Answers to your tire trouble questions


You're driving down the road and feel a vibration in the steering wheel, or your vehicle starts to pull to one side. Either could be a sign of tire trouble.

"The best way to maintain your tires is to do a periodic, just visual inspection of your tires. If you see cracks on the sidewalls, it may be time to get them replaced. If you see a bulge in the side of your tire, you definitely want to get it replaced because you're likely going to have a blowout soon," said Angie Hick, founder of Angie's List.

Your tires are no longer safe when they're under 2/32's of tread. And you don't need anything special to check them.

"Stick a penny upside down in the top of your tire, and if you can see the top of Abe Lincoln's head, then your tire tread is way too low and you need to replace your tires," Hicks explained.

If just one or two tires are worn down, you don't need to buy a whole new set, but only if the others are fairly new.

"If you have an all-wheel drive vehicle, if you replace one tire, there can't be more than 5/32 of tread difference between the other three. If so, it can create problems with the differential, the drive-line system," explained tire expert Chris Fox.

And when buying new tires, make sure they really are new. Check the D-O-T number on the sidewall – the last four digits. Those indicate the week and the year that tire was made. It's common to see new tires that are actually six to twelve months old. Don't consider anything beyond that.

It's always best to replace all four tires at the same time if you can afford it, but Hicks says it's okay to patch a punctured tire as long as the hole is less than a quarter-inch wide and located on the crown of the tire, not near the edge or sidewall. Make sure to rotate your tires every 5,000 to 6,000 miles to help them wear evenly and keep the warranties valid.

Tire maintenance tips:

  • Do regular visual inspections
  • Keep inflated to recommended pressure
  • Better to replace all four tires at once
  • Especially important to have same kind of tires on all-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles
  • All four tires should be within 4/32 inches of each other to ensure equal power distribution
  • Rotate tires at least every 5,000-6,000 miles for even wear and keep tire warranties valid
  • Have vehicle's alignment checked every 12 months or 12,000 miles

Four signs of tire trouble:

  • Vibration in steering wheel
  • Vehicle pulls to one side
  • Cracks in the sidewall
  • Bulge in the sidewall

Things to consider when buying new tires:

  • Replace all four tires at once, if possible
  • Okay to replace just two tires for financial reasons, but plan to replace other two within 6 months
  • Especially important to have same kind of tires on all-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles
  • Replacing tires at different times can make it hard to match tread designs, make and model