What is the Life of a Tire?

It happened in a split second — a loud pop, followed by a hissing sound that continued as I waited in the turn lane for the light to change. By the time I was able to pull over into a nearby parking lot, my tire was almost completely flat. I was stranded. 

Thankfully, I had someone to call who helped me figure out what to do! However, since that day, I’ve never forgotten how important tires are, even though we often rarely think about them. The same thing could have happened on a deserted highway, during a snowstorm or an unsafe part of town, putting me in a much more difficult and potentially dangerous situation. 

So how can you make sure the tires on your car won’t let you down when you need them?

The common rule of thumb for how long a tire is safe to be driven on is from 3 to 5 years.

How Often Should You Replace Your Tires?

The common rule of thumb for how long a tire is safe to be driven on is from 3 to 5 years, or between 36K to 60K miles, and most experts say that 5 years from the week and year of manufacture (stamped on the tire’s sidewall) is the longest a tire should be used before its structural integrity and construction will start to fail. That being said, a tire that lasts for three years, and a tire that lasts for five makes a big difference to the consumer! Well-maintained tires that are driven appropriately tend to last longer than tires that are not looked after and driven on the wrong sorts of terrain.

Here are some tips on how to extend the life of your tire - 

1. Check your tire pressure regularly, especially when seasons change. 

Driving on under-inflated, flat, or over-inflated tires causes your tires to wear much faster! Seasonal changes in temperature can cause drops or increases in tire air pressure, so make sure you check your tire pressure frequently, but especially when seasons change.

To find the air pressure recommended for your tires, often you will find this information on a sticker inside the drivers' side door, (similar to where you’d look for the VIN number) or by checking your car manual. If it feels difficult to keep track of how often you check your tire air pressure, checking the pressure each time you have an oil change (recommended every 5,000-7,000 miles, or every 6 months on average), can help you remember to do this important task regularly!

2. Rotate and align your tires.

Car tires wear down as they age, partially due to braking and contact with other car parts, and partly due to habitual driving habits. Either way, you want to avoid your tires’ tread wearing down unevenly, since this will seriously shorten the life of the tire. It’s recommended to rotate your tires every 3,000-5,000 miles, or every 6 months, so that they all wear down more evenly, and last longer. 

It’s also important to make sure your tires are properly aligned. Even a tiny alignment issue can cause issues with the handling of your vehicle, and also can cause uneven tire wear. How do you know when you should align your tires? Having your tires aligned after having any type of suspension work done, or replacing your tires is a must! 

Tire alignment should also be done after driving over potholes or hopping over speedbumps (instead of slowing down to roll over them), as well as if you frequently drive off-road. 

3. Don’t drive on gravel or other types of rough terrain unless your tire was specially constructed for it.

Many kinds of tires, such as Rough-Terrain (RT) tires, are specially designed and constructed to withstand rugged driving surfaces such as sharp rocks and debris. It’s important to know what terrain your tire was designed for, and keep in mind that driving on a surface that your tire wasn’t designed to handle could cause puncture or weakening of the tire, shortening the life of the tire.

How Do You Check Tire Life?

If you haven’t checked your tires in a while, some things to look for when assessing how much longer your tire will last include checking the tire tread depth, checking the week and year of manufacture, and assessing your driving habits. 

A tire is considered to have a safe amount of tread if the tread depth (the measurement between the bottom of the tread groove to the top) is more than 2 or 3/32nds of an inch. To measure this, you can use a tire tread gauge, or in a pinch, you can use a penny. 

If you need to measure your tire’s tread depth using a penny, just place your penny into the tire tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down.

If part of his head is still covered, you have more than 2/32nds of tread depth left. However, if you can see his whole head, your tread is too worn down to give safe traction, and you need to replace your tires. 

You’ll find the week and year of manufacture of your tire stamped on the sidewall of the tire. The week indicates which week out of the 52 weeks of the year the tire was manufactured. The year represents which year it was manufactured. The week and year of manufacture stamp is shown on the image below. Even if a tire has been in storage and wasn’t driven right away, it’s still recommended not to use a tire that is more than 5 years old due to the tire materials losing integrity over time.

Assess your driving habits.

Do you outfit your cars with touring tires, but regularly take a drive on rocky trails or backroads? Have you recently moved to a region where weather and temperature changes are much more variable? Have you started to drive longer distances than you used to? These are all reasons to evaluate the type of tire you are using, and make sure it is appropriate and safe for the kinds of driving you regularly do. 

For example, a touring tire may not be constructed to withstand rocks and gravel, colder and hotter variations in weather may dictate the need for frequent tire pressure checks, and a tire meant for backroads terrain may wear faster when used for long highway drives. These all affect the life of your tire and may mean you need to check the condition of your tires more frequently and carefully, or even look for new tires.

Do You Have to Replace All Your Tires at Once?

Most tire companies recommend that you replace all your tires at the same time with the same brand and type of tire, so that the tire traction and wear will match on all four tires, giving better control over the car's steering and braking. If you replace only two tires, they should only be rear tire replacements, and should be the same tire type as the two on the front. 

One of the goals at the Tire Research Blog is to be the number one site you look to for the knowledge to get the most out of your tire purchases. Keeping a close eye on the date your tire was manufactured, the tread depth, and the other factors mentioned will help to make sure that your tires last their full lifespan, and keep you from ending up stranded by the roadside with a flat!