You have enough to worry about concerning the pressures of school without keeping a mental log of potential car problems. Here are a few quick tire maintenance tips as you’re heading back to school.


At some point in your high school or college education, someone will, or already has, said to you, “You’ll never have more free time than you have now.” Don’t get depressed, Mr. or Ms. Student, because it’s not true. It does eventually get easier.* School is an intensely busy experience, dividing your attention between at least eight subjects, way more extracurriculars than the average human can handle, family and friends, your underpaying job, and that ever-looming specter: homework.


Taking care of your vehicle can be incredibly time consuming. There just isn’t enough life to go around. On top of that, it gets expensive. Your 20 hours a week slinging pizzas for minimum wage doesn’t go very far when you need a new clutch or exhaust system. That’s why so many cars in your school parking lot look like they’re held together with rust and hope. But don’t give up. There are solutions. Here are a few ways you can save time and money by extending the life of your tires.

Alignment
Believe it or not, tire maintenance is mostly about taking care of your car as a whole, rather than just your tires. The biggest contributor to tire wear is misalignment. You’ve probably heard the term before, but what does it mean?


Alignment has to do with the position your wheels are in, and the directions they’re pointing. The parts of your suspension are made of steel, and steel bends, little by little, every time you drive through a pothole, speed bump or your occasional railroad tracks.
Because of this, your wheels can bend inward towards each other, which is what technicians call toe. Yes, your car can be pigeon-toed. Or they can tilt, toward or away from the car, which is known as camber. Or they can bend backward, toward the rear of the car, or forward, toward the front. The industry calls this caster. 


You usually can’t tell from looking at the car, but all three problems can cause your tires to rub themselves away on the road faster than normal. A tire turning a little sideways when it’s supposed to be going straight will begin to rub itself away against the road, rather than just rolling over it. It creates more friction than needed, which is why misalignment also hurts your gas mileage. You car has to use more energy to overcome this extra friction, and it shows up in your MPGs. A car with improper camber will put all its weight on the inside or outside edge of a tire, rather than equally distributing it across the whole surface. 


Alignment issues usually show up in your steering. If you find yourself having to put a lot of pressure on the steering wheel to keep your car from drifting into another lane, it’s time for an alignment. 


You can get it done at most shops for about $100. Bent elements can be invisible to the naked eye. Thankfully, shops use sophisticated laser or camera equipment to align your car down to the hundredth of a degree. Your car’s manufacturer even built in adjustment hardware to account for alignment, so unless something is seriously wrong, you probably won’t have to buy any new parts.  

Tire Pressure
A misalignment isn’t the only thing that can cause your car to pull to one side or the other. Sometimes it’s as simple as a low tire, and this is a much cheaper and easier fix.

First, get a tire gauge. Just about every gas station in America has a bucket of them for about a dollar apiece. Next, figure out what your tire pressure should be. You can usually find this on a sticker on your door sill, unless some dingus painted over it like the previous owner of one of my cars. If that’s the case, obviously, just look it up online. Like everything else. 


You can check your tire pressure by sticking the gauge end onto the tire valve. If you’re wondering if you have a slow leak, check that tire every few days. If you do have a leak, you don’t necessarily have to replace the tire. If the leak is on the tread surface, the tire can be patched. In fact, Zohr does mobile tire repair, and we can come to your school and take care of it while you’re sitting in AP Chem, trying to learn about covalent bonds and deliquescence.

Unfortunately, if the leak is coming from the tire’s sidewall, patching isn’t an option, and the tire should be replaced. Zohr can handle that too, through its mobile tire replacement services..

But even if you don’t have a leak, check your pressure monthly, especially in the fall. As you, a successful student, probably already know, hot air expands, and cold air contracts. So as the swim trunks get put away and the scarves and PSLs appear, you may actually lose tire pressure. In the depths of winter you might even begin to notice it. 


When that occurs, simply go back to the gas station, throw a quarter in the air pump, and reinflate. Be careful not to overinflate. People far smarter than us determined that ideal pressure, so it’s best to stick to it.


What does this all have to do with tire wear? An underinflated tire creates a bigger contact patch with the road. This creates more friction, and you know what happens from there. 

Driving Technique
Yes, burnouts are fun, but they’re obviously not free. All that white smoke you’re making in the parking lot is part of your tire formula being vaporized. (Science alert: This is why burnout smoke is white, but if you light your tire on fire, and please don’t, the smoke is black.)


Still, even if you’re not ripping sweet donuts in the stadium lot, letting your wheels spin under acceleration can wear them out faster. You can prevent this with careful control of your gas pedal. As a bonus, you’ll actually accelerate more quickly this way.


By the same token, slamming on your brakes to decelerate can shorten the life of your tires. If you drive a car with a manual transmission (which I highly recommend), you can use engine braking to slow down. It’s fun, keeps you further from your next brake problem, and can even save your tires.


And, you guessed it, taking curves quickly will also rub tires away. As a rule of thumb, any time you hear your tires squeal, you’re going through a little more rubber— and a little more money.


One more quick note about driving technique: Try to keep things from hitting the sidewalls of your tires. If you have to hit a pothole, try to get the entire wheel into the pothole. If you’re parallel parking, try not to rub your tires against the curb. Sidewalls are much more sensitive than the tread surface, and if they form a bubble or rupture, the tire will need to be replaced.

Suspension
You drive carefully. And you don’t burnout your rear tires while listening to “Panama” and running from the cops. Yet your tires are still spinning whenever you accelerate, especially in the rain. You feel an unwanted vibration when you leave an intersection, and you’re losing grip on the pavement.


This is called “wheel hop,” and it could be an indication of worn shocks and struts. These parts do wear out over time and need to be replaced. Here’s a trick for testing your suspension: Go out to your car and lean on a corner of it, then let up; If the car bounces back up, then down and up again, it’s time for new shocks or struts. 


Worn suspension can affect your tire wear. Your suspension’s job is to keep your tires in contact with the road at all times. When it starts to fail, your tires can start to rub more than they should. 


Get your struts and springs replaced at the shop, or pull up a Youtube video and learn how to do it yourself. Yes, let that young, absorbent mind soak up knowledge like a sponge. You could save some serious money. Keep in mind that after you replace your suspension, you might need to get the car aligned anyway.

Seasons
Finally, make sure your tires are in season. All-season tires will wear normally all year long, but if you’re running winter tires in the summer, they’ll wear down faster. Winter tires are made of a softer compound to stay grippy at low temperatures. That means they’re super soft in the summer, and the softer your compound, the more quickly it will erase itself on the pavement.

 

So there you have it, kid. A few simple tips to keeping your tire maintenance costs down while you’re grinding your way through classes. Now get back to work. And if you're in a position where you're needing additional help Zohr is here to help with its fleet of mobile tire technicians.

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