Every year, Patrick resolves to lose that spare tire. Every year, he fails. And then he complains about it. He caught me at a low point last week, and I barked back, “Well, why not take better care of the tires on the car? You can probably manage that.”
God bless him, he took me to heart and has resolved to do the whole “scheduled rotation” thing the guys at the tire shop are always on about.
Why rotate? Mike, senior systems manager at Discount Tire in Pacific Beach (858-581-9000; discounttire.com), had an answer. “All tires wear out, but the outside shoulder of the front right tire usually gets the most wear. If you’re jogging, and you break to the right, you’re putting your body weight on the outside of your right foot. It’s the same with your car, and we make more right turns than anything else. But if you rotate your tires, you can distribute that wear more evenly among them, and they should last longer. Usually, we rotate the front tires to the rear.”
Scheduled rotating also allows for periodic tire balance. “Balancing should be done every other rotation,” said Mike, with a rotation every 5000 miles. “If a tire is out of balance, the steering wheel is going to shake. The tire changes size and shape as it wears. When we balance it, we put it on a spindle and use a computer to locate the heavy spot. Then we add steel weights to compensate and restore balance.”
Together with proper inflation pressure, rotation and balance helps a tire to live its expected lifespan, which varies according to model (and price). “A Goodyear tire,” said Mike, “might warranty for 40,000 miles, whereas a Michelin or Pirelli in the same size might warranty for 65 to 80,000 miles. The cheapest we carry would be 13-inchers — say, for a Toyota Tercel. Four tires, installed and out the door, $234.13. For something like a Porsche, it may cost $1400. Discount Tire does not charge to rotate or repair tires, even if they aren’t purchased from us. If you do purchase them from us, balancing is also free for the life of the tire.” Otherwise, it’s $29.99.
Inspection is a key aspect of rotation, according to Gary Tillery, owner of Tire Depot in Normal Heights (619-280-0331; tiredepotinc.com). “It gives us an opportunity to see if you have other issues. For example, if your alignment is out. Also, because a lot of cars are low to the ground and have low-profile tires, you can’t always see the inside shoulder. They might look beautiful on the outside shoulder but be dangerously worn on the inside. That could result in loss of traction.” Or, if the tire gets worn enough that the interior steel belting starts to get damaged, it could lose its ability to hold up under stress, meaning at some high rate of speed.”
Tillery notes, “In my experience — and I’ve been doing this for 25 years — many manufacturers offer warranties that are unrealistic in the real world. In my opinion, 98 percent of the time, when a tire wears out prematurely, it’s not a result of the tire not performing well, it’s because there have been mechanical irregularities in the car, or poor air pressure, or lack of rotation. Those cause a tire to wear out more rapidly.”
Prices at Tire Depot start “at the low end, with taxes and labor at $225 to $250. But it’s not inconceivable to have tires cost $1600 to $2000.” Rotation and repair are free on tires purchased onsite. “Balancing runs $8 to $18, depending on tire size.”
Omar Qayyum, owner of San Diego Tire and Wheel Outlet in City Heights and Clairemont Mesa (619-280-0711; 858-277-6500; sdtireandwheel.com), offered good shopping advice.
“Ask about the tread ratings on the tire. They pretty much determine the tread life of the tire. Also ask about traction ratings. Those tell how well the tires do on wet roads. And temperature ratings say how well they perform in heat and dryness. The ratings come from the results of government tests. Those are three of the most important things. And ask what kind of mileage warranty the tires have.”