Tire Inspectipn Tips
The following list describes basic maintenance tasks as well as a recommended schedule for how often they should be performed. These can be applied to almost any vehicle, past or present, which is driven on a regular or semi-regular basis. For vehicles that spend much of their time in storage, like sports cars in winter climes, a vastly different set of maintenance rules should be followed, and might even make a future How To... subject.
Visual Tire Inspection
This one is so easy that it could, and should, be performed on a daily basis. At its most basic level, a visual tire inspection can simply involve glancing at the tires while walking up to a vehicle that you are about to drive. While casual in nature, this quick look will tell you if any of the vehicle's tires are flat or excessively low in tire pressure. It will also point out any obvious major problems, such as a damaged sidewall or severely bent suspension piece. Check to see that the wheels appear upright. If one or more of them tilts in toward the vehicle or out, away from the vehicle, it could mean anything from a bad front-end alignment to a damaged piece of suspension. Have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic..
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You should measure the depth of the treads around each tire. Most states require tires to have a tread depth of at least 2/32" or they are considered legally worn out and are illegal to drive on. A tread depth of 4/32" is still in okay condition, and tread depths of 6/32" or larger are generally new condition.
Tread depth may be measured using a special gauge, or more simply using a penny and a quarter, as illustrated below. If Lincoln's head is covered when a penny is inserted into the tire tread, then more than 2/32" tread is remaining. If Washington's head is covered when a quarter is used, more than 4/32" is remaining, and if the base of the Lincoln Memorial is covered on a penny, more than 6/32" is remaining.
Check tread wear all around the tire and take note of any unusual wear patterns. Different tires perform different functions, and therefore wear differently, but unusual wear patterns may be indicative of suspension problems or over/under inflation conditions. Double check tire pressure (see step 6) and have the vehicle inspected.
Tire Pressure and Examination
Unlike the more casual visual tire inspection, a tire pressure and examination check requires you to get up close and personal with the tire. This one, as you might expect, requires a tire pressure gauge. However, you might be surprised however to learn that it also requires a penny. The pressure gauge is obviously used to check the tire pressure and assure that it is within manufacturer spec, which can usually be found inside the driver's doorframe or along the inside edge of the driver's door. Be sure to check tire pressure always when the tires are cold, which means the vehicle cannot have been driven in the previous hour. The penny's purpose is to check tread depth. While different tread depths are considered acceptable for different types of tires, a basic rule of thumb involves sliding a penny into the center tread with Lincoln's head pointing down at the tire. If you can see Lincoln's entire head, the tread is too short to be safe and the tire should be replaced. This is also the time to check for uneven tread wear, which could indicate the need for a front-end alignment.
Recommended Frequency: Once a week