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Tire terminology cheat sheet

What you need to know

Your family's safety on the road begins with your tires. Tires have a big job: They provide traction for your car and cushion occupants from shock, while driving under varying road and weather conditions.
Woman having tires fixed

It’s critical to keep your tires in good shape, which is why you should take your tires in for a checkup, to be rotated or to be replaced.

When you go into the shop, you need to understand what the mechanic is talking about. Here are the key technical terms about your vehicle’s tires that you need to know to make safe, informed decisions about the life of your tires.

1

Alignment

All four tires are adjusted to point in the best direction in relation to the road and to each other. According to Discount Tire, “Severe impacts (hitting potholes or curbs) and worn suspension parts are the leading causes of misalignment.”

2

All-seasons tire

This year-round tire provides traction in a range of conditions including wet, dry and snow. Most vehicles sold in the U.S. are sold with all-seasons tires already installed.

3

Balance

A tire and wheel spin with the weight equally distributed. If the assembly gets out of balance, you will feel a vibration. A mechanic can fix an imbalance by adding weights to the off-balance tire.

4

Directional stability

Regardless of prevailing conditions like weather or road conditions, a vehicle is capable of driving in a straight line.

5

Highway tires

These tires, sometimes called summer tires, are designed for driving in dry and wet conditions — but not snow or ice.

6

Over-inflation

Putting too much air in a tire. This results in the center of the tire becoming worn.

7

Pounds per square inch (PSI)

PSI is the unit of measure used to tell you what the air pressure is inside your tires. Your tires will require a specific PSI, which you can check with a tire gauge. Tires that are over- or underinflated pose a safety risk, so it’s important to keep your tires inflated to the recommended PSI.

8

Tread

Tread is the part of the tire that makes contact with the road. Depending on the type of tire and its specific purpose, the tread pattern can vary widely. According to Goodyear, “a tire's tread is molded into a pattern that produces unique handling, traction, noise and wear characteristics.” Each tread design helps a tire excel in anticipated driving conditions, such as dry, wet or snow-covered roads.

9

Rim

The part of the wheel to which the tire is mounted.

10

Snow tire

This type of tire, sometimes called a winter tire, provides better traction in snowy or icy conditions than a highway or all-seasons tire.

Read more about vehicle safety

Tips for driving on ice
Watch those tires
10 Things to teach your teen about car maintenance

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