside out, and cracks start showing up on the side of the tire and in the tread.

    The last 4 numbers of the DOT number on the side of the tire show the year and month when the tire was manufactured.

    Check tire pressure when tires are cool to the touch.

    • Kenneth P. McManus Jr. says

      also if your rims are not so good or the seal around the bead is not good the tire will get flat quickly…. the more it becomes flat the worse the deterioration will be… if your tire is constantly flat… look at the edge of the tire between the tread and the side wall… if you see anything that looks like a large ring or small eccentric circles: it is bad.