If you want to drive from point A to point B, you need four healthy tires on your car. Once tire cracking starts, it’s too late to save your tires. In this guide, I’ll help you prevent tire cracking, so you don’t have to deal with a tire emergency.
The big way to keep tires from cracking is to be mindful of how they’re stored and handled. If the tires are on your car, you should park in a garage, clean your tires, and constantly check the health of your tires. Make sure you never overload your car and avoid using chemical cleaners on your tires. For tires in storage, keep them out of the sunlight. Preferably, keep them inside in a climate-controlled area, and utilize air-tight bags to prevent oxidation.
I’ll cover how to protect tires that are currently installed on your daily driver, as well as protecting tires that are being stored. By the end of this guide, you’ll know how dangerous a cracked tire is, and how to prevent it.
Why Tires Crack
When tires crack, it’s a good sign that there’s dry rot going on. Either that or the tires were damaged while you were driving around. Over enough time, it’s inevitable that a tire will crack simply because the rubber breaks down. However, there are some factors that speed up how quickly that happens:
Oxidation is the leading reason why a tire will crack over time. As air comes in contact with the rubber in your tire, it starts to break down the material.
If you have a tire in a climate-controlled garage, oxidation will still eventually crack it. There’s no exact lifespan of a tire, but there is a guarantee that any tire exposed to air will eventually crack.
Heat and UV
One of the quickest ways to get cracks on your tires is to expose the rubber to heat or UV rays. As you know, the sun provides plenty of heat and UV rays.
Other culprits are electronics, generators, and driving recklessly. Basically, anything that makes too much heat will kill your tires quicker.
Your tires have a protective coating on them that prevent cracking and minor damage over time. As long as the coating is on your tires, you’re protected.
The problem is that petroleum-based products will eat away at this coating. This exposes the raw rubber, which is very bad at dealing with oxidation, heat, and UV on its own.
If you come in contact with certain chemicals, your tires will start to break down even quicker.
Tire Damage While Driving
Unlike the other culprits on this list, the cracking could be due to damage. If you scraped a curb as you were trying to parallel park (we’ve all been there, right?), then the curb could rough up your tire.
Cracking from physical damage is just as dangerous as a tire that’s cracking due to the rubber breaking down. In fact, it might be more dangerous, since there’s no telling how widespread the physical damage is.
Are Cracked Tires a Bad Thing?
When it comes to tires, there are three things that can be disastrous to spot:
- Uneven wearing
All three of these can lead to catastrophic tire failures, called blowouts. A crack on your tire’s sidewall is the equivalent of hovering a knife next to a fully inflated balloon. All it takes is one motion for the tire to explode.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a lot of rubber inside of your tire as well. All you’re seeing is the outside surface. If you have cracks developing on the outside of your tire, that might be an indicator that the interior wall of the tire is also failing.
I want to point out that a cracked tire is an incredibly dangerous thing to ignore. If you spot a crack, you should pull over and get a tow to the nearest tire shop or mechanic. I’m serious when I say that ignoring a crack can transform a $300 repair bill into a $3,000 bill.
8 Ways to Keep Car Tires from Cracking While They’re Installed
If you’re worried about tires on your car cracking, you can use these 8 tips. In a later section, I’ll deal with tires in storage, but this section is only for tires on your daily driver.
1. Keep the Pressure Perfect
Believe it or not, your tire pressure is one of the biggest reasons why your tire might crack. If you underinflate your tires, then your tread will have too much pressure on it. This extra pressure turns into extra friction which generates more heat and starts breaking down your tires.
You should use a tire pressure gauge regularly to monitor your tire pressure. The manufacturer’s suggested PSI will be posted within your driver’s side door jamb. Even if there’s no warning on your dashboard, your tire pressure could be too low or high.
Keeping the correct PSI (tire pressure) on all four tires will also make your car safer, improve performance, and help your car last longer.
2. Mind the Weight Capacity
Every consumer car on the market has a rated weight capacity. This tells you how much weight you can safely have in your car. Exceeding this capacity will hurt your performance, overstress different systems in your car, and require more space to come to a complete stop.
It will also lead to your tires cracking. The concept is the same as a tire with low pressure — since there’s extra weight in the car, all that extra weight goes right to your tires. In turn, extra friction is generated, and your tires heat up more, speeding up the cracking process.
If you’re not sure, do a quick Google search for your car’s make, model, year, and the term “maximum load”. A Civic, for example, can typically hold about 850 pounds.
The weight takes into account all of your passengers and anything you put in your car. If you have four, 200-pound people in your Civic, that leaves you with a spare 50 pounds to play with.
This is bad news for traveling bowling ball salespeople.
Overloading it by even one pound is enough to start damaging your tires.
3. Avoid Using Certain Chemical Cleaners on Your Tires
I recommend using a tire cleaner to prevent cracking that’s specifically meant for cleaning car tires without risking any damage to them. Be very careful about which chemicals are included in the cleaner. In reality, the wrong cleaner can do more damage to your tires.
Rubber is a great material, but it doesn’t take much for it to break down through a chemical reaction. Any petroleum-based product needs to be avoided. Petroleum will wipe away the protective coating on your tires and expose the rubber to the elements, leading to cracking.
There are also other chemicals that eat through your tires. The good news is that automotive products designed to clean tires don’t use these chemicals. To avoid a big problem, avoid using any kitchen cleaners on your tires or rims.
4. Check the Health of Your Tires Consistently
It should go without saying, that you need to check the health of your tires consistently. I have an in-depth guide on that here, but the short version is that you need to do things like:
- Check your tire pressure on all four tires
- Look for bubbling, cracking, and low spots
- Check for uneven tire wear
- Search for any holes in your tires
If you catch a problem soon enough, you can fix it before it becomes a bigger issue. For instance, if you have a bubble on your tire and don’t replace it, your tire has a good chance of blowing out. A blowout can destroy your whole wheel assembly, affect the suspension, and can even damage your drivetrain.
Personally, I do a quick visual inspection of my tires on a weekly basis. This also involves checking the tire pressures. Every quarter I’ll take a closer look at my tires and make sure everything is okay.
If you take your car to a mechanic or dealership for routine maintenance, they should give you a report on your tires. There’s a good chance they’ll check for these things and let you know how your tires look.
When a mechanic says your tires need to be replaced, check for yourself before making a decision. A dishonest mechanic might try to swindle you out of hundreds of dollars by doing this, hoping you don’t know any better.
5. Never Change Just One Tire
If you ever have damage to your tire and need to replace it, you should never replace just one. The only exception to this rule is if you’re changing a brand-new tire and the other three tires are also brand-new.
If you have one new tire and three old ones, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Your new tire has more tread, so it will take more force as you drive. This leads to problems with handling and some big safety issues.
It also leads to extra heat on your new tire, which speeds up the cracking process. Even though it seems backward, replacing just one tire can mean that the new tire cracks sooner than the others, requiring yet another replacement.
If you have an FWD or RWD, you can get away with just replacing the pair that share an axle. For AWD and 4WD vehicles, you’ll need to replace all four tires at the same time.
6. Don’t Forget to Clean Your Tires
Cleaning off your tires will help them resist cracking in the future. By getting dust and mud off your tire, you’re allowing the rubber to be more moisturized.
Make sure you avoid using alcohol and petroleum-based products as I mentioned earlier. You can just use soap and water on a microfiber towel, and you’ll get great results.
I like to end my routine carwashes by cleaning the tires. You’re going to go through a lot of towels, so be prepared. You’ll also need to really scrub the tires and rims to get rid of the stubborn grime caked on them.
This step shouldn’t be skipped. Not only does it make your car’s side profile look way nicer, but it also keeps your tires healthier for longer.
While you’re cleaning, look for any punctures, bubbles, or cracks on your tires. When soapy water is applied to a tire, you’ll notice a ton of bubbles forming in areas where there are punctures. Take a second to check for this before rinsing off the soap from your tires.
7. Mind the Curb
Bumping into a curb can do a lot of very expensive damage to your car. It can also lead to physical cracks on your tire, which are just as dangerous as tires that crack over time.
If you swipe or bump into a curb, pull over and check your tires. You’ll want to look for a bubble, crack, hole, or any scrapes on your rubber. If they are beyond just cosmetic scratches, then you should replace your tires.
8. Park in a Garage
You’ll notice that a lot of my guides recommend parking inside a garage. In general, it’s not great to park outside. In this case, parking outside exposes your car to even more UV rays and heat.
As a result, your tires will wear out quicker, and you’ll have to replace cracked tires even sooner.
If it’s not possible to use a garage, you should consider getting a car cover. This won’t protect your tires from the heat, but it will prevent extra UV exposure.
5 Ways to Keep Car Tires from Cracking During Storage
If you have concerns with storing your tires, then this section is for you. I’ll cover 5 ways to keep your car tires from cracking when you’re storing a car or the tires.
1. Store Them Out of the Sunlight
The number one thing to remember is that tires hate UV exposure and heat. You should never store your tires outside if you plan on keeping them for a while. They will very quickly degrade, and you won’t be able to use them in the future.
Instead, opt for storage in the shade, ideally inside.
2. Clean and Dry Your Tires Before Storing Them
When you take the tires off your car, you should clean and dry them. Excess moisture or dirt can cause your tires to break down even quicker.
Use soapy water on a microfiber towel to clean them, and then dry them with a separate clean, dry microfiber towel. This simple step could be the difference between your tires cracking or not.
3. Keep Tires in Climate-Controlled Areas
The best place to store your tires is in a climate-controlled area. This helps avoid high temperatures and overly humid or dry air. If you have space in your garage or shed, that’s a great place to start.
If possible, put them somewhere that the HVAC pumps into. I know you might not have space in your basement or home, but that’s where tires should go if you want them to go the longest time without cracking.
4. Take Off Tires from Project Cars (Or Vehicles in Storage)
Any time you put a vehicle in storage, you should first remove the tires. This also goes for project cars that you know you’ll be working on for multiple months.
This should happen even if the car is being stored in a temperature-controlled area.
When your tires are installed on a car, the weight of the car is supported by the tires. If tires have to hold all this mass without moving for months, then they’ll start to break down.
By removing the tires first, you’ll prevent cracking. Instead, their own weight, and they won’t get strained for months on end.
5. Consider Using Air-Tight Bags for Tire Storage
If you have a set of winter tires that you only use when it starts snowing, consider getting air-tight bags for tire storage. I mentioned earlier that oxidation is the leading killer of tires. In an air-tight bag, the tire won’t be exposed to atmospheric air, which means oxidation can’t happen.
You’ll still have a little bit of oxidation just because of the air in the bag, but it’s significantly less impactful than having your tire out in the open air.
When you remove your tire for storage, you put it in one of these bags and seal it. From there, it should stay sealed until you’re ready to reinstall the tires.
At this point, you know exactly how to keep your car tires from cracking. Whether you’re looking for help on your daily driver or a car in storage, my tips will help you out. If you have any other car questions, take a look at the rest of my blog. I cover plenty of DIY topics that you might find helpful.
I also have a list of car products that can save you time, money, and hassle in the future.