Do You Need to Replace All 4 Tires on Your AWD Vehicle?
Front tires on an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle often wear more quickly than those on the rear axle. Why? Misalignment, aggressive driving, underinflated tires and failure to regularly rotate front tires to the back are common causes. (Get tips on avoiding some of these problems here.)
So it can be tempting to try to nurse along AWD tires that still have some tread life on them by replacing only two. But this is almost always not the best decision for your pocketbook. Here’s why it’s better to replace all four AWD tires at once.
Mismatching AWD Tires Can Damage Your Vehicle
A new tire is actually larger than one of the same brand, type and size that’s partway through its tread life. There’s a measurable difference in tire circumference.
To understand why this matters, think of two horses of unequal size at gallop. The taller horse covers more ground in a single stride than the smaller horse. Over the miles, the smaller horse will take more strides and run harder to keep up.
The same is true for mismatched tires. A bigger tire (one with more tread depth) travels more distance in a single revolution than a smaller tire. So to compensate, a smaller-diameter tire will spin faster, revolving a bit more than one revolution for every revolution of the bigger tire.
Here’s an illustration showing how even if a tire is labelled the same size, the tire with less tread depth (the smaller/used tire) will revolve more times than the newer (bigger) tire with more tread depth.
So why is mixing new tires with used on an AWD a potential problem? First, a difference in diameter of less than half an inch between front and rear tires on your AWD can mean trouble for the drivetrain, the parts of the car that transfer the power to move the vehicle forward.
This is because the heat that builds up from the effort of the smaller tires “trying to keep up” creates stress on the transmission and axles that can result in expensive repairs.
Second, if the two tires on one axle are spinning faster than the others, your car’s electronics may think those are slipping, and put you in the wrong gear. Most AWD systems in today’s cars include sensors on each wheel that monitor traction and wheel speed hundreds of times per second. This is what allows the AWD system to work in slick conditions, by sending power to whatever wheel(s) have the most traction.
When smaller tires are spinning faster, the system may put your vehicle into four-wheel lock, the gear that’s used for driving in slippery conditions. That’s a no-no, since driving in that mode on pavement or at speed can cause damage to your car.
Mismatching AWD Tires Can Damage Your Vehicle
If two of your tires are due to be replaced (Hint: use the penny test to find out), it’s absolutely essential to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see if it recommends replacing all four of your AWD tires at once. Look in the tires and transmission sections. Or call your auto dealer for your make and model and ask the service department. Ignoring this advice may result in costly damage to some of the most important driving components of your car, like the transmission. Any reputable tire dealer will follow what the car maker says to do. And almost all manufacturers agree that you should replace all four.
Also, get a tire pro to use a tread depth gauge to accurately measure the tread if you think two of your tires still have some tread life in them. If there’s more than 3/32nds difference in tread depth between your new and keeper tires, spring for a full set of four new tires. Even that much of a difference really matters.
Recap: Why You Need to Replace All Four AWD Tires
- Mismatched tires are often a primary factor in drivetrain damage.
- To minimize variances, always match tires: same brand, size and type.
- The tread depth difference between front and rear tires should be no more than 3/32nds of an inch.
- If it is, you’ve got a problem with tire circumference difference. Get all four tires replaced.
Not sure if your auto is AWD (or four-, rear- or front-wheel drive?) Check your owner’s manual and read up here on the differences.
How to: Choose Snow Tires
Do I need to buy winter tires or can I just get snow chains?
What the heck is siping?
When do I have to have studded tires and when will studless do?
If you’re wondering how to pick the right tires for winter, or whether you need them at all, here are answers to the eight most common questions about winter tires.
(A lot of people still call tires used in the cold months “snow tires,” but it’s more accurate to call them “winter tires.” For purposes of this article, we use both terms to mean tires designed for winter driving.)
1. “Do I need snow tires?”
Winter tires are important for safe driving if you live somewhere that gets snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain and temperatures of 40 degrees or colder. They’re also the right option if you routinely make trips through snow zones or the mountains during the cold months.
2. “If my tires are marked ‘M+S’ on the sidewall am I good to drive on snow?”
Some all-season tires are rated M+S, standing for mud and snow. This means the tread design delivers better traction in wet conditions than non-M+S tires.
But it doesn’t mean they’re adequate for winter driving. In slick conditions, they don’t deliver the traction, control and short stopping distance that you get from a snow tire.
If you want safer driving on packed snow or ice, look for tires made with the right compound and branded with the Mountain Snowflake. This means they’ve actually been tested and certified to perform in winter conditions.
3. “I have all-season tires, so I don’t need snow tires. Right?”
Wrong. Don’t believe it? See this driving comparison between all-season and snow tires.
If you’re driving on snowy or icy roads, only winter tires will give you good stopping ability and secure handling. This is because they’re built very differently. How?
Different compound. Summer and all-season tires are made with a stiffer rubber compound. This helps the tire retain its shape when it’s rolling on hot pavement. Winter tires are made with hydrophilic (that’s “water-loving”) rubber which stays softer and more pliable in winter weather. This more flexible rubber is one reason you get more traction on snow and ice.Another reason is tread design. Winter tires have a higher “void-to-lug” ratio, meaning there are larger grooves between the blocks of tread (the lugs). The tread blocks also have irregular, sharp edges.
When a tire with wide grooves and biting edges travels over packed snow, it cuts through and scoops some of the snow into the voids on the tire surface, allowing the tread to stay in closer contact with the road. Then the velocity of the tire ejects this snow from the grooves. This is how winter tires provide more aggressive traction than all-season tires.
4. “Should I get my snow tires siped?”
Most snow tires are already siped, with small patterned slits on the lugs that create extra edges for better road grip. Additional safety siping can be done for a fee on new or used tires. If you’re regularly traveling on slick roads, the added traction from custom siping is a good way to improve starting, stopping and rolling traction.
5. “Is it okay to buy used winter tires?”
Before you jump on that set of “lightly used” winter tires on Craigslist, do three quick checks. First, verify they’re the right size. You can look in your vehicle owner’s manual or right on your existing tires’ sidewall close to the rim for the series of numbers. (Here’s a primer on what they all mean.) If you’re not sure the tires you’re considering are the correct size, call a tire dealer and make sure.
Second, measure the tread depth by using a tire tread depth gauge. You can pick one up at any auto parts store for under five bucks. Or have a tire store tech do it; it should be free. Take measurements in multiple places in the grooves on each tire. Here’s how.
A new tire typically has 11/32nds of an inch in tread depth. A rule of thumb is that if there are 6/32nds of an inch or less in tread remaining on a winter tire, it’s about to lose a good deal of snow performance. So think carefully about whether you’re going to get what you’re paying for.
Third, be sure there’s not a problem with uneven wear. Did your tread gauge measurements show any tread depth difference between the four tires? It’s really common for tires to wear differently over time. If the disparity between any two tires is more than 3/32nds of an inch, pass on those used tires. Driving with mismatched tires or putting the wrong size on your vehicle will NOT save you money in the long run. You’re risking big repair bills for your transmission.
It’s also a bad idea to put winter tires on only the front or back. This creates a big difference in traction between your axles. And this will mean less steering control, not more.
6. “Can I just buy chains instead of snow tires?”
Tire chains can be important — and are sometimes required — for traction when you’re traveling in the mountains or on icy roads. But they’re not made for driving at highway speed or on bare pavement. You risk damaging your chains if you try this.
Don’t think of chains as a substitute for winter tires but as an option you need to have ready when you’re driving on snow.
Depending on the conditions and your state’s rules, traction controls in snowy areas will range from requiring only the minimum — like M+S tires on the drive axle — up to chains on all tires, including all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles. Here are California’s chain controls, for example.
7. “Do I need studded snow tires or studless?”
The tire dealer will consider your driving habits, where you’re traveling and typical winter conditions in your area when recommending what you need.
Studless snow tires work well on slush and packed snow. They get traction through wide, deep grooves and lots of irregular surfaces with sharp edges. This allows the rubber to cut through snow and grip the road.
Studded tires provide the best traction you can get, even when you're encountering ice. Studs are lightweight pins that are arrayed across the tread. Like claws on a snowshoe, they dig in to slick surfaces. Note: Extra tread depth is needed to accommodate studs, so studded tire size options are limited. Also, the times of year when studded tires are allowed on the road vary by state. Here’s a guide to studded tire regulations.
8. “Should I buy winter tires with rims?”
It’s a question of time and money. Here’s a way to decide:
- Assume you’ll have your snow tires for five years.
- Total up the cost your tire dealer will charge for swapping out tires twice a year (ten times) if they’re not on rims. (Les Schwab will swap out tires purchased at our stores at no charge if they’re mounted on separate wheels.)
- Compare that figure to the price of the rims to see if there are savings.
- Factor in a bit more waiting time, since it takes the shop longer to unmount and remount the tires on the rims each time.
- Weigh whether the tradeoff in any money saved is worth the extra waiting room time.
Also consider the extra wear and tear on your tires that comes with unmounting and remounting tires on only one set of wheels. Especially with low-profile tires, it’s not uncommon for an inexperienced tire tech to damage the inside edge of a tire near the beads, the places where the tire gets pried off and pushed back on.
If you’re leaning toward separate wheels for your winter tires, here are some tips on selecting the best wheel finishes for winter conditions.
Check out tests from the Tire Industry Association in this video to see what the difference winter tires can make.
The Bottom Line on Picking Winter Tires
Some all-season tires are marketed as working equally well in summer and winter. That may be true in dry, mild climates where the seasons don’t vary much. But you’ll only get confident traction, braking and control on snow and ice with a winter tire. If you live in a place with winter weather, you’ll need tires marked with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake for safest handling. Because not all tires with a mountain snowflake have a winter compound, ask your tire dealer what you really need.
Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.
Tire Size Explained: Reading the Sidewall
Tire size can be confusing. Some numbers on the sidewall are listed in metric while others are in inches. Plus, the right size for your car, truck or trailer can differ depending on tire use and your driving habits.
You can see your original equipment tire size in your owner’s manual. This is the sizing recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
If you’re interested in switching out your tires for a different look or performance need, a good place to start is to look at the codes on your existing tires’ sidewall. Then have a tire professional help you determine a tire size range that will fit your vehicle and driving goals.
Here’s an explainer on what all the sidewall numbers and letters mean.
Tire Size Meanings
A: TIRE TYPE The first letter in the code tells you what class of tire it is.
P stands for passenger vehicle tire. P-class tires include cars, SUVs, crossovers, minivans and smaller pickup trucks.
LT means light truck tire, designed for vehicles that are towing trailers or have ¾- and 1-ton load capacity.
ST stands for Special Trailer. These tire sizes are meant for trailers, including fifth wheels and other travel trailers, boat trailers and utility trailers.
If there’s no letter before the first number, you have a metric tire most commonly referred to as European size. It’s also measured in millimeters but may have different load capacity than a P or LT tire.
B: TIRE WIDTH The three-digit number following the letter is the tire’s width (from side to side, looking at the tire head on) in millimeters. Also called the section width, this measurement is taken from outer sidewall to inner sidewall.
C: ASPECT RATIO The forward slash separates the tire width number from the two-digit aspect ratio. The bigger the aspect ratio, the higher/taller the tire’s sidewall, or “profile” as it’s sometimes called.
The aspect ratio is a percentage. It’s the height of the sidewall measured from wheel rim to top of the tread, expressed as a percentage of tire width. In other words, it’s sidewall height divided by tire width.
In this example, the aspect ratio is 65, meaning the sidewall is 65 percent as high as the tire is wide. To get the sidewall height, take the tire width of 215 mm and convert it to inches (8.46). Then multiply this by .65 and you get 5.5 inches, the sidewall height in inches.
D: CONSTRUCTION TYPE This single letter tells you about the internal construction of the tire.
R is for radial tires, the industry standard for most tires today. They have better road grip, lower rolling resistance for better gas mileage, ride comfort and durability than previous generations of tires. In a radial tire, the plies — layers of strong cords made of a blend of polyester, steel and fabric and coated with rubber — are laid perpendicular to the direction of travel.
D is for tires built with diagonal (crisscrossed) plies, called bias-constructed tires. They are also called conventional, x-ply, or cross-ply tires. Some motorcycle and trailer tires still use this internal construction.
Some run-flat tires are identified with an F followed by the type of internal construction.
E: WHEEL DIAMETER This two-digit number specifies wheel diameter in inches, how wide the wheel is across the center. It’s the distance between the two bead seat areas (where a tire gets slotted and tightly sealed onto the wheel).
F: LOAD INDEX The two-digit or three-digit number that follows the gap specifies tire load index. The load index symbol indicates how much weight a tire can support, based on the following standard chart. In our example, the load index is 89, which indicates the tire has a load capacity of 1,279 pounds.
G: SPEED RATING The last letter is the speed rating, which tells you the top speed it’s safe to travel at for a sustained amount of time. A tire with a higher speed rating can handle heat better and provide more control at faster speeds. The maximum operating speed of a vehicle is no more than the lowest speed rating of all tires mounted on the vehicle. (Of course, you should always abide by speed limits for safer driving.) Speed rating is usually, but not always, a single letter (see the chart).
LOAD INDEX LOAD (lbs) LOAD INDEX LOAD (lbs) LOAD INDEX LOAD (lbs) 65 639 94 1477 123 3417 66 661 95 1521 124 3527 67 677 96 1565 125 3638 68 694 97 1609 126 3748 69 716 98 1653 127 3858 70 739 99 1709 128 3968 71 761 100 1764 129 4079 72 783 101 819 130 4189 73 805 102 1874 131 4299 74 827 103 1929 132 4409 75 853 104 1984 133 4541 76 882 105 2039 134 4674 77 908 106 2094 135 4806 78 937 107 2149 136 4938 79 963 108 2205 137 5071 80 992 109 2271 138 5203 81 1019 110 2337 139 5357 82 1047 111 2403 140 5512 83 1074 112 2469 141 5677 84 1102 113 2535 142 5842 85 1135 114 2601 143 6008 86 1168 115 2679 144 6173 87 1201 116 2756 145 6393 88 1235 117 2833 146 6614 89 1279 118 2910 147 6779 90 1323 119 2998 148 6944 91 1356 120 3086 149 7165 92 1389 121 3197 150 7385 93 1433 122 3307
SPEED SYMBOL SPEED (mph) A1 3 A2 6 A3 9 A4 12 A5 16 A6 19 A7 22 A8 25 B 31 C 37 D 40 E 43 F 50 G 56 J 62 K 68 L 75 M 81 N 87 P 93 Q 99 R 106 S 112 T 118 U 124 H 130 V 149 W 168 ZR* Y 186 (Y) Above 186
*For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph, a ZR may appear in the size designation... above 186 mph, a ZR must appear in the size designation, including a Y speed symbol in brackets.
Buying New Wheels or Changing Your Tire Size?
A tire size calculator is a quick way to see whether the tire size you’re considering will likely fit your car, SUV, sports car, light truck or crossover.
But remember that will give you just an estimate. It’s important to stay within the sizing tolerances of your vehicle. Tires that are the wrong size could cause pull in the steering wheel, rub against the suspension or auto body, reduce clearance on hills or result in a stiffer or noisier ride than you expected.
If you’re considering mounting a different tire size on your vehicle, check with a tire expert. Find out whether the tires and wheels you have your eye on are the right fit for your vehicle’s suspension, gearing and bodywork. And ask how any differences in revolutions per mile, tire speed, load index and speed rating will affect your ride quality and vehicle performance.
See how new tires and rims will look on your car or truck using our Virtual Wheels simulator, available at any Les Schwab.
TPMS Light Coming On in Cold Weather? Here’s Why
If your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) warning light goes on during a cold snap, it may not mean your tire has a leak.
Tire pressure can decrease about 1 PSI (pound per square inch) for every 10 degrees the temperature drops. It's not that more air is escaping your tires, but rather the air inside the tire condenses, taking up less space when it's cold. It's similar to how a cake, just out of the oven, flattens out a bit as it cools.
Tires also lose about 1 PSI per month just from seepage of air around the edge of the rim and through the tread itself.
These two factors combined can cause the air pressure in a tire to go 25 percent below the recommended fill pressure. This is what triggers the sensing transmitters inside your tires to illuminate your TPMS dash light. Whenever your TPMS light comes on, have your air checked and bring your tires up to the proper pressure.
Winter Tire Pressure
Temperature changes outside affect your tire pressure. If it gets up to 45 degrees by day and drops to 15 degrees at night, your tire pressure will vary 3 PSI, not counting normal air loss. This is why it’s not unusual to have the low-pressure indicator light go on first thing in the morning, since it’s usually coldest overnight.
The light may shut off on its own after you drive 20 minutes or so, as the air in your tires warms and expands and proper inflation level stabilizes.
Regardless, you should get your air checked right away. The TPMS light means your tires are at least 25 percent below the proper air pressure. This is a safety risk, especially if you’re carrying a load close to your vehicle’s max capacity. There’s a greater chance of tire failure, compromised handling and increased wear and tear on your tires. Your gas mileage could also suffer.
When you top off your tires, the TPMS light will go off as the tire regains the proper pressure.
Note: If the warning light is flashing, this is a problem with the vehicle’s TPMS system, not your tires, and you should take your car to the shop.
One More Reason Your TPMS Light May Go On
Your TPMS light may flash if your vehicle’s onboard computer can’t detect the sensor because you’re using a spare tire. They typically don’t have TPMS sensors.
How to Get Winter Tire Pressure Right
Once a month, have your pressure checked when the tires are cold (meaning the car is parked outside and hasn’t been driven in four hours) and inflate them to what’s indicated on your placard located on the inside of your car door.
For more information regarding TPMS with your vehicle, please review your owner’s manual.
Winter Driving Tips: Traction Tires & Snow Chains
If you’ve ever faced a winter storm from the driver’s seat of your vehicle, you know it can get a little tense. Especially when it’s icy, snowy, or pouring down rain. You might not be able to avoid winter, but you can be ready for your trip over the mountain or across town.
Traction is Your Friend
A good set of tires is essential for winter driving, whatever the weather. Heading into some serious conditions, like ice and snow? A set of snow chains can help keep you on the road instead of waiting for a tow truck.
Adding snow tires to your vehicle is an option. These include studded and studless options for the snow and ice, as well as siping for added grip in heavy rain. Get the full scoop on how to choose winter tires.
Get to know snow chains. Winter weather can be unpredictable and we want you to be prepared and safe wherever you're driving. Before the harsh weather hits, get a pair of correctly fitting tire chains for your vehicle and practice installing them in a warm garage. You can check out our quick tutorial. If you purchase your tire chains from Les Schwab and they sit in your trunk all season without being used, bring them back to any of our locations in the spring and we'll issue you a full refund.
Drive Smart in Any Weather
Traction tires and devices are a good idea, whether you’re taking the family up to the slopes or driving home from work. And so is smart driving. Whatever the conditions, give yourself plenty of room to stop. When the pavement is wet, put at least 120 feet between you and the next car or truck. On snow, give yourself 180 feet. And if there’s ice on the road, get really generous with 600 feet of stopping distance. You’ll be glad you did.
Shop for Winter Tires
Tire Speed Rating and Why It Matters
The tire speed rating is the maximum speed tires can safely carry a load (the original weight of your vehicle plus whatever’s in it) for a sustained amount of time in ideal conditions. The rating is molded on the tire sidewall, signified by a letter or two, usually after the load index number. Together, the load index and speed rating form the service description.
Each letter in the speed rating represents a maximum speed based on a standard chart.
The main things to know:
- Generally, the higher in the alphabet a tire is rated, the better it will manage heat and faster speeds. There’s an exception for the H rating; read on for why.
- Your actual speed capacity may be less than a tire’s rating. The rating indicates a new tire’s performance in tightly controlled lab settings, not the open road. Tire condition, inflation level, extra cargo, road surfaces and weather are everyday limits that play into a tire’s maximum safe speed.
- If you have tires with different speed ratings, the limit of the lowest rated tire is the fastest you can drive and stay within your tires’ capability.
- The most common ratings are S and T (sedans, minivans, light trucks); H (some passenger cars, sports cars, coupes, some light trucks); N, P, Q and R (light trucks); and V, W and Y (high-performance cars). Most winter tires have Q, S or T speed ratings.
Tire Speed Rating Chart
Here are the symbols and translation into mph:
|SPEED SYMBOL||SPEED (mph)||SPEED SYMBOL||SPEED (mph)||SPEED SYMBOL||SPEED (mph)|
|B||31||P||93||*For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph, a ZR may appear in the size designation... above 186 mph, a ZR must appear in the size designation, including a Y speed symbol in brackets.|
*For tires having a maximum speed capability above 149 mph, a ZR may appear in the size designation... above 186 mph, a ZR must appear in the size designation, including a Y speed symbol in brackets.
Note: Yes, the H rating is out of place and that’s not a typo. When tire speed ratings were first developed in Europe in the 1960s, there were only three ratings: S, H and V. As tire technology developed and new speed classes were introduced, the ratings table expanded to include the full alphabet. But the letter H kept its original speed rating of 130 mph, so it sits later in the chart.
Z-rated tires will sometimes have the letters ZR embedded with the tire size information instead of in the service description.
How are Speed Ratings Determined?
Tire manufacturers determine a tire’s capacity for heat and speed using a testing machine. Usually testing is done to meet ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) standards, so the scale is based on kilometers per hour (km/h). A more rigorous test is sometimes done to meet SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standards.
- For the ECE test, the tire is properly inflated and mounted on a wheel attached to a testing machine in a room that’s heated to 77 degrees F.
- The tire is pressed against a metal drum with enough pressure to simulate a realistic load.
- Starting at a speed 40 km/h lower than the proposed rating level, the tire is spun for 10-minute increments at higher and higher speeds, until it reaches the target speed.
- The tire spins for 10 minutes at the target speed.
- It’s then removed from the machine and inspected for any failures, like separation of tread components. If it’s intact, it passes the speed rating.
- Sometimes an SUS (step-up speed) test will be added after the tire performs at the target speed rating. Speed is increased until the tire fails.
- If the tire is being tested at the SAE standard, it’s required to run for an hour at target speed in a room heated to 100 degrees.
How Much Does It Matter for Your Driving & Tread Life?
Tires with higher speed ratings offer handling benefits that thrill some drivers, but there are tradeoffs. Since they’re usually made with softer rubber compounds and stiffer construction they offer better cornering, stopping power and steering response. But expect a little less ride comfort, lower performance in cold conditions and shorter tread life. Consumer Reports found that some H- and V-rated tires didn’t last as long as those rated for lower speeds, wearing out closer to 50,000 miles than 60,000 miles.
What Rating Do You Need?
Even in states where rural speed limits are 75 mph, most drivers will stay well below the speed limitations of H-rated tires. Commuters and family car drivers will likely be quite satisfied with S or T tires.
If you’re a spirited driver with a high-performance car, you may be happier with V, W or Y tires. Light truck drivers will be looking for symbols N, P, Q, R, S, T or H.
If you’re replacing tires and think you may want a lower- or higher-speed-rated tire, it’s best not to mix and match. When mounting differently rated tires, techs prefer to put the lower-speed-rated ones on the front to prevent oversteering. This can conflict with the best practice of putting the tires with the most tread on the rear, which is important for wet traction.
Get tires with the same speed rating. If you don’t, remember that the maximum mph is limited to the tire with the lowest speed rating.
Tire speed rating is not like a speed limit posted on highway signs. It’s based on lab simulations and doesn’t account for real-life factors that determine true tire capability: Are the tires fully inflated? Is your vehicle properly aligned? How hot is the road? Have you ever had a flat repaired? What’s the age and state of the tread?
Don’t use the rating as a guideline for the top speed you can drive. If you’re carrying a heavy load, have a tire that’s been patched after a puncture, or low on air, your tire’s speed capacity will be much reduced. For safe driving, keep your speed at the posted speed limit — or below, when road conditions or the weather aren’t ideal.
Important Notice: The information provided above is derived from sources deemed reasonably reliable. The operation of your vehicle, or the replacement of your vehicle’s equipment, may be different than for a typical vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual for specific warnings, notices, and other advice relative to the subjects addressed.
4 Reasons Not to Drive Winter Tires Through Summer
If you’re thinking of driving on your winter tires year-round, there’s a strong case against it. You’ll wear out your tires much faster. You’ll compromise traction and handling in all four seasons. And changing out your tires twice a year doesn’t have to cost you anything, including your valuable time. Here’s what you should know.
1. Winter Tires Wear Out Faster in the Heat
Winter tires are made with a more flexible rubber compound that helps deliver the best road grip in snowy and icy conditions. All-season tires are made with a harder rubber blend that can withstand hot weather.
Heat is really hard on winter tires, which are meant to be used when temperatures are 45°F or below. Winter tires run on hot pavement will wear out much faster than their expected tread life. Because they are made with a softer compound, they will also tend to wear unevenly when driven in the wrong conditions.
2. It Will Cost You, Not Save You Money
Since winter tires typically cost more than all-season tires, using them all year means you’re wearing out a more expensive set much faster than its expected mileage life. It’s smarter to buy two sets of tires made for your driving conditions and swap them when the weather changes.
You’ll also pay more for gas when you use winter tires in summer. On hot blacktop, they roll with far more friction than tires built for warm weather.
This higher rolling resistance means worse fuel economy — and more out of your pocket at the pump. It doesn’t do any favors for Mother Nature either since you’ll be contributing higher carbon emissions from using more gas.
As with any investment, you save money when you get the most value from your tires. One way to get the longest life out of tires is to use them for what they’re made for.
3. Traction and Handling Issues
Take it from Click and Clack of Car Talk:
You have to change to summer or all-season tires during warmer weather…Your handling is compromised in warm weather. Imagine if you need to make an emergency maneuver, and your tires are kind of soft and squishy. You’re not going to get the kind of crisp handling that you need in order to avoid that oncoming sausage delivery truck. So, if you live in a place where you need winter tires for part of the year, you really have to replace them in the spring with something better suited to the warm weather.
Stopping distance is also a big issue since winter tires require a bit longer for braking on wet or dry pavement.
Plus, when cold weather comes around again, you’re going to be relying on worn tires. Tires designed for winter will get uneven shoulder wear and faster tread wear if used in the summer months.
Winter tires with worn tread blocks don’t provide as much grip on icy, snowy surfaces. Without deep grooves and intact traction features, your tires won’t channel snow, slush and water as well. When it comes to traction, lack of tread depth is a bigger safety risk in winter.
4. Swapping Tires Can Be Easy and Free
Swapping out winter tires for all-season or performance tires twice a year is only a big effort if you do it yourself. The best tire shops do it for free as long as your tires are on wheels. If not, you can generally pay a small fee to have it done with little waiting.
The Bottom Line on Driving Winter Tires All Year
Your overall cost per mile will be lowest when you drive on tires that are proper for the season and your driving conditions. You’ll get the most mileage out of them along with the control and traction you’ve paid for. And you’ll be more secure on the road.
Shop for Summer Tires
5 Questions Any Good Tire Dealer Should Ask
Tires are a big investment most people make only every few years. If you want to make the right decision, you’ve got two choices:
- Become a tire selection expert.
- Become a tire dealer selection expert.
Option 2 is a lot easier. Make sure the salesperson asks you these five questions:
1. “What do you use your vehicle for?”
The best tire for a commuter in an economy car may not be the same as what’s needed for the family car. The tire that’s best for comfort and least noise for your long-distance commute may be overkill for a third car that's used less often. If you’re hauling loads or a trailer with your truck, that suggests a different choice than what’s right on a truck used for lighter duty.
Road conditions are a part of this equation. If you regularly go off-road, you’re driving streets with lots of potholes, or you live in a place with winding roads and tight curves, the salesperson’s recommendations will differ.
2. “What are your driving habits?”
If your dealer asks this question, they’re a keeper.
Literally and figuratively, tires aren’t one-size-fits-all. For example, a new driver in the family can change the ideal tire. So can your tendency towards conservative versus faster driving.
3. “Will you be doing any driving in winter conditions?”
You need tires that suit the weather conditions where you drive and your dealer knows that. A good one will ask.
All season tires are the choice for drivers in sunnier places. If you’re driving on snow or ice every year, you’ll likely have winter tires for cold months and a different set for warmer weather. Your dealer’s recommendation on what’s going to last longest and perform best will also be different if you live in a place with extremes of heat and cold than someplace with more consistent weather.
4. “What’s your budget?”
All these factors — driving habits, safety, longevity, comfort, handling, noise — have to be balanced with your budget. A good dealer is happy to explain the differences between a quality, basic tire, a premium tire, and everything in between, because it narrows the choices to what's best for you. You should never get the feeling the store rep is pushing a tire just because it’s on sale or it’s the most expensive.
5. “Here’s how our warranty works …”
OK, it’s not really a question. But the best dealers will bring this up. If you want to get the best value for the money, it’s really important to think this through. Service warranties can include free services worth hundreds of dollars over the life a tire. They vary substantially by dealer. Some features and limitations to find out about:
- Road hazards: If you run over a pothole, nail, or debris that damages the tire beyond repair, is the value of the tire covered?
- Expiration: How long is the tire covered? Three years? Five years? The life of the tire?
- Workmanship: Are both the tire and the quality of installation/repairs covered?
- Free services: Are regular inspections for wear, tire rotations and rebalancing included? What’s the cost to fix flats?
- Locations: How many stores will honor the warranty? The service warranty that comes with tires you buy at a dealer is an agreement with the dealer, not the manufacturer. A service warranty goes beyond the standard workmanship and material warranty you get from the company that made your tires. It can cover labor and free maintenance services. But your service warranty is good only at the retailer that sold you the tires. (If you’re weighing buying online, consider that if you get a flat, or a tire is defective, you have to get it off your vehicle and return it yourself.)
Find the right dealer and you don’t have to become a tire expert
Real professionals will be happy to talk your ear off about technical features — tread bars, siping, harmonic noise — or just give you the basic benefits of a tire in layperson’s language, your preference. Make sure they’re asking the questions above as a starting point. The answers will make the best choice obvious.
A Helpful Q&A Guide to Buying Tires
A lot of people choose tires based on the mileage warranty and cost. However, these are only two of many important factors to consider.
There are lots of choices between tires even at the same mileage and price point. It’s important to understand key factors to have the right tire for your driving needs. Things to ask about are: tire size, performance rating, load rating, ply rating, expected mileage and tread design, so you can depend on your tires and feel safe while traveling.
Here are answers to questions people ask the most about how to pick out tires. This info won’t make you a tire expert but will give you the basics when you visit your tire dealer.
Q: Do I Want All-season or Snow Tires?
A: It depends on whether you drive in winter conditions regularly.
Tires are categorized as all-season, summer, traction, winter or highway (for light trucks). Buying a set of highway or all-season tires is a good choice if you live in a sunny, warm climate that gets occasional rain and you aren’t regularly traveling on snow and ice. They perform well in climates where temperatures don’t typically get below 45 degrees. All-season tires are built to handle hot pavement but don’t offer the traction needed for slick, winter roads. If your area gets snow or ice every year, or if you make regular trips over mountain passes in the winter months, you’ll likely need all-season tires for spring, summer and fall driving, and winter tires for more harsh conditions. Get the full lowdown on how they’re different and how to choose winter tires.
Q: Do I Want Performance Tires?
A: Performance tires are designed for better cornering and handling at higher speeds. If these are your priorities, talk to your tire dealer about your options.
Other specialty tires, such as traction tires for pickups and SUVs, are for off-roading, gravel and driving in mud.
Sometimes your demands are simple; you just need a quiet, smooth passenger car tire for freeway driving. All-season or all-terrain tires are made to handle year-round driving needs on and off the blacktop. A good tire dealer will ask you the right questions and know the best product for your needs and budget.
Q: Does Driving Winter Tires in Summer Damage Them?
A: Yes. With more people running studless winter tires, this is a growing issue. Winter tires are made with a special rubber compound that stays softer and more pliable in cold weather for better road grip. As seasonal tires, they aren't designed to handle the heat. All-season tires are made with a different rubber compound suitable for hot pavement.
If you use winter tires in hot weather they are going to wear out much quicker. It’s important to factor in the long-term cost if you’re thinking about running your winter tires through the warm months. This could reduce their life by years.
Q: Is There Really a Difference Between Higher- and Lower-priced Tires?
Tire pricing is typically based on what the tire delivers for comfort, ride quality, noise level, tread durability and traction features. Some tires for specific uses. For instance, light truck mud tires may have a higher price point because they have more rubber on them, which increases the cost to produce them. Prices also reflect the value you can expect from your tire; tread life typically ranges from 30,000 to 80,000 miles. This mileage can vary depending on whether you are looking at passenger car, performance car, light truck or SUV tires.
Q: Who Makes the Best Tires?
A: There are plenty of well-made tires. The biggest differences often come down to the warranty. Most of what you get in a tire warranty is provided by the dealer, not the tire maker. If there’s a defect in the tire you buy, that’s covered by the manufacturer. However, many other warranty features are covered by the dealer that sold and installed your tires.
Tire service warranties vary greatly by dealer and can be worth hundreds of dollars over the life of a tire. A well-built tire is only as good as the warranty backing it, so consider everything that’s in the warranty. Here’s a list of what to look for:
- Length of coverage. The best warranties extend for the full life of the tire’s tread mileage guarantee, not a set number of years.
- Workmanship. Both the tire and the quality of installation/repairs should be covered.
- Free care. Whether flat repairs, regular inspections for wear, tire rotations and rebalancing are free.
- Road hazard coverage. If you hit debris or a pothole and the tire is damaged beyond repair, is the value of the tire covered?
- Convenience. How many locations honor the warranty.
Be careful about buying extended tire coverage, like tire certificates, which replace your tires for free if you ruin them. It’s very rare to damage multiple tires beyond repair over the life of the tires. Usually, damage to a tire can be repaired and often it’s a single tire that’s involved. By the time you add up the cost of covering your tires with certificates, you could pay for any tire that gets damaged.
There are other drawbacks as well. Tire replacement certificates often expire after three years. And some aren’t honored if the damage comes from running your tires at the improper inflation.
Q: Can I Change My Tire Size?
A: Swapping out your tires for bigger or smaller ones than what came new on your vehicle is a fun way to change your ride’s look. Understand that it may affect performance. Be aware that when you change to a taller tire, your speedometer will read slower than you're going because your tire is spinning fewer revolutions per mile (RPM). You may get more road noise and differences in the way your vehicle handles.
In contrast, lowering the profile of your car or truck by using a smaller tire size will alter both handling and how much clearance you have. You may bottom out on hills that you used to clear just fine and it may stiffen the ride.
You can use a tire size calculator to see how different sized tires will affect your RPMs and tire speed, but such tools are only estimates.
Be sure to cover all the unknowns by talking with a tire professional before you change sidewall height or tread width. An expert will know how to translate the difference in RPM, tire speed, load index and speed rating into what it will mean for your vehicle and driving. They’ll also explain how the tires or wheels you have your eye on will or won’t fit with your vehicle’s suspension, gearing and bodywork.
Q: Is It Ok to Replace One Tire at a Time?
A: It’s best to consider replacing tires in pairs, but read your owner’s manual. Even small size and type differences between your four tires can have big consequences, especially if you own an all-wheel drive (AWD).
Replacing one tire with a different brand, model, size or tread depth can cause a noticeable pull in the steering wheel or other handling issues. There are tight tolerances for AWDs, so they’re at greater risk for such problems.
A big difference in tread depth between tires can damage expensive parts. It is always a good idea to review your owner’s manual to see if the vehicle manufacturer has a point of view on this.
Q: Will Buying Tires Online Save Me Money?
A: It might save you some money if you’re a tire expert and have a place that will mount the tires on your wheels. If not and you don’t, you run the risk of getting the wrong type of tires for your vehicle and driving. Then that Internet bargain can add up to a lot more hassle, time and money than expected.
Another issue is finding a tire dealer that will service your tires by mounting and balancing them on your wheels at a reasonable cost. This can get expensive if you’re changing out summer and winter tires twice a year. Here are some cost and warranty factors to consider when you’re thinking of buying online.
Do I Need Snow Tires if I Have AWD?
You can probably safely drive your AWD (all-wheel-drive) with all-season tires in light or moderate snow. But it’s a common misperception that AWDs will drive like tanks in slick conditions.
It’s recommended that you have either winter tires or snow chains on your AWD if you’re driving in a blizzard or icy conditions. Traveling with summer or worn all-season tires on any vehicle in winter is a safety risk. Even a 4WD (four-wheel-drive) will slip and slide on snowy roads if its tires don’t have enough tread.
What AWD Does Really Well in Snow
AWD is great at getting your car moving from a dead stop and accelerating smoothly in a straight line when the pavement is slippery. It’s able to do this because it sends more power to whichever wheels are getting the most traction and less power to the spinning wheels.
But if you don’t have enough traction in the first place, the AWD system can’t compensate. If none of the four tires has enough grip, you’re in trouble.
This is why an AWD equipped with all-season tires might not deliver safe braking and sharp cornering in significant snow or on ice. In fact, some independent testing shows that a front-wheel-drive (FWD) mounted with winter tires will have shorter stopping distance and better cornering than an AWD with all-season tires.
How Winter Tires Provide Better Traction
To be clear, what some people call snow tires are, in fact, winter tires built for better road grip in ALL winter conditions — rain, ice, snow and slush.
Winter tires are made with specialized rubber that stays softer during cold temperatures. They’re designed with tread features like bigger grooves, biting edges, sipes, optional studs and variations in the block shapes for improved gripping even in subzero temperatures.
All-season and summer tires are made with a different rubber compound so they will maintain their shape even on hot pavement. They don’t have as many jagged surfaces and have fewer or shallower channels for ejecting water or snow.
Are Winter Tires Worth it for AWD Vehicles?
AWD is helpful when you’re starting to move or accelerating on slick roads, but not so much when you’re cornering or stopping. It’s not a substitute for having winter tires.
If you’re only visiting snowy areas once or twice a year, you may be fine driving an AWD with all-season tires in good condition. Just be sure to carry tire chains.
If it’s frigid where you live or you’re traveling in more than light snow every month, then buying a set of winter tires for your AWD will deliver the road grip you need for most winter weather conditions. Of course, you may also need a set of good chains for the worst weather.
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Do You Even Need a Spare Tire?
The fact that spare tires are no longer standard equipment on many newer-model cars can come as a nasty surprise when you get a flat tire. While most new light trucks and larger SUVs still come with a spare, here’s important news:
About 35 percent of vehicles now come from the factory without a spare tire.
Getting a flat tire is a major hassle and it can be costly. Here’s what to know about spares, including why more autos are coming without them, how to decide if you really need one and the upsides and downsides of inflator kits.
Which New Car & SUV Models Don’t Include a Spare?
On May 23, 2015, my 7-year-old granddaughter, my friend and I were stranded for four hours on I-84 west of Baker City, Oregon, with a blown-out tire and no spare. My brand new car did not come with a spare! I called my insurance emergency assistance four times. I waited for my insurance company to call and get a tow truck for about three hours. A local towing company wanted to charge me $530.00 to tow my car about 20 miles to Les Schwab in Baker City. I mentioned to the insurance agent that I wanted my car towed to Les Schwab so I could get a new tire. The insurance agent called Les Schwab and I spoke with Jake at the counter. Les Schwab came out with a new tire, changed it and we were back driving in about 30 minutes. I went back to the store and bought a spare. Thank you Les Schwab, you saved our day. Too bad the other businesses I dealt with on Saturday did not have your ethics for putting customers first. Thanks again for being there for us. You will be the first I call next time I need a tire changed, and I will recommend to my insurance company they need to put you on their call list.
– Penny M., Baker City, OR
The time to find out if your new or used car is going to come equipped with a spare is before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t rely on the sales staff to volunteer the news. It can be difficult to tell which models come with a spare and which don’t, since some trim levels will, but not all. Be sure by asking the sales rep directly. (And if you’ve recently bought a newer model car, be sure to check whether it has a spare, so you’re prepared with an alternative in case of a flat.)
Why Aren’t Some New Cars Coming With Spare Tires?
A bunch of factors are in play.
- Efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Removing the spare can reduce a vehicle’s weight by about 30 to 50 pounds, once you include the jack and wrench. It can also improve aerodynamics by reducing air drag from spare tire compartments that poke below the undercarriages of vehicles. These two factors can improve miles per gallon performance and help carmakers meet strict EPA standards for their full fleets, an attractive option for both car companies and energy-conscious drivers.
- Need for more space in smaller vehicles. A spare can take up significant room in compacts, sports cars and small sedans. There can be a trade-off between comfort and the space in small cars.
- Lack of storage space, especially in hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles. Batteries and emissions equipment for such vehicles sometimes now take up space where the spare used to go.
- Reduced manufacturing costs. Yep, a carmaker can save several hundred dollars by foregoing the spare in new cars.
What Are Alternatives to a Spare Tire? Are They Any Good?
Some new cars are coming from the factory equipped with tires or inflator kits that claim to make the spare tire unnecessary. There are upsides and downsides to all.
Run-flat tires are designed to allow driving for a limited distance after losing air from a typical puncture. They are built with either a reinforced sidewall or an internal support ring to carry the vehicle’s weight if the tire tread gets pierced. (The sidewall is the curbside face of the tire.)
Run-flats are made to travel from 10 to 50 miles under 50 mph when deflated, so you can get somewhere for service. Run-flats may also offer better control than standard tires when there’s a tire failure involving complete loss of air.
Downsides: Driving on a run-flat for even the shortest of distances will ruin the tire. It will have to be replaced. Plus, if you’re somewhere remote and get a flat, you may not be within range of the next tire repair shop.
Self-sealing tires have a lining coated with special sealant inside the tire. When an object on the road pierces the tread, the sealant material "surrounds" the hole. Then when a nail or other debris is removed, the sealant fills the full area.
Downsides: The self-sealing tire won't work if a puncture is more than about a quarter of an inch in diameter. They also don’t work for sidewall holes, so if an object goes through the tread to the sidewall you’re going to have a dead flat and won’t be going anywhere.
Inflator kits are a growing — but less-than-ideal — substitute to the spare tire. New autos with standard tires sometimes come with an aerosol seal kit. Such products offer a very temporary fix for minor tread punctures so you can get to a nearby tire store or service station for repairs.
Some are as simple as $10 canned products that plug small puncture holes by spraying sealant into the flat via the air-inflation valve and inflating the tire just a bit. Other tire-sealant kits include a small air cartridge and a replaceable container of sealant at a cost between $20 to $80.
Downsides: Tire sealant kits only work on small holes in the tread, and they don’t work at all for slits or holes in the sidewall.
Sealants also leave grime inside the tire that can affect your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), the safety equipment that alerts you if you’ve lost air in a tire. Any time you use a sealant you’ll need to have the TPMS sensors in your tires cleaned. And sealants can easily damage these sensors. You’re looking at a cost of $45 to $100 per tire if they need to be replaced.
When Is It OK to Go Without a Spare Tire? And Not?
If you’re buying a new car, here are five tips for deciding whether to get a model with no spare, based on where you live, what type of driving you’re doing, cost, safety and convenience.
- The freeway shoulder can be a dangerous place to change a tire. If you live in an urban area with 24-hour towing, and you’re doing mostly daytime driving, you may be good with no spare. Just be sure you have AAA towing service ($69 a year for the basic package), roadside assistance coverage included in your auto insurance policy, or one of the new, on-demand services. Without it, a standard tow (around 5 miles) will cost you an average $109, according to Angie’s List.
- Decide up front if you’re willing to go spare-less for the life of your vehicle. If you find yourself regretting your decision later, you’ll pay more for an aftermarket tire, jack and lug wrench (typically $150 to $300) than you do when the kit comes as original equipment on a new car. Plus, there may not be a space to safely carry them in your vehicle if you bought a spare-less auto model.
- If you take a lot of road trips, routinely drive in places with long distances between service stations, or travel a lot on rougher roads, you need a spare tire. Getting a flat in rural areas means you could be a hundred miles or more to the nearest repair shop. If it’s after business hours, you could be looking at being marooned for hours, paying for a hotel for a night (or more if it’s a weekend), leaving a vehicle loaded with gear or belongings on the side of the road, and paying a hefty towing fee over a long stretch of highway.
I lease my 2013 Hyundai. I came out after work to a flat tire. I opened my trunk and imagine my surprise when there was no spare tire. I called Les Schwab and they said they had a guy in the neighborhood and he would be right there. He came and put air in my tire and followed me to the nearest store. It was after closing, but they kept the bays open for me. They removed the screw from my tire and sent me on my way with no charge. Who does that? I am a fan and tell everyone I know!
– Peggy P., Sacramento, CA
- Get a spare tire if you travel with small kids, especially if you're taking occasional road trips. Getting stranded with a flat and no spare can mean several hours of waiting for a tow, even in an urban area. This is sure to be stressful for parents and possibly unsafe for tots, especially if it’s a really hot or frigid day.
- If you have medical needs that need daily attention, better have a spare.
Flat tires can be a major, costly hassle — or simply a slight inconvenience. Especially in the West, where distances between tire service can be long and lonely, a spare tire is the most cost-effective insurance that you won’t get stuck by the side of the road.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a smallish impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment.
The potential problems can go beyond your wheel-tire assembly. A pothole strike can result in broken shocks or struts, dents or cracks in the body, or harm to other suspension or engine parts.
It’s important to get your vehicle checked after a harsh encounter with a pothole — or any debris — on the road. Some damage will be obvious, like a flat tire, while some may not be visible. Get your car in for a look-see right away, especially if you notice these indicators:
- A tire looks low. This could be a slow leak from a bent rim.
- You see a bulge on the tire sidewall, a sign the tightly packed cords of steel belts and nylon in the tread have separated.
- Your car pulls to the left or right when you’re driving straight. Your wheels are probably out of alignment.
- You feel a vibration in the steering, seat or floor, a symptom of imbalanced tires.
- You hear a new noise when underway. Something may be rubbing on your suspension.
- A dashboard warning light comes on.
Here’s some background on Road Enemy No. 1: the common types of damage, what repairs may cost and whether your auto insurance will pay for them, and how to avoid these expensive hazards.
Yes, There Are LOTS of Potholes
It’s not your imagination. American drivers are putting up with a lot of potholes, and the price tag is steep.
A 2016 AAA study found potholes cost U.S. drivers an estimated $3 billion in repairs annually. Over the last five years, an estimated 16 million drivers have sustained such damage to their tires, wheels or suspension.
Why such high numbers? The nation’s blacktop is aging. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance so much-needed repairs are backlogged. Extreme cold, heat, rain and excess water under roadways also mean more cracks in the road, which is how potholes are born.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Unless the hole is relatively large or you’re going really fast, the pothole strike probably won’t puncture your tire, or damage part of your suspension or engine. But bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, body damage, and shocks and struts issues are common.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask him/her to check for:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment.
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts.
- Intact tire balancing weights.
- Bent or cracked wheel rim.
- Damage to the engine or exhaust system.
- Damage to shocks and struts.
- Other broken suspension components.
What Will the Repairs Cost Me?
Auto repair costs due to potholes can range anywhere from $50 to $500. American drivers report paying $300, on average, to fix pothole-related vehicle damage, according to AAA.
If a tire is damaged, check your tire warranty. If it’s a good one, repairs or replacement from road impacts may be free.
If your tire isn’t covered by a good warranty and it’s damaged beyond repair, a new tire will cost you on average $128 ($155 for light truck tires) in 2017 prices. Bent wheels can often be fixed but replacing a single rim may cost you between $75 and $500, depending on how fancy it is and whether welding, repainting or refinishing is needed.
Does Auto Insurance Cover Damage from Potholes?
If you don’t have a strong tire warranty or if the impact caused damage to other parts of the vehicle, check your insurance policy. If you have collision coverage, auto insurance may cover the cost of repairs, but there’s usually a high deductible to meet. Because such an incident is considered a collision by your insurer, reporting it may jack up your insurance rate. It may turn out that just paying for repairs will be cheaper than filing a claim.
First, get a repair estimate. Then, talk to your insurance agent about whether it’s smarter to self-pay or file a claim. It depends on your driving record and your insurer.
Check Your Car Dealer Service Warranty
Before shelling out the dough for repairs, also read your vehicle’s service warranty. Some car dealers offer tire/wheel protection plans as options on long-term warranties, in some states and on some vehicles. Such plans may cover damage to tires and wheels caused by potholes, nails, glass and other road hazards, dent repair, windshield fixes, labor and even towing charges.
Tips for Avoiding Hazards
There’s an app for this. Really.
Waze provides driving directions along with real-time alerts on road hazards (including potholes), slowdowns, construction zones and accidents.
In the future, connected car and self-driving car technology will probably assign the work of avoiding potholes to your onboard computer. Technology to detect potholes in real time and share out the info to help motorists avoid them and help authorities prioritize repairs is well along.
In the meantime, here are the best ways to prevent pothole damage and stay safe.
Always drive on tires that are properly inflated and in good condition. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the impact safely.
Drive defensively. Slow down when you’re on an unfamiliar or rough road, and avoid distracted driving. Be alert to what’s ahead, and make sure you keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front so you can see what’s coming.
Be cautious about leaving your lane. Swerving to avoid a pothole is one thing on a country lane, but it’s another at highway speed. Use good judgment and always be conscious of traffic around you. Recognize that though you miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting. It may be safer to just brace yourself and drive straight through the hole.
When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and straighten your steering wheel. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
Guide to Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Notice to our customers: Important changes affecting vehicles equipped with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems have been put into place.Learn More
What Is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System?
TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. It is a feature on many late model vehicles that monitors tire pressure and warns the driver, with a light on the dash, if one or more of the tires’ pressure falls 25% below the original equipment manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.
See the questions below to learn more about TPMS, and how to check if your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
Why does TPMS exist?
As a result of tire-related safety concerns, Congress passed the TREAD Act in 2000. The TREAD Act requires vehicle manufacturers to install TPMS in new vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less.
What vehicles have it?
Passenger cars, SUVs, and light trucks. TPMS has been progressively introduced in new vehicles since 2005. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.
How do I check to see if my vehicle has it?
When you start your vehicle, look at the dash for the TPMS warning lamp. If you see the warning lamp light up momentarily, your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
What does it mean when the warning lamp is on?
The warning lamp should light up briefly when the vehicle is started. But if the light stays on, that means tire pressure is low in one or more of the tires, or the system is not able to read the sensors. In this case, you should have your tire air pressure checked. We provide this service for free at all of our Les Schwab locations.
What kind of maintenance is required on my TPMS?
Replacement or relocation of a TPMS sensor, or sometimes even just inflating a tire may cause the TPMS to get out of whack. Generally, recalibration is easy to perform: we provide this service to customers free at all Les Schwab Tire Centers.
Does this mean I don’t need to check my tire pressure?
Regardless of TPMS, we recommend tire pressure checks every 30 days. Properly maintained tire pressure decreases tire wear and improves vehicle safety, handling, braking and fuel mileage. Come in anytime for a free air check.
Use our Store Locator to find the Les Schwab nearest you.
How Do I Check My Tire Pressure?
Low tire pressure can be an expensive proposition, costing you hundreds of dollars a year in lost fuel economy and prematurely worn tires. Add to that, decreased handling and an increased risk in tire failure, and it’s easy to understand why maintaining proper tire pressure is so important. Tires naturally lose 1 to 2 pounds of pressure a month. Cool temperatures cause even more pressure loss. So it’s important to check your vehicle’s tire pressure regularly.
We recommend you check your tire pressure at least once a month or twice a month in the winter.
Using an Air Pressure Gauge
Here’s how you go about it with an air pressure gauge, can be found at most any auto parts store.
First, look in the owner’s manual or on the inside placard of the driver’s side door for the standard cold tire inflation pressure. This number is the PSI, or Pounds Per Square Inch, you will inflate your tires to, as suggested by the car’s manufacturer.
Next, unscrew the cap from the valve stem on the tire.
Now, press the air pressure gauge onto the valve stem and record the reading given. If there’s a hissing sound, try re-seating the gauge for a tighter fit and more accurate reading. Note that if the reading on all four tires is the same as the manual’s specifications, you’re done. If any of the tires have inadequate pressure, add air until they’re properly filled. Make sure you put in the correct amount by rechecking the pressure in each tire after refilling.
Finally, replace the valve stem cap to protect the valve mechanism from dirt and moisture.
While you’re at it, check the pressure on your spare tire, as well. You never know when you might need it.
Follow along as we show you how in this video:
Or you can simply stop by your nearest Les Schwab Tire Center, where we not only check tire pressure for you but also adjust it, if necessary. Free of charge.
Have any questions about tire pressure? One of our experts will be happy to help.
How Do I Know If My Tires Need to Be Balanced?
Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel-tire set. It makes sure that weight is evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the unit. The common symptoms of out-of-balance tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or the seat that gets worse at faster speeds.
When all areas of the wheel-tire unit are as equal in weight as possible, the tire will roll smoothly. This helps it wear evenly, for longest life. Balancing also contributes to ride comfort: Imbalanced tires will wobble or hop up and down, which causes vibration. If a front tire isn’t properly balanced you’ll likely feel vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear the tremor will be noticeable in the seat or floor.
Imbalanced tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. It’s done by attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel.
How Do Wheels Get Out of Balance?
Everyday wear on tires will contribute to imbalance. Normal manufacturing imperfections are also a cause: Tires and wheels don’t have precisely equal weight distribution. They’ll be slightly heavier in some spots.
Just half an ounce in weight difference is enough to cause a vibration when you’re driving.
How Tires Are Rebalanced
Rebalancing is done in a tire shop by putting the wheel-tire unit on a tire balancing machine that takes measurements to pinpoint lighter or heavier areas and making adjustments to account for these weight differences. The best time to get it done is when tires are being rotated, both for convenience and because you might have a tire out of balance on the rear of the vehicle and won’t feel it until it is moved to the front.
Here’s how it’s done:
- A tire mounted on a wheel is attached to a tire balancing machine.
- The wheel is spun while vibration measurements are taken. This tells the tech if the weight is spread evenly, how much weight to add and where on the wheel to attach it.
- If an imbalance is found, the technician may be able to rebalance and adjust the weights (adding more). But sometimes it requires the tech to also move the tire on the wheel and then rebalance. This is because a heavy spot on the wheel and on the tire can sometimes line up together, causing a greater imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Balancing Versus Alignment
Though both should be part of regular auto maintenance, balancing isn’t the same as getting an alignment. Alignment is about correcting the angles of the tires so they’re properly positioned in relationship to each other and to the road. It gets the wheels all traveling in the same direction and makes sure the tires make contact with the ground as they should.
When to Get Tire Balancing Done:
- You feel vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or your seat.
- You get them rotated, generally every 5,000 miles.
- At the very least every two years, once yearly if you drive rough roads.
- You get a flat and repair a tire.
- You buy any new tire(s).
- A weight that used to be on the rim falls off.
- You notice uneven tire wear.
Vibration when underway could be caused by an imbalanced tire and wheel assembly or something else — a bent wheel, a damaged tire (which won’t be fixed by balancing), worn suspension parts or other aging components. If you feel a vibration, don’t wait to get it diagnosed. You’ll head off other problems — and enjoy a smoother ride — when your tires are well balanced.
How Do I Know When I Need New Tires?
The primary functions of tread are to divert water from beneath the tire, to improve traction and to avoid hydroplaning on wet roads. As tire tread wears down, it becomes less reliable. Find out when you need new tires in this video, or read about it below.
Tires become completely unsafe when they’re worn down to 1⁄16 of an inch. Many people prefer to replace their tires even sooner, especially when driving in adverse weather conditions.
Check Your Tread Wear Bars
All tires sold in the United States today have what are called tread wear bars. These are small raised bars of rubber in the grooves of your tire. Look at the tread pattern and you’ll see these bars running between the tread blocks. As your tires wear, these bars will become flush with the tire’s tread. When this happens, it’s time to replace the tires.
Do a Penny Test
An easy way to check the tread on your tires is to do the penny test. Take a penny and place Lincoln’s head in one of the grooves of the tire tread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tire.
If the penny goes in enough that the tire tread is at least as deep as Lincoln’s forehead, your tires are generally considered safe and do not need replacing. Make sure when you’re administering the penny test that you check all four of your tires.
While you’re at it, check a few spots on each tire to look for any irregular tread wear. This could indicate a wheel misalignment, need for tire rotation or both. Talk to one of our tire experts if you think your tires are wearing unevenly.