*Check The Tires*
By: john1lt
06 June 2013

Last winter I picked up a project car (not that I need a project as much as I need a car). It's not pretty, but is mechanically sound and it was in the budget (cheap). Now, being a budget car, it was going to need a few things to keep it in good running order. The tires were thin (basically bald) when I bought the car. Buying a couple of new tires would probably double the resale value of the car and, being stingy, I just didn't want to spend the money for some ridiculously priced winter tires. This car isn't going places that I think need specialty studded winter tires or even just aggressive tread winter tires, though such tires are good for winter driving - even in the city. Thankfully we had a mild winter this year. I decided to wait to replace the tires, a bad decision looking back on it but thankfully nothing horrific occurred.

What did happen was a shaking shimmy while driving that became progressively worse over time. My first thought was to check and see if the front tires had thrown a balance weight. All the tires still had the balance weights and I couldn't see a silhouette outline from a missing balance weight. If I grabbed the tire and tried to shake or twist it, nothing seemed loose. So, when I changed the oil on the car, I decided to rotate the tires. The front tires on a front wheel drive car will wear faster than the rear tires, and I figured why not put the bald tires on the back and the "not as bald" tires from the back on the front for a little more traction on the drive wheels. While I had the tires off of it, was a good time to check the steering components and the CV joints and half shafts to see if I could find a loose or worn part that would cause the shaking. Everything appeared to be in good order, so the next thing I checked was the tires for bulging in the tread. Being cheap, I've run into bulges in the tread when I have run used tires in the past. About 20 years ago I had a CV joint and half shaft replaced because a car began shaking and shimmying while driving, and a mechanic said the car needed a new CV joint and half shaft only to find out (after the work was done and paid for) that wasn't the problem. The mechanic said he didn't know why the car still had the shakes and wanted more money to diagnose it further. So, I took the car home to figure it out myself on the cheap. I had more time than money, so it made sense at that point to figure it out myself. A bulge in one of the tires was easily visible when the tire was taken off and slowly rolled across a flat surface. As the bulge touched the ground, the tire wobbled and when the bulge was near the top, you could easily see the bulge in the tread. That wasn't the last used tire I found a bulge in. Tires are one area you can definitely "CHEAP YOURSELF TO DEATH". A blown tire at high speed can have deadly consequences.

As I rolled the tires of my current project car across the garage floor, from one end of the car to the other I checked for bulges. I found one tire with a bulge in the tread, one that was showing cord on the inside edge indicating the front end was out of alignment, and a third that looked like it might soon develop a bulge.

Being cheap I called around to some of the tire shops in my area. There are several reputable tire shops here but only one that I called sold used tires and the tires were of unknown quality (and they wouldn't tell me the tread depth over the phone). The response "they are good tires" didn't convince me on the phone, especially at $75 dollars apiece. Way back when, I used to buy used tires (mounted, balanced, and installed on the car) for $5 each. A few years ago I put a $25 used tire on a car as a "get by till pay day fix", and thought that was too much. In my calling around, I had already found new 40k mile tires for $100 on sale, so there was no way I would pay $75 for a used tire.

A few more calls and I found new 60k mile tires on sale for $114 a piece mounted, balanced, and installed on the car. Size and brand isn't the only thing you need to ask when shopping for tires. Ask how many miles the tires are rated for and if they have an all season tread or if they are mud and snow tires - there is a difference and you need to know so you can compare apples to apples. Don't just look at the price. So, I went down and purchased 2 for the front of the car. Since I had put the "not as bald" tires on the front and the tires with the bulge and cord showing on the back, I requested that they replace the two tires on the back and put the new tires on the front - moving the two old tires to the back. Right after they took the car into the garage they called the salesman from the front to the garage. A few minutes later he came back and said, "You know you really need all four tires replaced." To which I replied, "I would but you don't take rubber checks, so those two will have to wait till next month. Besides, 2 new tires just doubled the value of the car." He wasn't nearly as amused as I was by my reply.

So I had my two new tires and the difference was unbelievable. I pulled out of the tire shop parking lot just amazed. No shimmy, no shaking, just a nice smooth ride. No more riding around in a car that could be used to make a milkshake. Next fix on the list is an alignment and 2 rear tires for the back, thin (bald) tires are stupidly dangerous. Tires with thin tread have little traction to grip the road for acceleration and in wet slick conditions will hydroplane in just a little water. For now, this car only travels within a few blocks of home.

Check the tires.


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