If you’re like most drivers, you probably don’t think much about your tires until something goes wrong. But paying attention to your tires and replacing them at the right intervals is one of the best things you can do to keep your car running safely and efficiently.
Here’s a quick answer: You should replace your tires every 6 years regardless of tread depth, since the rubber breaks down over time. Tires are also considered unsafe and require replacement when tread depth is 2/32 of an inch or less. Replacing all four tires together ensures optimal handling and safety. Regularly inspect your tires and don’t delay replacement when they reach 6 years old or have minimal tread left.
Why Tire Maintenance Matters
Your tires are the only part of your vehicle that actually touches the road. Good tires provide traction, steering responsiveness, and allow you to brake safely. Driving on worn out or damaged tires puts you and others at risk. Some of the dangers include:
- Longer stopping distances which can lead to accidents
- Reduced handling and control in emergency maneuvers
- Risk of blowouts, especially at high speeds
- Poor traction in wet weather leading to hydroplaning
Keeping your tires in good shape not only keeps you safe, but can save you money too. Underinflated and poorly maintained tires lower your gas mileage significantly. Replacing tires prematurely due to neglect is a waste of money.
When to Replace Based on Tread Wear
The amount of tread left on your tires is the first thing to inspect. Tire tread provides the gripping action and traction you need to control your vehicle.
Tires are considered unsafe and worn out when the tread depth reaches 2/32 of an inch. At this point, it’s risky to drive on them, especially in wet or wintry conditions. Most new tires start with 10/32 to 11/32 inch of tread when new.
Here are some ways to measure tread depth yourself:
- Tread wear bars – Look for the raised wear bars built into the bottom of the tread grooves. When they are flush with the surrounding tread, it’s time for replacement.
- Penny test – Insert a penny into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the top of his head, you have less than 2/32 inch of tread left.
- Tire tread gauge – This inexpensive tool measures tread depth in 32nds of an inch. Look for one at any auto parts store.
|Tire Tread Depth||Condition|
|10/32 – 11/32 inch||New tire range|
|8/32 inch||Tire life midpoint|
|6/32 inch||Consider replacement based on wear|
|4/32 inch||Safety concern in wet/winter weather|
|2/32 inch or less||Replace immediately|
When to Replace Based on Tire Age
Even if they have plenty of tread left, tires should be replaced by the 6 year mark regardless of mileage. Rubber compounds in the tread and sidewalls break down over time.
Heat, moisture, and UV rays cause the components to degrade. Old tires are more prone to blowouts and failures. Cracks and rotting rubber are easy to spot, but chemical degradation is not visible.
If your tires are over 10 years old, they are considered unsafe and should not be used. Checking the DOT serial number on the sidewall will tell you the age. It ends in a 4 digit date code. For example, a serial number ending in 2218 means the tire was made in the 22nd week of 2018.
Signs You Need New Tires
Watch for these clues that your tires are due for replacement:
- Reduced traction and wet weather handling – If your car feels loose or slides easily on wet roads, the tread is wearing down. Time for new rubber.
- Uneven tread wear – If just the shoulders or center of the tread are worn, alignment or suspension issues are present. New tires will just wear out quickly unless you address the underlying problem.
- Tires won’t hold air – Consistent air loss means the tire’s internal structure is failing. Have it inspected for repairability.
- You moved to a new climate – Make sure you have tires suited to the weather. Using snow tires in the summer will wear them out prematurely.
Only Replace Two Tires, or a Full Set?
It’s highly recommended that you replace all four tires at once, even if just two are worn out. Having tires of different ages and tread depths on the car can affect handling and control. The newer tires have more traction and can cause oversteer.
Staggering the replacements leaves you with no spare that matches the other three. Mixing tire brands, models and sizes can also cause drivetrain problems on all-wheel drive cars.
Maintaining Tires on Low Mileage Vehicles
Even if your car has low mileage, tires age and degrade over time. Tires on classic cars or extra vehicles should be replaced after 6 years regardless of tread depth.
Make sure spare tires are at full inflation. Keep tires out of direct sunlight when in storage. Having tires remounted and balanced after 5 years helps inspect for cracks and maintain performance. Consider using tire covers to protect from UV when parked outside.
Letting Go When Tires are Too New
What if money is tight, but your tires need safety replacements? Consider these options if your tires have good life left:
- Sell them – List decent used tires for sale online. Many buyers are looking for cheap options to get through a couple more seasons. Be transparent about tread life remaining.
- Use them on a trailer, RV or beater car – Move them to a vehicle with lighter duty requirements if still in fair shape.
- Return to the tire shop – Some retailers offer partial credit for unused tread life toward new tires. Policies vary, so check with your dealer.
Replacing tires regularly is like getting an oil change for your car – essential upkeep! Knowing when to swap them out based on age and tread wear prevents safety issues and costly problems down the road. Inspect tires often and don’t delay once they need replacement.
How much does it cost to replace 4 tires?
The cost for four new tires typically ranges from $350 – $1000 depending on your vehicle and the quality of tire. High end performance tires and truck/SUV tires sit at the higher end. Budget options are lower.
Should I replace two tires or four tires at once?
Replacing all four tires together is highly recommended, even if only two are worn. This ensures even tread wear and balanced handling. Mixing old and new tires can be unsafe.
How long do tires last if I don’t drive much annually?
Tires degrade over time regardless of usage. Heat, moisture and sunlight break down the rubber compounds. Always replace tires by the 6 year mark from the manufacturing date, even on low mileage vehicles.
Can I mix tire brands or models when replacing them?
It’s best to always replace all four tires with the same model. Mixing brands or models can lead to traction differences and handling issues. Never mix different size tires.