Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tire talk: Tire Care and Replacement

There are some easy things you can do to prolong the life of your tires and improve your vehicle's safety.

Keep your tires properly inflated -- correct air pressure is required for good handling and traction, good fuel economy and even wear. The only way to determine proper tire pressure is to use an accurate gauge. Tire pressure should be checked and corrected only when the tires are cold; even a short drive can make your tires too hot for accurate pressure readings. Don?t inflate tires to the maximum pressure printed on the tire -- use the tire pressure recommended in your vehicle?s owners manual or tire information sticker (located in the glove box, on the door post, or inside the fuel door). Remember to check the pressure in your spare tire

Checking Your Tire Pressure
The main reason you should care about tire pressure is car performance. Cars are easier to handle when the tire pressure is correct. Properly maintained tires also last longer, and improve your gas mileage.

The best way to maintain your tires is to buy an inexpensive tire pressure gauge. The correct tire pressure is printed on the sidewalls -- or the outside, non-tread part -- of your tires. It's also listed in your manual, and is often listed on a sticker in the glove compartment or on the door jamb. The pressure is listed in pounds per square inch, or PSI.

Here is how to check your tire pressure:

  1. Find an air pump at a gas station and park so that the air pump hose can reach your tire comfortably. It's best to check tires when they are cold -- that is, when you haven't been driving on them for very long.
  2. Remove the tiny black valve cap on the valve that comes out of your tire, near the hubcap.
  3. Press the round part of the tire gauge firmly onto the valve. Try to press it so that the hissing sound of air escaping from the tire stops while you're pressing. When it does, you'll get an accurate reading..
  4. Read the gauge like a thermometer. The highest number you see closest to the stem of the gauge is the PSI. That number should match the recommended PSI for your tire

    • If the gauge reading is higher than it should be, use your finger, or the notch on the opposite side of most tire gauges, to release a bit of air by pressing it on the pin inside the tire valve.
    • If the gauge reading is lower than it should be, use the pump to add more air. On some pumps, you'll have to take the hose completely off the hose cradle to activate the pump. Press the head of the air hose firmly onto the tire just like you did with the tire gauge.
    • Check your tire pressure with the gauge again, repeating your steps until you get the PSI right.
    • Don't forget to replace the valve cap.

Changing a Flat Tire

Changing a flat can be a miserable experience for anyone. But if you have a jack, a lug wrench and a spare tire, you are half way there.

1) First Steps

  • When you're driving and feel the rumble of a flat tire, slow down, turn on your hazard lights and try to park the car on level ground as quickly as possible.
  • Put the automatic transmission into park and put the emergency brake on. If you have a manual transmission, leave it in first gear and pull the emergency brake.
  • If you have to park on even a slight incline, try to find a heavy object to wedge up against the good tires. This will help to keep the car from rolling when you have it jacked up.
    Once you've parked, take out the lug wrench, jack and the spare tire from the trunk.
  • Make sure the spare tire has enough air in it.

2) Remove the hubcap and loosen the lug nuts

  • Pry off the hubcap with a screwdriver. Sometimes the lug wrench has a screw driver at the end of it. If it does, use that. Some cars don't have hubcaps at all.
  • Now use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts, which are the hexagonal bolts under the hubcap. If the lug nut has an L on it, turn clockwise. If it has an R or doesn't have anything on it, turn counterclockwise. Try to loosen the nuts an equal amount.
  • Very important: Don't remove the lug nuts yet. Just loosen them

3) Jack Up the Car

  • Put the jack on the ground near the flat tire, under the car frame. Make sure it is under something structural that can support the weight of the car.
  • Start pumping the jack, so that the top of it reaches the bottom of the car. When it does, keep going until the flat tire lifts off the ground. If the car seems unstable, lower the car, reposition the jack and try again.
  • Very important: Never get under the car when it is jacked up.

4) Change the Tire

  • Now that the flat tire is in the air, remove the lug nuts and place them in the upturned hub cap, or someplace easy to reach later.
  • With all the lug nuts removed, pull the tire off by pulling it toward you. It will be heavy, so be careful it doesn't fall on you
  • Put the spare tire on, positioning it so that the holes line up with the lug bolts.
  • Replace the lug nets and tighten them, turning the opposite way you did when you removed them
  • Put the spare tire on, positioning it so that the holes line up with the lug bolts.
  • Replace the lug nets and tighten them, turning the opposite way you did when you removed them
  • Then lower the jack even further and remove it.
  • Put the flat tire, hubcap, jack and the lug wrench back in the trunk.
  • Don't forget to remove the wheel blocks.
  • Get your original tire fixed as soon as you can. Your spare may be only good for short distances at low speeds.

Car Tire Replacement Advice

When your tires wear out, you have to decide how you?re going to replace them. Often it's not just a simple matter of buying the exact tires that came with the car -- they may have been discontinued; may cost a lot more than a comparable brand; or may not fit your driving style. Don't skimp on your tire purchase if you care about your car's ride and handling. Conversely, if you only drive sedately and your car's expensive low-profile performance tires have worn out, don't break the bank to replace them if a lesser tire will fit. Determine if you want to stay with the same kind of tire that came with the car, or upgrade to something better (and more expensive...). Price out similar tires made by a few different manufacturers so you can find the best deal.

Tire prices vary considerably. Dealerships charge the most for tires. Service stations and auto parts stores are also expensive. Tire stores are generally expensive, but can have some good deals. Department stores have good prices, especially when they have sales. Wholesale stores and shopping clubs have even better prices. Low tire prices, and a large selection, can be found through mail order suppliers -- even after shipping charges are figured into the price.

No matter where you buy tires, buy a name brand. Low quality is the reason why unknown brands remain unknown. The major brands are -- Bridgestone, Dayton, Firestone, Continental, Cooper, General, Goodyear, Kelly, B.F. Goodrich, Michelin, Uniroyal, Armstrong, Pirelli, Centennial, Dunlop, Remington, Sumitomo, Toyo and Yokohama. Sears department stores also sell major manufacturer?s tires under the Sears brand name.

Three different charges are incurred when buying new tires. The first and the most expensive is the basic cost of the tire. Then there is a fee to mount and balance your tires. (Shop around, these fees vary widely.) There is also a nominal charge for new valve stems. Many large retail stores mount and balance tires and provide lifetime rotations and road hazard insurance for one surprisingly low fee.

Any warranty is better than no warranty, but don?t make a tire purchase based on this criteria alone. A tire warranted to go 70,000 miles might be a bad choice. Its hard rubber tread won't wear out quickly, but won't provide good traction either. Also, basic tire warranties only cover defects in workmanship and materials. It is difficult to prove that your driving style and lack of maintenance weren?t to blame for early wear-out.

Modern tires are usually not defective and do not often go flat -- "road hazard" or tire insurance is not necessary unless your car is rolling on some very expensive rubber.

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