The Great American Road Trip; Can Your Tires Handle Summer Travels?March 21, 2023
We’ve all heard the importance of having a good tire with plenty of grip for winter driving, but having a set of proper rubber mounted at all four corners is just as crucial for successful spring and summer cruising.
We aren’t talking about throwing some sweet performance summer tires on your favorite roadster (though, hey, that’s not a bad idea either). No, we’re talking about running down the tire health checklist and making sure your vacay-getaway ride is ready for the long haul.
Our friends over at TireRack.com published a PSA of sorts detailing the aforementioned health inspection. As you can probably infer, a lot of it has to do with tire tread wear, and that’s where our list kicks off.
Before you hit the road, experienced motorists may consult the most honest man they can think of: ol’ “Honest Abe.” In all seriousness, this relates to the penny check, a basic way to check tire treadwear. Simply insert a penny upside down into the treads atop your tire. If the top of Lincoln’s head is blocked by the tread, your tire is within legal tread depth limits. There is some actual science behind this: When a tire tread wears down to 2/32 of an inch, in other words when the penny check fails, the tire will have a difficult time providing enough grip for even routine safe driving, let alone handle bad weather or emergencies. While using a penny to gauge tread is not a “full picture” assessment of a tire’s condition, it does give a ballpark estimate of that.
As for driving in normal wet road situations, you’ll want to make sure a minimum of 4/32 of an inch of tread depth is available, and ideally more in order to prevent hydroplaning and keep stopping distances as low as possible. Typically speaking, passenger tires start with about 1/3 of an inch of tread depth, guided across 20 square inches of total footprint surface.
But tread is only part of the equation. The actual age of your tires can be just as important. Over time, the rubber loses elasticity and grip. Cracking and chunking can be a solid visual indicator of this occurrence, but isn’t guaranteed to happen. Tire Rack has estimated a useful service life between 6-to-10 years, which you can keep tabs on yourself. Tires will actually list the manufacturing date on the tire sidewall– check out our recent “Your Drive” segment where one of our shop experts, Audra Fordin, shares all the details.
To be blunt, there is no one true “rule” when it comes to tire age and replacement, and we’d hedge our bets that most average commuters will replace their tires before they reach their retirement age. It all boils down to use, driving and storage conditions, the compound ingredients, and tire care.
This last bit is sort of obvious and ties into previously made statements: Buy the right tires for the mission. If you live in a wet climate, opt for something that’s better at handling those conditions and check them more frequently. If you like to go camping, you may consider a tire more capable of light (or even heavy) off-road and overlanding. If you’re more into “glamping” and long highway-bourne road trips, a regular street tire will likely do fine.
Don’t let your vacation be ruined by under-qualified tires. Do your research, run the checklist, and be ready for the road before you get on it.