In April, Bloomberg News reported that the world may be facing a massive rubber shortage in the coming months stemming from a mix of ongoing issues plaguing the shipping industry, growing demand in China, and COVID-19 restrictions hindering production. As a result, automobile and tire manufacturers to alert customers that a dearth of rubber could lead to both tire scarcity as well as increased prices anytime over the next two years. This means there’s never been a better time to look at ways you can extend the life of your tires.
Just think about it: in a (hopefully temporary) new world where new tires aren’t as readily available or affordable, replacing one or more tire means added money out of your back account. We obviously can’t do anything about the potential forthcoming global rubber drought, but we can share some insights for how to make the most of the rubber already on your car.
We spoke to the experts at our local Mavis Discount Tire for tips for how to extend the life of your tires. They offered four tips to make your tires last longer: regularly check tire pressure, alignment, rotation and balance.
Taking these steps leads not only lengthens the lifespan of your tires, but also enhance the other two sides of the tire triforce: safety and performance.
1. Tire Pressure
Under-inflated tires contribute to a host of issues, including reduced handling in challenging driving conditions, which negatively effects safety. But for the purposes of extending the life of your tires, under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, or the amount or the friction created between rubber and road. The less friction, the less strain on the tire itself and the easier it is for a vehicle to move. This is why the first – and easiest – thing you can do to increase the longevity of your tires is to keep them properly inflated.
It’s also dirt cheap. TireTrend.com looked at the best tire pressure gauges for your garage and car, and our top recommended gauge clocked in at $5 for a two-pack… one for your car and your garage.
Most experts – including Mavis – recommend checking your tire PSI once a month. As tire geeks, we ask our readers to do so a bit more regularly, especially when thinking how quickly weather and temperature averages can change in one month, both of which have a deep impact on overall tire pressure. Owners should keep their tires inflated to the manufacturers recommended PSI levels, which can easily be found on a sticker where the front door meets the car frame on the driver side of every vehicle.
2. Tire Rotation
Next to tire pressure, tire rotation is the most common and well known tire maintenance procedure you can undertake to extend the life of your tires. Tire rotations take into account the fact that tires wear unevenly on every vehicle. Whether two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, each tire performs a different function during normal operations, from acceleration and braking to turning and climbing. Factor in the un-normal operations – potholes, curbes, road debris, etc. – and you start to see quickly how tires will wear unevenly.
Tire rotations aim to correct for these differences by sharing the burden that one tire feels with all the other tires. Basically, the front and back tires get swapped. There’s actually a lot more science to it than that and we’ve included a basic chart here. If you’re interested, our friends at Car and Driver covered the various tire rotation patterns in depth. But the bottom line is that regular rotations help even out the load borne by each tires, thus ensuring for more even wear and tear and, ultimately, extended the life of all of your tires.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the internet is awash with wide ranging recommendations for when consumers should rotate their tires. Some reliable websites suggest every 5,000 to 10,000 miles (which, for those keeping count, is a 100% variation rate), while other experts – tried and true vehicle experts – suggest every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, which equates to almost every time you get an oil change.
Our experts at Mavis landed right in the middle of these estimates (and, no, we didn’t prime them with this data beforehand). They suggested every 7,500 miles or whenever you have a “tire- or vehicle-related event that brings you in for service.” While they didn’t have exact data to back up this “event-related” recommendation, they did say that they regularly – more than 50% of the time – see tires in desperate need of rotation when inspecting vehicles that have been brought in for other reasons.
Regardless of whether you do it every 7,500 miles or not, know that tire rotations come pretty cheap, on average about $25 bucks, which makes them one of the most cost-effective maintenance actions you can take to make your tires last longer. Many repair shops will do it for free when doing other work on your car, and Pep Boys’ website says they’ll do tire rotations for free at any time (note: we have not validated this yet but if anyone has full proof of this, please write to us and let us know).
3. Tire Alignment
Interestingly, tire alignment has nothing to do with the actual tires. Ok, not nothing. Tire alignment affects the various angles (or planes) of how your tire comes into contact with the road. When a professional looks to align your tires, they do so across three different planes called camber, toe and caster. We won’t bore you with all the details here but, if you’re interested Bridgestonetire has an excellent description complete with graphics that depict the three planes of tire alignment.
Very, very simply put, tire alignment can be thought of as the direction your tire is facing and, yes, tiny imperfections degrade tires more quickly. But tire alignment – also known as wheel alignment in some parts of the country – is actually a calibration made to a vehicle’s suspension, not tires.
As with recommendations for tire rotation (and tire balancing below), recommendations for how often you should align your tires varies quite dramatically. We’ve seen everything from once or twice a year to every two to three years. Again, the internet fails us tire lovers with unreliable information. Our experts at Mavis recommended tire alignments done once a year or every time you feel something “off” with the vehicle’s steering. They’re not cheap, ranging anywhere from $65 to $200, depending on whether you get both the front and rear axles done together and the length of time the service shop guarantees your alignment (longer periods of time cost more, and not every shop offers this option).
Tires that are out of alignment can be easier to discern than some of the other important maintenance procedures, with the most classic sign being a vehicle that pulls to one side when letting go of the steering wheel.
4. Tire Balance
Often confused with tire alignment, tire balancing ensures that the tire – the actual piece of rubber – is properly installed on your wheel to handle the weight of your vehicle.
Think of it this way, balancing a tire on a wheel is the same as fitting a hat on your head – you want it to fit snugly and evenly – while tire alignment is about the direction of the wheels and tire and how they touch the road. Using the hat analogy, alignment is the angle the hat is at when looking forward (e.g. with the brim facing the front, back or off to the side (the latter of which we’re not sure why anyone would do, but to each their own)).
But back to the issue at hand, tires and wheels that are not balanced lead to uneven and accelerated wear and tear, shortening their lifespan. As is becoming a common refrain, recommendations vary widely for how often you should have your tires balanced. We’ve seen estimates ranging from every 5,000 or 7,000 miles to 12,000 miles, as well as simply doing them every other time you rotate your tires.
But, let’s face it, no one’s going to remember that unless you google it and come back to this site. So, for ease of use and easy remembering, we’d recommend doing it every time you have your tires rotated (see above for that recommended intervals). Sometimes tire shops will do both for the same cost or offer discounts; others do not, but the added expenditure is not tremendous (on average $50), so for the pure sake of making your tires last as long as possible, do them both at the same time.
When to worry about tire balance? The most classic signs of tire imbalance is feeling new and unusual vibrations when driving, most notably (but not exclusively) in the steering wheel.
A last word about extending the life of your tires
Even in the absence of a potential global rubber shortage, understanding four ways to extend the life of your tires is good fiscal sense at any time. According to the same Mavis experts, tires rarely reach their stated mileage expectancy. In other words, tires that say they’re rated for 50,000 miles rarely – if ever – make it to 50,000 miles. The rating tests are done in a government lab under perfect conditions, which clearly to not simulate regular driving habits or the natural elements. Heat, cold, potholes, road debris, and many more factors all negatively impact a tire’s lifespan. But preventative maintenance such as the four tips above – regularly checking tire pressure, alignment, rotation and balance – can help you eek out as many miles possible on your tires, saving you money in the long run and providing some added insurance in the case of, well, a global rubber shortfall.