New tires have deep grooves in the tread.

Jan Douma

New tires have deep grooves in the tread.

Wear and Care of Tires

How to Save Money by Choosing the Right Tire

None of us wants to hear our tires are worn out. New tires are expensive. So I’m here to tell you how to make your tire dollar go farther.

Choosing the Right Tire

The cost of a tire is not proportional to the number of miles it is expected to last. As a general rule of thumb, if you commute into or out of Santa Barbara, you put a lot of miles on your car, and you will pay less per mile with a midrange or high-end tire. If you just drive a little around town, you’re better off with a basic economical tire — the tire may wear out from old age before the tread wears out. Also, if you have a hybrid that chews up tires (because of the weight of the hybrid’s battery), you are better off with economical tires. More expensive tires won’t last you long enough to offset their extra cost.

This tire was probably underinflated. Notice the edges are more worn than the center.
Click to enlarge photo

Jan Douma

This tire was probably underinflated. Notice the edges are more worn than the center.


Tires are meant to be inflated to a particular level; anything else shortens the life of your tires. Most people err on the side of underinflation, which causes the tires to wear harder on the edges than the middle. If your tires don’t have working pressure sensors, check tire pressure at least once a month.


Cars are not symmetrical, and tires do not wear equally. When you rotate tires, you give each tire the best chance to maximize tread life by exposing it to both the back and the front of the car. Go ahead and rotate the tires with every oil change. It’s hard to rotate tires too much but easy to rotate them too little. A small number of vehicles can’t rotate tires from front to back because the tires are different sizes.

Legally bald can still have visible grooves.
Click to enlarge photo

Jan Douma

Legally bald can still have visible grooves.


Tires are not naturally symmetrical, either. They have small imperfections that are not visible to the eye but that will cause distortion in high-speed rotation. To balance a tire, it is mounted to a machine that spins the tire and measures where it is off-center and by how much. Then, a technician will attach a small metal clip to balance the weight and bring the rotation back to center. New tires are always balanced. Thereafter, you should have them balanced every 10,000 miles, or about twice a year for the average driver.


Alignment refers to proper positioning of what the tires are attached to rather than the tires themselves, but the alignment has a huge impact on tire life. When a car is out of alignment, the tires tip at an angle and wear unevenly. Outside-edge wear and inside-edge wear are relatively common and usually due to poor alignment. Fixing the alignment is a separate service, but checking the alignment may be included with your oil change.


Shocks and struts that are underperforming — whether leaking or just old — can cause a distinctive tire-wear pattern called cupping. Because the suspension is no longer able to fully absorb road impact, the car bounces slightly instead of rolling smoothly. Instead of wearing down evenly, the tire has scuff marks.

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