Tiremakers and safety advocates say a tire is worn out when its tread depth reaches 2/32 of an inch. That’s all fine, but what most car owners want to know is how long to expect a set of new tires to last before they need to be replaced.
“I wish it were simple to say how long each tire might last, but tires are different,” said Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA). “Some tire manufacturers offer a warranty as high as 80,000 miles or more, reflecting confidence in that particular product’s longevity based on its engineering, technology, and design. Other tires may be built to provide 30,000 miles of service.” Or less; some high-performance tires on cars driven aggressively will be worn to the 2/32-inch point without ever seeing 15,000 miles, but those are extreme cases.
An average Human drives between 14,000 and 15,000 miles a year, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. Zielinski said that, if you’re kind to your tires—that is, you aren’t constantly peeling out at stoplights and you properly maintain them—most new tires on the market today will last about 60,000 miles. For what it’s worth, the USTMA did a review of several thousand recently scrapped tires and found that most were three to four years old. There was no way of telling how many miles were on those tires, but it’s easy enough to multiply four years by 15,000 miles annually to confirm the rough approximation of tire durability.
If you want to figure out how soon you’ll wear out the tires on your car, Zielinski said it would be a good idea to start by determining how many miles you drive each year. Divide the number of miles on the odometer by how many years you’ve owned the car (starting, obviously, from when you first got the car and accounting for any mileage it had on it at that time). Then you can compare that with any advertised warranty on the make and model of the tires and figure out how many years of service to expect. If you live where winter tires are advisable and swap those onto the car for some months of the year, your regular tires will get less use and will endure for a longer period of time, but remember the caveats about tire age.
Zielinski also noted that if you hit the wear bars at 50,000 miles on a set of tires with a 60,000-mile warranty, for example, tiremakers that offer such coverage will typically prorate the price of a new set. In this example, you could expect a discount on the new set equal to one-sixth their price, or about 17 percent. You might not get it, though, if you decide to change brands.
In general, the best way to preserve the life of your tires, and keep yourself and your passengers safe, is to maintain them properly. Here are some tire basics and maintenance tips:
A tire is considered unsafe, and should be changed, once its tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Many tires have tread-wear indicators, which are little bars in the tread that show when the tire is worn down to replacement level. These will start making noise to alert the driver that they need attention. You can also use a penny: NHTSA recommends putting the penny in the tread with Abraham Lincoln’s head upside down and facing toward you. If you can see the top of Abe’s head, it’s time for new tires.
To ensure even wear, tiremakers and auto companies recommend that vehicle owners check their tire pressures monthly. The pressure should be at the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended level, which is usually found in the car or truck’s doorjamb or in the owner’s manual. One quick and easy way to check tire pressure is with a handheld tire-pressure gauge, which you can find starting around $10 at an auto-parts store. Tire shops will often check the pressure for you. Some gas stations have digital readouts as part of their air pumps; these are not always accurate, though. It’s best to check the pressures when the tires are cold, meaning that they have not been driven on for several hours. So you’re better off checking them at home after the car has been parked overnight.
Balance and Alignment
Tires need to be round, and the tire/wheel combination needs to be balanced. Tire shops and mechanics will use a balance machine, which spins the wheel to see where high and low spots are and detects any imbalance. The tire shop will then add weights, which are hammered onto the wheel, to balance them. These shops can also make make sure your wheels are aligned to keep the car tracking straight, which also reduces tire wear.
Rotating your tires can help prolong their lives. For front-wheel-drive vehicles, the tires in the front will wear more quickly and can be swapped with the rear ones. The inverse is true for rear-wheel-drive cars and trucks. All-wheel-drive models, too, may need rotation. Most owner’s manuals contain a recommended pattern for rotating tires to spread the wear evenly. The USTMA recommends tires be rotated every 5000 to 8000 miles.