Rolling like a river: Maintenance for your wheels and tires that will keep you driving smooth

Most people know the basics of car maintenance: keep your gas tank full, change your oil every few months and get new tires when yours start to wear down. However, there is much more to maintaining tires and wheels than you might think. Proper maintenance of tires, wheels and their assemblies will save you money in the long run and extend the life of your vehicle.

Tires need to be maintained at the proper PSI (pounds per square inch), which is usually stamped on the sidewall of the tire. Even a mildly flat tire can cause your car to get poor gas mileage. Though it might not seem like this little detail can have a huge effect on your wheels, tires with low PSI can cause uneven rim wear, which may permanently affect the efficiency of your drive.

A routine balance check will ensure that your wheels are not wobbling. Again, a wobbly wheel can negatively influence gas mileage and cause your wheel and tire to have uneven wear. If your tire wears unevenly, you will have to replace it sooner. Also, a severely out of balance tire could put stress on other parts of the drive assembly or throw your car out of alignment. Balance checks can be done fairly inexpensively when you take your vehicle in to rotate the tires.

Rotation, alignment and cleaning

Tire rotations should be done about every 5,000 to 10,000 miles; your owner's manual should give you an exact recommendation. The order of tire rotation will vary depending on vehicle and wheel size, but generally the idea is to rotate tires across the vehicle and front to back to ensure even wear. Again, even tire wear ensures better car performance and tire longevity.

Your alignment should be checked once a year, or whenever you feel your vehicle pulling in one direction. An alignment check makes sure that your wheels are positioned correctly relative to the vehicle's frame. If your tires are slightly off from the frame, your car will veer off to the side even though you have it pointed straight forward.

An easy way to help maintain your wheels (and tire treads and sidewalls) is simply to keep them clean. Winter salt, chemicals, road film, contaminants and brake dust can all clog up the wheel assemblies. Use a soft brush and mild soap or degreaser; a harsh cleaner could damage the finish of your wheels.  Clean your wheel regularly when it is cool, and you will have no trouble with too much buildup. A wax finish can also help protect against future assaults.

Wheel and tire size consistency

Though you may want to purchase some large after-market rims for your car, remember that large wheels usually call for low profile tires and dropped sidewalls. This is a huge trend in car modification, but it can be bad for your vehicle. The lower profile of your tire will cause greater wear, and you may have to re-configure your brakes and suspension to handle the load of the larger mass.

With routine checkups and a little elbow grease, your wheels and tires will keep you running smoothly for years. Whether you need a balance and rotation, or just a few wheel cleaning supplies, Sears can help you keep your wheels in tip-top shape.

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