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    Written by Archie Varone of A and J Auto Maintenance Center

            As we go about our day, running here, running there, and all the this and thats we need to get done, we plan - well or not so well - how to get the most out of what we do.  So many details that we have to think of; just remember … we have to get there to get it done.

            So when was the last time you measured how much tread depth is left on your tires?  When was the last time you checked the air pressure?  If you needed 1-4 new tires, in a hurry, do you know what kind of tires you have, their size or what makes a good all-season tire or any tire for that fact?  In order to keep us rolling to get all these things done, our tires need to be on their game, too!



            Tires can’t do their thing with the wrong air pressure.  Over or under inflated, they won’t grip the road or last very long.  If you notice the inside and outside of the tires are wearing faster than the center, that’s from under inflation.  If you notice the center is more worn than the outside, that’s from over inflation.  If they are worn only on the inside or outside, that would be caused by a bad alignment.  Most cars have a sticker on the driver’s door or door jamb that will tell you what the proper air pressure should be.  If that sticker is faded or missing, refer to your owner’s manual or ask your favorite mechanic and have your alignment checked at least once a year or at the first sign of abnormal year.  Any of these scenarios will shorten the life of the tires and cost you.



            Ever wonder what the numbers on the side wall mean?  There are 3 dimensions that determine the size of a tire.  So let’s break them down.  Let’s take a 225-70-16, a typical tire size on a mid-sized car.  The first set of numbers is the tread cross section (width of tire) in millimeters (225mm).  The higher the number, the wider the tread area is.  The second number (70) is the sidewall to tread width ratio (the height of the sidewall in percent) compared to the tread width (225 x .070% = 157.5mm).  The last number (16) is the rim diameter in inches.  So what does that mean in English?  (225mm divided by 25.4) = 8.85”.  (157.5mm divided by 25.4) = 6.2”.  So this tire is approximately 9” wide with a sidewall height of 6” and fits on a rim that is 16” in diameter.  (16 + 12.4 = a tire that is approximately 28.4” in diameter.

            So why did I feel compelled to give you a math lesson?  If you ever wondered what other sizes may fit you car, this lesson will help.  Don’t guess and don’t buy tires or new rims without using this lesson.  Your vehicle speed sensor (VSS used for your speedometer/odometer) and wheel speed sensor (used for your anti-lock brakes) are calibrated to the stock tire’s overall diameter.  If your tires are off by more than ¾ of an inch up or down, it will adversely affect both systems.

            So go ahead and start shopping for those custom 20” rims you want.  Just remember your tires overall diameter needs to stay as close to the original diameter as possible.



            When you talk to a tire sales person, you may get pushed to buy with the 3 T’s.  Treadwear – Traction – Temperature.  Knowing what they mean will help you make a wise decision.  These are listed on the tire, usually in small font size.  These are ranged in this way – Treadwear  -- a number from 200-700, established by the tire maker to let you know what kind of mileage you can get from this tire.  200 = 10,000 miles and 700 = 80,000 miles.  This number is subjective.  So don’t pass up one tire for another for a small difference of 50-100.  Traction – rated A  - B – C.  A=best, B=good, C=fair.  I know that I would not buy a tire with less than an “A” traction rating.  The last is Temperature.  A=best, B=good, C=fair.  The temperature rating measures that heat vs. wear rating of a tire.  Heat is the #1 killer of tires.  A tire that does not run cool at 55 mph will wear faster.  A good tire has a temperature rating of B or higher.  These numbers and letters vary greatly among tire brands and even between models.  A high performance tire will have a low treadwear, 200-400, high traction “A” and high temp “A”.  A touring high mileage tire could be 600- A-B or 700- B-A.



            Tread design is key.  We all expect our tires to do their job.  But in reality, most tires just don’t make the grade.  In Pennsylvania, here in our valley, we are blessed with diverse weather patterns.  Did I say “blessed”?  Anyway … we get, rain, slush, snow, ice and any combination you can think of. We need all stars when it comes to tires.

            So what makes an “all-star”?  The industry word is called sipping (pronounced sigh-ping); the everyday word could be grooves or channels.  The best way I could explain this while writing, is if you took a Bic pen and stuck it in the center of the tire tread, you should be able to maze your way out to the sidewall of the tire without lifting your pen.  The purpose of the grooves is to pump water, slush and snow out from under the tire to get it to the ground.  The larger the grooves, the more aggressive the tire will be. 

          When choosing tires, you need to understand what kind of driving you do and what the worst conditions you may encounter are.  If you are a “fair weather” driver – a quiet, long lasting tread design will be fine.  If you are as brave as a mailman and will go forth into danger, arm yourself with a tire that has deep treads and aggressive sipping.  You’ll have to deal with a little sound from the tires, but you’ll be happy with the traction and safety.


            Knowing when to change tires is crucial to safety.  Changing tires because they have worn smooth or have steel cord showing is a no brainer.  The smart driver knows to change the tires way before that.

            If you ask your grandfather, he may tell you the old trick about using a penny “Lincoln’s head down” stuck into the tread.  If you see the top of his head, you should be ready to change the tires soon.  If you ask a police officer or your inspection mechanic, he will tell you the law says any thing less than 2/32nds is illegal and won’t pass inspection.

            What if I told you that a tire that has less than 4/32nds of tread won’t pump water or slush out from under them causing poor traction, would you believe me?  Or, that it could take twice the distance or more to stop in a panic stop, with a tire that has 2/32nds left on them compared to a new tire.

            Well, if you would like video proof, go to, click on the video center, then click on tires, then click on the “panic stopping” video.  They did extensive testing on this subject and many others.  Watch and be amazed!  Then peruse the rest of the site … there’s lots to learn there.

            They also reminded me that inflation affects everything!  Instead of using a penny today, we need a quarter.  If you place it between the tread and can’t see the top of Washington’s head, you have more than 4/32nds.

            Without getting into another math lesson, we all want to get the most for our money.  We worry about the price of gas everyday because we need it to keep the car going.  But, if you did the math, you would see that tires are very cheap per mile to own compared to gas or repairs.  Yes, we pay upfront for tires, hundreds of dollars.   But if you divided that by the miles you get, you’ll see quality tires are quite the bargain.

            For example:  4 tires @ $100 ea. = $400 + tax = $424.00 divided by 40,000 miles comes out to 0.0106.  About a penny per mile!  I’m sure most people don’t really think about that when they hear the price from their sales person.  Just remember this:  replacing your tires before they are legally worn out may not seem like a frugal choice, but the cost of repairing your car or injured body just because you couldn’t keep control of your car or stop fast enough will most definitely be more costly and far more painful.

            There is a great deal more to learn about tires and other consumables that keep the wheels turning.  We go about our day trying to get all those this and thats done, and since you need your car to help you along, learning as much as you can to maintain your vehicle will be your best tool to get to all those this and thats.