When we think of buying new tires, most often, it’s because we’ve worn out our current set by going from point-A to point-B several thousand times over. For most regular drivers, it’s hard to imagine our vehicles sitting still for any length of time.
However, while this might seem obvious to most of us, it’s worth pointing out that cars were meant to drive. Your vehicle’s components were made to be used, and while driving will mean you have to replace some of the parts over time, some people are surprised to learn that your car can deteriorate by not driving it for long stretches.
And while any vehicle that’s been idle for some time will need to have its battery tested, fluids checked, and brakes inspected, it’s the tires that can cause you the most significant problems.
Although before we get into some of the problems that can occur from letting your tires sit too long, it’s worth putting a caution upfront. If you plan to have your car off the road for a significant amount of time, six months to a year or even longer, you will want to seriously consider removing the wheels and putting the vehicle on jack stands. We’ll explain more a little further on.
Everyone’s heard the expression: where the rubber meets the road. It’s a simple way of communicating the idea of turning all sorts of potential into actual momentum. And in the case of your car, it’s literally happening. No matter how powerful an engine you’ve got under the hood, it only translates into movement at those four points of rubber that connect the road. Of course, when those wheels aren’t turning, the vehicle’s entire weight is resting all of its downward pressure on those four little rubber spots. As you can imagine, they were not designed to do that indefinitely.
We’re going to explore a couple of the issues that occur when your tires don’t do what tires were designed to do: move. We’ll then look at few solutions for getting the most out of your rubber and help you know when it’s time to replace your existing tires to get an idle car back in the game.
The Big Problems With Tires that Sit Too Long
While tires are designed to be idle for reasonable periods, their primary function is to roll. Most tire technology is devoted to providing maximum traction and control to drivers as they’re moving. So when you park your car and don’t transfer weight around the tire, you start to rapidly degrade its ability to function correctly and safely.
When your car sits in one spot for too long, with the entire weight of the vehicle pushing down on those four tires, that contact point starts to shape the rubber. And while some flat spotting is noticeable to professionals after only a few days of sitting, it will usually self-correct after a couple miles of driving with newer tires. Of course, the longer the car is left sitting, the longer it will take for the rubber to rebound. If the tires are older, or the duration was too long (months or years), the flat spots become a permanent fixture, and the tires need to be replaced. The trouble with driving on a flat-spotted tire(s) is that it creates what’s called a harmonic vibration. This slight shimmy will be quite noticeable to the driver and obnoxious on a long ride. However, the bigger issue is that it comprises your ability to steer the vehicle and can present a critical safety concern. A flat-spotted tire is also more likely to have degraded structural integrity, lose pressure, or puncture while driving.
In addition to a flat spot forming, tires that are left to sit on the same spot for a prolonged time run the risk of developing tire bubbles. Quite often, these bubbles form inside the rubber and are not always apparent when you look at the outer walls of the tire. They generally start where the rubber has thinned, and as such, make it much more likely the tire will blow out the moment it comes into contact with a bump in the road, a pothole, or even a piece of road debris. For this reason, driving on a tire bubble is incredibly dangerous. And unfortunately, once a bubble forms, the tire has to be replaced, as no repair work can restore its integrity to a level that’s safe to drive on.
The Solution for Short-term Idleness
This will sound overly simplistic, but the easy way to prevent tire issues caused by leaving your vehicle parked for too long is to drive it regularly. If you have a week where you know your car won’t be in use, make a point of taking around the block every three days. Ideally, if you’re out of town for more than a week, have a friend or neighbour use your car at least once a week for a short jaunt. Not only will this massage out any impending flat spots, but the tires are likely to stop in a new place along their circumference and give the last spot a rest.
If you have a vehicle coming off the road for several months at a time, there are a few different options available.
One way to take the edge off a long-term period of idleness for your car is to place rubber mats under each of the tires. The softer surface has a bit of suppleness that allows the tires to sink into it ever so slightly, preventing a perfectly flat spot. It also provides a layer of insulation that keeps either the extreme cold or hot temperatures that can radiate through a concrete floor from destabilizing the tire’s molecular structure.
If you plan to store your car for more than thirty days and aren’t able to have someone at least take it around the block and get the tires up to operating temperature, another option is to take the wheels off altogether. Sometimes this step is referred to as putting the car on blocks, but it’s essential to note that you should never rest your vehicle on any structure not designed for the job. Many car enthusiasts have put their favourite summer cars up on cinderblocks, only to find that after a couple months, the vehicle has crumbled through them, or the blocks have damaged the body, which now needs a costly repair.
To do this right, you want to purchase specifically designed jack stands that can be placed in all four corners of the vehicle. These sturdy lifts will allow you to pop the tires off and move them to a properly climate-controlled storage facility to wait out their off-season securely.
Of course, if you’re planning an extended period of idleness for a vehicle, there are a few other things you should be keeping an eye on beyond the tires. Fluid levels, brakes, and the drying out of essential rubber gaskets and other components. If you’re planning to put a car into storage, talk to one of our automotive professionals first. They’ll be able to give you some great advice to ensure your plan goes off without a hitch. At Sipan Tire and Rims, we love talking shop! So give us a call or drop by today.