Summer Tire Inspection Checklist: 5 Tips For A Safe Driving Season
The changing of the seasons is a useful reminder that it's time to catch up on your automotive maintenance. The spring and the fall each herald new weather and different driving conditions for the next six or so months, and that often means making sure your vehicle is ready for its upcoming tour of duty out on the road or the track.
Tires are among the most important wear item on your vehicle, and they take more abuse than almost any other component. Fortunately, they're also among the most easy to inspect, which means there's no excuse to not take a good, hard look at your vehicle's rubber now that the spring is giving way to summer.
Why Summer Rubber
What are some of the benefits of going to a summer tire, as opposed to sticking with a traditional all-season? Take the Nitto NT555 G2 as an example. With larger, reinforced treadblocks and a stickier compound (with a treadwear rating of 200), the G2 is better at holding the road during hard acceleration and through tight corners. At the same time, it still cuts through wet asphalt with safety, channeling away water with circumferential grooves.
An all-season tire is a good compromise between cold weather and warm weather performance, but for drivers seeking to maximize traction, comfort, and stability, a summer performance tire like the NT555 G2 is a better bet.
Regardless of which tire you're running, an inspection is a must. Let's take a look at the seasonal tire checklist you should run through at this time of year.
Chunks, Cuts, Bubbles, Gouges
It might seem obvious that one of the first things you should check for when inspecting rubber for the summer season is physical damage to the tire itself. If you live in a warmer area where you can keep your all-terrain or all-season tires mounted throughout the winter, you'll want to check for any type of cuts, gouges, or other deformations of the tire (such as bubbling) that might have occurred during the previous few months
You'll want to look not just at the exterior sidewall, but also the tread of the tire and the interior sidewall as well, which means turning the wheel from side to side up front to get the best inspection angle. At the rear, you may have to jack your vehicle slightly to get a good viewpoint on the inside sidewall. Remember to always support your car with jack stands, and never rely solely on a jack to hold it upright.
If you're swapping from winter tires to summer tires, inspection is a little easier. Make sure that each tire is given a thorough once-over prior to mounting, especially if it was stored inside. While you're at it, make sure the winter rubber is in good shape, too. If not, you'll have a head-start on ordering replacement tires before the colder weather sets in.
Tread Depth Matters
If you live in a very dry part of the country, it's easy to ignore gradual tread wear. After all, the blocks, channels, and sipes cut into the face of a tire only come into use when asked to move water away from the surface of the rubber so that you can maintain grip on a wet road.
That being said, don't be casual about maintaining a safe tread depth when inspecting tires for the summer. Standing water on a road or a sudden rain storm can quickly lead to dangerous driving conditions if your tires are too bald to avoid hydroplaning across a slick surface. The U.S. Department of Transportation pegs its minimal safe depth at 2/32 of an inch, or roughly enough tread to completely cover Lincoln's head when held upside down between the ribs of your tire. Some states even make this the law, and you could be opening yourself up to a ticket at a traffic stop if a police officer notices your tires are unsafe.
Learn To Read Wear
You might notice that your tire wear isn't even across all four tires. Learning to read and understand what uneven wear is telling you can help diagnose problems with your alignment or vehicle suspension before they cause further damage throughout the summer.
If your tire is wearing more on the outside edges than the inside, it's likely a result of under-inflation. Likewise, if the inside is more worn, then over-inflation is typically the culprit. A tire that is worn exclusively on either the inside or the outside indicates an alignment issue, while 'cupping' —patches of uneven wear distributed across a tire—can indicate a suspension problem.
Always remember: if the treadwear bars are showing, or you can see a steel belt peeking through the treadblocks, you should replace that tire as soon as possible.
Remember To Rotate
Rotating your tires can often help even out wear across a set of four, as it balances the stresses of steering, braking, and power delivery better than simply leaving each tire in place until they need to be replaced.
Most rotation schedules call for cross-corner swaps—left-rear tire to the right-front, left-front tire to the right-rear—but this is going to depend on your drivetrain layout and tire size.
Curious to find out more about how alignment can affect tire wear and handling? Check out our alignment basics to get started.