Ultimate Guide to Tire Checks: Tread Depth, Air Pressure, and more

May 24, 2019

Tires are a huge expense for any vehicle and proper maintenance ensures you’re always driving on the safest set. Check out our comprehensive tire maintenance guide. It'll help you get the best life out of your tires, and the best bang for your auto buck.

Tire care is essential for two reasons, but the most important reason is safety. When you’re driving, your tires are the only thing hitting the road, and you need to rely on them regardless of the road conditions.

When the tread depth on your tire wears down, you have a bald tire on your hands, and the balder the tire is, the less grip it will have. It doesn’t take an expert to understand that tires with little-to-no grip is an accident waiting to happen.

The second reason is that caring for your tires regularly will help you save money. Getting regular tire rotations and alignments can extend the life of your tires so they’ll wear evenly. In fact, even something as simple as making sure your tires are inflated properly can save you money on gas!

How to Buy the Right Tires

1. Find your size

There are many helpful tips and tricks when needing to buy tires. It’s not all that complicated! In fact, the main piece of information you’ll need is your tire size.

Before shopping, go to your car with a pen and paper or your phone, camera ready. Take a look at the sidewall of your tire. There will be a series of numbers on them. If they aren’t for whatever reason, you can also find these numbers in your driver’s side door jamb, within your gas tank hatch or inside your glove box door.

You’ll need these numbers when submitting an order, if you’re purchasing them yourself online, or giving them to a professional when shopping around for quotes (which we highly recommend doing!). The series of numbers will include letters, like a “P” for “passenger car tire”, followed by numbers often separated by a forward slash “/”.

These numbers tell you what kind of vehicle it’s for, how wide the tire is from sidewall to sidewall, how the tire was put together, what the rim diameter is, the speed rating, and the load index.

Tire Size Check By Goodyear

Image Source: Goodyear.ca

Interested in winter tires? Check out our buying guide here.

2. Pick your conditions

There are three main types of tires for seasonal driving conditions; all-season tires, winter tires and the less-talked-about all-weather tires (which are different than all seasons).

Regardless of the weather, you’ll always want to pick a tire that is top-rated in braking and handling. If other elements like noise-reducing and ride-comfort matter, take those into consideration as well. Don’t skimp here - safety is the most important thing.

3. Shop around and get quotes

If you have a Costco or other big box membership (Sam’s Club, etc.) start there. You’ll generally get the best prices as members to these tire retailers. Walmart, Canadian Tire and other big retailers may also have decent in-store rebates or discounts on installation.

Sometimes, local shops also have great deals. For the best deal, take the time to shop around. Remember to ask what the full price per tire actually is. The price you're often quoted may just be for the material (the tire) itself, and not include labour (installation) taxes and, if applicable, disposal of your old tires.

How to Do a Tire Safety Check

If you can’t remember when you last checked your tires, now would be the right time to start. It’s important to inspect your tires regularly or have a professional do it for you. Things to look out for include:

  • the tire tread depth
  • the tire pressure
  • the age of the tire
  • bulges or bumps in the tire that indicate over-inflation
  • review how you’ve been driving and if it aligns with the design of your tire
  • cracking between the tread blocks and on the sidewalls
  • tread separation. If a crack is wide enough to fit the corner of a credit card in, the tire needs to be replaced ASAP.

Tire alignments

Tire alignments adjust your vehicle’s suspension pieces to being the tires and wheels into specific angles, which allows your car to operate safely and efficiently.

Proper alignments take about an hour and can cost around $100 CND or more. Professionals recommend alignments once or twice a year, but it really depends on your driving conditions. If you hit nasty potholes on a regular basis, you might need them more often, for example.

You’ll know if you need an alignment if:

  • You find uneven tire wear across your wheel
  • The steering wheel is off centre
  • The wheel pulls right or left when you drive
  • There’s a shaking or pulsing sensation in the steering wheel
  • There’s a shaking or pulsing sensation you feel in your seat

Tire Rotations

The professional recommendation on tire rotation is every 8,000km. Tire rotation ensures that all the tires wear evenly, as front tires wear much more quickly than rear tires. So, not only can the rotations save you money (prolonging the life of your tires) but some tire shops even offer free rotations for the life of the tire if you purchased from them!

Tire balancing

Tire balancing is often confused with wheel alignment but they’re not the same thing. Tire balancing corrects weight imbalances within the tire and the wheel by placing small weights into the barrel of the wheel. Your tire professional will tell you if you need this done.

Tire pressure gauges

Optimal tire inflation is important for performance, fuel economy and safety, and it’s important to check them every time the temperature changes significantly. You should always strive to have your tires set to whatever your vehicle’s manufacturer’s recommendation is.

You can find this information either on your owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver’s side door, glove compartment, or fuel hatch. Inflating a tire too much can increase stiffness in the tire, which might make for an uncomfortable ride.

Underinflated tires are much worse though as they can up your fuel costs and make your tire more prone to damage and getting a flat. Experts suggest checking tire inflation pressure about once a month or even every time you get gas in the tank!

How to Check Tire Tread Depth With a Toonie

You’ve probably heard of the American version of this (using a quarter). But here in the Great North, we use the beloved Toonie as a tread depth gauge. Check all four tires in the exact same way, and over multiple areas on the tire.

Take your toonie and check every single tire by placing the coin in a tread.

  1. If the tread reaches the paws of the bear, your tires are in great shape and most likely near new.
  2. If the tread covers all the silver part, it’s about half worn.
  3. If the tread is covering half of the letters, it’s time to start shopping.

Toonie Tire Tread Depth Tip By Alberta Motor Association

Image Credit: Alberta Motor Association

Check out this really helpful video from the Alberta Motor Association to show you exactly how!

How to Make Your Tires Last

1. Storing your tires

Storing your tires properly in the off-season will help them last longer. Make sure they’re very clean before storing, wrap them in an air-tight seal to protect them from dirt and keep them standing up but not hanging off hooks.

Tires like to be cool, so keep them out of a sunny garage spot or a hot shed. Wrapped tightly in a dry basement is probably one of the best places you can put them.

2. Cleaning your tires

Tires don’t like UV rays, so if you have the option to park in a shaded area or a garage, do so. Too much sun can do to tires what it can do to our skin; dry it out and make them prone to cracking.

3. How you drive matters

Drive the speed limit and don’t be too aggressive. Avoid potholes if you can. Squealing around a corner or slamming the pedal down may sound fun, but it will wreak havoc on your tires.

Replacing Your Tires

Though tire professionals suggest replacing all tires at the same time, perhaps you can only get one or two done at a time. Ensure the replacement tire(s) are the same size, model, and tread pattern as the others. A different brand or model tire will wear a different rate and maybe even wear out faster.

For best control and road traction, you should put the tires with the most tread depth (the new ones) on the back and moving the older ones to the front.

Tires are only one piece of the car puzzle. With older vehicles, all those costs add up. It might be time to consider a new car. It’s cheaper and easier than you think. Bad credit? No problem. Canada Drives is here to help.

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