Guide to Automotive Tires

People put all a lot of time and energy into their cars to guarantee premium performance and eliminate any potential issues. While engines and transmissions are undoubtedly important, many people forget about another part that is just as important-the tires. A driver can have a brand new, high-powered engine installed in their vehicle, but without a quality set of tires, they aren't going anywhere! Excellent tires breed excellent vehicle performance, so drivers should gain an understanding of what tires are, what types of tires are available and how to maintain them.

The Parts of the Wheel

If one strips away the complexities of a vehicle, such as the numerous bearings and the sophisticated electrical equipment, it boils down to a simple object set in motion by a wheel. The wheel consists of a number of elements which work in accordance with each other to create this motion. Before delving into the tire itself, drivers should understand what role they play in the grand scheme of things. The important pieces of the wheel include the tire, axle, rim and other components.

Tire - This is not only the part of the wheel that most drivers are familiar with, but also the most visible. A tire is a round-shaped rubber component that is inflated with air. The weight of the automobile rests on these tires, and most vehicles are equipped with four. These tires are outfitted with grooves that create tread and increase friction, making it possible to drive in various weather and terrain conditions. Air pressure within these tires is measured by psi, and the performance of the tire depends greatly on the level of tread and the amount of air pressure found within.

Rim - If a tire is analogous to skin, the rim is the skeletal system that supports this skin. The tire is wrapped around the rim, allowing it to maintain its shape and structure. At its core, a rim is simply a metallic piece of round metal that is heavy and durable. Many drivers choose to upgrade the style and value of their vehicle by adding a set of stylish aftermarket rims, which come in a variety of metallic alloy types and customizable styles.

Axle - Axles are the stem-like parts that allow the wheels to work in conjunction with each other. The axle is the core component that creates rotation for the wheels, allowing them to spin around the axle. Most standard automobiles have front and back axles, with the front axle creating the motion, and the back wheels rotating in response to this motion.

Hub - The hub is the central part that connects the wheel and axle to the brakes. This hub contains a circular set of bolts and nuts, which provide a strong, durable assembly of each part.

Types of Tires

When a person looks to add a new set of tires to their vehicles, they must realize that numerous types exist. These types help drivers through a variety of situations, as they are often categorized by their ability to hold up against certain weather and terrain conditions. Some common tire types include: all-season, all-terrain, winter-use, and performance tires.

All-Season Tires - These tires suit drivers who need to drive in all conditions. All-season tires do not target any particular season or tread need, but perform relatively well in the face of all sorts of weather, precipitation and terrains.

All-Terrain Tires - All-Terrain tires are best suited for heavy-duty vehicles, such as pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles. These tires contain tough sidewalls and a sturdy build, in order to deal with debris and objects. They also have excellent grip and tread, in order to perform against any ground conditions, from loose sand to gritty rocks.

Winter-Use Tires - These tires are best suited for cold temperatures and winter precipitation. They hold up well against snow, ice, sleet and other wet and cold types of precipitation. The tires are built with increased traction to deal with the most slippery road conditions, allowing drivers to grip the ice and maintain the ability to steer and accelerate.

Performance Tires - Tread is the name of the game with these tires, as they perform well due to the increased grip on the road. Drivers who need to hit tight corners, accelerate at the drop of a dime and steer with precision would enjoy performance tires. These tires are suited for aggressive driving, and hold up well to wear and tear.

Buying and Maintaining Tires

When purchasing a tire, make sure to shop brand new whenever possible. Many people purchase used tires to pass an inspection, but going for the bare minimum of legal tread depths is dangerous. For best results, purchase tires with excellent tread, and always buy an additional road warranty. The warranty allows a driver to get the tire replaced or patched free of charge if anything happens to it within the timeframe of the warranty.

Drivers should keep their tires inflated at all times. Under inflated tires perform inefficiently, require premature replacements and decrease gas mileage. In fact, improperly inflated tires can increase gas costs by up to 5 cents per gallon. Vehicle owner's manuals indicate what size and types of tires should be used, in addition to proper inflation levels. Rotating the tires every 4,000 to 6,000 miles will help to maintain even tread, and prolong the life of all four tires.

Many auto experts advise drivers to adhere to the "penny test", when testing tire tread. The test involves drivers sticking a penny into tread grooves, with Abraham Lincoln's head facing down. If his head falls into the grooves, the tire still has adequate tread. If his head cannot fit into the grooves, the tire has lost its tread and requires replacement. In terms of aesthetics and cleanliness, a tire and rim cleaning solution will free the wheel of all dirt and grime. This way, drivers can remain confident in the tire's condition and appearance.

Tire Brands

In terms of brands, each driver has a preference. However, brands like Michelin, Goodyear and Bridgestone have stood the test of time. These tires are reliable, easy to find and backed by warranties. Drivers can select between any brands available, but if reliability is a must, it pays to go with trusted brands.

Fixing a flat

Anybody who has been driving long enough has had to deal with a flat tire. For this reason, drivers are strongly advised to keep a spare tire, also referred to as a "doughnut" in the trunk of their car. This way, they are not stuck on the side of the road awaiting relief. For best results, drivers should also keep a jack and a tire iron handy. The process of changing a tire involves a little bit of work, but is mostly straight forward.

Drivers should first slide the jack underneath the median portion of the vehicle, closest to the flat tire. Crank the jack so that the car begins to lift to one side. The process of changing the tire involves removing lug nuts and storing them to the side, removing the tire, replacing it with the spare, and replacing the lug nuts. A quality tire iron will allow the removal of lug nuts to be quick and simple. After the tire is replaced, drivers should be careful to lower the jack slowly, without causing damage to the vehicle.