car tire shown in center of frame on gray car.

Tires are arguably one of the most important parts of your car to keep in top condition. While it seems pretty easy to stop paying attention to your tires unless there is a problem, some simple maintenance tasks will help keep you from being stranded or worse due to a blowout.

That’s where we come in. Here, we explain everything you need to know about your car’s tires. We cover common problems and smart tire maintenance schedules.

The result is a comprehensive package of information to help you keep your vehicle’s tires in tip-top shape.

Maintain the Right Amount of Pressure

Your car’s tires are the only part of your vehicle that touches the road. Whether you are flying down the highway, cruising through town, or pulling off some hard-core off-roading, they need the right pressure to function properly.

Perhaps the most frequent tire-related question mechanics hear is, “What should my tire pressure be?” The simple answer is, for most passenger cars they should be between 32 and 40 PSI (pressure per square inch).

You should measure your tire pressure cold, that is before you start driving for the day. Also, when temperatures drop, tire pressure may rapidly deflate. During cold snaps, you should check them frequently.

What constitutes the right pressure, however, varies based on driving conditions, the manufacturer, and your vehicle. For most driving conditions, you should inflate your tire pressure to the tire manufacturer’s specifications. Often, this is printed on the side of the tire. If it isn’t, you may check the manufacturer’s website or other published materials for more information.

If you are driving on snow, ice, sand, or another slippery surface, though, you may want to underinflate your tires. The reason for this approach is to increase the surface area of your treads. The more surface area, the more traction you should have.

Once you are free from the slippery conditions, though, you must inflate your tires to the appropriate pressure, as driving on underinflated ones is dangerous. It can also cause your otherwise good tires to wear out prematurely and destroy your car’s fuel economy.

All things considered, keeping your tires inflated to the exact pressure recommended by their manufacturer is usually your best bet.

Since tires generally lose between one and two pounds of PSI every month, invest in a good-quality tire gauge to measure pressure. You could rely on the gas station’s tire gauge, but it’s best to have one you trust.

Choose the Right Tire Pressure Gauge

Because having the right tire pressure is important to the life of your car’s tires and your safety, you must be sure you have the best tire pressure gauge possible. Tire gauges come in three styles: stick gauges, dial gauges, and digital gauges.

As you may suspect, not every pressure gauge is worth forking over your money. Cheap stick gauges are notoriously inaccurate but they are very common. Dial gauges and digital gauges both offer better accuracy, but digital ones are the easiest to read.

Once you choose the right gauge, you must take good care of it. Try to store the gauge in a place that isn’t vulnerable to temperature swings. Also, periodically check to make sure your gauge does not need calibration.

Comparing yours to the one a professional tire technician uses is a good option.

Perform a Visual Inspection

While most tires are strong and durable, none last forever. You should plan to conduct periodic visual inspections of your tires. When you do, check for wear on the treads.

What should your tire tread depth be? With most tires, you should have at least 2/32 inch of tread depth. Since this measurement is tough to visualize, it may be useful to let a penny do the work for you.

How to test your tire tread depth with a penny: insert one inside your treads with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tires have less than 2/32-inch of remaining tread.

If that is the case, you should replace your tires as soon as possible. Some tires have tread-wear detectors embedded in them. As these tires age, indicators appear to let you know how much tread life your tires have remaining.

Whether you test your treads with a penny or rely on a built-in indicator, you should never drive on bald tires.

When you are inspecting your tires, you must also look for signs of damage. This is especially important after tires hit a pothole or road debris. During this inspection, look for bumps, bulges, cracks, gashes, or other damage.

If you see any, stop driving your vehicle until a skilled tire technician can take a look.

Finally, while you can likely handle visual inspections without professional help, you should ask a tire expert to look at your tires before a long road trip. It also is a good idea to have your vehicle’s tires professionally inspected before winter arrives.

Rotate Your Tires Regularly

Tire shown with tools on it during a rotation

Most vehicles on the road today are front-wheel drive. Turning, steering, stopping, and accelerating cause front tires to wear out faster than their rear counterparts. Depending on where you drive, the right- or left-front tire may even wear out faster than the one on the opposite side.

To extend the life of your vehicle’s tires and to ensure they perform properly, you must occasionally rotate your tires. Simply put, this is the process of moving each tire to a different position.

Experts recommend rotating tires every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, although the manufacturer of your car’s tires may have different suggestions.

While doing a rotation may be tough for you, it is fast and easy for most tire technicians. You may even be able to combine tire rotation with a regular oil change.

Either way, you must be certain never to skip tire rotation. If you do, you may invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty that protects your car’s shoes.

Keeping your car’s tires in tip-top shape is important for a variety of reasons. As such, you can’t afford to ignore them. By keeping them properly inflated and periodically rotating them, you can likely get the most out of them.

If you have any questions about the integrity of your vehicle’s tires, be sure you schedule a professional inspection as soon as possible.