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Car Maintenance: Make Your Tires Last

One of the most critical maintenance chores for cars is checking the tires regularly. You'll save money and extend the life of your tires.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Make your tires last

Most drivers ignore their tires until it's too late. Then they have to spend big bucks to replace them. However, you can diagnose tire problems and correct them early by performing three critical maintenance chores: checking the tire pressure, measuring the tread depth regularly, and rotating tires every 6,000 miles.

Never inflate tires to the maximum pressure!

Never assume that the maximum air pressure shown on the tire's sidewall is the same as the recommended tire pressure. Filling to the maximum pressure always means you're overinflating your tires. The recommended tire pressures for your car are printed on the driver's door or doorpost decal.

Although overinflated tires may give you slightly higher gas mileage, they can cause much more serious problems than they solve. Overinflated tires carry the entire weight of the car on the middle portion of the tread. On wet roads, the center tread can't pump the water out to the sides (think of a squeegee with a bulge in the center). So they're more prone to hydroplaning (like water skiing) and also more likely to skid in a stop or in a turn, and blow out on hard bumps. The bottom line: Overinflation is foolish and dangerous. Always follow the inflation pressures shown on the car, not the tires.

Diagnosing tire problems

Fill Tires With Nitrogen—Or Not?

Some dealers now offer to fill tires with nitrogen instead of regular air for an additional charge. Nitrogen leaks less than compressed atmospheric air (because nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen molecules) and reduces rubber oxidation. But that doesn't mean nitrogen never leaks. The problem is that once you commit to a nitrogen fill, you must stick with it for the life of the tire. The instant you add compressed air, you negate all the benefits.

Since you still need to check and refill your tires, and since nitrogen is hard to find, you'll be married to the dealer forever. That's good if they offer free coffee and doughnuts while you wait, but bad if they're not conveniently located. Even though nitrogen really is better than regular old air, it's doubtful you'll ever see enough of a benefit to justify the investment. Your tires will probably wear out from normal driving long before the important benefits of nitrogen really kick in. But if you drive less than 5,000 miles per year and plan to keep your tires for 10 years (and don't mind hanging out at the dealer), nitrogen is definitely worth it. By the way, the green caps on tire valve stems indicate the tire is filled with nitrogen.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

You'll need a tire pressure gauge and tread-depth gauge.

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