Unless you work for a repair facility somewhere, chances are you won’t be physically installing new tires on your car any time soon. You’ll be like most of the rational people of the world and pick them out, then grab a nice magazine and sit in the waiting room while a professional installs them. Unfortunately, even though they are indeed professionals, many tire installers are still young kids just starting out in the automotive business. This leaves them slightly more susceptible to that fatal human flaw called “error.” So, even if you trust your repair facility with your life (which is a pretty fair assessment if you’re taking your vehicle there), it never hurts to double-check a few minor items, just for safety’s sake.
For those who aren’t sure, the valve stems are the little nozzles where you can either add or release air from the tires. These should be replaced every time you buy new tires. Like the vulcanized donuts you’re purchasing, valve stems are made of rubber. After a certain amount of time exposed to various temperatures and road conditions, your valve stems will become weak and run a greater risk of leaking air. After your new treads are put on, have a quick walk around your car and make sure all the valve stems are new, and that the caps are all present.
Wheel weights are small hunks of lead or steel which are attached to the rim in various places along the point where the rim meets the tire. These weights control the balance of your tires. Believe it or not, if the weight of your wheel is off by as much as ¼ of an ounce on either side, it can cause a shudder in your front end at high speeds. Wheel weights will get dirty, corroded, and rusty as time goes on. If you have old wheel weights on your tires after purchasing a brand new set, then chances are your tires didn’t get balanced properly. Not only can this cause an annoying shake in your vehicle, it can cause damage to the front end components as well as your new tires. Make sure your wheel weights are shiny and new, just like the tires.
This is one of the more common errors you’ll see with a new tire purchase. Hubcaps don’t even need to be fully loose to fly off your vehicle at 60 mph. While you’re taking your walk to check the valve stems and wheel weights, give a light tug on each one of your hubcaps. Don’t yank hard, most are only being held on by a giant steel ring and they will come off with a good amount of force. Just a light pull to see if they’re loose will suffice. Of course, if you own a Honda, Toyota, or some of the other makes on the road today, you may find that your hubcaps are held on by the lug nuts, which means you won’t have to worry about them flying off any time soon. You do, however, want to make sure that the technicians aligned the valve stem to come through the hubcap in the proper place. You shouldn’t need to remove your hubcaps to get to the valve stems. Oh, and since we mentioned these before, let’s talk about…
Don’t worry, you don’t need to pull out the old four-way lug wrench and check the torque of each lug nut individually. Just wiggle a couple and see if they are finger loose. While this is an occurrence that is extremely rare in the automotive world, leaving lug nuts loose has definitely happened…and so have the accidents that followed. Having a tire fly off your vehicle when you’re doing any speed above 3 mph is enough to jar your senses a bit. Having it happen at 60 mph is enough make you grow wings and a halo. It’s worth a couple quick finger twists.
Directional tires are simply tires that are made to only roll in one direction. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your car in reverse with these tires, it simply means that they need to stay facing that direction and cannot be cross-rotated. Most of these tires will have arrows along the sidewall pointing in the direction which the tire should be spinning when the vehicle is moving forward. Having them spinning the wrong direction negates the usefulness of the tires’ treads. If you know you’re purchasing directional tires, take a quick gander at the arrows and make sure they’re all facing forward. If they’re not, not only will you wear the new tires out in a big hurry, but you’ll find your traction is almost non-existent.
Remember, most of these technicians are trained professionals who do this several times a day, every day. There’s no need to be afraid of having your tires replaced at a shop you’ve never been to, or even one you have; but there’s no harm in doubling up on caution either.