4 Reasons Not to Drive Winter Tires Through Summer
If you’re thinking of driving on your winter tires year-round, here are some reasons to rethink that.
1. Winter Tires Can Wear Faster in Warmer Temperatures
Winter tires are made with a special rubber compound that helps deliver maximum grip in snowy and icy conditions by staying pliable in colder temperatures. Heat is really hard on winter tires, which are meant to be used when temperatures are ~45°F or below. Winter tires that are run on hot pavement tend to wear out much faster.
Winter tires are designed for traction, not longevity, whereas all-season tires are designed for lower rolling resistance and longer tread life. These tires are made with a rubber compound that is designed for a wide range of temperatures and road conditions.
Driving winter tires in the summer can wear them out faster. That’s because the rubber compound in winter tires is designed for colder conditions, not warmer temperatures.
2. It Will Cost You, Not Save You Money
If you’ve made the investment in the added safety of winter tires, changing them out with a set of all-season or summer tires at the right time will help extend the service life of the winter tires — saving you money.
Compared to all-season tires, winter tires often have a higher rolling resistance, which can cost you at the gas pump.
3. Traction and Handling Issues
The softer rubber compound in winter tires won’t deliver as crisp of handling as an all-season tire. Cornering, acceleration, and braking may be compromised on hot, summer roads and higher temperatures.
When it comes to traction, lack of tread depth can be a bigger safety risk in winter. If you do use winter tires in the summer, you can expect those tires to have less tread for the following winter. That means your tires won’t channel snow, slush or water as well.
4. Swapping Tires Can Be Easy and Free
Swapping out winter tires for all-season or performance tires twice a year is easy. When you have Les Schwab tires on wheels, we’ll do it for free. We may even be able to store your tires at select locations.
The Bottom Line on Driving Winter Tires All Year
There are many tires designed for specific seasons and driving conditions. Choosing the right option can save you money and deliver peace of mind with added safety. Stop by your local Les Schwab and our pros will help you decide on the right tires for your driving needs, including winter and all-season 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 snow 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?
While you can probably safely drive your AWD (all-wheel-drive) with all-season tires in light or moderate snow, it’s a common misperception that AWDs will act like a tank in slick conditions. That just isn’t the case. You need snow or winter tires or even snow chains when facing severe winter roads in any vehicle. That includes AWDs. Here’s what you need to know about snow tires and your AWD or 4X4.
Is AWD or 4X4 Better in the Snow?
According to Consumer Reports, AWD and 4X4 vehicles may do fine in light snow. But there is a difference between doing fine and successfully navigating treacherous winter roads. When comparing AWD and 4X4 on winter roads, the deciding factor comes down to the vehicle and what you want from it. An AWD will transfer power to the wheels that need it, while a 4X4, when the transfer case is selected, provides power to all four wheels at once at much lower gears. When paired with snow or winter tires, both options can offer solid, safe-driving results.
What AWD Does Really Well in the 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 going to struggle to stay in control in wintery conditions.
This is why an AWD equipped with all-season tires might not deliver safe braking and sharp cornering on snow or ice. In fact, independent testing from Consumer Reports shows that a front-wheel-drive (FWD) mounted with winter tires will have a shorter stopping distance and better cornering than an AWD with all-season tires.
Are Snow Tires Recommended for AWD and 4x4 Vehicles?
It’s true, AWD and 4x4 vehicles can help you maintain momentum in snow and ice. But when it comes to braking and cornering performance in these conditions, your tires rather than the type of vehicle make a big difference. Les Schwab recommends that you have winter tires on your AWD and 4x4 if you’re regularly driving in snow and ice. We also recommend that you carry a set of snow chains.
How Winter Tires Provide Better Traction
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. These tires are made with specialized rubber that stays softer in cold temperatures. They’re designed with tread features like bigger grooves, biting edges, sipes, optional studs and variations in the block shapes for improved grip even in subzero temperatures.
Other differences between all-season and winter tires include:
Traction: Winter tire traction is optimized with deeper grooves and sharp, irregular edges while all-season tires feature normal tread for a wide range of conditions.
Technology: Winter tires are designed with a rubber compound that remains flexible in snowy and icy conditions. All-season tires are designed to withstand hot weather with a harder rubber. However, those tires cannot grip snow and are prone to sliding on ice.
Built For: Snow tires are built to grip snow, slush and ice while all-season tires are made for spring, summer, and fall.
Learn more about how to choose between all-weather, all-season, and winter tires.
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 not need to invest in another set of tires. However, you should carry a set of tire chains for those just-in-case moments. Check your owners manual for chain restrictions and recommendations, including the use of tire socks.
If it’s frigid where you live or you’re traveling in more than light snow, 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 tire chains or tire socks for those times when the snow and ice get especially treacherous.
Les Schwab Has Your Winter Tires and Snow Chains
Your local Les Schwab can help you choose the best winter tires for your driving and safety needs. Stop by today and face this year’s winter roads with confidence.
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 surprise when you get a flat tire. While many new light trucks and larger SUVs come with a spare, many new vehicles do not include a regular-sized spare.
About one-third of new vehicles are not equipped with a full-size spare tire. Instead, many are equipped with a space-saver (donut) spare or tire sealant and inflation kit.
Getting a flat tire is a major hassle and can be costly. Here’s what to know about spares, including why more vehicles don’t come with one, 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?
The answer to that question is complicated as the number of vehicles that do not include a spare continues to change. See Consumer Reports partial list of spare-less vehicle models.
It can be difficult to tell which vehicles and models come with a spare and which don’t. Especially since some trim levels include a spare tire, but not all. Do your research before you head out to the dealership. And ask the sales rep directly. If you’ve recently bought a newer model car, be sure to double-check that it has a spare or flat tire option. That way you’re prepared in case of a flat.
Why Aren’t Some New Cars Coming With a Spare Tire?
There are several reasons why automakers have removed or minimized the spare tire.
- To improve fuel efficiency. Removing the spare can reduce a vehicle’s weight by up to 50 pounds, including the jack and lug wrench. It can also improve aerodynamics by reducing air drag from a spare tire that sits below the undercarriage of a vehicle. These two factors can affect a vehicle’s MPG.
- To save space and weight. There can be a trade-off between comfort and the space in small cars. A spare can take a lot of space — especially if you’re driving a compact or sports vehicle.
- To make room for hybrid, diesel, and electric vehicle components. Batteries and emissions equipment can often take up the same space as a spare.
- To save money. Carmakers can save several hundred dollars per vehicle by foregoing the spare in new vehicles.
Where Can I Buy or Replace a Spare Tire?
According to most automakers, a spare tire should only be used to get from where you discovered your flat tire to the nearest tire repair shop. But what should you do when that spare tire needs to be replaced?
The answer depends on the type and size of spare that originally came with your vehicle. See Les Schwab to get the right spare for your vehicle.
What Are Alternatives to a Spare Tire? Are They Any Good?
Some new cars are coming from the factory equipped with inflator kits or run-flat tires that claim to make the spare tire unnecessary. There are upsides and downsides to these alternatives.
What Is a Run-flat Tire?
Run-flat tires were first designed decades ago to improve safety and steering performance of high-end sports cars in case of a tire failure. These tires were (and still are) built with either a reinforced sidewall or an internal support ring to carry the vehicle’s weight if the tire suddenly loses air pressure. Since then, run-flat tires have become more common on everyday vehicles, allowing drivers to travel without air in their tires for up to 50 miles at less than 50 MPH before getting the tire repaired or replaced.
Potential Downsides of a Run-flat Tire
Driving on a run-flat for even the shortest of distances will ruin the tire. This means it will need 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. Other downsides include higher prices and reduced ride comfort.
What Is a Donut Tire?
Also known as a donut spare or space-saver tire, donut tires were designed to save space in smaller vehicles. If you drive a compact or smaller vehicle, you may have a space-saver spare.
Potential Downsides of a Donut Tire
These tires have less traction than your regular tires, are smaller, should not be driven at speeds over 50 miles per hour, and should not be used for more than 50 miles.
What Is a Self-sealing Tire?
Self-sealing tires are coated on the inside with a special sealant. When an object on the road pierces the tread, the sealant material is designed to surround the object and prevent air from escaping from the tire. This gives you time to get to a tire repair shop.
Potential Downsides of a Self-sealing Tire
The self-sealing tire won't work if a puncture is more than a quarter inch in diameter. They also don’t work for holes in the sidewall of the tire. Self-sealing tires can be difficult to repair.
What Are Inflator Kits?
Inflator/sealant kits offer a temporary fix for minor tread punctures. With many kits, you simply remove the cap from your tire’s air-inflation valve, connect the inflator kit, and then spray the sealant into the tire.
Potential Downsides of an Inflator Kit
Tire sealant kits only work on small holes in the tread, and 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, there is a good chance you’ll need to have the TPMS sensors replaced.
When Is It Ok to Go Without a Spare Tire? And Not?
If you’re buying a new car, here are five tips to help decide if you need a spare, based on cost, safety and convenience, where you live, and what type of driving you do.
- 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 roadside assistance coverage included in your auto insurance policy or another service. Without it, a standard tow (around 5 miles) can cost you over $100.
- Decide before you buy the vehicle if you’re willing to go spare-less. If you find yourself regretting your decision later, you’ll need to buy a tire, jack and lug wrench. Plus, there may not be space to safely carry the tire and tools in your vehicle.
- If you take a lot of road trips, routinely drive in places with long distances between service stations, or travel a lot on rough roads, you need a spare tire. Getting a flat in rural areas means you could be many miles from a repair shop. If it’s after business hours, you could be stranded for hours or overnight, and forced to pay a hefty towing fee.
- Consider how much you rely on your vehicle every day. A spare can save you a lot of time and headaches in the event of a flat tire.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole is never fun. But those holes in the road can do more than spill your latte. Potholes can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a minor impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment. A pothole strike can damage your shocks or struts, or harm your suspension.
Give Your Vehicle a Quick Inspection
After hitting a pothole, check for any of the following signs of pothole damage.
- A bulge on the tire sidewall. This is an indicator that the tire was pinched between the edge of the pothole and the wheel causing the internal plies to be weakened or severed.
- Your steering wheel is no longer centered or the vehicle wants to pull to one side or the other. The impact may have been hard enough to affect the alignment or damage a steering or suspension component.
- You feel abnormal vibrations in the steering, seat or floor.
- You may hear a new noise when underway. Something may have been bent or displaced and could be rubbing on the tire/wheel assembly.
- A dashboard warning light appears.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Hitting a pothole can cause bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, and shock and strut issues depending on the severity of the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll puncture your tires or damage your vehicle, but if you have any concerns, get it inspected.
Below are some photos that show how potholes can damage wheels or rims.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask for an inspection that covers:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts
- Intact tire balancing weights
- Bent or cracked wheel rim
- Damage to shocks and struts
- Other broken suspension components
Tips to Minimize Pothole Damage
With summer and winter weather throughout the West impacting our roads, potholes are going to happen. Here’s what you can do to minimize the damage and possibly avoid these hazards.
- 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 of you so you can avoid issues.
- Recognize that though you might miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting.
- When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and hold your steering wheel tightly. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
Les Schwab Has Experience with Pothole Damage
Our pros have seen plenty of pothole damage and can offer recommendations, including tire repair and replacement, alignment work, and more. Stop by your local Les Schwab for a free inspection. If you need new tires, wheels or alignment, we’ll help get you and your family quickly and safely back on the road.
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.
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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. Wheel alignment corrects the angles of the tires so they travel in the same direction and make contact with the road properly. Alignment reduces uneven tire wear and extends the life of your tires. Oftentimes tire balancing and alignment are perceived to be the same thing, but are not.
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.
Tire balancing and rotation are often done at the same time, but they aren’t the same service. Tire rotation is when a vehicle’s front and rear wheels are switched to even out tread wear between them. Since both require removing each wheel, it’s convenient to do them at the same time.
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.
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How to Tell If You Need New Tires
Every year in the U.S., tire-related crashes cause 200 fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thankfully, it’s easy to monitor your tires, and how to tell if you need new tires, with a quick video and some basic information.
5 Warning Signs You Need New Tires
The primary functions of the tread on your tires are to grip the road and to divert water that causes hydroplaning. Tires with plenty of tread can help you maintain control and reduce your chances of getting a flat. With a quick monthly check of your tread and tire pressure, you’ll know if you need to replace your tires.
Tread Wear Bars are Flush with the Tread:
Tread wear bars are small, raised bits of rubber that run between the tread blocks. As these bars become even with the top of the tread, it is likely time for new tires. See more about tread wear bars below.
Tires will wear down over time, even if you don’t drive much. Sunlight, heat, and chemicals used to melt snow and ice can reduce rubber flexibility, causing tires to crack, lose air, and eventually fail.
Uneven Tire Tread:
There are many factors that may cause uneven wear, which could shorten the life of your tires. Vehicle alignment, tire pressure, lack of rotation, and/or worn steering and suspension components can all contribute to this problem. To prolong the life of your tires and reduce uneven wear, consider getting them rotated at consistent intervals. At Les Schwab, we recommend getting them rotated every 5,000 milles. The pros at Les Schwab will also conduct a free visual inspection of your steering and suspension components. Schedule your free, pre-trip safety check today.
Tire Pressure Issues:
All tires deflate slowly over time, usually about 1 PSI (pounds per square inch) per month. Check yours monthly to keep them properly inflated. If your tires continually lose air or seem to completely deflate without warning, you may need to stop by Les Schwab for tire repair or replacement if necessary. Does the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) light often appear on your dash? This could mean your tires have developed a slow, continuous leak.
If you hit a curb, pothole or other obstacle, your tires can develop sidewall bulges due to a break of the inner liner. These bulges can rupture causing a potentially unsafe situation. If you spot a bulge on your tires, get to your nearby Les Schwab and have your tires inspected.
Other Possible Issues:
If you experience new vibrations or thumping while driving, it could be a sign that one of your tire/wheel assemblies is out of balance. It could also indicate a suspension issue. Stop by your local Les Schwab and our professionals will check your tires, steering, and suspension.
Easy Ways to Check Your Tread
Use the Tread Wear Bars
All tires sold in the United States today have what are called tread wear bars. The tread wear bars on your tires are there to help you see how much tread you still have. These wear bars 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.
How do I use them to diagnose worn tires?
Look at the tread pattern and you’ll see these bars running between the tread blocks. As your tires wear, these bars will become increasingly flush with the tire’s tread. It’s important to replace your tires before this happens.
Depending on where and how you drive, and the conditions you face on the road, you might consider getting new tires before they reach that point. City driving in mild conditions may allow you to wait until the tread is closer to the tread wear bar before replacing your tires. More adverse conditions, such as rain, snow, and unpaved roads, may require you to replace your tires earlier.
Do the 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. Check all four of your tires when conducting the penny test.
Ready to Find the Perfect Tires?
How to Change a Tire
Changing a flat tire isn’t rocket science, but there are some important things to know to make sure you get that spare on properly in order to make it safely to the tire shop. Follow along as we show you, step by step, how to do it in this Les Schwab Quick Tips video. We cover:
- What to do before you get tools out.
- How to find the proper jacking point on your vehicle.
- How much to loosen lug nuts before lifting the car.
- How to make sure the spare goes on correctly.
- The proper order for tightening lug nuts.
How to Change a Tire
- Safety first. Keep clear of passing traffic, make sure your car is in park, set your parking brake and turn on your hazard lights. If there’s any doubt about whether you can stay out of harm’s way, it’s better to call roadside assistance.
- Check your owner’s manual. It should have tire-changing instructions, including the location of the jacking point.
- Get your spare and tools out. They are usually stored in a compartment inside the trunk. There should also be instructions on how to use the jack.
- Be sure the jack is positioned properly. Make sure it’s pointed the right way and placed in the proper jacking point on the vehicle.
- Loosen lug nuts about a one-quarter turn before jacking.
- Jack the vehicle up enough so the tire is not touching the ground.
- Remove the lug nuts, setting them somewhere where they won’t roll away.
- Pull the flat tire off, placing it underneath your vehicle behind the jack or, if it’s too wide to fit there, in another spot under the auto if possible. This is important in case the vehicle falls off the jack.
- Put the spare on, making sure the valve stem is facing you.
- Screw the lugs nuts back on by hand, finger tight.
- Lower the jack down until the tire contacts the road and is bearing some weight, but not all the way.
- Tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern, not a circle pattern, so the wheel gets seated snugly. This assures the wheel isn’t askew, and doesn’t then pop into the proper place while you’re going down the road, loosening some of the bolts and causing wobbling or worse — like the nuts breaking and the wheel coming off.