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Is it time to retire your tires?

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2017-04-13 Brian Turner
Tread wear isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to tire safety. Rubber cracking can also render a tire unusable. © Supplied, Getty Images via iStock Tread wear isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to tire safety. Rubber cracking can also render a tire unusable.

It’s seasonal tire change-over time and from coast to coast, repair shops of every type are busy removing winter tires and installing summers (those that tire-makers euphemistically call all-seasons). Many do-it-yourselfers complete this task in their driveways thanks to their foresight that led them to purchase a separate set of rims for their rides’ boots. But what’s the best way to know if your tires are going to be good for another season of safe, worry-free driving?

Just about every driver knows about tread wear and how to recognize tires worn beyond their safe limit, but a refresher never hurts. If you examine the face of any tire’s tread, you will notice slightly raised rubber bars or ridges running across the bottom of the treads (from inside to outside edges) every 12 inches or so. These are wear-bar indicators, and if any portion of the treads is worn to the point where the wear bars are at the surface, the tire is not fit for the road.

Tread-depth gauges are easy to use and only cost about $5; they are available from just about every auto parts store in the land. Most jurisdictions in Canada require a minimum of approximately 1/16 th of an inch of tread depth to meet regulated safety standards, and Ontario recently raised that bar to 2 mm. 

But tread wear isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to tire safety. Cracked rubber can also render a tire unusable. Weather cracking can appear on both the sidewalls and tread faces of tires and is usually related to age and exposure to the elements. There’s a popular myth that once tires reach a certain age, they can no longer be retailed or used on the roads regardless of their condition. Tire manufacturers, retailers and vehicle owners aren’t restricted as such; if a tire is properly stored and not exposed to sunlight or extreme elements, it can have an almost unlimited shelf life.

Surface cracks don’t necessarily condemn a tire to the recycling yard; it depends on their depth. To check, take a flat (and hopefully dull) screwdriver, gently insert into the crack and twist it slightly to see how deep the crack goes. If you can see any sign of the tire’s support cords (usually appearing as light-coloured yarn-sized strings), the tire is toast.

If you’re the type of driver who doesn’t put a lot of kilometres on either your summer or winter tires, taking the time to treat them with some rubber preservative can go a long way to prevent weather cracking. There’s a wide selection of products on the shelves of every auto parts store, or you can simply use silicone lubricating compound (in a spray can), and also use it for general lube and protection purposes on other parts of the vehicle. A quick spray every other month or so is all it takes, but don’t forget to do both sides of each tire.

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