Tires are some of the most important parts of any vehicle, but they’re also the ones we most often neglect. Most people simply find it more important to stay up to date with engine and battery maintenance than worry about tires. In fact, even when people see that their tires have cracks in the rubber, they don’t think much of it. But today, we’re going to talk about how spotting and fixing these cracks on time can extend the life of your tires.
When it comes right down to it, your tires are the things that are supporting your entire vehicle. As we all know, rubber is an incredibly durable material — that’s why we use it to make tires. We know it can withstand the weight of any vehicle as well as the heat generated by friction. However, it can still get worn down, especially with the kind of stress we put on tires.
While you’re driving, your tires shift in different directions — stretching and compressing as they rotate. On top of that, they are also exposed to UV rays and various chemicals like gasoline, oil, and acid. Even long periods of stagnation can negatively impact the condition of the tires.
Because of that, you should generally replace your tires every five to eight years regardless of how obvious the signs of wear are. But should visible cracks in your tires make you more worried or should you leave them untreated? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Why Are Your Tires Cracking?
Before I tell you whether you’ll be able to erase the cracks from your tires, we should talk about the underlying cause of this condition, which is otherwise known as dry rot. Obviously, natural rubber is exceedingly flexible and durable. However, it also has a predetermined shelf life, which is usually around five years.
Some companies try to extend the life of their tires by using synthetic rubber, though even that’s not a perfect solution to this problem. Eventually, your tires are going to become dry and brittle, flaking and cracking first along the sidewall and then into the tread. There are several things that could lead to those symptoms showing up prematurely:
- Extreme temperatures on both the high and low ends of the spectrum
- Low humidity, which can further strip the rubber of its natural moisture
- High air pressure inside the tires
- Driving your vehicle over particularly rough surfaces
- Improper vehicle storage or parking for long periods (big vehicles like campers are especially susceptible to this kind of tire degradation)
All of these factors can cause the oils inside the rubber tread to evaporate, which breaks down the remaining chemical bonds. Consequently, the material will become frail and develop rips and cracks. Usually, these fissures form in the thinnest part of the tread and the sidewall first.
But, if this is the result of natural wear and tear, is driving on battered tires really dangerous? Well, as we have previously discussed, driving on worn tires isn’t exactly ideal. In fact, shallow tread, cracks, and other surface imperfections can lead to uneven distribution of the vehicle’s weight. That, in turn, could cause the driver to swerve dangerously and even completely lose control over their vehicle.
Step-By-Step Guide to Fixing Cracked Tires
We’ve already established that you probably shouldn’t be driving on cracked tires. Now, let’s talk about how you can fix the damage before it becomes irreparable.
Keep an Eye on the Tire Air Pressure
To prevent new cracks from emerging, you’ll need to keep an eye on the air pressure inside the tires. For that, you’ll need a tire pressure gauge. Before you use it, though, you should find out the recommended tire pressure in your vehicle manual and read the information on the side of the tires. That will allow you to interpret the results you see on the gauge.
Once you have your number, you can deflate or inflate your tires as needed. However, if you’ve already noticed flakes or fissures on the surface of your tires, it’s safe to assume the air pressure will be on the higher side. Fortunately, letting the air out of your tires isn’t really all that difficult, as you’ll see in my guide.
In fact, that process requires some of the same tools you’ll need to repair small tire cracks as well. Notably, you’ll need to prepare your vehicle jacks and jack stands. In addition to those things, you should get:
- A water-based tire degreaser
- Some sponges, rags, or even a brush (though you’ll need to be careful with how you use it if the cracks have already started forming)
- A water-based tire shine or protectant
Basically, to fix the cracks in your tires, you’ll have to start by giving them a good wash. But to do that, you’ll need to lift your vehicle first.
Jack Up Your Vehicle
Since you want to wash all around your tires, you’ll have to lift your vehicle first. To begin with, park your car on a solid, flat surface to prevent it from dipping into the ground or rolling while you work. Then, before you use your vehicle jack or jack stands, you’ll need to make sure they’re in working order.
You should have enough jack stands to lift at least one side of the vehicle. Alternately, if you don’t plan to work in sections, you’ll need enough to lift all of the tires from the ground.
If everything is good to go, you can slide your scissor jack (or whichever kind you have) under the vehicle. You’ll find a safe place to lift without bending the metal in your car’s manual. Once you put the jack in, lift until the car is just a bit taller than you want your jack stand to be. Then, slide the stand under and release the jack slowly until your vehicle touches down.
There are two ways you can go about washing your tires once you elevate your vehicle. You can do it with or without removing them. However, if you want to get a closer look at them to assess their condition, I recommend the first option. While you’re at it, you could also rotate the tires before putting them back, to even out the tread wear.
Wash Your Tires
Whether you keep your tires on your car or not, the next thing you’ll need to get is a bucket of lukewarm water. You can also use cold water straight from the hose, but it’ll make the degreasing process a bit more difficult. Conversely, warm water will help the oils dissolve.
When you have sufficiently soaked the tires, you can get your cleaner. Water-based products are gentler for your tires than solvent-based ones like the Dawn Heavy-Duty Degreaser. That product is fantastic for degreasing all sorts of surfaces, from kitchen stoves to rubber tires. However, it’s not the best option for tires that have already developed dry rot.
As an alternative, there are different homemade cleaning solutions you might use. Most of them are gentle enough to deal with damaged tires. However, if you do opt for a water-based degreaser, prepare to put some elbow grease into it. Don’t worry, you should be able to do it with a bit of perseverance and attention to detail.
Above all, remember to be patient and don’t use overly harsh brushes or towels. Only clean one tire at a time, paying attention to the gunk in the tread. You can rinse and repeat as many times as you need to. This step is crucial if you want to remove all of those superficial fissures in your tires.
If you’re certain that all the grime is off, you can rinse the tires off with cool water one last time. The tires should be squeaky clean, you shouldn’t feel any oils on them when you touch them. After the wash, you should wait for them to completely dry before applying a tire protector.
Apply Tire Shine
Now, here’s our champion. As I have previously mentioned, the final item you’ll need to buff in those fissures is water-based tire shine. I’ve already linked to one in the list of supplies. However, you’ll find several other options in my reviews of the best tire shine products. And, of course, you can always make your own tire shine from scratch, as long as it’s water-based.
Aside from the fact that water-based products are gentler on the rubber, they’re also environmentally friendly. Furthermore, many of them will shield your tires from the sun’s harmful UV rays, which expedite their deterioration. However, if you mix your own tire shine, you won’t get the same kind of UV protection you would get from a store-bought product. A homemade solution would also wear off faster, so you’d have to do this whole process more frequently.
Still, no matter which product you end up using, tire shine will rehydrate and lock the moisture into the tires. As a result, the small fissures in the rubber should momentarily close as you buff the product in. The tires will also receive much-needed protection against the elements which caused the cracks. Basically, once the tire shine is dry, your tires will look as good as new.
Alternately: Change Your Tires
If worse comes to the worst, and there’s nothing you can do to reverse the effects of degradation, you may just have to get new tires. After a certain point, your tires will no longer be safe to drive on. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly explain how you’ll know that, but you should be able to recognize the signs. The cracks will be too deep, the surrounding rubber too dry, and your tires will lose traction.
Ultimately, you’ll either have to play it by ear or have a mechanic confirm your suspicions. Once you’re pretty sure getting new tires is unavoidable, you should be able to change them yourself. You’ll just need some of the same tools we just used — and, of course, your new tires.
After you’re done, just remember to properly dispose of your old ones. Even though they’re cracked, it may be possible to recycle or reuse them. In any case, you might as well be environmentally conscious about it.
Prolonging the Life of Your Tires
When it comes to tire degradation, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As they say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking certain measures to ensure that your tires never get to the point of developing gaping cracks is much better than attempting to cure the condition once it happens. So what are some of the things you can do to make sure your tires never dry out?
Well, for one, you should generally avoid all factors that might exacerbate the condition. Therefore, you ought to:
- Keep your vehicle in a climate-controlled garage if you can
- Park in the shade or use wheel covers to avoid heat and UV damage
- Avoid using products that contain petrochemicals and silicone, or any other chemicals that could damage the rubber
- Don’t drive on harsh terrain (or at least use the appropriate tires for that)
- Don’t leave your vehicle stagnant for a long time
Then, there’s the issue of tire maintenance. As I have already recommended, you should periodically check to make sure the pressure inside the tires is within normal bounds. While you do that, you should also carefully examine the tires for signs of dry rot. You’ll be able to spot the signs much more easily after you wash the tires. Besides, washing and conditioning your tires would help combat low humidity and keep them looking nice and black! So keep this whole guide in mind the next time you perform your routine vehicle check-up.